Birmingham’s Bush Hills neighborhood reaps harvest of produce and community connections

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — In an age when free time often means scrolling social media or binge-watching reality TV, many have lost the art of building neighborly connections. Yet social connections are a key part of healthy and vibrant communities.

With assistance from the city, one neighborhood in Birmingham is helping to build more personal bridges among its residents through the Bush Hills Community Garden and Urban Farm. The garden — located on more than an acre of land at the old Wilson School site — is the creation of a nonprofit called Bush Hills Connections, in partnership with the Bush Hills Neighborhood Association, Birmingham City Schools and a city of Birmingham initiative called BOLD.

The BOLD program — short for Building Opportunities for Lasting Development — was created by the city’s Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity to enhance the potential of Birmingham businesses, residents and communities. The city has distributed $2.5 million in BOLD funds over three years, using a competitive process that favors organizations that work together and achieve real results.

The Bush Hills Community Garden and Urban Farm is a prime example of achieving results. Since its founding, community volunteers have come together to grow greens, peppers, berries, corn, squash and many other kinds of produce. The endeavor offered residents opportunities for pandemic-friendly fellowship — as well as healthy food options for their families.

“During our first year as a community farm, we harvested over 20,000 pounds of food for the community,” said Joanice Thompson, the president of Bush Hills Connections. “We’ve been able to accomplish so much in a short amount of time thanks to private and public support.”

The community garden is also an educational resource that helps residents learn about cultivating produce and what to do with it, offering cooking demonstrations and other programs.

Jennifer Duckworth, a champion of the Bush Hills Community Garden, said her family visits the farm at least once a week to provide her children with hands-on learning opportunities. “Having the ability to till the soil, harvest the produce, and learn how to prepare meals with the bounty provides a one-of-a-kind experience,” Mrs. Duckworth said.

Bush Hills Connections now plans to bring the experience even closer to home for residents — and to create economic opportunities from farming as well.

“Our next steps are to take the farm deeper into the community,” said April Myers Williams, a board member for Bush Hills Connections. “Thanks to BOLD Funding, we will be working with neighbors to place approximately 10 micro-garden sites at homes throughout the community.”

The micro-gardens will further increase access to fresh and healthy food options in the community, and Bush Hills Connections plans to partner with another organization to help families generate additional income by selling the flowers and produce they grow at their homes.

Yvette Chatman, a Bush Hills resident, is already reaping some of the benefits of the micro-garden pilot at her home.

“Once my oregano and basil become harvestable, I will have the opportunity to market and sell the herbs at local markets,” Mrs. Chatman said. “For some residents, this opportunity will represent additional streams of income for their families and access to fresh foods in an area that’s considered a food desert.”

For the City of Birmingham, the Bush Hills initiative is about building a healthy community and providing opportunities for residents to connect, learn and thrive. For residents of Bush Hills, it’s a chance to invest in their own community — and hopefully become a model for others.

“I’ve been a resident of Bush Hills for almost 50 years,” said Walladean Streeter, the neighborhood association president. “It’s time that we work together to improve the quality of life in our communities, and we will be the model neighborhood to show others how it’s done.”

To learn more about Bush Hills Connections, visit the organization’s webpage: www.bushhills.org.