By: Katie Crawford Buys, MSN, MPH, NP-C, Instructor & Course Manager, UAB Community & Public Health Nursing.
On a cool Wednesday morning in February, Katie Crawford Buys found Ama Shambulia, Director of West End “WE” Community Gardens, hard at work, preparing the ground to plant carrots and beets. As she raked, she took time to answer a few questions about her current role and how community gardening can impact health.
Katie: How were you inspired to start WE Community Gardens?
Ama: My work here can be traced back to my earliest days in the “backyard garden”with my grandmother. When I moved to rural Alabama from Los Angeles at age 16, I found even more space to cultivate my love for home-grown flowers and food. This particular garden was actually started by Pastor R.G. Lyons with Urban Ministry, here in West End, in the spring of 2008. Once Urban Ministry got into it, they realized they needed someone involved with additional expertise in gardening. Someone in the community saw my plot and asked if I could work with WE Community Gardens. I joined with WE in the fall of 2008. We have youth interns, a few part-time gardeners, and we have volunteers from the community, mostly children and seniors. Seeing the positive impact WE Community Gardens has on people after they start working with us and receiving our foods inspires me to continue this work.
Katie: In your opinion, how has WE Community Garden helped to improve health in the community?
Ama: Changing health perceptions is not something that happens overnight. We are all in different places on the spectrum of health and well-being. The highlight of our year is the “Collard Green Cook-Off and Wellness Expo” on the third Saturday in October. We challenge the community to prepare collard greens in a different way. The only rule is: no pork. In addition to the cook-off, we provide a “whole food, soul food” meal, including pepper sauce and field peas from the garden and brown rice and cornbread, for the 300 people who come. We try to help people learn different, healthy ways to prepare food they have always eaten. Slowly, we are seeing some change in that area.
Katie: How can being involved in gardening help people in Birmingham who have diabetes?
Ama: Gardening is very therapeutic; it relieves stress. It is also a good way to be outdoors. And everyone can do it! You can garden in your back yard, front yard, or even on your front porch. I have not discovered any down sides to gardening. You can save money by eating what you grow. Health experts always say, “Eat more vegetables and move.” Gardening incorporates both of these.
Want to get involved in gardening? WE Community Gardens hosts a volunteer day every Wednesday and Saturday, from 8 AM until noon. Go out to the garden to learn how they garden and how you can become involved or start your own garden!
You can also read more about WE Community Gardens and read some of Ama’s amazing recipes by visiting the WE blog.