Revitalizing an Alabama neighborhood through urban agriculture

Guest column by Holly Lynne Killian 

Community leader and “Revitalizing Hillman” Project Coordinator Virginia Ward at the Bessemer Farmers Market.

In the southwestern part of Birmingham, Alabama, lies a seasonal high tunnel (also known as a hoop house) overflowing with fresh vegetables. Located in the neighborhood of Hillman, the high tunnel sits almost like a landmark in this small, tight-knit community.

Thanks to an NACD urban agriculture grant, a determined community leader, and the Jefferson County Conservation District, the mission: “Revitalizing Hillman” was born, making the dream of a neighborhood food hub a reality.

Since its construction in early September 2016, the high tunnel has continually produced fresh vegetables for the community, including the neighboring church. Community leader and “Revitalizing Hillman” Project Coordinator Virginia Ward has been unwavering in her pursuit to bring not only education and awareness to the community, but also opportunity to young residents. Throughout this grant, Ms. Ward has been enabled to touch the lives of many teens, teaching them life skills that will help them succeed now and in the future.

While working in the hoop house, she has inspired several students to pursue careers in the culinary arts, connecting them to the right folks at Lawson State Community College just a few miles down the road.

As part of their outreach, Ms. Ward and her farm hands regularly visit farmers markets, too, including the Bessemer Farmers Market and the UAB West Market. Neighboring restaurant owners have also purchased fresh produce from the hoop house.

Ms. Ward strives to empower those around her, believing they can achieve anything as long as they put in hard work and dedication. The high tunnel is just one of the many ways she does so in her community. You can find more photos and information on the hoop house on the Jefferson County Conservation District’s Facebook page.

Holly Lynne Killian is the assistant district administrative coordinator for the Jefferson County Conservation District in Alabama. She can be reached by email at jefferson@alconservationdistricts.org.

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