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From the Ground Up

Jones Valley Teaching Farm Reconnects Food To Nature

With seven farms throughout Birmingham, Jones Valley Teaching Farm, together with Good School Food, is teaching elementary, middle and high school students in the area about how the environment nourishes our bodies. Founded in 2002 with the Good School Food program added in 2012, JVTF partners with educators to incorporate agricultural lessons in the classroom, plus gives students the opportunity to get outside and witness how food springs up from the earth. 

“In a non-COVID world, we provide opportunities for students in school to have hands-on classes on the farm,” said Kelly Baker, instructor at Woodlawn High School. “ I think the experience of harvesting a carrot out of the ground can shift someone’s perspective to reconnect food back to nature.”

A two-acre farm established at Woodlawn High School has reinforced the mission of JVTF by providing ample space for conducting Farm Club, a chance for kids to work on the farm after school, as well as apprenticeships for high school kids, including course credit. One graduate of Woodlawn High, Mohamed Jalloh, was a key visionary for this farm and currently manages the apprenticeship program. 

“As a WHS alumni, JVTF has given me the platform to share the knowledge I have with peers and to mentor students who could use stewardship toward a better future. It gave me the opportunity to grow food and to grow people,” he beamed. 

Students who participate in the apprenticeship program are truly immersed in agricultural education, including soil science, pest management and record keeping — not just in theory but in practice. Apprentices also teach younger kids through the Good School Food program, sharing knowledge and relaying experiences. For apprentices who want to continue after high school, there’s a full-time graduate apprenticeship, plus potential opportunities as the organization grows. Still, regardless of whether a high school apprentice stays involved, the benefits are numerous, according to Baker. 

“We equip them with knowledge to follow any field they choose, the self-confidence to share the knowledge they have and [the ability] to become leaders in their community,” she explained. 

Adults who are interested in getting involved can do so by volunteering to bring supplies and ingredients to student homes while Farm Club is virtual for pandemic safety. Donations are always welcome, and following JVTF on Instagram, at @jonesvalleyteachingfarm, is a way to stay informed. 

Both Baker and Jalloh are optimistic about 2021 and beyond. Virtual lessons are reaching more students than ever, and a culinary summer camp called Camp Grow offers budding chefs the chance to cook farm-to-table cuisine. Finally, the much-anticipated Center for Food Education in downtown Birmingham will be constructed this year with “more opportunities for hands-on agricultural education.”