“They ‘Gather’ in support of our
food-education program in Birmingham Schools called Good School Food,” says JVTF executive director Amanda Storey.
Last year, friends of the Farm
gathered in over-the-mountain homes,
at businesses like ArchitectureWorks,
in an elementary school, at restaurants including Highlands Bar & Grill and
even at a microbrewery for 18 delicious events that raised $25,000.
In its fourth year, Gather has raised more than $75,000 for Good School Food, which provides experiential, food-based education—relating directly to core academic subjects—using school gardens.
JVTF has seven teaching farms at Birmingham City elementary, middle and high schools, serving more than 4,000 students—from preschool to
12th grade—with hands-on, highly inventive lessons.
The Farm employs full-time instructors at these schools. “They maintain the teaching farm on the school campus, but they also go to all
the faculty meetings where they can learn exactly what’s planned for that semester for every grade level at that school,” Storey says. “That way, they
are able to customize a curriculum that meets various core standards.”
Fourth graders studying insects can go right outside to the school’s garden
to learn about behaviors and body structures and what these creatures need to survive in particular habitats. That meets the life-science standard.
Fifth graders make fresh tomato salsa with their garden’s produce to study math concepts. “We use a pair
of perpendicular number lines … and find a coordinate system with the intersection of the lines … to get the recipe,” Storey says. “It’s a fun way to learn hypotheses, graphs, variables,
the x-axis, the y-axis, all of that. And they get to eat salsa at the end of it.”
Sixth-grade students studying the causes and consequences of World War I will use square-foot gardening methods, which bring math into a social studies lesson. “They create their own victory gardens,” Storey says. “They talk about rations—that’s a vocabulary word they need to learn. When the plants have grown, that same class comes out and they’re able to harvest that vegetable, take it home and reinforce that whole idea of rationing.”
Since 2007, the main campus of JVTF has occupied a three-acre block
in the Central City neighborhood of downtown Birmingham; you can see
it from I 20/59. Community gardeners lease the 35 raised-bed plots each year on a sliding scale, and the Farm provides the seeds, seedlings, compost, tools and garden supplies. The Farm is planted with more than 200 varieties of seasonal vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers, and some of this produce goes to student-run farmers’ markets and culinary programs at the partner schools. There’s an onsite produce stand, designed and built through a partnership with Auburn University’s Rural Studio, stocked Monday through Thursday from April to November. Some of the Farm’s produce is sold at Pepper Place Market on Saturdays, and
you’ll find it at several local restaurants.
A box of field-fresh produce is available to every Gather host, too. Sometimes
local chefs lend their culinary skills to
the diners as well. “Many times the chefs are partners of ours who want to donate their time to the event,” Storey says.
Award-winning chef James Lewis of Bettola provided pasta for a family-style dinner in the cafeteria at Glen Iris Elementary School, which has a JVTF garden. Lewis also was the guest chef at a different Gather event that night. Board member Frank Stitt and his wife, Pardis, hosted a dinner at Highlands Bar & Grill. Chefs Angela Schmidt and Maureen Holt and JVTF board member and food writer Christiana Roussel had a gourmet buffet dinner at Cahaba Brewing Co.
Author, television personality and
self-described raconteur Morgan Murphy hosted a “Bacon and Bourbon” backyard dinner party, which made perfect sense since he’s the author of the bestselling book Bourbon and Bacon.
Murphy made a big batch of juleps with mint picked earlier that day at the Farm. He moved quickly from kitchen to patio grill to a long table decorated simply with wildflowers, setting out a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle and therefore setting the mood for his soiree.
He started with chicken and bacon tassies and then served a pear, apple and pecan salad with greens from the Farm, Gorgonzola and grapes. A huge braised pork belly was the star of the show, and fried oysters had a tasty supporting role. Murphy planned to finish the dinner “if everybody’s not dead from an overload of bacon,” with Farm mint ice cream and double chocolate chip cookies.
Gather is not JVTF’s largest fundraiser. That would be the annual Twilight Supper where a $1,000
ticket gets you dinner under the stars
at beautiful communal tables in the downtown garden. Celebrity bartenders make signature cocktails, and famous chefs cook the multi-course dinner. Last year, this September event raised $300,000 in one night for JVTF.
Gather offers ways for lots more people to become engaged, Storey says.
“This is a way to create a Gather community that is supporting our
work throughout the year in ways that feel most comfortable to anyone, no matter who you are or where you want to have (your event). We love the whole idea about having food that unites you and your friends and family. That’s who we are as an organization.”
Gather hosts can host however
“Some will simply have a flat ticket fee, asking their guests to pay what they normally would pay when they go out to a nice restaurant,” Storey says. Some of them will have star chefs like John Hall cook a fancy, seated, four-to-five-course meal. “We’ve had some friends do potlucks that are not ticketed. People bring food, and it’s a very communal thing.” Then everyone donates money at the end, writing a check or giving online.
Moving forward, Gather dinners
will not be limited to one night in May anymore.
“We’ve had a lot of hosts reach out
to us and say, ‘Can we just do this throughout the year for, say, a special birthday? Can a Gather be whenever
I want it to be?’ So we’re encouraging that,” Storey says. Anyone interested
in a Gather dinner can go to
jvtf.org and click on the events tab for more information.
“Everything we raise through Gather goes right back into our operating funds for Good School Food,” Storey says. “I would like for folks to see Jones Valley as
an education organization.
For years, it’s been seen as a foodie organization. We still
use food, but we’ve really enhanced the level of impact
that we’re having on young people in the city of Birmingham.
“Jones Valley has such a rich history with Birmingham,” she adds. “We started as kind of a dream, way back in 2002, about how local food can be a conversation in the community. We’re using food as a way to reach young people in all areas of their lives.”
It’s an investment in the future leaders of the city, she says. “There
are young people using food every
day to become whatever it is in their dreams to become. Our goal is for
young people to be impacted positively by this program and have the resources to see their dreams to fruition.”