I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Jones Valley Teaching Farm and where our produce will be during this quarantine. I thought I’d use my personal blog to talk about it before it goes public tomorrow on our social media sites.
Jones Valley Teaching Farm operates seven teaching farms (six of which are on Birmingham City Schools’ campuses). We employ 24 incredible folks working across production/farming, education, operation, administration, and development. We employ 8 incredible Woodlawn High School juniors and seniors as part-time employees.
Before the pandemic, we would be growing food on each of our sites to align with our daily lessons reaching 3,000+ students, to use in our afterschool programming, to sell in our student markets, to sell to the amazing chefs who have always supported us, and to sell to our larger community via Pepper Place Farmers Market, Woodlawn Street Market, and on our on-site produce stands. This week, we’d normally host 30+ community gardeners on our downtown site to begin prepping and planting out their individual plots we offer on a sliding scale. We would be filling our on-site produce stand with the vegetables we are harvesting on the downtown farm and polishing off our honor box to collect payment for those veggies. Our high school apprentices would be transplanting seedlings and direct sowing the seeds – seeing the crop plan they worked so hard on come to life. Volunteers would be filing in on our sites helping us get all of the crops planted, beds weeded, and projects completed. We’d still be planning our huge Gather weekend in May (more on that in another post). We would be finalizing our plan for the April Twilight Supper Series dinner we had planned to happen in the Pepper Place parking lot. You know, all of the things that normally kept us moving at warp speed in early Spring.
You see, Spring is an important time for us. We’ve spent the winter catching our breath, doing culinary lessons, letting our sites rest a bit, and letting our own bodies and minds rest. We’ve been preparing for this season all winter despite all that crazy rain and flooding. We’ve been sowing seeds that are ready to be planted. But, things changed quickly. Very quickly.
The pandemic hit fast. Schools closed. Our work halted. We immediately began prepping and planning for how our work could continue. The first week we developed strict protocols. We leaned on other states hit hard before us to see what their best practices were. Our sites did an amazing job before all of this happened sanitation and safety-wise, but we were dealing with a completely different set of circumstances. Now we had to adopt safe distance practices, tool-handling protocols, how we touch EVERY single item while in the spaces, and everything else in between. Our team crafted safety and harvest protocols as well as a plan for how we – a small, but mighty team of 24 – can implement them. We were all in agreement: We MUST continue to do the ESSENTIAL work of growing food now more than ever.
We distributed the protocols and our site managers began implementing them the second week of the pandemic. It was working. Then, we realized that we needed more hands on our bigger sites. Remember, we’d normally have corporate and individual volunteers helping us, which is no longer an option. Our Director of Operations began crafting a schedule on how we could accomplish our tasks as a team paying close attention to groups not crossing over to another group and being small enough to maintain the 10 ft requirement. We launched that plan last week and it is working. I announced to our team last week that we may have to adjust when Alabama hits the peak of this pandemic to lessen the amount of people on sites, but for now we continue so that every transplant can get in the ground. Our masks are being made. We are stocked at every site with the materials and sanitation items we need. Every single member of our staff is growing food – no matter what our jobs USED to be. I have said it before, but there is NO other place I’d rather be in a pandemic than with these colleagues doing THIS work.
We’ve made some big changes in our day-to-day work.
Obviously, we are not doing Good School Food lessons on our sites with kiddos, but we ARE doing them online so that kiddos can access them. We are also including our lesson plans for parents to download.
We are a non-profit and most of our funding comes from grants and foundations. We felt it was necessary to forfeit our place at Pepper Place Farmers’ Market so that farmers reliant on the income could benefit from the drive-thru market. Here is a link to the drive-thru info! Alabama Sustainable Agriculture Network’s link to local food resources is also a great tool!
Because our funding is dependent on foundations, grants, and individuals, we feel that the most responsible thing for us to do (and our driving force as to why we do this work in the first place) is to continue to grow seeds and produce and distribute them at NO COST to our community. So, how does that look?
Seedlings: Normally, once all of our seedlings are transplanted, we stop growing in our greenhouse until the next season. We’ve made the decision to KEEP growing seedlings to distribute to our community. We are sharing with local community gardeners doing work across Birmingham and we will begin sharing with individuals across our community (stay tuned).
Produce: Since we had a delay getting all of our plants in the ground, we are still waiting on the bulk of our harvest to come in and when it does, we will be distributing produce and flowers to local agencies and our neighbors AT NO COST. Stay tuned for more info.
High School Apprentices: We are building out a plan for our high school apprentices to continue to do the essential work of growing food at their homes. We are also reading books, researching, and working on projects so that we can also do the essential work of employing young people.
Fundraising: If you work in a nonprofit, you are always worried about fundraising. All I know is we have to keep going and use Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s essential skills of growing food to help right now. It is my job to do everything in my power to do the essential work of keeping our staff employed and our community fed.
Sites: Our sites are closed to the public right now – including our community garden plots. It is our goal to keep our staff safe so that it doesn’t impact our overall work at seven total sites. We will open our sites up the MINUTE we get the green light, but until then, our 24-person staff will be working as hard as we’ve ever worked to get fresh food to our community in the safest way possible. That is our priority and we hope you understand.
I know that’s a lot, but that’s where we are. I’ll keep updating you as I go because I’m sure things will change constantly over the next few weeks. Thank you for supporting Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Especially now.
Click on the following links to follow our journey:
Jones Valley Teaching Farm Blog
Facebook: Jones Valley Teaching Farm