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Birmingham City Council Approves $805,000 To Expand Teaching Farm Programs for City Students

Jones Valley operates seven teaching farms across the city, including a fresh produce stand at its central location. (JONES VALLEY TEACHING FARM)

By Ryan Michaels

The Birmingham Times

Birmingham City Council on Tuesday approved $805,000 for Jones Valley Teaching Farm to expand its workforce development and apprenticeship programs.

Jones Valley operates seven teaching farms across the city, with six of those being on the campus of Birmingham City Schools. In addition to running a fresh produce stand at their central location, Jones Valley also partners with community food pantries to help stock them with their locally grown vegetables.

Council President Pro Tem Crystal Smitherman said Jones Valley not only provides access to healthy food, particularly for the majority Black communities of Birmingham, but also gives useful experiences for students who want to study life sciences and opportunities for children to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

“I think that it’s important to get your hands dirty and also give our kids different opportunities for different careers they may not be exposed to,” Smitherman said.

Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, who has a PhD in cellular and molecular pathology, said the city needs innovating and progressive ideas like Jones Valley “to figure out how we can end our dependency on industrialized food production. It’s very important and this is something that is a very worthwhile investment that will pay dividends for generations to come,” he said.

This funding will allow for Jones Valley to provide outreach programs to city school students at their Center For Food Education, not only for field trips but also spring break camps and paid internship programs, which will now be expanding to all Birmingham High Schools. Through the program students also learn culinary skills in and outside the classroom.

Amanda Storey, executive director of Jones Valley, said she and her team were “overwhelmed” with the opportunity to expand their programs with city school students.

“We have to reconnect young people specifically to their source, what it means to grow your own food, what it means to cook your own food and have the choices available to them in order to make different decisions,” Storey said.

Growing food is “a powerful act,” she continued, and starting with young people, will create “long-lasting change.”

“[Growing food] creates food resiliency, and it creates self-resiliency on how we can supplement what we need to nourish our bodies and our minds by … growing food, cooking food, and then sharing that food with our community, we’re creating a different way of living in Birmingham,” Storey said.

Councilor Carol Clarke said “The old folks say, ‘We are what we eat,’ so putting people in control of what they put in their bodies, and so many of the diseases that people of color suffer from are preventable, just by changing what you eat,” Clarke said.

City Council President Wardine Alexander said she’s seen Jones Valley grow its footprint in the city even since she was on the Birmingham Board of Education from 2013 to 2017.

“Getting people back to the soil and to their roots, we know the healthy aspect of it…and just how it facilitates better health…We know that when children go home and they talk to their parents, it helps to also sow that seed,” Alexander said.

O’Quinn said industrialized nations like the United States have some of the highest rates of autoimmune and allergic diseases. He explained how “playing in the dirt” could expose people to microorganisms and other material which could improve their health.

“One of the theories is that folks that live in these very hygienic environments don’t get proper exposure to the things that, over millennia, we have evolved to live with, so yes, getting dirty is good for your health all around,” O’Quinn said.

Councilor Hunter Williams said while there are many nonprofit organizations across the community, Jones Valley is one where people can see the fruits of their labor which will better the city for years to come.

Speaking to the Jones Valley team members, he said, “I think that the work that you guys are doing will have an impact generationally, something that is not an overnight, quick fix…You’re literally, forgive the pun, planting seeds of something that will change young people’s lives for a long time,” Williams said.

For more information about Jones Valley, visit https://jvtf.org.