Darlena’s Story

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“My hope for Oliver is to see a new generation of healthy people come forth. We really can get that.”

Darlena King has deep roots in Birmingham. Her father built her family’s home in the Oak Ridge Park neighborhood in the late 1950s, and she attended Oliver Elementary in its earliest days.

“Oliver is one of our best kept secrets,” she said. “We’ve been here since ‘59, when the school was just one row with classrooms on both sides. There was no lunchroom to sit in so we ate in our classrooms.”

Darlena went on to graduate from Woodlawn High School as part of the first classes to integrate Birmingham schools. Having left Oak Ridge Park after school, she returned with her children in 1995. Her mother still lives “on the hill,” as the neighborhood is sometimes called, as do several of her teachers from when she attended Oliver during the 1960s.

Last year, she started a community garden with okra, beans, and squash on an unused plot next to the new Oliver Elementary building. She wanted to be a part of what she calls “the whole growing process” for the neighborhood.

“Gardening is so integral to the neighborhood, and that’s why I brought my children back,” she said. The garden gives her exercise and a chance to connect with more folks in the neighborhood. “You try to live by example for what could be, and that’s why I love what I’m doing now with the neighborhood.”

Darlena’s family is connected with Oliver Elementary’s growth, too. She has two grandchildren in school at Oliver and her daughter is the PTA president. Darlena’s granddaughter, a 4th grade student this year, attended Glen Iris until this year and participated in the pilot year of Good School Food last year.

Darlena is excited for Good School Food at Oliver. She’s known about Jones Valley for years and even took a class at the farm about keeping up home and community gardens.

“Children are what they eat, and children live what they learn, and they learn what they live,” she said. She believes her community garden works in concert with Good School Food at Oliver. “The garden gives us a chance to do something for the parents and the adults. And if we can get the children involved, stir up the interest, that would help what we need to do with the parents to understand how we can help our children to grow.

“My hope for Oliver is to see a new generation of healthy people come forth. We really can get that.”

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