IMG 5811When local beekeeper Louis Padgett paid a visit to the Girls Inc. Youth Farm, the girls he worked with were, understandably, a little hesitant.

"We're not going to mess with them today, right?" one farmer asked.

All that passed one the bee-master got down to business. He spoke to the girls about everything from entrepreneurship to the importance of bees to the ecosystem - like the fact that honeybees are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of the food that is eaten worldwide.

Next the girls were guided in the process of building their own beehive, which will see its first bee resisdents next spring. With guidance from Louis and encouragement from each other, they went from girls who had barely used a hammer to power tool pros who can't wait for their next project.

Then it was time to get to know some bees.

The session was scheduled to end with a photo of the girls in protective beekeeping suits, but they weren't about to stop there! Armed with new knowledge and appreciation for bees, the girls accompanied Louis on an inspection of the farm's existing hives. Thanks to the Memphis Area Beekeeper's Association, there were plenty of suits and hive smokers to allow the girls to safely explore the bee's world.

It was a high-water mark for the girls - they challenged themselves to safely face a once-terrifying thing and walked right into the thick of their fears. They took initiative and ownership and we couldn't be prouder. They truly embodied the spirit of bold.

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Local girls are giving back to benefit women across the globe.

Girls Inc. of Memphis has spent the entire week celebrating International Day of the Girl by hosting a Sew-a-Thon.

High school junior Majesty Mason learned how to sew for the first time, and it's helping her make a difference in other women's lives.

"There're a lot of girls that don't have the opportunities that some of us have been blessed with, and I just thank God that we have the opportunity to help others and give back to them," she said.

Mason was just one of more than 100 volunteers at Girls Inc. of Memphis who spent the day sewing personal hygiene kits for women in third world countries.

Dora Brown-Harris said it's important for women in other countries to have the same sort of access we do.

"We really wanted to give them something as a part of Day of the Girl in order to help them be able to go to school and really become productive in their society over there," she said.

She said this project is important because it teaches young girls in the community teamwork, something Mason said is helping her.

"It helps me to develop a giving heart and not to be so selfish and to think of others before I think of myself," she stated.

"It gives them a chance to give back to someone else and it empowers them because they take that leadership role. They actually went on the Internet, researched different countries and decided where they wanted to send them, so they play a big role in this. They helped in collecting donations," Harris explained.

The goal is to put together 100 feminine hygiene kits.

The girls plan to send them off next Friday.


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Photo by Kyle Kurlick

An organization that supports the empowerment of girls celebrated a harvest at its 9.5-acre farm Saturday in Frayser where youth learn to grow and sell produce.

The Girls Inc. of Memphis youth farm, located on Dellwood near Baskin, is distinct in teaching the girls economic freedom and how to run a business, said Adriane Williams, a Girls Inc. board member.

"I really want for girls to recognize they have the ability to control their own lives," Williams said.

The girls grew a variety of vegetables this year, including carrots, black cherry tomatoes, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, sugar snap peas, kale, spinach and arugula.

Girls Inc. of Memphis has worked with girls since 1947, inspiring them to be "strong, smart and bold," said Lisa Moore, the organization's president and chief executive officer.

"Today we're celebrating a gorgeous day," Moore said. "It's fall harvest. And we're also experiencing and enjoying our latest program, the Girls Inc. youth farm. It's a leadership and entrepreneurship program for high school girls where they're hired to run the business of an organic farm."

The youth farm aims to provide a welcoming and educational space as well as a source of healthy food. They farm on about 1.5 acres and also keep honey bees.

Girls Inc. tries to create an environment that is "pro-girl," building on their strengths and promoting their talents, Moore said. The girls also learn about their bodies and health.

Mattie Reese, 18, and Nikeishia Davis, 17, in red t-shirts with GROW printed on the back, walked through the wide, sunny fields Saturday pointing out where the lettuce, peppers, eggplant and sunflowers had grown.

Reese said she has learned entrepreneurship through Girls Inc., which she has been involved in since she was 6 years old. She explained how the girls would plan their days under a tent at the youth farm, discussing their weekly sales goals and what to plant in the spring and fall.

