Backyard Gardener's Network



“The mission of the BGN is community-building. Strengthen and sustain the Lower 9th community through urban agriculture. The gardens and the growing are wonderful byproducts of a strong community. Sustaining any cultural practice is making sure there’s a supportive community around that. The vision is for everyone in the Lower 9th to feel that this is something they can do.” [1]


Backyard Gardener’s Network is a non-profit organization started by Jenga Mwendo in the Lower Ninth Ward. Jenga and her organization are working on rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward through urban farming and community building. The organization currently has two neighborhood gardens and a resource center that are the focal points of the organization.

Ernst Garden
The current Ernst Garden stemmed from the Laurentine Ernst Garden, a community garden established long before Katrina. The garden’s namesake, Mrs. Laurentine Ernst was an avid gardener who lived on Jourdan Avenue. After Katrina hit, neighbor and dedicated gardener Ms. Patsy Story tried to maintain the garden on her own, but due to personal circumstances, the garden fell into disrepair. In September 2007, Jenga Mwendo began organizing neighbors and local organizations, such as The Village, to clean up and replant the Ernst Garden. A Garden Committee was formed and met on a regular basis to maintain and plan the garden. The Committee established regular Garden Days, hosted waves of volunteers, and held events at the garden. Now a Backyard Gardener’s Network project, the garden is used by neighborhood residents to grow vegetables in the five in-ground and raised garden plots.

Ernst Garden Resource Center
The Ernst Garden resource center is soon to open! The resource center is housed in a formerly blighted cottage adjacent to the Ernst Garden. The Garden Resource Center functions as a Tool Lending Library, an educational resource library, a meeting place and a relief station for gardeners and visitors. Neighborhood gardeners can come to the Garden Resource Center for free seeds and starter plants. The building was donated by the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans. It is also sponsored by the Holy Cross Neighborhood Association and supported by the Lower Ninth Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development, Historic Green and HandsOn New Orleans.

Guerrilla Garden
Jenga envisioned a vibrant greenspace in place of blighted land where families can congregate, socialize, grow vegetables and pick from fruit trees. This idea transformed into the Guerrilla Garden. The Guerrilla Garden is a project that was conceived, developed and implemented by Lower Ninth Ward residents committed to community revitalization. The project began in April 2009 and residents, volunteers, and other organizations (such as The Village) from the Lower Ninth and around the country have worked together clearing this lot, planning the space and securing resources for the garden. Where the Guerrilla Garden now sits was once an overgrown dumping ground. It has transformed into a beautiful community greenspace, featuring a small fruit tree grove, a shade structure (which will soon provide rainwater catchment), raised garden beds, and an outdoor kitchen space. The Guerrilla Garden is a center for community building and community ownership, eliminating blight and improving food access. It is meant to be a place for folks of all ages to get together and learn from each other. [2]


The Lower 9th Ward has a rich cultural tradition of growing food. BGN works to encourage and support that tradition and use it as a community-building tool. They help to bring people together in the gardens to grow, literally and figuratively. They have various programs which speak to this effort:

The Adopt-A-Plot program offers an opportunity for residents who want to grow in community with others. Garden plots are available for planting at the two BGN gardens, Ernst Garden and the Guerrilla Garden. Lower 9th Ward residents have priority (¾ of plots are set aside for Lower 9th Ward residents). All BGN gardeners get free access to water and basic tools, access to the Tool Lending Library, and free seeds and starter plants courtesy of New Orleans Food and Farm Network and Parkway Partners. Also, gardening at the community gardens allows residents to share advice and stories with one another. Gardeners meet regularly to make decisions about the garden and plan events. [3]

Community Garden Space Use
The gardens are available for individuals or organizations to use as well. With an outdoor kitchen space, a shade structure, picnic tables, and benches, the Guerrilla Garden is often used to host events. These gardens are lively community centers and welcome community organizations and residents to use them. [4]

Special Events
Backyard Gardener’s Network host a variety of special events to bring the Lower Ninth Ward community together in the gardens. In partnership with New Orleans Citizens Diplomacy Council, they have hosted delegations of visitors from around the world for cultural exchanges with the community. They have an annual Tastes of the Lower 9th Ward Community Potluck, where residents bring a dish that includes ingredients grown in the neighborhood. They also host an annual Watermelon Party to celebrate the watermelons picked fresh from the garden! They also hosted a Garden Walk in 2012 with Tekrema Center for the Arts and The Village in which a group of senior residents took a walk around the Lower Ninth and stopped by the gardens in their neighborhood. [5]

Tool Lending Library
The Tool Lending Library program offers low-cost garden tool rental for Lower 9th Ward residents. In stock, they have a tiller, a weed wacker, pointed and flat shovels, leaf rakes, hard rakes, pick axes, and many hand tools.

Mapping Non-Profit Influence: The Case of the Lower Ninth Ward

Backyard Gardeners Network is one of many organizations that have worked to restore the Lower Ninth Ward after Hurricane Katrina. As part of a larger study of the impact and networks of non-profits in 2013 (please see Mapping Non-Profit Influence: The Case of the Lower Ninth Ward for more details), we can see that this organization excels in the following areas:


1. Access to consumers, regardless of ability to pay
Anyone in the Lower Ninth Ward community is welcome to adopt a plot in a garden free of charge. The resources of the BGN are readily available without fees, and their gardens are directly in the community they are targeting.

2. Provisions of collective goods
Backyard Gardener’s Network provides a variety of collective goods from their public gardens and community spaces to their resource center. All of their projects serve to beautify their community, reducing blight and creating public spaces everyone can enjoy.

3. Opportunities to volunteer
Volunteers are often solicited to help, particularly when new projects are starting up. Volunteers maintain gardens, clear new lots, and even do some planting themselves!

Participation in Information Sharing

When we analyze Backyard Gardeners Network based on its extent of participation in information sharing activities, we see they are active in 4 ways:

1. Education
Backyard Gardener’s Network serves to educate the community on gardening through their education resource center at the Ernst Garden House.

2. Capacity Building
BGN is building capacity in the Lower Ninth Ward by providing gardens which residents can use to grow their own food and feed their families. This enables the community to become self-sustainable. Residents get a say in what happens to the gardens they grow in, giving them power and authority over their community.

3. Networking
Backyard Gardener’s Network has connections with four other organizations in this study (CSED, Tekrema Center for the Arts,The Village and Historic Green.) They have collaborated on projects, given donations, and shared volunteers with these organizations.

4. Social Change
BGN is working to create social change by bringing the Lower Ninth Ward community together and making it more sustainable. They are enabling residents to grow their own food and come together in order to produce a stronger community. They are also helping to maintain a long standing tradition in the Lower Nine, preserving the culture and history of the community.

Works Cited

  • Backyard Gardeners Network, Best of New Orleans, August 20th 2013,
  • Gardens, Backyard Gardeners Network, August 20th 2013,
  • Gardens, Backyard Gardeners Network, August 20th 2013,
  • Gardens, Backyard Gardeners Network, August 20th 2013,
  • Year End Summary, Backyard Gardener’s Network, August 20 2013,

This page was last modified on 20 August 2013, at 06:35


Backyard Gardener's Network Ernst Garden Resource Center

601 Forstall Street, New Olreans, LA 70117


Backyard Gardener's Network Guerilla Garden

5723 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70117


Backyard Gardener's Network Headquarters

603 Forstall Street, New Orleans, LA 70117