Interview by Tonia Trotter
Photos by Ambre Amari
Amanda Storey is growing something beautiful within the city of Birmingham. The executive director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm is cultivating a program that is changing our educational system, urban food accessibility, and the example the South sets for the rest of the country.
We started with the downtown farm. It was a jumping-off point to talk about deeper issues like lack of urban access to fresh foods and obesity. We realized we had a great foundation for learning and the space to foster children’s natural curiosity. In 2012, we began to laser focus on how we could be more impactful and pursued an opportunity to integrate into the curriculum at Glen Iris Elementary School. We were able to create an ecosystem and incorporate a teaching farm into the playground of the school. We were embraced by the administration, teachers, and staff to build a curriculum around food-based learning. From math and the fractions used to prepare a chili using the crops we harvest to social studies and the history of Victory Gardens and rationing during World War II, we have cultivated a system of connected education that has become a national model. And it was first implemented in Birmingham City Schools.
In addition to the downtown farm, we have six locations at different schools. We’ve grown beyond the classroom too. There are extracurricular farm clubs and student markets where produce is sold to the community, the kids’ families, and even local restaurants. That money goes back into our programming. We have also established internships for our high school students that offer a paid after-school employment opportunity and full-time apprenticeships for those who are interested in pursuing a career with us. It has been amazing to watch some of our early elementary students who’ve grown up in our program and want to continue working with us.
A constant challenge is figuring out how we build and shift support to fix our community’s broken systems. Even before I joined JVTF, I was interested in emergency food needs and the social justice issues that were connected to those needs. Being reactive to those needs and responding is part of our mission. Our ideas don’t always work, but I believe that vulnerability and making mistakes is part of the process of growing and improving, and so far we’ve been embraced by our community and our students. Our students are the experts, not me. I learn so much from their feedback and, boy, are they honest!
I am so proud of our partnership with the Birmingham City educational system. We have created a program of long-term, real life learning right here in the deep south that has become an example on a national level. We haven’t always made it into the news for great things, but this is something we can take pride in.
How can Birminghamians support JVTF?
We have a farm stand at our downtown location and another that will open this spring at our Woodlawn location where produce will be sold during the week, and we have a presence at Pepper Place Market on Saturdays during the farmers market season. There is shared community space that you can buy into if you want to farm a plot of your own, and we have volunteer opportunities as well. We also host and facilitate dinners that are an important part of our fundraising. We have a Twilight Supper every fall but host smaller events throughout the year, such as our Spring Twilight Supper Series at Pursell Farms on Saturday, April 27. Our parties are so much fun — they are a great way to learn and explore new flavors and to engage with our community.
To purchase tickets to Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s Spring Twilight Supper, click here