Updated: Jul 2, 2020
In an article in the Birmingham Business Journal last spring, food deserts are a pressing issue not just for rural Alabama, but also urban Birmingham. According to a city report, 69% of Birmingham’s population lives in a food desert. The problem is exacerbated by grocers closing stores and opening new locations based on an area’s average median income — a methodology that shuts out east and west Birmingham.
Food deserts are generally considered to be places where residents don’t have access to affordable nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Instead of grocery stores or farmers' markets, these areas often have convenience stores and gas stations with limited shelf space available for healthy options — making nutritious foods virtually inaccessible for many families there.
The City of Birmingham’s nine council districts are divided into 23 communities and then again into 99 neighborhoods, each with their own neighborhood associations. Bush Hills neighborhood is located in the Five Points West Community and is classified as a food desert. Under the direction of Ms. Walladean Streeter, president, Bush Hills Neighborhood Association has worked over the last several years to address this issue.
In 2018, they established the Bush Hills Connection (a 501c3) and secured a 10-year lease from the City of Birmingham for the old Woodrow Wilson Elementary School site and property (2019-2029). A multi-use plan was developed that included a community garden, teaching farm, fruit orchard and therapeutic garden. The teaching farm was started in 2018 and has evolved to include the Uijima Summer Literacy Camp.
Jefferson County 4-H has been a partner of the garden since it’s conception and is still working actively towards youth programming. Izette McNealy, 4-H Foundation Regional Extension Agent and Bridgett Harris, Jefferson County 4-H Extension Agent, recently donated 50 4-H project bags to assist those attending the camp with agriculture and stem projects throughout the summer.
With support from others, including a block grant from the City of Birmingham, Birmingham Board of Realtors, UAB Community Innovation Award and Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, their plan has resulted in a place that serves the community with fresh vegetables each week. In addition, they are one of the five neighborhoods participating in UAB’s Grand Challenge Live Smart initiative.
Just this year, along with help from 7 summer interns, the garden has produced over 800 pounds of squash and greens. This is the third year for the Bush Hills Community Garden where Nathanial Williams serves as the garden master along with his wife, April, a master gardener. “This is the third crop for the garden”, said Nathanial. “The garden was designed so that people in the Bush Hills community could benefit from fresh-grown vegetables, which were not accessible.”
"Everybody flocks to the garden, either they are relaxing in the tranquility garden, picking fruits or vegetables or working in the raised beds. I just love this garden, and so does the members of this community.”
For more information about the garden, check out the video.