Two weeks ago we introduced Jones Valley Teaching Farm and the work they are doing with schools and in classrooms across Birmingham. With programs like Good School Food, Farm Lab, and Seed to Plate, they are providing food-based, hands-on, experimental education and design-thinking strategies for students in Pre-K to 12th grades. Their practices are sustainable (in more than one way), thoughtful, and all-around good.
While the organization began in 2001, many of its programs, like Farm Lab, are new and have seen (planned) growth in the past few years. To cover expenses that come with the design, building, and staffing of such programs, Jones Valley is working to diversify their fundraising efforts.
One of their most successful fundraisers is the annual Twilight Supper, held each fall at the farm. The weekend of May 16th, they are introducing Gather Dinners – a series of events held across the city of Birmingham and the state of Alabama – as a spring counterpart to the fall event.
In 2014, we began our Friends of the Café Dinner Series, in part to raise funds for organizations that are near and dear to our heart. Last year, we gave proceeds to the Southern Foodways Alliance, Alabama Gulf Seafood, and the Fatback Pig Project. (Jones Valley Teaching Farm donated produce for some of these dinners.)
To learn more about their fundraising efforts we spoke with Grant Brigham, Executive Director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm:
1. We understand that this is the first year for your Gather Dinners (which includes our Brunch). Can you tell us how the idea to hold over 20 dinners in one weekend came about?
We made the decision to pursue this concept based on two goals we have:
From a numbers and business standpoint, we want to maintain an entrepreneurial mindset with how we develop and raise money as an organization. 37% of our revenue over the last two years has been generated through JVTF events, creative campaigns, produce sales, and program revenue. Moving forward, we feel strongly that we can be at our best if 1/3 or more of our funding continues to come through JVTF-created ventures and ideas. So, Gather is born from this mindset and overall development strategy.
More specifically, we introduced Gather last year, but the dinners were spread throughout the year and felt disconnected from our work and mission at times. We thrive on focus as an organization so we wanted to experiment with the idea of hosting all Gather Dinners in one night with the hope and expectations that it can become an annual tradition for us and our hosts. Plus, food is the center of everything we do so it makes sense for us to stick close to our core when developing an event concept.
From a human standpoint, we genuinely want individuals to support our work. We believe in the idea of being a nonprofit that is able to develop relationships and partnerships with individuals and families. We also believe in our work, and we are getting better at it and growing annually. The Good School Food program could be a major long-term success story in our city and for Birmingham City Schools. So, it makes sense to have individuals and families engaged with this vision and the potential of JVTF. Gather Dinners are a great way to spread this message.
2. In addition to the Gather Dinners, what are the main sources of funding that you receive? And how are those resources distributed?
We have four primary pools of funding. Internally, we call these categories Anchor Funders, Federal/National, Be Entrepreneurial, and Local Base. They each have their own meaning and strategies.
More plainly, our revenue over the last two years breaks down to: 37% JVTF Generated; 35% Foundation funding; 18% Corporate funding; and, 10% Federal/National funding. In some ways, we are equally focused on all four categories of funding, with Federal/National funding opportunities being a new development for JVTF.
In terms of how this funding is spent: our budget this calendar year is about $1.5 million, with over $500,000 of that spending in capital expenses. In early 2015 we finished the design/build of Farm Labs at Putnam Middle and Hayes K-8. In July, we break ground on a new urban farm in collaboration with Woodlawn High School. So, capital expenses are a significant portion of our budget this year. Overall, about 85% of our spending goes directly to the development and delivery of our Good School Food program in Birmingham City Schools. The remaining 15% will be spent on general [operations] and development.
To be honest, we are still small enough to where any investment in JVTF is in some way going to support our ability to teach, mentor and develop young students. But, it is good for people to see the actual breakdown of our expenses.
3. Your newsletter was beautifully designed. We enjoyed reading about the Good School Food Program’s impact and seeing the actual numbers. Can you tell us more about the Student Market and Family Kitchen? How many students and families are these programs impacting?
The student market is for 4th-8th grade students, depending on the school. It is designed to work with small student teams. At the beginning of a school year, we work students to develop a student market club. These students are then responsible for running their weekly market. There are two curriculums we teach in conjunction with the market. We are actually seeing students improve from a 63% to an 80% through assessments and we should average about 3,000 pounds of produce sold through five K-8 student markets every school year based on our current capacity. This could easily grow, too, if the school communities want it to.
There is a lot more to it then the numbers, of course. The student market is part project-based learning, part youth entrepreneurship, part social-emotional development, part nutrition. It is kind of everything we want to be at the school level in one program. It’s a building block in every way. But it is not the answer to more systemic food access issues that exist in Birmingham. It’s a starting point though, and we will see our students run over 100 student markets next school year. (Watch this film.)
Family Kitchen is/was our first real attempt to develop relationships with parents through a Good School Food program. Parent involvement is important to the success and culture of a school. In similar ways, it is important to the success and culture of Good School Food. Family Kitchen started as a four-week cooking series with a focus on affordable, healthy meals. The classes were hosted in the test kitchens of Southern Living and Cooking Light, both of who have both been wonderful partners in this. Moving forward, we plan to bring Family Kitchen closer to the community, helping facilitate and run cooking classes at the school.
Overall, there are over 3,700 pre-K-12th grade students that we work with through Good School Food.
4. What can we expect to see at Jones Valley in the following year? Do you have plans to develop new projects or expand your programming to additional schools? Any new fundraising efforts on the horizon?
The three primary things I would point to are:
a. We are in the process of planning to launch a student-run food business at Woodlawn High School, in conjunction with a new urban farm at the school. This is a major project for us, in terms of costs and its central role in determining JVTF’s next phase of growth. It also officially makes us a pre-K-12th grade education organization. We are anxious to see this new urban farm and program take shape and then leverage it to keep solving problems through high school students. The mark of success for this new program is if the students take on full ownership of its success. It will take time to get there. But that’s the goal.
b. In addition to already committed funding, we are actively working to raise $5 million by August 2017. The significance of this date is that it signifies the beginning of a new school year. The other significance is that it will put us in a position to grow again quickly once the Good School Food program is more established in our current six partner schools. This funding will act as both ongoing operating support and capital to grow. It also allows us to put some parameters around our ambitions and then go after it without losing focus on a specific goal.
c. There is always a reason to share the Twilight Supper. It our primary fundraiser and will be on Thursday, September 24th. Details are coming soon. It is a special night for JVTF.
We are so excited to be a part of Jones Valley’s Gather weekend and are honored to help raise money for their students. To learn (even) more about the organization, or to give if you can’t make it to the brunch, visit jonesvalleyteachingfarm.org.