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Urban gardens springing up in Alabama’s citiescomment (0)

June 12, 2008

Not a hankering to garden but live in the city? The possibility of a little farm livin’ might be closer than you realize.

Urban farms — sometimes called community gardens or small plot intensive (SPIN) farms — are cropping up in cities all over the nation as a way for city dwellers to get the pleasure of gardening and have fresh food, too.

Sometimes apartment or townhome residents make use of a small strip of land or flowerbed to accomplish that end. But in the case of spreads like Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, would-be gardeners lease a few square feet of fresh dirt in the middle of the concrete jungle.

And "lease" is a term used loosely.

"We rent the plots from $5 to $25 a year," said Edwin Marty, director of Jones Valley. "We want to make them affordable."

The nonprofit farm got started several years ago when Marty got access to a property on Birmingham’s Southside. It expanded later to include two other sites — a downtown site and a site in the Avondale community.

At the downtown site — which covers a city block near the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex — rows of sunflowers stand out amid condominiums and nearby interstate on-ramps.

"We’ve got 30 plots in our community garden — all of which are taken — and we’ve probably got 30 more people on waiting lists," said farm manager Steve Adkison of the downtown site.

The parts of Jones Valley that aren’t for lease by community members are cultivated by staff and supply local farmers markets, with proceeds going to fund educational programs for "thousands," Marty said.

The programs teach youth and the community about sustainable agriculture and nutrition through outdoor experiential education, he explained. "It teaches people to live better and have better food."

And Birmingham’s not the only city in Alabama with a concern for its residents’ exposure to farm-fresh food.

For instance, Bessemer’s People Helping People Urban Farm has goals similar to Jones Valley’s. And Huntsville’s CASA (Care Assurance System for the Aging and Homebound of Madison County) Community Garden saw more than 9,100 pounds of fresh vegetables harvested by volunteers and delivered to CASA’s elderly and homebound clients in 2007.

For more information, visit Jones Valley’s site at www.jvuf.org, the Bessemer farm’s site at www.bessemerfarm.org or CASA’s site at www.casamadisoncty.org/garden.htm. (TAB)

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