Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) uses food as an innovative foundation to grow people and boasts a beautiful downtown location, plus campuses at seven Birmingham City schools. During the pandemic, supported by supported by 40+ donors including Regions Bank, the farm built a new Center for Food Education which now serves as a vibrant hub for the community. Keep reading to learn how it came to be, plus all about the incredible programs it hosts for students, educators and others.
The Center for Food Education: a brief history
As Jones Valley Urban Farm (what Jones Valley Teaching Farm used to be called) grew through the years, they began to offer a pre-K through 12-grade program called Good School Food in conjunction with Birmingham City Schools.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm‘s Executive Director Amanda Storey explained:
“As we began to talk with students, especially our older students, as apprentices and interns, the question was ‘what comes after this? How do we build a community that supports the way we are saying we want this world to look?'”
With students, donors, community partners, and their Board, Jones Valley Teaching Farm continued to dream together and a vision for expansion was born.
The Center for Food Education would reach beyond the school-based farm campuses. At the same time, it would serve as a place to have hard, yet uniting, conversations around how food and community change.
Buoyed by this dream, Jones Valley started showing results within the school system, then began to hire young people, which led to a period of rapid growth for the organization.
Purchasing the property for Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Center for Food Education
Once JVTF had the opportunity to purchase the property, they started a capital campaign with the goal of buying the land, which they were able to do.
Next, they worked with their partners at ArchitectureWorks to draw up plans for the Center for Food Education. Drawings in hand, they went out and pitched it.
“We simply had to have something on the other side of COVID—a place where kids could be outside and free, and a place where food was central to the conversations. COVID helped raise so much awareness as to why we use food as the foundation for everything we do.”Amanda Storey, Executive Director, Jones Valley Teaching Farm
48 meetings later, they had raised $8.3M—all during COVID. Regions Bank joined with other local donors to support the mission of the Center for Food Education:
“As a company, Regions Bank has a mission to make life better for the communities we serve. We do that by focusing on key priorities where we can create the greatest impact. With JVTF’s focus on education and workforce readiness, that means providing greater access to educational opportunities and valuable job skills training. It also means providing schools, community groups and others with tools and resources to recognize the importance of food security and its power to help families thrive.”Kendra Key, JVTF Board Member + SVP of Community Affairs for Regions Bank
Here are three main ways the Center for Food Education makes a difference in Birmingham and beyond:
1. Teaching people how to grow, cook + share delicious, healthy food
While the Center for Food Education is primarily aimed at students, graduates and educators, there are a number of ways community members who don’t fit those categories can get involved:
- Community workshops:
- Alabama Cooperative Extension workshops: JVTF partners to offer free workshops to the public once or twice a month. Examples include water bath canning, native plants, composting, pruning and more.
- JVTF-led workshops
- Good Community Food Fellowships: If you really want to know how to grow food, you can apply to enter this year-long fellowship.
2. Giving students the opportunity to learn about all things fresh + tasty
Young people are at the heart of what the Center for Food Education does, and two key programs reach them:
- Field trips:
- During the 2022-23 school year, the Center hosted 54 field trips, including 1,710 students from 40 schools or organizations and 22 unique zip codes. The majority of field trips served elementary school students and middle schoolers, with some groups—particularly homeschoolers—including a wide range of grade levels.
- 30% of these field trips were with Birmingham City Schools (BCS) classes, reaching 700 BCS students.
- Camp Grow: this is a camp offered during spring break and six week-long sessions throughout the summer where young people can learn about food, farming + the culinary arts. This past year, 107 unique students attended, with 39% attending two or more sessions.
When I asked Amanda for a fun story from one of the kids’ programs, here’s what she told me:
“For our summer camps, we do specially home-scratch meals made by Chef Ama, so the kids are eating everything from barbecue chicken to homemade collard greens and black-eyed peas. In this instance, she surprised everybody and made homemade skillet hamburgers. One guy walked in and said ‘Chef Ama, did you put heaven into each of those burgers? They taste so good!'”
3. Helping adults grow their skills + their careers
The farm stand + the farm at Woodlawn High School are both run by former students who now work for the farm. (Nathan Watson / Bham Now)
JVTF helps educators grow in their knowledge and skills in two key ways:
- In 2025, they plan to become a registered CEU provider through the State so that educators can come to to the Center and get credit for upcoming teacher education opportunities.
- Consultation packages: JVTF offers opportunities to come to the Center or have someone come to them to learn how to do this work. Full consultations last one or two years. Here are some of the places they’ve worked with:
- Atlanta Public Schools
- Columbus, Georgia
- Detroit Public Schools
- Gulf Shores
- Umpqua, Oregon
Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Center for Food Education is building a solid foundation for young people in Birmingham to create a healthier future. Regions Bank is proud to support their good work.