Thursday, May 16

Sustainable South: Jones Valley Teaching Farm

All photos by the Jones Valley Teaching Farm.

In recent years, there has been a lot of talk about urban agriculture and the solution it provides for sustainable and healthy living (on Sustainable South, we wrote about it in Houston and Atlanta.) The Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) in Birmingham, Alabama, however, is much more than an urban farm. Their vision is to educate 10,000 Birmingham children annually.

The project started in 2007 as the Jones Valley Urban Farm, when the organization transformed three and a half acres of vacant downtown property into an agricultural oasis. The mission was to make the downtown Birmingham community a healthier place. Soon, the farm’s educational programs proved to be the most relevant of all the organization’s initiatives. As a result, the leadership shifted the focus of the farm and changed the name. 

Today, it is the Jones Valley Teaching Farm, and it is a place where young minds blossom. By connecting young people to their food, and helping them understand where it comes from, the JVTF believes that future generations will be empowered to eat smarter, think healthier, and live better. The JVTF works with parents, principals, and teachers to provide educational programs that are responsive to the needs of 21st century learners. This school year, JVTF built a "farm lab" at Glen Iris Elementary School with the help of a design fellow from the Rural Studio and piloted its "Good School Food" curriculum. As part of the program, fifth graders developed a business plan and ran a farmer's market at the school, selling 1,000 pounds of produce from the on-campus farm lab.

JVTF has developed hands-on, standards-based enrichment kits that will be distributed in 8 Birmingham elementary and middle schools in 2013-2014. These kits provide the materials and resources needed for students to work in small teams, developing skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and communication—all relating to food systems and nutrition. The JVTF also provides field-based education to students so they can actively participate in the learning process.

If the farm’s produce is any indication, the JVTF is planting seeds that will grow into a vibrant and healthy young generation in the Birmingham community.

Emilie Dayan, our office intern/assistant/chief collaborator, blogs weekly about issues of nutrition, sustainability, and food policy in the South.