When you first enter the Putnam Middle School parking lot off bustling Montclair Road, with a Walmart nearby, the last thing you expect to see is a teaching farm in the back of the school.
But there it is. Literally a teaching farm’s Garden of Eden. They have it all: raised beds, a pond, a cistern, a compost pile, a “bee hotel,” vegetables (carrots, sunflowers, greens, etc..), a student “victory garden,” and in just a couple of weeks a student designed greenhouse that will be opened on May 23rd.
The teaching farm at Putnam Middle School was completed in 2015, and is one of seven teaching farms that Jones Valley Teaching Farms operates in partnership with Birmingham City Schools.
“It’s golden hour!”
That’s how Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Good School Food Instructor Leah Hillman describes the time after school from 3:30 to 5:00 when the Putnam students hold their Farm Club meetings.
“It’s when the space looks most beautiful. It is filled with students and then the sunlight shines through the trees.”
Hillman has been with the Putnam Middle School program since its inception. Her job is to collaborate with teachers to develop innovative lessons that utilize produce and the garden space in math, science, social studies, English, and other core subject areas.
For example, the 7th grade at Putnam studies life science. The Teaching Farm opens up discussions about bees, pollination, the reproductive systems of a flower.
In 6th grade, the social studies teacher has partnered with Jones Valley to teach students about Victory Gardens in World War II by planting their own victory gardens. The students learn about rationing, what vegetables to choose and when to harvest. They even integrate math standards, with dot plotting, graphs and tracking which seeds were successful.
The capstone project for this year has been the 8th grade’s development and construction of a Greenhouse. The project became a reality last Spring when Jones Valley received a grant from the Birmingham Change Fund, to support middle school STEM programs.
The ambitious year-long project tied together numerous disciplines that go into constructing a building, including science, math and engineering. The Society of Black Engineers and several architects stepped forward to assist the students, and become mentors.
According to Hillman, what makes the greenhouse all the more special is that the current 8th graders that have designed the greenhouse were 6th graders when the Teaching Farm was founded at Putnam three years ago
“It’s their legacy,” concluded Hillman.
A legacy indeed. And it all starts after school with the “golden hour” filled with students and sunlight learning how to produce food and build a community.