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Shirley Cotton, President of Project Full Plate Community Garden

ALABAMA A&M UNIVERSITY, Ala. – The American Farm Bureau Federation reports that 36 percent of farmers in the United States are women. Data from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture further indicates that the number of female farmers in Alabama has risen from 13 percent to 34 percent in the last five years. Among these statistics are the women of urban agriculture.

What is Urban Agriculture?

Urban agriculture involves growing, processing and distributing food in urban areas. This often involves turning plots of vacant land into community-run gardens. Most community garden networks seek to develop partnerships between the growers and the people living in community. Through these partnerships people learn more about agriculture and foster a greater appreciation for where their food comes from.

“Community gardening allows people the chance to get outside, become more physically active, and consume more fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Rudy Pacumbaba, an Alabama Extension urban home grounds, gardens and home pests specialist.

Alabama Extension is a partner of Alabama A&M University’s Small Farms Research Center (AAMU SFRC) that also delivers educational outreach opportunities. These opportunities enable small farmers, such as female community gardeners, to network and address common issues.

“Over the years, the SFRC has partnered with external organizations to provide educational and financial resources to small farmers, including women,” said E’licia Chaverest, SFRC assistant director. “Organizations like Hopewell Women in Agriculture is an example of SFRC resources at work in Alabama communities.”

Hopewell Women in Agriculture

Hopewell Women in Agriculture members

The Hopewell Women in Agriculture (HWA) focuses on establishing community and backyard gardens, as well as other urban farm initiatives. Project Hopewell and AAMU’s SFRC founded the project in 2007.

May Evans, the president of HWA, believes that more women are involved in agriculture now more than ever.

“Women want to ensure food security in the home. They also want healthy and nutritional food for their families,” Evans said. “Women are the past, present and future of agriculture.”

Although agriculture is part of its name, the organization also offers information, training, networking and other entrepreneurial resources to women. In the future, HWA will feature workshops and promotions to raise awareness about their raised bed gardens to garner more community involvement from residents and local leaders.

The following community gardens were started under the guidance of HWA and AAMU’s SFRC.

Hands of Hearts Community Garden

Members of Hands of Hearts Community Garden

Last year, the Hands of Hearts Community Garden in Bessemer, Alabama provided fresh produce to the homeless and local residents, including clients at City of Hope Ministries, a recovery and rescue mission.

Cynthia Witherspoon, who manages the garden, started composting in 2017 and now grows vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers with help from community and Hands of Hearts members.

“Today, what we need are more volunteers. With more volunteers, we can plant a variety of vegetables and reach more people in our community,” Witherspoon said. “I would like the community, especially women, to learn more about gardening so that we can continue providing fresh and healthy produce for our families.”

Project Full Plate Community Garden

The Project Full Plate Community Garden is located in a food desert area in Fairfield, Alabama. It operates under the watchful eye of project manager Bridgett Coleman and other members.

Members of Project Full Plate Community Gardens

Members of Project Full Plate Community Garden

Shirley Cotton, a member of the garden, and nine other gardeners started the community garden in a 130’ x 80’ vacant lot. Tracy Watts, who lives in the community, donated the lot. Watts, who is visually impaired, was delighted when she first held a large zucchini grown in the garden. That is the kind of response that Cotton looks for in what has become a labor of love.

“The magic of growing, watching tiny seedlings mature and seeing the fruits of your labor in the eyes of other people is what makes Project Full Plate worthwhile,” Cotton said.

Cotton, Coleman and other members hope to secure additional land from local leaders to produce more fresh fruits and vegetables for the Fairfield community. Project Full Plate is also looking for more volunteers. People of all ages are welcome to volunteer.

More Information

Alabama Extension salutes these women of urban of agriculture and their community partners for their work in urban agriculture. Urban gardening is a great way to bring communities together.

For more information on Alabama Extension’s urban agricultural programming efforts, contact Pacumbaba at 256-372-4266. To learn more about the AAMU Small Farm Research Center, contact Chaverest at 256-372-4958.

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