He saw Ensley as a ‘food desert’ then decided to do something about it

By Je’Don Holloway Talley

For The Birmingham Times

Hank Layman started Oasis Gardens Ensley in November, 2015 as a way to make fresh vegetables available for residents. (Je’Don Holloway Talley, special to The Times)
Hank Layman started Oasis Gardens Ensley in November, 2015 as a way to make fresh vegetables available for residents. (Je’Don Holloway Talley, special to The Times)

Ensley native Hank Layman remembers driving around the community when something caught his eye.

“Ensley is a food desert,” Layman said. “I would occasionally go back to the city to drive around and see how it was doing. A year or so ago I was doing that and realized that there’s only one grocery store in Ensley—Marino’s—and you have to go a long way for fresh produce.”

Layman said he was overwhelmed by the lack of proper nutrition available in his native community: “A common source for obesity, hypertension, and numerous other ailments is a lack of proper nutrition.”

An Ensley High School graduate, Layman, 66, decided he wanted to give back to his community, so in November 2015 he started Oasis Gardens Ensley, a project that plants garden beds throughout the community.

One of Layman's Oasis Gardens. (Je’Don Holloway Talley, special to The Times)
One of Layman’s Oasis Gardens. (Je’Don Holloway Talley, special to The Times)

“I’m hoping to make fresh, locally sourced vegetables available to citizens [in Ensley],” he said. “The private home gardens are largely for people who don’t have transportation or can’t get around.”

Layman started his first garden “partially built out in an alley between 19th and 20th streets and avenues G and H. I’ve also put a couple of gardens in private [Ensley] homes, all in raised beds.”

Layman has big plans for his gardens.

“I’m in contact with Councilman [Marcus] Lundy, [who represents the district], and I’m talking to several schools in the Ensley area about starting student gardens,” he said. “I want to plant peanuts at Ensley schools so students can use them to do science projects based on George Washington Carver’s work and several other things in the future.”

Interested in establishing a home garden? Email Layman for help: oasisgardensensley@gmail.com.