For the January issue of the always-terrific B-Metro magazine, I had the pleasure of interviewing and photographing Grant Brigham, the new director of Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, a non-profit that grows organic fruits and vegetables. You may have also seen some of the sunflowers JVUF sells at Whole Foods. JVUF is an incredible, nationally acclaimed learning center. Brigham’s team educates teachers, students and cafeteria workers in the urban areas about healthy eating. You can learn more about JVUF in complete article, which is part of B-Metro’s A-List of achievers for 2011.
Check it out:
Grant Brigham is leading the nationally acclaimed Jones Valley Urban Farm into its second decade.
by Kelli Hewett Taylor
Grant Brigham returned home in 2011 to become the second executive director of Jones Valley Urban Farm. He brought along some cutting-edge non-profit business ideas to anchor this downtown Birmingham jewel as it enters its second decade.
Since 2001, JVUF has risen to national acclaim as a fresh food oasis supported by some of Birmingham’s top culinary names. To help sustain the farm’s educational programs and continue growing organic crops, Brigham has introduced ideas of social entrepreneurship, a national movement in business to make non-profits more competitive and more efficient.
“If people were givers or donors before, we want them to be investors from now on,” says Brigham, who has a master’s degree in agricultural education. “People should expect returns on their investments from us, to know how their money is making a difference.”
Brigham grew up in Mountain Brook, the son of Mountain Brook realtor and businessman Tommy Brigham. Grant has sought out unfamiliar life experiences, living in Uganda for several years, working with small farming businesses in Hyderabad, India, and working as a laborer on an organic teaching farm in southern Costa Rica.
“There was no relationship with food when I was growing up,” Brigham says. “I never went hungry, or went without. I never had to wonder where food came from. Now it’s something I think about often and am obsessed about. Jones Valley has grown from a vision. It’s a business now that Birmingham and Jefferson County need.”
Part of his path to non-profit work traces to Brigham’s friendship with the late Civil Rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Brigham pondered how he might have reacted had he been alive during the Civil Rights Movement. “Rev. Shuttlesworth challenged me to see that, as much as I could imagine history, I had to consider where we were in the world now and how I could change the problems in the present,” Brigham says.
Now, Brigham is leading the Jones Valley team in a search for more grant, corporate and government funding and a permanent building to call home.
“Grant comes from a long line of successful business men and women,” farm co-founder Edwin Marty says. “I think he fundamentally understands a non-profit’s needs and successful business management.”
“He’s really smart and understands what it’s going to take to make Jones Valley sustainable,” says Jones Valley board member Nick Pihakis, of Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q. “That’s so critical—how we can be around for the next generations. We need to make more people aware of Jones Valley, and I think Grant’s going to do that.”
Brigham admits it was a bit daunting stepping into his new role. “This is my first shot being the leader of an organization, so if it fails, the blame is on me,” he says.
I love Grant’s intensity when it comes to the things that are important to him, and he really has a passion for making people healthier through good food. He’s devoted to supporting local and small businesses, and he is always open to the best ideas the world has to offer. Before he moved back to Birmingham, Grant lived and worked in Uganda, India and Central America with small agricultural businesses and how to make them more successful in emerging nations. We’re glad to have him back in the ‘Ham.
If you follow our work, Grant may look familiar. That’s because we shot engagement photos of he and his wife, Ashley, and their photos remain some of our most popular. Check out some of the engagement photos highlights.