The timing of the Annual Food Fair could not be more bittersweet as it celebrates the growing spirit of the Slow Food movement (www.slowfoodbirmingham.com) while marking a period of transition in life at the Farm. Edwin Marty, the director and brainchild of JVUF, will soon be starting a new chapter in his life.
Edwin Marty started Jones Valley Urban Farm in the fall of 2001 on a vacant downtown Birmingham lot. Since that time, he has served as the visionary, chief proselytizer and missionary for the project. And like most food evangelists, he has brought many loyal followers into the sustainablefood-system fold. Ten years ago, who would have thought we’d ever see waiting lists for Community Supported Agriculture groups (CSAs) and a passion for organic produce here in Birmingham? Sure, it was happening in places like Austin, Tex. and Portland, Ore., but it took someone with a vision and the means to develop sources of capital to help make this project come to life. Edwin Marty has proved an adept director: he can sow crops at dawn, write grant proposals over lunch, discuss sustainable-food-systems with a local television news reporter in the afternoon and attend fundraisers in the evening.
But someone with ideas like these and talent like his can’t stay put for long. While his Birmingham roots run deep, Marty longed to stretch himself and expand the range of his mission. This past fall, he applied for a coveted Kellogg Fellowship. Knowing a smooth and thoughtful transition would be necessary to maintain the integrity of the JVUF project, he submitted his resignation to the board. He could certainly stay on to assist in the transition but a national search for a new director was imperative. Marty adds that whoever the new director will be, “that person will have a deep understanding of the culture of the South as well as an appreciation of the unique opportunities and challenges here at the farm.”
While it was ultimately determined that he would not be among the 2011 group of Kellogg Fellows, doors had been opened and change was imminent. Marty has been contacted by a myriad of cities and municipalities, such as Montgomery, Ala., (in conjunction with Hampstead Institute, www.HampsteadInstitute.org) and Quitman County, Miss., who are eager to access his expertise in developing their own sustainable food systems.
Starting in June, after helping the new JVUF director (the board is close to making their final selection) get acclimated, Edwin Marty will officially put out a shingle for his new consulting business. Tentatively named Farm-and-Sea Consulting, his mission statement is “to provide technical support services for sustainable food systems and urban agriculture development.” He adds, “I want to address where our food comes from. When I started thinking about it, basically our food system is the farm and the sea.” He sees municipalities as the logical first step in creating a more agriculturally diverse and sustainable framework for societies. Once the groundwork is in place, non-profits will be the next tier of customers who can benefit from the experience of his operation.
Never one to be content with only juggling one or two projects, Edwin is also on the cusp of releasing his first book, Breaking Through Concrete: Stories from the American Urban Farm, in conjunction with David Hanson and Michael Hanson. The book is a culmination of many years of research and a lot of hands-on work. Profiling 12 farms in 12 cities (pared down from several dozen), the team explored the complex dynamics in all types of urban farming scenarios, including roof top gardens, community farms and immigrant farms. The book, scheduled to be released in January 2012, will feature such examples as a Vietnamese immigrant farm in New Orleans, La., and a reclaimed and preserved 100-year-old urban farm in the heart of Santa Barbara, Calif.
Central to these stories is that the urban farms become, as Edwin Marty says, “a reflection of community. Jones Valley Urban Farm is a perfect example of this concept.” It is an idea worth celebrating, and Sunday’s Slow Food Fair is a great place to do just that. Marty summarizes by saying, “I see this event as kind of a punctuation mark in this phase of what we’ve done. We’re trying to provide a little bit of perspective. What I really hope is that the story of Jones Valley doesn’t get lost when I leave.” That is not very likely.
Christiana Roussel lives in Crestline and is a lover of all things food-related. You can follow her culinary musings online at ChristianasKitchen.com or on Facebook (ChristianasKitchen) or Twitter (Christiana40).