“Growing food, growing community.” It’s the motto West End Community Gardens has been living by since spring 2008. Established as an urban ministry through Community Church Without Walls, West End Community Gardens has seen a growing increase in interest and participation from the whole community, especially its youth. Site Director, Ama Shambulia sees everyone involved becoming better neighbors, gaining harmony in the community, and learning how to master growing food. The Gardens have become a welcomed and appreciated asset to West End.
Although she didn’t grow up gardening, Ama likes to play in the dirt and loves the idea of a community where everything you need is within walking distance – food, meetings, and activities. A chef and Birmingham local for 23 years, Ama wants to encourage people who have gotten away from fresh foods to get back to it. “West End is the largest community in the state of Alabama, but also the most challenged. I believe you can have anything in West End as any other city. It just takes invested community members,” says Ama.
A place for regular community service, West End Community Gardens has a volunteer pool from Birmingham-Southern College, as well as UAB and other institutions. Every Wednesday and Saturday morning, the garden is active with sixteen 4’x8’ community plots that can be leased to grow tomatoes, okra, collard greens, herbs, and flowers to sell at the curb market the first and third Saturdays of the month. Even Whole Foods gets involved by donating old produce to sustainably create the living organism of composted soil.
As program director, Ama encourages the community to interact at the garden in a number of ways. There are two classes, in March and September, where community members are taught how to compost, garden, and prepare healthy food. The Collard Green Cook-off is an annual wellness expo on the 3rd Saturday in October where locals compete to prepare the best, no pork, collards.
O.U.R. Garden (Outstanding Urban Renewal) is a program partnered with the Jefferson County Family Court for youth offenders to earn community service hours on Wednesday afternoons. Volunteers work along side the troubled teens to encourage them to make better choices. Recently, the Gardens held its Summer Solstice an increasingly popular annual event featuring a DJ, spoken word, a market, art, and local vendors.
Under Ama Shambulia’s direction, the location has expanded to two neighboring lots with big plans. Ama is working to develop more outlets that holistically enhance the West End area and employ the resources available for a healthy purpose. The list of possibilities include: a community life center for education, a movement room for exercise, public market space for vendors and farmers, a demonstration kitchen for healthy food preparation, and a community café to give locals another reason to visit and interact.
Among the many activities and life lessons gained from the Gardens, the program teaches its members to become community stewards and pay forward the benefits they receive from such a special place in West End.
We salute Ama Shambulia for her efforts to connect locals with the environment and for building a stronger community. To learn how you can support the West End Community Gardens, contact Ama at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written By Angela Cleary