Davis, who joined in June, said the organization has taught her to step outside her comfort zone.

"I know that I can do anything I put my mind to," Davis said. "And I know I can do anything a man can do."

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Photo by John Klyce Minervini

It's a sunny day in Frayser, and 16-year-old Zia Higgins is about to take her first bite of raw okra.

"It's weird," she says, rolling it around in her hand. "It's kind of furry."

She's not wrong. The okra has a funny shape, and the fuzzy texture does not immediately scream "food." But Higgins takes a bite anyway, and pretty soon the other girls follow suit. It's crunchy and surprisingly sweet — and disappearing fast.

"Y'all better stop now," Higgins warns through a mouth full of okra, "or we won't have any left to sell."

Higgins is one of six high school students employed at the Girls Inc. Youth Farm. Over the next year, she will be paid $7.25 per hour to build and run a sustainable food business. Naturally, that means planting, thinning, fertilizing, weeding, and trellising. But it also involves financial planning, marketing to restaurants, and selling produce at the farmers market.

The point, director Miles Tamboli says, is to raise up a generation of social entrepreneurs in North Memphis.

"Opportunities for young, black women in this city have been limited," Tamboli observes. "I want to show them that they have the civic experience, the critical thinking skills, and the discipline they need to do whatever they want with their lives."

Each day begins at 8 a.m., when the girls warm up with a series of yoga stretches. From there, they go on a "farm walk": a trek around the 9.5-acre campus to see what needs doing. Today that means harvesting tomatoes, zucchini, and okra. It also means locating a treacherous hornworm that has been terrorizing the tomato plants.

While they search for the offending caterpillar, the girls sing "My Way" by rapper Fetty Wap.

They're an inspiring bunch: energetic, hard-working, and whip-smart. But Tamboli is right. Many have not been given the opportunities they need to succeed.

"At school, they don't care about us," says Nikeishia Davis, a rising senior at MLK College Preparatory School. "But Mister Miles [Tamboli] cares about us. I learned more here in two months than I learn in a whole semester at school."

The Girls Inc. Youth Farm came into being through a series of happy accidents. The first is the land, which was gifted to Girls, Inc. by the Assisi Foundation in 2003. The plan was to build a new headquarters, but the funding fell through.

The second happenstance is Tamboli himself. He graduated from Tulane with a degree in public health, then interned at an organic youth farm in New Orleans. The experience, he says, was transformative, and he dreamed of recreating it in Memphis, his hometown.

"I saw a creative solution to so many social ills," remembers Tamboli. "It was not about pamphlets or awareness campaigns. It was about producing something real. Growing food with young people has an impact on so many different parts of their lives."

Back in Frayser, Destiny Woody has spotted the hornworm. It's three inches long and plump, about the size of a middle finger, but it's nearly impossible to spot, on account of being the exact same shade of green as the tomato plants. At Tamboli's urging, Woody snips it in half with a pair of garden shears, and a bunch of green goop squirts out. "Ew!" the farmers scream.

Over the next five years, Tamboli says he wants to make Girls Inc. Youth Farm self-sustaining. In the long run, he'd also like to sell 80 percent of his produce within Frayser.

"We want to feed everybody," he says. "Not just 20,000 Midtowners who will pay $5 for a pound of tomatoes."

It isn't going to be easy. Transforming this land, which lay fallow for 20 years, will involve countless hours of hard work in scorching heat. It also means working side-by-side with millions of insects, including 500,000 honeybees from the farm's nine hives.

But the biggest transformation here isn't agricultural — it's in the lives of these young women. Having been planted and watered, they are now beginning to bloom.

"I'm out there at the farmers market, stocking, doing inventory," Nikeishia Davis says. "And I'm thinking, one day, I'm gonna be my own boss."



I’ve always been good in school and loved being involved in Girls Inc. I participated in a collaborative program with Hatiloo Theatre and it was then I found my voice. I realized what I want to do…I want to act! Since having my eyes opened through this experience, I’ve been in 3 Hatiloo productions and 5 White Station High School productions. - Kelsie

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