High Impact Philanthropy: Amanda Storey Of Jones Valley Teaching Farm On How To Leave A Lasting Legacy With A Successful & Effective Nonprofit Organization
An Interview with Karen Mangia
Always be prepared to shift. Don’t get so stuck in your delivery method that you can’t shift when necessary. For example, our work relies on students in our teaching farms. When the pandemic arrived, students were forced to go virtual leaving our teaching farms completely empty. So, our team found a way to deliver gallon-sized pots, potting soil, seedlings, cutting boards, groceries, and so much more to students and their families at their homes. We then provided a link and our instructors and students planted tomatoes together, monitored their progress over the weeks, and virtually cooked together.
For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a Philanthropic Foundation or Fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How To Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy” we are visiting with founders of Philanthropic Foundations, Charitable Organizations, and Non Profit Organizations, to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Storey.
Amanda Storey is the Executive Director of Jones Valley Teaching Farm, where she’s been an enthusiastic advocate, volunteer, and employee for over 10 years — four of which have been spent in her current role. Amanda has worn many hats at JVTF, her trajectory started as Director of Partnerships before working up to her current position as Executive Director. During her day-to-day, Amanda is responsible for setting the organization’s strategy, supervising the Leadership Team, stewarding the annual budget, and acting as spokesperson to the community of donors, partners, and public, just to name a few of her undertakings.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?
I think first and foremost, we always have to look at our entire life story because every bit of it shapes us and how we make decisions, but if I had to choose two, I think discovering Women’s Studies in college and getting laid off from my job in 2008 stands out the most.
I found Women’s Studies at Georgia State University and then continued my journey with it at the University of Georgia. I began reading Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and so many other incredible writers, and that’s when my unlearning began. Unlearning was key to everything that came next.
For 8 years, I worked at a multi-media company as an intern, an editor, and eventually a marketing manager for a food magazine. When I was laid off from that job in 2008, I had to make some big decisions and I decided to stay in Birmingham and invest in the local food scene, which led me to the job I’m doing today. In between all of that, I took a week-long anti-racism workshop that ended up re-centering the Women’s Studies experience I had in college, which had been missing at the media company for those 8 years. Full circle, I guess.
You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.
1. Leading with this quote in mind every day: “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” — Maya Angelou. You will make mistakes. You will not make everyone happy. My therapist recently asked me the following question, “Do you NEED to please someone? Or do you WANT to accommodate them?” I had never thought about those two questions being different. And so, I think vulnerability is a big piece of how I show up and being willing to do the best I can, but when I realize I was wrong or could have done better, I move forward differently.
2. Work Ethic: I watched my Mom work so hard my entire life, which I know impacted the way I see work, and I give the work I do 1,000%. It’s in my bones, but I also think if you are leading a team, they have to see you in the arena with them.
3. Care. I am truly invested in making sure our employees, our mission, our community is rooted in caring for one another. (Example: Making sure that as a leader we are creating the space for our employees to care for themselves so that they can care deeply for the mission is integral to everything. I didn’t always do that, but now I see that if we want to care for others, we have to invest in caring for ourselves.)
What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?
In order to lead others, you have to do a lot of internal work. You have to dig deep and confront your own strengths and weaknesses and then deal with them. Sometimes dealing with them plays out very publicly, so vulnerability and humility will move front and center when you least expect it.
Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?
At Jones Valley Teaching Farm, we believe that the powerful act of growing food can impact our communities in the most incredible ways, and that centering young people at the heart of it will transform our world.
We believe that this is possible by providing all students with a transformational educational experience using food, farming and the culinary arts as a foundation for learning, leadership development, and economic mobility. Food is our foundation; people grow here.
JVTF’s flagship program is a pre-K-12 food-based education and apprenticeship model rooted in academic standards delivered to Birmingham City School students by JVTF Instructors and Graduate Apprentices. In partnership with Birmingham City Schools, we operate student-centered Teaching Farms and provide an environment where young people can learn, create, explore, and grow a healthy future for themselves and their community.
What makes you feel passionate about this cause more than any other?
For years, I worked on initiatives that were always trying to find solutions to food access, healthier food choices, and food inequities through policy and systems change. That’s hard to do if you aren’t focused on the root cause. So, when I discovered Jones Valley Teaching Farm — and the fact that we had an opportunity to re-connect young people to their food source, to potential ownership of feeding themselves and their families, and eventually to them leading the effort after we are gone — that was the part I saw missing over the years. By investing in food resiliency, I know that long-lasting change is happening, because I see it every day.
Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?
I’d like to turn this question around and tell you how the organization has benefited from working with young people. I think often times non-profits talk about how they help others (and that is very true), but what I’ve found while working at Jones Valley Teaching Farm is how much the young people we work with have shaped what we do. Here are some examples.
