It’s smiles for miles on a Wednesday at the Avondale Elementary student-run farmer’s market. Smiles on the faces of students describing fresh produce; smiles on the faces of neighbors and customers watching kids carefully bag groceries and count dollar bills; smiles on the faces of teachers and administrators, beaming with pride; smiles on the faces of the Teaching Fellows from Jones Valley Teaching Farm, carefully cultivating an entrepreneurial spirit in fifth-grade students through these natural and casual interactions in front of the school.
This experience is just one of many offerings provided to students in Birmingham City Schools as part of Jones Valley Teaching Farm’s educational outreach programs. JVTF is a local non-profit, located in the heart of downtown Birmingham, dedicated to empowering students to be the next generation of critical thinkers, problem-solvers, and change agents in their communities through activities that connect standards-based education to real-world food issues.
Thus far, JVTF staff have built FarmLabs in three schools – Glen Iris Elementary, Oliver, and Avondale – and are planning to add two more at Hayes K-8 and Putnam Middle. These schools all currently or will benefit from a Student Run Farmers Market, a class on Social Entrepreneurship, nutrition education, standards-based science education and after-school programs.
As a customer (or casual observer) at the farmer’s market, it is easy to see these outcomes at play. At the farmer’s market, students are obviously engaged in learning, using their skills in a practical way that makes sense to them and that they find genuinely interesting. Fifth-grader Jada Smith explains the flavor of a persimmon to a customer (“peach, with a taste of cinnamon”) while Saliou Jalloh counts out change and records purchases in the logbook.
Teaching Fellow David Meadows say that the market has sold over $600 and 250lbs of produce this year. Additionally, by this time next week, nearly all 3rd-through 5th-grade students will have passed through JVTF’s science curriculum, during which they were encouraged to sample fresh spinach, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, broccoli, radishes and -“the school’s absolute favorite” – persimmons.
Working with Jones Valley is exciting to me because of the deep, long lasting impact high quality instruction in these two areas can have on students’ lives,” says Meadows. This would have to be my favorite and, also, the scariest part of working at JVTF, because in many ways we are working on 15- or even 20-year goals: that when students graduate they have a deep understanding and appreciation for science, nature, and their food.”
It’s a mission and passion that is easy to get excited about, even as a bystander, and especially for the students. For Saliou, smiling behind the counter with a clipboard in his hand, working with JVTF is about engaging with his community, and participating in the world. When asked what they like best about the market, he is the first to respond: “We get a different job every week,” he says. “And we get to make people happy.”
Learn more about JVTF and how you can support their mission on their website and check out more pictures below.