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September 16, 2005   Email to Friend 

Urban Farming - Growing Hope In Forgotten Communities
Matt Collins

Jefferson County Farmers Federation President Randy Gilmore, right, presents a check to Jeff deGraffenried, project manager for Jones Valley Urban Farm. Also present is Alabama Farmers Federation Horticulture Director Brian Hardin.
On a once burned-out lot overlooking the hazy Birmingham skyline, an experiment is underway: a farm in the middle of the city. This is just one of the lots "reclaimed" by the Jones Valley Urban Farm Project (JVUF). The project recently received a $5,000 donation from the Alabama Farmers Federation and Alfa Insurance in support of its efforts to reintroduce people to agriculture while helping to revitalize neighborhoods. The donation will go towards JVUF's current operations as well as planned expansions.

"We want to reconnect people to food," said Jeff deGraffenried, project coordinator for JVUF. "We feel like a lot of people have really lost their way. They don't understand agriculture anymore or where their food comes from. We are providing not only a learning opportunity for youth but also the community can come together and have a place to grow fruits and vegetables." JVUF, named for Jones Valley where Birmingham is located, is an organic farming project that has taken three lots in the Birmingham area and converted them into productive agricultural operations. These locations had previously been unusable, whether occupied by burned-out houses or as sites of illicit activities. Now the farms, two in Birmingham's Southside and downtown and one in Avondale, are pleasant and productive additions to the surrounding communities.

JVUF is planning to make the downtown location next to U.S. Highway 280 into a one-acre demonstration urban farm to show people in the community how to grow fruits and vegetables while living in the city. This will mean expanding the farm at that site and increasing the variety of crops grown.

"It takes showing people how crops are grown," said Robert Dickey, manager of JVUF. "They have to see it go from seed to table to see the care, maintenance and nurturing it takes to get grade A produce from any field to the supermarket."

Produce and cut flowers from JVUF are sold at local farmers markets in the Birmingham area. Some of the produce also is sold to high-end restaurants in the city, and any surplus is donated to Magic City Harvest, a food bank in the Avondale area.

"People forget that agriculture is a renewable resource," said Jefferson County Farmers Federation President Randy Gilmore, who presented the check to JVUF. "Silver, coal and gold will all run out, but you can always replant a crop. And big cities need green space like this to help keep the air clean."

JVUF has received help from many parts of the community ranging from assistance from the city government to neighbors watching the farm when no one is there.

"The response from the community has been positive," said deGraffenried. "We basically take old burned-out lots that are eyesores and essentially turn them into parks."

"Jones Valley Urban Farm is a great program that doesn't just tell people about agriculture but shows it to them in their own neighborhoods," said Brian Hardin, horticulture director for the Alabama Farmers Federation. "The program also does a lot to improve the communities it has moved into by reclaiming land that was unusable."

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