Jones Valley Urban Farm

Unfortunately this autumn passed without me establishing residency and getting a hunting license, so unless I decide to start out with the spring turkey season, I’m going to wait for next year.  The plan is to work on my skills at a shooting range, read up on more personal narratives like Christopher Camuto’s Hunting from Home (a great read, I highly suggest it), field dressing, butchering, and recipes, and then head out to the woods come black powder 2010.  I definitely need to practice–I haven’t shot anything more than a BB gun, and that was at least ten years ago–so the spring and summer will lend a hand in that direction.

In the meantime, I’m focusing on the producers.  Winter may not be a big growing season, especially up here where it’s been routinely in the single digits, but it is a good time to catch up with folks while they’re in between seasons.  Over the holidays I flew down to Mobile, Alabama, to be with my family, and given the fact that Mobile is closer to Birmingham, Alabama, than Roanoke, Virginia, is, I figured I better head up north to meet the folks at Jones Valley Urban Farm.

Birmingham isn’t exactly close to Mobile–4, 4.5 hours away–but the drive was worth it.  I based myself out of Cheaha State Park, a park located smack dab in the middle of Talledega National Forest, and boasting the highest point in Alabama, Cheaha Mountain, standing at 2407 feet above sea level.  It’s also the foothills of the Appalachians, putting it handily inside my range.  The park is about an hour from Birmingham (a smidge southwest), and I’d forgotten that Alabama has mountains–beautiful mountains.

In Birmingham, Jones Valley Farm was easy to locate.  The three acre area is right next to the freeway, and the looping bridges and exits framing the background certainly made it feel quite urban.  I met up with Katherine, a production manager at the farm, and she showed me around the grounds and explained the history.  Lucky for me, Birmingham easily has a 10 month growing season, so plenty of greens dotted the community space and production space.

Page Allison and Edwin Marty started the farm in 2001 in the southside of the city, and worked the space part-time until a big fundraising drive in 2005/2006.  In 2006, they expanded to the current site in the northside of Birmingham.  Approximately 2 acres of the site are in production, and the land is divided up into farm production fields/hoop houses/raised beds, community garden plots, compost areas, community/education space, an office, and a chicken coop.  The farm (it’s 501c3) also just bought a 25 acre site 13 miles south of town which currently has 4 acres in production, including a giant blueberry field where they hope to start a pick-your-own component.

The part of the story of the farm that I find so compelling is its emphasis on programming.  It’s not just a farm, it’s a hands-on classroom as well.  In 2003 they created a program at the Alabama School of Fine Arts called the Arts and Science of Agriculture which centers around sustainable agriculture education at both the farm and at the school’s kitchen garden.  In 2005, they partnered with another nonprofit to start youth agri-cultural exchange program which sends urban high schoolers to a rural farm to work and brings rural high schoolers to the urban farm to work.  There is also a paid internship program at the farm, and several high schoolers have graduated and then gone on to college at Middlebury, Warren Wilson, and other places to study sustainable agriculture.  If that’s not impact, then I don’t know what is.

Katherine explained that over 70 kids per day visit the farm during field trips, and in response the growing waitlist for community plots, community gardens have sprouted all over the city.  Once a month neighborhood groups can come to the farm to learn how to start a garden in their community, and over ten or fifteen community gardens have been a result.  Even bigger is the impact the nutrition coordinator has had on the city.  Just this past year the farm via their nutrition coordinator, Bree Garrett, all of the fryers in Birmingham city schools have been removed.  No more fried food in cafeterias!  Honestly, I can’t believe that actually happened in a southern city like Birmingham, and I’m extremely excited about it.

Per Katherine’s suggestion, I’m going to contact the folks at Crabtree Farms in Chattanooga, TN.  Apparently they are to food production what JVUF is to programming, and it will be good to get that contrast in the Appalachian urban farm scene.  I’ll be going back in the summer when the properties should be in full production, and hopefully I’ll be able to spend a few days volunteering and seeing what the programs and production is like.  Until then I’ll be off at small local farms and learning how to properly clean fish (maybe how to catch one too).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s