The Urban Garden Initiative

TUGI is a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to inspire and empower youth to achieve urban sustainability through a gardening-based program.

Photo of Megan Chen

Written by

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

Personal: @megan_chenn Organization: @theurbangardeninitiative Website:

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Wilmington, Delaware is one of the largest food deserts within my area. According to DelawareOnline, "Sixty-one percent of Delawareans live in Census tracts where there is no grocery store." It is extremely hard for many to access fresh fruits and vegetables, and in turn be able to live a more healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Also, approximately 85% of the students we work with have had no experience with environmental education.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

We are planning to solve the problem through education as well as providing the resources and opportunities for youth to create the change themselves. At TUGI, we do a bi-annual workshop, once in the spring and once in the fall, at different schools, community centers, etc. Part of our workshop is divided into an environmental education portion where we teach youth about different environmental issues that they might not be going over in school. This includes the climate crisis, food sustainability, living a sustainable lifestyle, etc. The other half is hands-on container gardening, an easy, transportable, and accessible way to garden for schools that might not have the space or resources to start a large scale garden. We provide all of the containers, plants, seeds, etc. to get started, as well as the education on how to do so. The schools and students specifically, will then get a chance to take care of it, and in the spring, we will bring additional materials to help start a spring garden. Ultimately, TUGI does not aim to take on the huge issue of food sustainability ourselves, instead, we aim to inspire and empower youth to take on these issues together.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

We incorporate STEM into many of the workshops and programs that we host. For example, we have a workshop on pollution where we have the student actually test for pollutants in their local streams and ponds using a water-testing kit. We also have workshops where the students learn about different parts of the plant, different types of soil, etc. Students also learn the science behind climate change and many other environmental problems that we are currently undergoing. We also try to incorporate math skills when we are designing our gardens, especially raised-bed gardens as the students calculate area, perimeter, and how large we want to design the garden. We also try to incorporate a bit of technology, as we try to utilize many of the new programs and softwares that allow students to virtually explore many different environments all across the world. We also have local softwares designed by organizations such as the Delaware Nature Conservancy, that allows us to explore local water sheds all while still being in the classroom setting. Even on our website, we have begun to incorporate a lot of this STEM knowledge, and we have recently created a blog where we will share more info.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

Growing up, I always heard about the issues in Wilmington, Delaware and went on to believe that there was nothing I could do about it. Everywhere I looked when I went into city, gave me the false perception that there was healthy food that was available to purchase. Later did I learn that the problem was not only a lack of access, but a lack of affordable pricing for the community that lived within the area. For about two years, I began to do research into the issue of food waste and food sustainability. I learned about the prevalence of this issue within not only my community, but also across the country. From there I worked on launching a series of smaller projects regarding the issue such as an imperfect produce delivery service. Although these projects never took off, they became the building blocks for me to gain the confidence to launch The Urban Garden Initiative.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

I am stepping up to make change because I believe that all youth should have access to healthy fruits and vegetables and the opportunities to learn about what is currently going on in our environment. After learning about the food desert problem within my community, I have spent years researching, interviewing local community members, and volunteering at various urban/community gardens in order to have a better understanding of the issue. Through the knowledge I have gained, I launched TUGI.

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

TUGI started with us prototyping our base program (fall and spring workshops) within schools. During these workshops we provide container gardens and environmental education to youth. From there, we began our 6-8 weeks program series. During these programs we are able to dive deeper into a larger range of environmental topic and reach more youth. This then led to our chapter program that we now have running all across the world that is led by other passionate youth environmentalists.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We are an organization that is run by youth and for youth. All of our workshops are taught by young leaders within the community and we work to engage as many youth as possible in all parts of our organization. We all address the current gap in middle school environmental/gardening programs, as many organizations often neglect this age group and instead focus on elementary or high school age students. Most importantly, we are able to bring urban gardening into classrooms that might not otherwise have the access or resources to start a large scale garden or even a garden at all.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

We have currently created chapters on an international scale, working with 4 different countries, 10 different states, and have impacted over 1000+ youth. We work with 20+ schools and community centers within Delaware, and are looking to continuously expand throughout the state. So far, we have raised over $10,000 to fund many of our projects. We have worked with many other nonprofit organizations including Sierra Club, Urban Beet, Think Ocean, in order to work on larger environmental projects and reach more youth. We are also working with a few community partners within the city of Wilmington to design several of our own community gardens. We have also recently started our own blog to bring more awareness to more environmental issues and we have even created our own newsletter. During this current time, we are also providing container-garden delivery and virtual education.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In the next few months, we are working to continue to build out our chapter network by creating new chapters all across the world but also growing the existing chapters that we have in Zimbabwe, New York, California, and more. We are planning to work on new environmental initiatives with several of our partners such as UrbanBeet and ThinkOcean. Within Delaware, we are planning to start construction for the several new raised bed gardens that we are planning to build hopefully this summer. We also are currently planning for our summer camp that we will also be launching in partnership with the City of Newark that will be engaging youth in a week-long program centered around becoming youth environmental activists and change makers.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

