Birmingham– In the middle of urban Birmingham, there’s a farm. Jones Valley Teaching
Farm is an education center offering local students and families gardening, nutrition courses, fresh food, and much more. As part of our sustainability series, WBHM’s education reporter Dan Carsen sat down with its Executive Director, Grant Brigham. Dan starts off by asking him if he sees the farm playing a part in Birmingham’s long-term sustainability:
Subject and time pegs for the extended interview are below:
0:00 — Grant Brigham shares his personal story, including his upbringing in Mountain Brook and his work in Uganda and India, and how it led him to Jones Valley Teaching Farm.
2:49 — Brigham talks about the Akola Project.
4:25 — Reflections on idealistic, unrealistic, but genuine zeal to save the world.
6:25 — While back in the U.S. to raise funds, Brigham worked at Holy Family Christo Rey in Ensley.
7:20 — Off to grad school for agricultural development at NC State.
8:10 — On to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business for an MBA.
9:01 — Ending up back in the Birmingham was a surprise.
11:10 — Brigham says Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF) took a big risk hiring someone so young (him).
12:05 — Referencing the book “Good To Great” by Jim Collins.
12:20 — I ask Brigham about a typical day at Jones Valley Teaching Farm. Brigham starts by praising his staffers and their wide diversity of skills, then gets into JVTF’s numerous programs.
19:15 — Thoughts on the power of education to address Birmingham’s longterm problems.
22:35 — Student-run farmers’ markets.
26:15 — JVTF has Birmingham students designing and building water systems.
26:25 — JVTF is studying whether involvement in its programs increases students’ test scores.
27:35 — Brigham says the holistic, multi-subject learning that JVTF provides “sounds overextended, but it’s not.”
29:05 — Brigham says there are significant health and nutrition issues in Birmingham in particular.
30:00 — I ask Brigham whether JVTF is trying to do what the local school system is supposed to be doing.
30:35 — Brigham says JVTF sometimes has a hard time getting “ed cred.” I ask why.
30:57 — Teach For America as an example of meeting a need and growing.
32:25 — Brigham says most of what he and his staff really do on a typical day is sit together “at the drawing board” and figure out how they can better teach Birmingham students.
33:20 — He says it’s important to have a a very clear idea of what success looks like.
33:45 — JVTF’s approach has been “entrepreneurial,” and this example of one program that fell flat is one proof.
34:25 — I ask about JVTF’s staffing, pay.
37:55 — Brigham about JVTF and how it’s related to sustainable development in Birmingham.
39:50 — Brigham discusses a touchy topic: gentrification.
41:00 — I ask Brigham about best-case scenarios — specifically, in his ideal world, how a student involved in JVTF programs all though his or her schooling would be different.