STEM Story: The Urban Garden Initiative
Can you please introduce yourself?
I am Megan Chenn, 17 years old. I was born in Canada and then moved to Delaware where I have lived most of my life. Majority of my time I spend at my job and also working on The Urban Garden Initiative (TUGI). I also have a wide range of hobbies. I am interested in creative projects associated with journalism, poetry and different types of art. Being a big music fan, I like to sing and play different instruments. I also enjoy spending time hiking, longboarding, and gardening.
Let us talk about the amazing organization you run! What is the mission and purpose, and how did they come to life?
I am the founder of “The Urban Garden Initiative”. This is a youth focused international 510 (c) (3) nonprofit organization. Our mission is to “Aim to inspire and empower youth to achieve urban sustainability through gardening”. Our purpose is to “create a greener, better, and more sustainable planet”. Delaware is known to be a major food desert, where we started The Urban Garden Initiative with few people. We started working with local schools to educate students to understand their strength and power in solving environmental problems. We started by conducting one hour workshops educating students on sustainability by starting their own garden. For instance students living in Wilmington city, a low income area are educated in workshops completely funded by TUGI, thereby avoiding any financial burden on them. In these workshops students are provided Hands on Education along with the materials required to start their own garden about sustainability and climate change. From there we just began expanding our efforts, and developing our chapter program and we now run internationally with over 40+ chapters.
What has been your learning from this initiative? What did you wish you knew before creating The Urban Garden Initiative?
Working on TUGI, I gained insights on team work, communication, partnerships, developing curriculums, work streams etc. I learnt that social media plays a vital role in spreading the word about TUGI helping us to build a team of people with diverse backgrounds in environmental studies which helped us collaborate with organizations to expand our initiative. Our diversity enabled us to get the required inputs for building the curriculum database to teach on a variety of new topics to our students. This experience helped us to prototype our curriculum in the current Covid 19 situation overcoming the traditional education barriers, deliver supplies to school communities, hospitals, food pickups and conduct e-learning sessions to start gardens at home with limited supplies. We also were able to start a blog to receive art, photography and writing submissions. I learnt from my mistakes, setbacks, challenges and continued to work, learn and adapt to change. It was a great learning and I understood that this initiative could be started without any past experience, although some knowledge on certain legal and financial aspects would have helped me in this journey.
Who or what inspires you personally?
Local events focused on youth inspired me to start TUGI. My previous project experience in writing a children’s book was a starting point. I am always passionate about environmental issues which motivated me to start a program to create awareness and change in our local school community. I am inspired by Nadya Okamoto, the Co-founder of Period, “a global, youth-powered non-profit that is fighting to end period poverty and period stigma through service, education, and advocacy”. I was involved in an organization locally called Dual School founded by Zach Jones this is a nonprofit focused on helping students discover their passions and launch projects around it. This organization inspired me to start my passion project writing “Finding Tiger” a children's book about a heartwarming yet adventurous story for the early grades, centered around a young tiger who has no sense of self identity.
What advice would you give to youth who hope to empower themselves to create an environmental change in the community?
To empower themselves the youth should have an environmentally conscious mindset and lead by example. Making environmentally conscious decisions like recycling, proper waste disposal, spreading the word among family and friends about the need for protecting the environment, participating in the environment programs are some of the ways they can empower themselves to bring about changes in the communities.
Links: Chapter Applications and Children’s Book
Children's Book: https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Tiger-Megan-Chen/dp/0578414406
Chapter Applications: https://www.theurbangardeninitiative.org/start-a-chapter.html
Interview by: Maria Sushmitha
Graphic by: Smyrna Davalath