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Federal grant will support urban agriculture and community gardens in Birmingham

A federal grant will provide a big boost to a new program spearheaded by Jones Valley Teaching Farm that’s designed to help expand the local food system and nurture community farming in Birmingham’s urban neighborhoods.

The three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will bolster Jones Valley’s Good Community Food Program, an education and training initiative to promote the growth of urban farming and expand community gardens. Good Community Food will be based at Jones Valley’s new Center for Food Education.

“Community gardening has always been an integral part of this city block, even before Jones Valley Teaching Farm began its work on the downtown campus,” said Amanda Storey, executive director. “That means that for over 15 years, this space has offered opportunities for residents to have their own garden on a pay-as-you-can basis.

“When designing the Center for Food Education,” she continued, “the community garden was at the heart of every decision, and we are thrilled that the USDA is funding Good Community Food so that we can expand our reach and impact while also collaborating with incredible partners doing food-focused work in our community.”

According to federal data and experts at Jones Valley, nearly 70% of Birmingham residents live in neighborhoods that lack access to quality, affordable fresh foods. In some communities there are no grocery stores, and residents lack reliable transportation to get to one.

Lack of access to fresh food isn’t just a problem in the Magic City. In 2020, Alabama had the third highest rate of projected food insecurity among the states, and the fifth highest rate of projected child food insecurity. The pandemic, which has isolated people, disrupted employment and the food supply chain, has only exacerbated the issue, especially in under-resourced communities, Jones Valley staff said.

There is growing interest in urban communities in farming and establishing community gardens to provide fresh produce closer to home.

The grant to Jones Valley, through USDA’s Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production program, will provide funding over three years to:

  • Develop an “urban growers’ cohort” of 90 Birmingham residents.
  • Establish nine new community and neighborhood gardens.
  • Facilitate monthly agricultural and culinary educational workshops and training for 1,000 Birmingham residents.
  • Hire additional staff to help manage the initiative.

Storey said the Good Community Food Program will help expand the knowledge of residents in targeted Birmingham neighborhoods, teaching them how to grow and prepare fresh, nutritious food while helping expand their ability to access fresh produce.

She said the program will reach residents of all ages. Jones Valley plans to work with partners, including the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, community groups and nonprofits on educational workshops and training sessions, and on the community garden expansions. The new gardens will include elevated beds to make them accessible to the elderly and those with limited mobility.

Jones Valley Teaching Farm is one of 11 organizations nationwide to receive funding from USDA this year to implement urban agriculture programs. The nonprofit already works with students and educators across the Birmingham area; Jones Valley programs provide learning opportunities, training and apprenticeships using food and agriculture to teach science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and career skills. The Alabama Power Foundation is among the nonprofit’s supporters.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)