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
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Additional categories (optional)

  • Education

Website or social media url(s) (optional): @theurbangardeninitiative on Instagram and Facebook

Date You Started Your Project Started


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

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

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.

I am working to solve this program by educating youth about this issue, as well as providing the resources and opportunities for them 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. 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.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change 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.

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

Meet Sarah. She is a 12-year-old girl attending middle school, except she has a learning disability and was never given the opportunity to learn about gardening or any environmental topics. When we brought our program to her school, she was able to engage through our interactive format that relies more upon discussions and activities to cover topics such as climate change and food sustainability. In our hands on gardening portion, she learned about soil quality, transplanting veggies, and was able to create her own container garden. They have now integrated many of the topics that we cover into the school curriculum and everyday they are able to learn a little bit more about the environment. The students are also able to try many new vegetables that they might have never seen or tasted before.

6. 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.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

Currently, in this fall session we have already been able to engage 500+ youth. We have launched in approximately 5 different schools in our local community, as well as 5-6 different community centers. We have been able to partner with many of the environmental/horticultural nonprofit organizations in our area including Delaware Center for Horticulture, Delaware Urban Farm and Food Coalition, West Side Grows, Youth Climate Lobby, and Wilmington Green Box, in order to create a larger impact within our community surrounding the issues of food insecurity as well as environmental education for youth. We are currently in the process of working with one of our partners to design a new urban garden that will be located in the city of Wilmington in order the access to healthy fruits and vegetables.

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

In the spring, we are working to expand our reach within the schools that we are currently working with, as well as expand to more schools/community centers. We hope to strengthen the partnerships with the organizations that we have already teamed up with, and possibly expand to a few more organizations in order to reach more communities. We will also be working on designing a series of free workshops in partnership with the City, that will be able to teach more youth about food sustainability, gardening, etc. In the long term, we hope to expand to more cities such as Philadelphia and Baltimore, in order to expand our reach and continue to support more communities in which the problems that we are addressing are extremely relevant.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Program Design

10. 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?

  • Recommended by others


Join the conversation:

Photo of The Monarch Master Gordan

What a great idea! My organization Homes4Monarchs is trying to do something similar to this in the Chicago Area...I am so glad it is working out so well in Delaware!
Environmental education is one of the most underappreciated and underfunded subjects in American schools. I am glad that you are bringing it back in your community!

Photo of Megan Chen

Thanks so much! Also got a chance to check out your initiative, super awesome work! Environmental education is definitely something that is really needed and I love that we are all working to create these opportunities for youth.

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