Currently we have youth all across the world that are leading chapters of The Urban Garden Initiative as well as many youth volunteers that help both virtually and in our in program and workshops. We have been able to create and run urban gardens in many communities that traditionally might not have had a community garden. For example, we recently started a TUGI Chapter in Zimbabwe and are currently working on launching our community garden there as well as starting our first workshop series.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

Partnering with other organizations has been one of the main ways that we have been able to grow as an organization even up to this point. We have partnered with other nonprofits such as UrbanBeet, ThinkOcean, The Sierra Club, etc. to create bigger projects that have a larger reach. We would like to continue to partner with other change makers to start more chapters and take on more environmental initiatives and projects that are specific to communities that they would better understand.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

For anyone that is interested in getting involved with TUGI, we have a number of volunteer positions available both remote and in person. This includes curriculum development, social media, community outreach, leading programs, and more. In general, we work to engage others through first conservations on the issues that we are working to solve (climate change, creating more sustainable communities, increasing urban gardens and agriculture, etc.) and then our plans to achieve these goals.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Social media
  • Recommended by others
  • Participated in previous Ashoka challenges
  • Email

Evaluation results

8 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

Yes, absolutely! - 25%

Probably - 62.5%

Maybe - 12.5%

Probably not - 0%

No - 0%

2. CONNECTION to Environmental Sustainability

5 - Absolutely! It is totally clear that the solution is contributing directly to environmental sustainability and/or addressing climate change - 25%

4 — Yes, it establishes a connection to environment/ climate change but could be stronger - 50%

3 — Somewhat, the entry speaks to this environmental sustainability, but the direct impact is not well established - 12.5%

2 — Not really, the connection to environment/ climate is very weak - 12.5%

1 — No. The entry does not have a reference the solution’s impact on environment and/or climate change - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

3. Is this entry CREATIVE?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4 - Yes, I think so - 25%

3 - Maybe - 75%

2 - Probably not. - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Does this entry demonstrate a COMMITMENT to changemaking?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

4 - Yes, I think so - 100%

3 - Maybe - 0%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Does this entry value CHANGEMAKING through collaboration with other stakeholders in its approach?

5 - Yes, absolutely! - 37.5%

4 - Yes, I think so - 25%

3 - Maybe - 37.5%

2 - Probably not - 0%

1 - No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

6. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

5 -Yes, absolutely! - 0%

4- Yes, I think so - 42.9%

3- Maybe - 42.9%

2- Probably not - 14.3%

1- No - 0%

No Answer - 0%

7. FEEDBACK: What are the strengths of this project?

CONNECTION: You have a great understanding and personal connection to the problem - 100%

CREATIVITY: You have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful new solutions to aid environmental sustainability/combat climate change - 0%

COMMITMENT: You have a thoughtful plan for growing your business, and your founding team has a strong combination of leadership and knowledge-based skills - 100%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: You value thinking around how to activate other changemakers and empower them to care about your cause. You also have a clearly defined plan on how to collaborate across multiple stakeholders - 50%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) and you have a plan for measuring impact - 75%

VIABLITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work from a financial perspective in the present and future - 25%

Other option - 0%

8. FEEDBACK: What are some areas for improvement for this project?

CONNECTION: Why you care about the environment/ climate was unclear – It would be great to elaborate on what this solution means to you, personally and how it affects you and/or your community. - 20%

CREATIVITY: Be more specific in your description of the research you have done into the past solutions to this problem and focus on how your solution is unique and innovative - 100%

COMMITMENT: Your plan for growing the organization can benefit from more specifics. How can you round out the various skills of your current leadership team to make the project a long-term success? - 0%

CHANGEMAKER QUALITY: Try to provide more insights into how you are activating changemakers and empowering them to innovate through your product or programming. How will they care about environment/climate if they currently do not? Think about how to create value for all stakeholders, not just immediate beneficiaries - 60%

IMPACT MEASUREMENT: Provide specific instances of your social impact and how you plan to measure impact – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, products and programming, and provide evidence of (or plan for) how to measure impact - 20%

VIABILITY: Make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 40%

Nothing – I thought everything was great! - 20%

Other option - 0%


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