GOOD

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A crowd of Birmingham residents gathered at a community college parking lot in 2011 to welcome a new sight to the neighborhood: fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. While the mayor and other local leaders delivered speeches, shoppers browsed tables piled high with collard greens, okra, peaches, green beans, melons—produce grown less than 100 miles away but seldom seen in local food stores.
This volunteer-led Southwest Fresh Market is part of an ambitious plan initiated by REV Birmingham, a nonprofit working with local government, business, and community partners to find solutions to a common challenge: how to connect urban, often low-income residents with small farmers looking to boost sales. Making the link is a “win-win,” says Andy Williams, one of the growers at the Southwest Fresh Market. “The farmer gets a guaranteed base of consumers, and the neighborhood gets good food and local jobs. Right now it’s a missed opportunity.”
Birmingham has seen grocery stores shut their doors in recent decades, as big box retailers on the outskirts of the city have become the norm. Today, many of the city’s food stores are restaurants and small corner stores that mostly sell packaged, frozen, and prepared foods. A recent survey found that more than 40 percent of Birmingham residents live in areas defined as “food deserts,” neighborhoods with extremely limited access to grocery stores selling healthy food.

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Nonprofit Spotlight: Farming in the Heart of a City

Located in downtown Birmingham, Alabama, Jones Valley Urban Farm offers fresh vegetables and health education to an area known for its food deserts.


This post is in partnership with CITGO

Wander downtown on any given day in Birmingham, Alabama, and in the heart of the bustle of the busy streets you can see small groups of school children marveling over vegetables like radish or spinach grown on Jones Valley Urban Farm's 3.5 acres.

The children are participants in Seed 2 Plate, a K-8 healthy food curriculum program aimed at counteracting "food imbalance" and educating children about where their food comes from.

Birmingham, Alabama's largest city, contains some 43 square miles of neighborhoods categorized either as "food desert" or "food imbalance."

Food deserts are defined by The Urban Food Project as communities where it's difficult to find a grocery store that offers fresh produce or healthy food choices. Stores in food deserts (gas stations, liquor stores) tend to offer foods that also fall under the definition of food imbalance: instead of healthy options, the offerings are only high fat, high salt, candy, fried food or fast food.

The food desert/food imbalance areas of Birmingham are home to more than 88,000 residents, 23,000 of whom are children. Lack of access to convenient fresh produce and healthy food choices is directly related to such health crises as obesity, diabetes, and premature death, according to studies conducted by the Urban Food Project.

Jones Valley Urban Farm was started in 2001 as the antidote. The farm was created on a vacant lot in the middle of the city. The current iteration is housed on 3.5 acres in downtown Birmingham adjacent to mixed-income public housing, an essential component to the farm's public education programs.

The farm has created a wide range of programs, from selling at farmers' markets to sourcing produce to high-end Birmingham restaurants. Grant Brigham, executive director of JVUF, intends to increase the focus on the public-health education component.

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