Agriculture, Food and Culinary Arts 16

Jones Valley Teaching Farms Transform Education and Lives

Isn’t it fun to know some people in the Two Eighty community actually party in gardens? But that’s not the only productive development occurring in local patches.

Delivering food-based education throughout Birmingham is the mission of a unique initiative delivered under the umbrella of Jones Valley Teaching Farms.

The goal of Jones Valley instructors is to nurture local communities into healthier places while empowering students with the knowledge of how to eat smarter, think healthier and live better. Anchored at 701 25th St. N. in Birmingham, the group works through seven farms placed on the campuses of Avondale Elementary, Glen Iris Elementary, Hayes K-8 School, John Herbert Phillips Academy, Oliver Elementary, Putnam Middle and Woodlawn High School.

Zoe Burgess, Jones Valley communications director, says the farm was founded in 2002. In 2007, it was moved from Birmingham’s Southside to Park Place, where the group established an urban farm on one city block.

In 2012, they piloted a Good School Food program as a food-based education model rooted in academic standards. Through hands-on, cross-curricular lessons at the teaching farms, pre-kindergarten through high school students use food, farming and culinary arts as a foundation for academic discoveries. It’s become Jones Valley’s primary underpinning.

“Students are excited by the program! They love to explore the teaching farms to learn through an experiential lens in a way that complements their daily, in-class lessons,” Zoe says.

This year, she says Jones Valley instructors are continuing to hone the Good School Food program.

She adds they also are conducting their second year of an internship at Woodlawn High School. Interns manage the farm operations with a program director and farm manager and run a weekly farm stand that gives neighborhood residents, as well as school staff and families, access to fresh, affordable, sustainably grown produce.

Student interns also sell produce at two neighborhood farmers markets, Woodlawn Street Market and The Market at Pepper Place, which attract thousands of customers from metro Birmingham.

The third class of interns will start in the fall.

In 2017, Jones Valley managers established a culinary education program for the winter months.

“That program is getting more robust and refined,” Zoe says. “We’re working on incorporating additional cooking experiences into all aspects of our programming, and 2018 will include more opportunities to bring cooking into all elements of our curriculum.”

Through culinary programming, Zoe says students relish cooking and sharing meals with their classmates and friends.

“Student feedback to the after-school programs indicates they feel they grow in their leadership skills and problem-solving abilities as they work as teams to manage their weekly markets and help maintain their school’s teaching farm.”

Zoe says the staff and students plan to grow, harvest and sell thousands of pounds—as well as hundreds of varieties—of fruits, vegetables and flowers through their student-operated weekly stands and farmers markets.

She says one of the biggest benefits this educational effort delivers to the Birmingham area community is that the Good School Food program is a unique, practical learning opportunity that supplements what students are learning in classrooms. In addition to the school-day programming, Jones Valley instructors also implement opportunities through a Farm Lab Club and Culinary Club.

“It’s exciting that we’re located in a pipeline of schools, so students can participate from elementary to middle to high school,” Zoe says.