One particular week, we had been refining our mission and vision. It was a tedious process and felt like we were going around in circles. That week, we also had a gathering and one of our high school apprentices (Gabby) began talking about what she enjoyed about the work. She said that often when it would be time for her to transplant the seedlings from the greenhouse to the field, she’d spend time looking off in space and that may have looked odd to others. But it was during that time that she’d reflect on the care and nurturing she did to get the seedling to a place to be planted in the ground and that the care and nurturing would have to continue so that it would thrive and grow. She compared it to how she hoped people would do what she was doing for the seedlings for her and for others to grow. In that moment, my focus shifted from talking about growing food and instead to growing food AND people (something our Woodlawn High School Farm and Apprenticeship Manager Mohamed had said for years).
We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?
1. Invest in young people. There are so many ways to do that: Provide opportunities for young people to have a seat at decision-making tables, create job opportunities and pathways for youth in your companies (PAID jobs), spend one-on-one time with young people and ask big questions because you will get big answers.
2. If you are donating to non-profits, please invest in the organizations beyond their programs — ESPECIALLY if they are providing jobs for young people and/or individuals most impacted by the work. In order to change this world, we must invest in people.
3. Always dig deeper for the answers you may not know. For example, if you see a story or statistic that talks about food insecurity, we have to keep asking questions to get to the why. Who owns the means of production? Who owns the land? What policies have been in place to support land ownership and what role does race, class, gender play in that? Why does a specific zip code have less than another zip code? And most importantly, what role do I play in all of it?
Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves A Lasting Legacy?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. Build a strong, caring, diverse, thoughtful, and inspiring team of people to carry the work forward.
2. Stay focused on your mission — it is so easy to get pulled in a million directions, but if you keep the mission and people most impacted by the mission at the center of every decision, you stay true to what you are building.
3. Truthfully evaluate your work so that you can shift if something is NOT working. I believe if we are creating solutions to big problems, we will have our own journey of discovery along the way. Don’t be afraid of changing course. When we first started teaching, we hired AmeriCorps VISTA employees to join our organization year after year. It worked for our small budget, and we gained some incredible people through the process. But as we grew, we evaluated the time it took to recruit, train, onboard, and then watch them transition out of the organization every other year. We also heard from students and school administrators the need for more consistency and relationship-building/sustaining. So, we shifted our organizational model from temporary Teaching Fellow positions to full-time Instructor positions. It was a major increase in our salary line item, but also provided deeper impact and long-term sustainability for the work.
4. Always be prepared to shift. Don’t get so stuck in your delivery method that you can’t shift when necessary. For example, our work relies on students in our teaching farms. When the pandemic arrived, students were forced to go virtual leaving our teaching farms completely empty. So, our team found a way to deliver gallon-sized pots, potting soil, seedlings, cutting boards, groceries, and so much more to students and their families at their homes. We then provided a link and our instructors and students planted tomatoes together, monitored their progress over the weeks, and virtually cooked together.
5. Build strategies for diversified income streams. We have always been an organization reliant on grants. Just recently, we completed a project on our downtown campus called The Center for Food Education. Now, we can build our future with an earned revenue strategy in place.
How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?
I think prior to the pandemic, we always defined our success by the traditional way non-profits tend to do: people impacted, numbers of lessons, pounds of food, etc. The pandemic changed my definition of success because in addition to those traditional ways of measurement, we are now measuring how we — as a staff — respond, lead, and adapt. Our numbers may have been lower during the pandemic due to students going virtual, but the students we did reach were collaborating with their siblings and caretakers at home. That was a meaningful shift because now we were engaging the entire family as opposed to just the one student during after school programming. I think the pandemic forced us to get out of our comfort zones to ask larger questions about the impact of our work and how our organization responds to that level of pressure.
How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?
I read inspirational quotes from some of my favorite authors (like the one listed at the very beginning of this by Maya Angelou). If you are in a leadership position, setbacks can be a very lonely place. After all, everyone is looking to you to make it better. Once I read the quotes, I realize I’m not alone and it centers me BACK to the mission at hand. Growth always can come from setback — sometimes painful, yet necessary. If we grow and learn and do better because of it, I can find my strength and inspiration again.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non-profit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
At the beginning of 2021, I listened to the podcast Unlocking Us with Brene Brown and Aiko Bethea about Inclusivity in the Workplace. I shared it with our entire staff because it was so helpful and inspiring. We have so much work to do — always — but we have to keep the conversations going. The Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us podcasts truly opened my eyes up to leadership in brand new ways (and introduced me to Ted Lasso).
Truth bomb: I don’t do sports of any kind. I don’t understand any of it. I just learned what the red zone is in football. But I’ve watched The Last Dance (Michael Jordan documentary) twice. It inspired me to think differently about team building and leadership. And now I know a LITTLE about basketball.
You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?
Our website is www.jvtf.org
LinkedIn: Jones Valley Teaching Farm
Facebook: Jones Valley Teaching Farm
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about Jones Valley Teaching Farm!