Teacher’s Urban Garden a “Nuisance,” Judge Says


A Tennessee judge has ordered math teacher Adam Guerrero to dismantle his urban garden on the grounds that it is in violation of city codes and contains “personal property” that is “unsightly” and a “nuisance.” For the past two years, Guerrero, who teaches math at Raleigh-Egypt High School in Shelby County, has been creating an urban homestead that also provides a continuing education in math, biology and engineering for three students, Jovantae, Jarvis and Shaquielle. But for growing 7-foot sunflowers and keeping beehives, Guerrero is being cited for violating city ordinances for not removing “debris” and maintaining “a clean and sanitary condition free from any accumulation of rubbish or garbage.”

Guerrero, a member of the Grow Memphis board, says that Shelby County Environmental Court judge Larry Potter has told him his garden is a “neighborhood nuisance.”

Photos of Guerrero’s garden posted on the Memphis Flyer show a well-maintained and frankly impressive operation, with rows of worm bins and sunflowers and bee hives that Jovantae, Jarvis and Shaquielle tend to while wearing protective gear. There’s more:

…eggplant, tomato, and pepper plants grow in the front yard; the backyard is lined with rows of wooden worm bins; barrels for collecting and storing rainwater are stationed next to his backdoor; his garage is stocked with equipment for making biodiesel and soap; and behind his garage are beehives quietly humming with industry. Elsewhere, passionflowers, butterflies, elderberry bushes, and sunflowers fill out the garden.

The students have learned to use the glycerin by-product from the biodiesel to make soap; they’ve also installed solar panels at the Midtown North Community Garden. Jovantae and Jarvis attend the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering (MASE) while Shaquielle is a former student of Guerrero’s. The garden not only reinforces lessons in math and science from the classroom, but is teaching them skills:

Jovantae, a junior at MASE, estimates that he and his friends spend three or four days at the garden when school is out and at least one day a week during the school year. They are none too pleased with the judge’s decision.

“I don’t understand why it’s a problem if it’s in the backyard,” says Shaquielle, a senior at Kingsbury [High School]. “We like coming here. We don’t want it to go away.”

Guerrero was supposed to start dismantling his urban garden last week and is to report on September 23 to court to show that he has complied with the judge’s orders. It’s a sad case of how “ regulation and red tape can end up squashing well-intentioned efforts,” just as Fordham Law School in New York City recently put a stop to its farm-share program because the organizers were unable to secure catering permits to allow vegetables to be delivered to its Manhattan campus.

Facebook page and blog have arisen to save Guerrero’s garden, along with a Care2 petition below. Do Memphis authorities really think it’s in the public interest to eliminate a garden full of growing things and, even more, a garden providing an educational and rewarding after-school activity for students in an inner-city neighborhood?


Related Care2 Coverage

Victory! Julie Bass No Longer Facing Jail For Growing Veggies

Save the Tomatoes: Plant the Seeds of Biodiversity

Gardening On the Rise in Economic Hard Times


Photo by ilovememphis


Kamryn M.
Kay M6 years ago


Kamryn M.
Kay M6 years ago


Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago

That Tennessee judge is Wrong. He needs to seek a mental health counselor and use ALL of his benefits to get well. In the mean time he should step down from the bench.

Cheryl Dare
Cheryl Dare6 years ago

Laura D. and other readers: The neighbors are claiming that his garden, and it is a lush one, harbors rats. I wonder if he's mulching with straw which can look unattractive? He is taking care of his home and garden responsibly - even more green than most Memphians are willing to do. He catches and reuses rainwater, has bins for recycling, large wooden boxes with lids to compost and raise earthworms. He couldn't be more responsible. A side note: not so responsibly he lets his cat outside and the neighbor across the street claims the cat is scratching his car. I've never seen a car that anyone said was scratched by a cat. All I ever see is paw prints. For more information you can go to the web sites of The Commercial Appeal, the local newspaper, and WMCTV (NBC).

Lin Moy
Lin M6 years ago

I think it is a great thing he is doing. Booooooooooooooooo to neighbors.

Lynne B.
Lynne Buckley6 years ago

What a pathetic judge to call the garden a nuisance and unsightly. Is this all that the courts and bureaucracy have to find nowadays to punish? Pathetic.

Marie W.
Marie W6 years ago

So much for freedom- its OK to hunt and kill but not have a garden!??!!

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

One man's trash is another's compost. The kids are getting an education,painless, practical math, fresh air, something to focus on and care for. The judge (being from another planet) obviously thinks veggies grow in sparkly sanitary conditions (perhaps in a room in the back of a grocery store?) and not in real honest soil.

Edith B.
Edith B6 years ago

This reminds me of the woman in Michigan who planted a garden in her front yard,( to feed her kids) who was ordered to remove it because it didn't comply with "community standards".
We must all conform evidently.

Laura D.
Laura D6 years ago

First of all, are his plants being deemed as garbage, or does he really have a problem with not disposing of garbage? The article did not clarify that point. If this is a garbage matter, than perhaps Mr. Guerrero does need to clean some things in his garden. If the garden and hives themselves are being deemed garbage, then someone really needs to rethink their city codes.