Harvesting at Mt Laurel farm

A typical summer pop-up rain shower chased me down Alabama 41 in Dunnavant Valley.

Arriving at the Mt Laurel Farm Stand, the sun had soil, hot and dry, where workers were harvesting bright sunflowers rimming the road.

Two smiling volunteers, Kady Wohlfarth and Margaret Anne Townes, stopped to explain.

“These are scrap sunflowers, past their prime,” said Wohlfarth. “They’re really a cover crop, but we provide flowers for several florists.”

On the hillside, rows of tomatoes were still green, growing plump. Down a distant slope, various other crops were lush and reaching for the sun, cucumbers and summer squash, herbs and sweet potatoes.

Keith Caton, once a Massachusetts dairy farmer, now manages the Mt Laurel Homestead, which is owned by Ebsco.

“We plant flowers in two-week rotations,” Caton said. “Cut flowers are sold, but the real purpose for planting is the sunflower roots draw nutrients from deep within the soil, replenishing it.”

As more folks become aware of food borne illnesses and toxic pesticides, savvy cooks search for home grown and organic foods. Buying from local farmers means shorter time from farm to consumer, translating to greater nutritive value. Shelby County is fortunate to have many farms, including this one in Mt Laurel.

Vegetables in season can be bought at the Mt Laurel Farm Stand in Dunnavant Valley.

This farm has a sister location in Birmingham, the Jones Valley Urban Farm (JVUF), where a three-acre vacant lot was transformed into garden to teach the community and schoolchildren how to grow and eat nutritious food, and thus prevent obesity.

JVUF partners with schools in an agri-science program.

It’s a working farm educating younger generations about farming and nutrition.

Several locations offer JVUF produce. From May through October the Gardens of Park Place Stand on 701 25th Street offers fresh picked organic herbs, vegetables and flowers.

Mt Laurel Farm Stand is open June through August. Pepper Place Market at 2nd Avenue 28th Street is open May through October.

Many supportive businesses include Bottega, Jim & Nick’s Barbecue and Whole Foods Market.

Several national and regional corporations are JVUF supporters, including Robert Wood Johnson, Alabama Power Foundation, and Shelby County’s Ebsco Industries.

There are ways, other than buying products, whereby you can get involved at JVUF. Volunteer to pull weeds, gather produce or seek regular employment. Job listings and more information are posted at Jvuf.org.

Check out their calendar, and attend local JVUF events.