Fresh Food 101
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The Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) was started in 2011 with the mission to teach young leaders how to grow food so they can teach others about the importance of agriculture.
The students are called fellows, and they come from all over the country to participate in the program. “It’s our goal to create a high-functioning team so they can continue to work together and be each other’s networks,” says Ellen Butchart, AMS program director. “Ultimately we want them to strengthen their communities.”
The AMS Staff and Fellows from left to right are Nick Faircloth, Kayla MacLachlan, Emily Lawrence, Emily Sullivan, Aaron Burkholder, Thea Klein-Mayer, Kaz Berman, Shannon Mathews, Paul Krysik, and Emily Lawrence. Sam is the farm dog.Date Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
Situated on 550 acres of land bordering George Washington National Forest and West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, the farm was originally a homestead that has been turned into a fully functional learning space. It is sponsored by The Highland Center, a non-profit organization committed to cultural and economic development in the Alleghany Highlands region of Virginia and West Virginia.
“Our focus is on teaching and reaching members of the community,” says Butchart. “It’s a service organization in that sense.”Date Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
Fellows come into the program with different ideas for their futures. Former fellows have gone on to start businesses, teach at colleges and universities, work on farms, and focus on marketing and outreach. Some have stayed to work at the Highland Center.
“We flex to the needs of the community and also the interests and the strengths of the fellows,” Butchart says.Date Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
The fellowship program has two phases. During the first students learn the basics of farming and making healthy foods. Fellows attend classes and workshops that teach them a variety of things, from mushroom cultivation and foraging to cheese making, canning and preserving, and soil health.
The second phase sends students out into the community to work at non-profits and other organizations to exercise their new skills.Date Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
Kayla MacLachlan is the program manager and garden educator at AMS, but before that she was a fellow. “I learned how to grow food confidently so that I can teach other people,” she says.
MacLachlan says the basic program is not difficult. “It’s easy to stick your hand in the dirt and put a seed in the ground. It’s easy to pull a piece of fruit off a plant. You don’t need to know all of the science behind it. You just need a love and appreciation for it.”Date Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
Now that AMS has been established for almost five years, the directors and educators have a goal of adding livestock care. Starting in 2015, Butchart says AMS will become the “Allegheny Mountain Institute” to encompass the planning of more programs and development of a sustainable whole system farming program.
Butchart says the challenge is figuring out how the business of farming fits into the curriculum. “You can teach people how to raise animals and grow food, but if they’re going to be farmers they’re also going to be running businesses. That’s a part of the conversation.”Date Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
Most fellows are inspired by their time at the school. “There’s a great pleasure in having the ability to grow your own food and to take that food and provide for yourself and your family,” MacLachlan says.
She tries to create a unique experience for her students, with the support of the staff and board of directors. “I’ve pretty much been able to dream up what the curriculum will look like.”
The ultimate goal is to create agriculturally savvy young people who will spread their love of growing food and raising livestock to their communities. “We’re doing this to encourage other people to grow gardens and to cook their own food,” MacLachlan says.
For more information visit the new AMS website: http://www.alleghenymountaininstitute.orgDate Published: January 26, 2015Date Updated: January 30, 2015
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