Groundbreakers [Birmingham Magazine]

As see in Birmingham Magazine

Jones Valley Teaching Farm

Story by Julie Keith and Carla Jean Whitley + Photo by Rob Culpepper

The downtown, urban location of Jones Valley Teaching Farm is something of a front door to the nonprofit organization. In 2012, 3,700 people participated in the farm’s on-site educational programs, a 150 percent increase from 2011. But step over the metaphorical threshold and into the heart of the farm, and you’ll find programs that delve deep into food, nutrition and educational issues.

In 2012, the farm changed its name from Jones Valley Urban Farm to Jones Valley Teaching Farm, a reflection of an increased emphasis on education. “We meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people because our founder was so active from the very beginning in getting a movement started for local food and nutrition, and stronger education around this subject,” says Executive Director Grant Brigham.

So the staff evaluated their existing programs and their strengths, and then determined that in-depth, K-8 education made the most use of their resources.
“There’s not only a need to have stronger, better and general increase in food and nutrition education, there’s also a serious need to improve education in general in our state and our city,” Brigham says.

In December, JVTF launched a new initiative to address those concerns. The “Practicing Science, Engineering Change” awards city school students with technology and scholarships as they create projects focused on food systems and nutrition. Brigham says it’s a creative way to help students see that good work and problem solving are rewarded, while also addressing a need for improved math, science and engineering skills.

“We’re committed to urban education, and we feel like we can have a unique presence within the Birmingham City School System and be an effective partner from the top to the bottom,” he says.

The organization’s increased emphasis on education also includes the Seed to Plate program, which brings children to the farm to learn about the food they eat. The farm is partnering with Glen Iris Elementary to develop programs focused not only on food, but also science and nutrition. A 2012 Food Institute trained teachers on a JVTF-developed curriculum, a program that is also expected to grow.

With all this, the farm’s produce remains available for purchase April through December, and 38 garden plots offer community members a chance to get their hands dirty while growing food themselves.

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