The edible forest growing on White Station’s campus


Kennedy Roberson

Volunteers help plant one of the first trees, an Asian Pear. During the Bluff Orchard project, volunteers completed various tasks including moving mulch, shoveling dirt and transporting plants.

With the sun beaming down and the sweet smell of freshly turned earth, students, teachers and other volunteers work hard to restore a beautiful nature scene to White Station’s school grounds. Priya Tummalapalli, the project director and a junior at Rhodes College, planned the Bluff Orchard project over a year ago. Due to strained communications during COVID-19, the project was postponed until now. 

“The Bluff Orchard project is a spin on an edible forest in an urban space. This is a collaborative project between several different groups, but the idea behind it is to promote healthy eating, service and community through a green space,” Tummalapalli said.

The project is funded by Rhodes College with collaboration from White Station High School, Memphis Tilth and Giving Grove.

“We have forty-nine different trees and shrubs in the ground. I would say what makes it unique is the fact that we’ve got plants there that are rooted and meant to be there for years,”  Tummalapalli said. “I think a lot of times you look at community gardens, and it’s a lot of raised beds. And this is really focused on sustainability and how much harvest we can produce from the space, so unlike most community gardens, this one is focused on being long-term.”

The involvement of students, teachers and parents who have been actively volunteering with the start of this movement is what has made the edible forest a reality.

“I think it’s super cool; I’ve always loved plants … but I just think it’s really cool that people will be able to see literal fruit being grown on trees. People will see how cool plants can be because a lot of us don’t get to see where our food comes from,” Landry Thompson (11) said. 

The project will also embody many experiments for the volunteers and students. One of these experiments is the farm-to-table concept: students will be able to harvest produce from the garden and orchard and consume it on or off-campus. 

“I think a lot of students are very interested in being outside and working with their hands and learning something new, learning how food really grows,” Ann Newhouse, a teacher who has volunteered said. “A lot of students aren’t really exposed to that. We don’t necessarily live in an agricultural community here in Memphis, and many students don’t have families that grow produce in the backyard, or they’re not living close to farms.” 

Tummalapalli is also experimenting with permaculture, a type of gardening where a self-sufficient ecosystem is formed.

“The idea is to cover everything with something that contributes to the ecosystem, like flowers. It doesn’t have to be purely edible, but it is somehow contributing to the longevity of everything around it,” Tummalapalli said. 

Conflicts will also arise as the project continues. Such a huge change on the campus might not gain the respect it needs from students and/or faculty, and there are also challenges in caring for the plants.

“We want to keep pests out of the garden while also staying as organic as possible … I think we definitely have the manpower but staying organized over the summer months, we know that we need to create a list, a sign-up list, for teachers and students to water the garden,” Newhouse said.

The project will also contribute to the beautification of the school. White Station has taken advantage of its outdoor spaces with the newly renovated courtyard not far away from the garden, and this beautification process aims to boost the happiness, morale and pride of students and faculty. 

“Imagine in the spring, walking out of the freshman building, walking out for lunch and just seeing rows and rows of tulips or flowers,” Newhouse said. “I think it just lightens your mood, just enjoying the beauty that a garden provides. We want it to be an enjoyable place, a place where people can walk around and watch food grow.” 

As a Spartan alumna, Tummalapalli wanted to give back to her alma mater and give a great gift to the current Spartans.

“I think food distribution is the end goal here but also curriculum enrichment. I was purposely putting it on White Station’s campus because you have direct access to kids there, and so the end goal is to teach young people why this is important but also let them have fun and experience growing things and eating from that,” Tummalapalli said.

Tummalapalli is spreading awareness of positive eating habits through the Bluff Orchard project.

“I think there comes some empowerment in teaching kids that they can take on their nutrition and learn about it and decide on healthy food choices … If you eat well, you do well,” Tummalapalli said.

Students will always be welcomed in the garden. It is intended to create a tightly bound community within White Station. 

“My hope is that we can teach kids not only what it’s like to be served but also be a person in the process of service; that’s a quality you’ll take anywhere,” Tummalapalli said. “So it’s important to me that we get as much as a diverse group involved now and really open it up and invite everyone.”