Just returned from Birmingham, Alabama where we presented an oral history and audio production workshop as part of the series Dialogue on Food at Birmingham-Southern College. During this year-long cross-disciplinary discussion, students will be reading, writing, and creating multi-media projects about what we eat and why. Opening the series was Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet the book published in 1971 that is considered the "blueprint for eating with a small carbon footprint."
Our visit coincided with an Outstanding in the Field dinner at Jones Valley Urban Farm, an unlikely secret garden tucked into a square city block surrounded by freeways, railroad tracks and public housing in Birmingham. Jones Valley Urban Farm—three acres of arugula, sunflowers, hericot vert, waxy red peppers, sweat and possibility.
The farm grows food enough for an after-work farm stand during the summer, a food box CSA program, and fresh, seasonal vegetables for a handful of local restaurants. It has community garden plots for the neighborhood and a program for school kids to plant, harvest and learn about how gardens can change their community.
The mastermind behind the Jones Valley project is Edwin Marty (left), an Alabama native, who studied organic farming at University of Calfornia Santa Cruz. All roads seem to lead back to UCSC's visionary agroecology program. It’s been going on for 40 years and has graduated an army of disciples who have become the base of today’s organic farming and food movement. Edwin had visions of moving to China to teach organic farming until a friend pointed out that his home state might be a better place to start. Alabama has the second highest rate of obesity in the country. (Luckily, there’s Mississippi who comes in ahead of us, Frank Stitt told us).
Frank Stitt, chef and owner of Birmingham's Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega and Bottega Cafe, and Chez Fonfon, was the chef for our meal in the field. He worked with farmers throughout the region who provided the food.
Here's the menu:
McEwen & Sons deviled eggs (Helen & Frank McEwen)
Jones Valley Urban Farm sweet and spicy peppers, roast eggplant craklin' cornbread & Snow's Bend snap peas
Lady Pea Pilau with Snow's Bend butternut squash, Soul's Food Organic's cherry tomatoes (Linda & Michael Dean), okra & basil (David Snow and Margaret Ann Tooey)
Porchetta with Sequatchie Cove Farms pork (Bill & Miriam Keener), McEwen & Son's stone ground grits & JVUF collard greens & turnips
Petals from the Past apple cake with rum creme angalise
Davia interviews Chef Frank Stitt and Farmer Bill Keener of Sequatchie Cove Organic Farm & Dairy, TN. Bill (far right) and his wife Miriam raised the pig roasted for our meal.
Would love to hear about other urban farm projects and farm to table community dinners. What's happening in your part of the world?