Back in 2001, Southern Living staffer Edwin Marty took steps that would turn a vacant lot in downtown Birmingham into Jones Valley Urban Farm. After 10 years Marty left the local farm for other pastures, but the seed he and others planted had grown into a going concern, infusing vitality into the whole idea of growing your own food in the confines of the Magic City.
That concept morphed into what is now known as Jones Valley Teaching Farm, which itself is at the center of a movement toward making growing and eating fresh veggies cool for Birmingham kids. Development fellow Mary Beth Brown explains in the interview below how JVTF is staying relevant to Birmingham’s foodie culture.
Weld: I get the impression that there is something always going on at JVTF. What are you up to this week?
Mary Beth Brown: It’s a busy time of year! It’s our last week of student-run farmers markets at our five Pre-K–8 partner schools. We’re hosting Family Kitchen at two partner schools, where students and their families prepare and enjoy a nutritious meal together in their school’s teaching farm. We have a variety of tours and talks scheduled with people interested in our work. Our downtown farm staff is busy cultivating and harvesting crops for Pepper Place Market (come see us this Saturday!). And we’re getting ready for our second annual Gather night on Saturday, May 21: different individuals and organizations are hosting dinners across Birmingham to support our work with students.
Weld: What’s the mission of JVTF?
Brown: Our mission is encouraging students to act as critical thinkers, problem solvers and change agents in their communities. We work towards this mission by building teaching farms on school campuses and delivering innovative, hands-on food education programs in partnership with Birmingham City Schools.
Weld: Has your mission changed over time?
Brown: Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) began with the simple and important mission of growing and providing access to fresh produce in urban areas. A few years ago, we refined our mission with the goal of increasing our long-term impact on students.
Weld: Tell me about the initiative you have connected to Woodlawn High School.
Brown: In December 2015 we completed construction of Woodlawn High School (WHS) Urban Farm, a two-acre farm built for and managed by high school students. WHS is our sixth partner school and completes our Pre-K–12 pipeline, which means that students who start kindergarten at one of our partner schools can have uninterrupted access to our teaching farms and hands-on food education programs throughout their elementary, middle, and high school years.
We have an amazing group of students leading WHS Urban Farm as it grows and develops. We’re excited to see where they take it. Visit whsurbanfarm.org to learn more!
Weld: What can readers do to support the farm, or support the philosophy you promote?
Brown: Buy a ticket to one of our Gather events happening Saturday, May 21! You’ll get some great food and drink while learning more about — and directly supporting — our work with students. Event info and tickets at jvtfgather.com.
Want to see what JVTF is up to? They’re all over social media, including Instagram: @jonesvalleyteachingfarm.