At Jones Valley Teaching Farm, food is the foundation for academic growth

At Jones Valley Teaching Farm, food is the foundation for academic growth
Jones Valley Teaching Farm started in 2007 with three acres in downtown Birmingham. Now it has seven farms on elementary, middle and high school campuses in the Birmingham area, including this one at Woodlawn High School. (Jones Valley Teaching Farm)

Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s (JVTF) is a Birmingham-based non-profit that builds vibrant, student-centered teaching farms that provide an environment for young people to learn, create, explore, and grow a healthy future for themselves and their community.

JVTF broke ground on its first urban teaching farm in 2007 on a 3-acre city block in downtown Birmingham. Since then, JVTF has built six teaching farms on Birmingham City School elementary, middle, and high school campuses.

One of JVTF’s main educational offerings includes the Good School Food model, where full-time instructors collaborate with teachers and pre-K through 12th grade students to connect food, farming, and the culinary arts through standards-based, cross-curricular lessons. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Good School Food was offered in person at the teaching farms but has since transitioned to an online format.

“Not only does the curriculum allow for students to learn through inquiry, but it allows teachers to implement teaching strategies that are outside of the norm,” said Jerone Wiggins, director of educational programs and partnerships at JVTF. “If thinking or teaching ‘outside of the box’ was a program, this would be it.”

In addition to the Good School Food online offerings, JVTF also debuted a virtual summer camp series this year titled Camp Grow. The virtual summer camp was held June 22 to July 17 and was offered free of charge to rising 6th through 9th grade students in the Woodlawn and Bush Hills communities.

For Camp Grow, JVTF partnered with the Woodlawn Foundation to build a mobile app that allowed students to access the camp from their technology devices at home. In addition, hotspots and unlimited data were provided to each of the participating students, which JVTF attributes as an integral part of the camp’s success.

During the camp, which was themed “All things food – growing it, cooking it and sharing it with others,” students discovered the art of planting, harvesting, and cooking. Twice a week during the four-week camp, students gathered online to participate in activities that ranged from virtual farming to culinary lessons with live demonstrations from local chefs and restaurant owners.

JVTF instructors of Camp Grow also led small group discussions with the students regarding each week’s selected topic and emphasized the role food plays in the local community.

Prior to the pandemic, each fall and spring JVTF and its students would sell their produce at the student-run market. Teachers, parents, and community members were invited to attend while students applied their academic skills and learned to run their own small business. Since the onset of COVID-19 and closures of schools, JVTF has worked with 11 community partners in east, west, and north Birmingham to distribute over 7,000 pounds of produce for free to the community.

Parents of enrolled students can download JVTF lesson plans to continue engagement until the program resumes in person.

For more information about JVTF’s mission, programs and ways to donate, visit jvtf.org.

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