Great ideas often start with a
conversation, but how often do those ideas become reality? Many
conversations led to a very special camp behind the woods off of
Park Avenue in Bluff Park. The Children’s Fresh Air Farm was born
out of a conversation on a bus traveling from Birmingham to
Montgomery in 1923. Henry Edmonds, founding pastor of the
Independent Presbyterian Church, and his friend Robert Meyer were
sitting on that bus discussing how to spend money in a way that
would help people. The idea grew out of that conversation and after
much advice from social workers, doctors and friends the Children’s
Fresh Air Farm started to take flight. The first camp in 1923 was
held at Shades Cahaba High School and covered a ten week period with
an average of 30 campers attending. At this rural camp, the children
of urban workers could stay overnight in the country, getting away
from the pollution of the factories centered in Birmingham.
The farm moved to
its current home in Bluff Park in 1924 after Meyer bought the
Charles Perry Home and land. As more land was purchased, the Farm
grew to 35 acres. The camp’s fundamental service to the children
grew and changed, as well. Camp capacity increased to 60 students
Meeting the Physical, Emotional
and Spiritual needs of children.
There were many actives in the day.
"Camp craft" would give the kids the opportunity to learn about
wood trails, how to build a fire and how to tie knots. There were
30 minute swim classes and sports activities like softball,
soccer, basketball and even archery.
Needs met were not only physical and
educational but also medical and nutritional. Doctors, Hughes
Kennedy, Hardy and Staggers (to name only a few) examined campers
and even performed several tonsillectomies. Fresh milk and fruits
like watermelon were also provided. Doctor Frank Moody tended to
issues with any ear, nose or throat problems. Dental care was also
a great need at the time. Several dentists and hygienists provided
as much care as possible to children attending camp who otherwise
would not have access to such medical services. Free health
clinics were held in February, March and April in preparation for
"I still get letters from people who
came to the camp when they were kids. Some even come by to visit,"
says Gini Williams who took over as director of the Children's
Fresh Air Farm in 2010. "I even had a lady tell me her father was
one of the early doctors who came to give children dental exams."
The Independent Presbyterian Church also
provided a spiritual base for the children of the camp. There were
chapel services held in the camp’s outdoor chapel as well as
morning worship after breakfast and chores. A different cabin
group would lead each service each day. The chapel was dedicated
in June 1965 and was refurbished in 1980.
Campers also got the opportunity to
maintain their own garden. Each camper had his or her own plot for
flowers or vegetables.
As years pass
the needs of the campers changed and so did the focus.
Fresh Air Farm Today
needs changed, the Fresh Air Farm had to evolve to continue
meeting those needs. Over the years the demographics of children
who attended camp changed multiple times. One change was that, as
mills and factories closed, the camp attendees were largely more
inner city and low income school children.
In 2010, a new
Summer Learning program took flight at the Farm. The Farm moved
from being an overnight camp to being a day camp. With this change
came a need to change the facility in a few ways. Physical changes
had to be made to the buildings and the structure of their
learning program had to undergo changes as well.
In April 2010
Gini Williams took over as director of the Fresh Air Farm. With
big goals in mind. Williams started to transform the camp. "I had
to restore the farm but also change it from an overnight camp to a
day camp experience for campers from all over Birmingham,"
The camp began
with second graders from Whatley and Gibson Elementary schools who
were behind their grade level in reading. A tutoring program
called STAIR, Start The Adventure In Reading, was started for
these students. At the end of 2010, the same children were invited
to join a summer program that also included math.
A unique part of the summer program is
the offering of breakfast, lunch and a healthy snack. "We have to
feed the children in mind, body and soul," Williams says.
The learning program continues to evolve
and now the farm partners with Samford University’s Department of
Education in its course of study. "Program wise we had to start
looking at what fit the Alabama state course of study. It will
always be tweaked a bit to fit what the children need," Williams
The Summer Learning Program at the
Children's Fresh Air Farm consists of targeted study Monday
through Thursday with classes in the morning and enrichment
classes like music or science outreach by the McWane Science
Center in the afternoon. On Fridays, the children get to go on
field trips to places like the Birmingham Zoo, Southern Museum of
Flight, Birmingham Eco Center and Railroad Park.
Today, the camp hosts second through
fifth graders at a six week summer camp. There is also church
bible school with around 150 kids in June.
The farm is also a rentable facility for
events like weddings, receptions, and church functions. "I want
the farm to be used often and continue to serve the children that
need it and the community.” Williams says.