By Donna Cornelius
The Woodlawn High School Urban Farm sows more than seeds.
The Jones Valley Teaching Farm program, which went into operation during the 2016-2017 school year, not only teaches students about food and farming, but also helps them harvest lifelong skills and interests.
“They learn sustainable agricultural practices, which is an intense and rigorous way to grow food,” said Amanda Storey, JVTF executive director. “But the program also increases the students’ entrepreneurial and leadership skills and helps build confidence.”
For the second year, the Woodlawn farm is getting a boost from one of Birmingham’s premiere food events. Breakin’ Bread, set for Sept. 24 at Sloss Furnaces, is donating its proceeds to the program. The food, wine and beer festival is presented by the Birmingham Originals, a group of 33 of the city’s locally owned restaurants.
Storey said the Woodlawn High School Urban Farm is one of JVTF’s seven teaching farms.
“At Woodlawn, we launched a paid internship program, with students getting course credit and intern hours,” she said. “Breakin’ Bread came along last year with perfect timing. We were able to award our seniors $1,000 scholarships as they graduated the program.”
Storey said there was enough money left over from Breakin’ Bread’s generous contribution to treat the Woodlawn students to a senior trip to Atlanta, where they visited other urban farms, the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and the Georgia Aquarium.
The 2-acre Woodlawn farm has a state-of-the-art greenhouse, covered outdoor classroom, bio-retention pond, a working office for the staff, and produce processing and storage facilities.
“All the seeds that we sow start at the Woodlawn greenhouse,” Storey said. “It’s big enough for it to be a hub for all our teaching farms.”
Students harvest the food and sell some of it at the Pepper Place Saturday Market and the Woodlawn Street Market.
“We also launched a student-run market at the high school,” Storey said.
She said program graduates now in college are majoring in computer science, business and finance and have shown an interest in engineering after learning about irrigation systems. One graduate is in the culinary program at Lawson State Community College.
“Food can be a platform for them to find their interests,” she said.
Storey credits PNC Bank for providing much of the funding for the Woodlawn farm.
“Breakin’ Bread’s contribution allows us to enhance the program,” she said.
Storey, a native of Columbus, Georgia, worked at Southern Living and Cooking Light magazines when she first moved to Birmingham. After leaving Cooking Light, she began volunteering with Jones Valley Teaching Farm. She was assistant director at the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama and led United Way of Central Alabama initiatives about childhood obesity. She became the JVTF executive director in 2016.
“Food has been the common denominator for me all along,” she said.
The Woodlawn High School Urban Farm is especially important because five of the Jones Valley urban farms are at WHS feeder schools.
“These kids will be with us for all their school years,” Storey said. “It’s great to see children who have been with us for several years get to high school and be able to take advantage of more experiences and opportunities.”
She said Breakin’ Bread’s donation this year again will be used to fund scholarships for the Woodlawn program’s interns.
“We hope to be able to provide another travel experience for our students, too,” Storey said. “They’ve earned it. Growing food is hard, hard work.”
Breakin’ Bread Bulletin
The 15th annual Birmingham Originals Breakin’ Bread event is from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 24 at Sloss Furnaces, 20 32nd St. N in Birmingham.
The event includes tastings of signature food from 33 restaurants, wine, beer and nonalcoholic beverages, plus cooking demonstrations and musical entertainment.
Birmingham Originals member restaurants and Breakin’ Bread partic- ipants include 5 Point Public House Oyster Bar, Avo, Bellini’s, Bettola, Bistro V, Bob Sykes BBQ, The Bright Star, Cantina, Catering by
Bellini’s, Cashio’s Meatball Market, Continental Bakery/Chez Lulu, dg, FoodBar, Homewood Gourmet, Hot and Hot Fish Club, Irondale Café, The J. Clyde, Jackson’s Bar & Bistro, JoJo’s on Broadway, Little Savannah, MAFIAoZA’s, Moss Rock Tacos & Tequila, Nabeel’s Café & Market, Ocean, OvenBird, Revolve Kitchen & Brew, Sky Castle, Slice, Sol’s, Ted’s Restaurant, Vecchia Pizzeria & Mercato, Vino and The Wine Loft.
“The 15th year is a major milestone, and we are pleased to offer this opportunity to residents of Birmingham and to our member restaurants that shape the food culture of our community,” said Chris Zapalowski, president of the Birmingham Originals board of directors.
Since 2002, Birmingham Originals has donated more than $125,000 to organizations benefitting children and families in the greater Birmingham area. Past recipients have included Jones Valley Teaching Farm, UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, Camp Smile-A-Mile, Make-A-Wish Alabama, United Way Healthy Communities, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Alabama, and Susan G. Komen North Central Alabama.
Breakin’ Bread VIP tickets are $99 and include unlimited food samplings, wine and beer, access to the event’s exclusive lounge area and gift bags, as well as early entrance at 12:30 p.m.
General admission tickets are $35 and include unlimited food sampling and two drink tickets for wine and beer.
Children under 12 enter for free and have access to unlimited food sampling, nonalcoholic beverages and the children’s area.
For tickets and more information, visit breakinbreadbham.com. For news and updates, follow the Birmingham Originals on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Social media users are encouraged to interact with the event by using #BreakinBread, the official event hashtag. ❖