Allegheny Mountain Institute (AMI) is an educational non-profit organization with the mission to cultivate healthy communities through food and education.
Our vision is to create a thriving network of collaborative, vibrant communities
who value the connection between food and health.
The AMI Urban Farm at VSDB
The AMI Urban Farm at VSDB is a project of Allegheny Mountain Institute and Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind (VSDB) in Staunton, VA. The farm provides students of all ages a place to learn, play and grow outdoors. Our 3-acre site located on the VSDB campus consists of a 2-acre vegetable farm, educational gardens, outdoor classroom and kitchen, orchard, and diverse native habitat plantings.
COMMUNITY FARM VOLUNTEER WORK DAYS
You are invited to join us during the growing season on Tuesdays, between 4pm and 7pm as a Farm Volunteer! Join us May through October of 2017 for a fun, hands-on opportunity to learn gardening skills and help our farm grow. In addition, you can purchase fresh produce, or, in return for your volunteer work, receive veggies for free! Directions to the farm are listed below. Check out our Facebook page for updates and other event listings. Click here for directions!
The Fellowship Program
The AMI Fellowship is a fully funded, 18 month, two phase program.
Applications for the 2018-2019 Fellowship will be available October 2017.
Living in close connection to each other and the land, AMI fellows grow as individuals, community members and leaders for a healthy food system. They become local food coordinators, school garden facilitators, market farm managers, food systems educators and advocates for sustainable food systems. Our fellowship program generates strong leaders who successfully work to build a more cohesive food system.
During Phase I a cohort of passionate individuals committed to revitalizing our foodshed, connect to the food system as they live, work, and study for six months on our beautiful mountain farm campus in rural Highland County, Virginia. On the farm, Fellows gain full season experience in sustainable growing methods, small animal husbandry, and rotational livestock grazing on a diversified farm. Here, they grow most of their own food while developing a deeper understanding of the connections between sustainable food systems and community wellness, through hands-on experience, workshops and training. In addition, fellows study topics such as permaculture design, whole foods preparation and preservation, wellness and nutrition, land stewardship, leadership, and community development through hands-on experience on the farm, expert guest instructors, field trips and daily educational sessions. After learning and working from 8 am - 5 pm, Fellows enjoy a communal dinner of farm fresh foods. Fellows spend approximately 40 hours per week learning and studying on the farm, with occasional evening and weekend commitments. Upon successful completion of Phase I, AMI Fellows will receive a $1,000 stipend.
What Will You Study?
Full Season Organic Gardening
Small Animal Husbandry
Cooking, Preserving & Fermentation
Nutrition & Wellness
Food Access Issues
... and much more!
In Phase II AMI, Senior Fellows receive a monthly stipend while in the service of AMI or another Partner Organization. Utilizing their acquired knowledge and skills, Senior Fellows build community and school gardens (with site-based curriculum), advocate for sustainable land use, and teach nutrition, gardening, and cooking for a healthy lifestyle. Supported by the AMI network, Senior Fellows continue to meet regularly for leadership and professional development, while working on a variety of projects in the community.
What does the Fellowship Provide?
Room and board in a pristine mountain setting for six months
Permaculture Design Certificate
Workshops and field trips with experts
Hands-on training, mentoring, and educational sessions
Opportunities for community engagement and teaching experience
Lifelong friends from your cohort, and colleagues across the AMI network
An award of $1,000 upon the successful completion of Phase I, and an annual stipend of $18,000 during Phase II community service (less taxes)
"I experienced six months of personal and botanical growth living atop Allegheny Mountain learning about the many intersections between food and community."
-- Samantha Taggart, AMI Senior Fellow. January 2015
Life on the Mountain
Living in Community
As an AMI Farm Fellow, you will build a life-long community with a cohort of individuals passionate about living sustainably and cooperatively with nature. You will share living quarters in handcrafted wood cabins, cook meals together and enjoy common living and study areas equipped with wifi. Meals will consist of foods grown on the farm augmented with basic whole food staples.
Our Farm Site
It’s hard not to fall in love with our farm campus. Not only is our soil rich for growing abundant amounts of food, we are surrounded with picture-perfect mountain views, bubbling springs and a night sky lit up the Milky Way. Set on hundreds of acres of land in rural Highland County, the farm is situated on an old farmstead at a Triple Watershed Divide and is bordered by both the Monongahela and George Washington National Forests. Off the mountain, Fellows are welcomed into a rich Appalachian culture and close-knit community of Highland County. Just 30 minutes away, the town of Monterey offers a full Farmer's Market, several restaurants, and community events throughout the summer.
Phase II: Senior Fellowship
The Senior Fellowship is a yearlong placement with a partner organization
where the AMI Fellows use their knowledge and skills
to build organizational capacity and launch new programs.
AMI Fellows apply their Phase I training as they work on community projects focused on building healthy communities through food and education. Working with AMI and other Partner Organizations, Senior Fellows build organizational capacity and launch new programs such as building community gardens, developing school gardens and site based curriculum, advocating for sustainable land use, and teaching nutrition and cooking for a healthy lifestyle. Fellows work 40 hours per week with exact hours dependent on the Partner Organization placement. Occasional evening and weekend commitments are required. All Fellows are assured placements, and each Fellow's interests are considered as much as possible when determining work placements. Supported by the AMI network, Senior Fellows continue to meet regularly for leadership training, professional development, and permaculture design study. Fellows receive a monthly stipend of $1,500 (subject to payroll taxes) and a Permaculture Design Certificate from Shenandoah Permaculture Institute upon successful completion of the year.
Watch to learn more about AMI's Phase II!
Check out where they are now and what great work they do.
Our 2016 Senior Fellows
Food Programs Coordinator: Anna Tracht
Anna Tracht is thrilled to be spending her AMI Senior Fellowship with the Highland Center, as their Food Programs Coordinator. Throughout this year, she will be developing and implementing a Culinary and Hospitality Internship with the Highland Inn, helping to run the local Farmers’ Market, and working with students in local school gardens, among numerous other projects.
Before she found herself in Highland County, Anna worked on a number of production farms, growing fruit, vegetables, and flowers as well as with a number of farm to school programs throughout the Northeast. After graduating from Skidmore College with a degree in Anthropology and Environmental Studies, she spent a year teaching nutrition to young parents in her home state of Vermont. When she’s not in the garden, Anna loves to sing and play music, knit, hike, and hang out with her kitten.
Sarah Merfeld grew up in Madison, WI and moved out to Colorado to attend Colorado College. After receiving an undergraduate degree in Religion and Philosophy, Sarah switched gears and began perusing an interest in permaculture and organic farming. She worked for a year at an urban farm in Boulder, CO teaching environmental education and growing produce before coming to Virginia to participate in the AMI Farm Fellowship.
Sarah is excited to spend her Senior Fellowship working at the AMI Urban Farm! The move from Highland County is bittersweet, as she leaves behind the spectacular beauty and welcomes the “city” amenities that Staunton provides. Her year will be spent cultivating both perennial and annual crops on the farm, working with the faculty and students at VSDB, and engaging with the larger Staunton community. Sarah cannot wait for the 2016 growing season to begin!
Katie Gilman grew up as a "flatlander" in the Northern Neck of Virginia. As a child she developed a love for the outdoors and for all the wild creatures the woods provides for. After studying Biology at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, working in an Emergency Room, teaching yoga in Boston, Massachusetts, waiting tables in countless restaurants on the east coast, and soul searching in Guatemala and Taiwan, she is now feeling a pull back towards her roots- rural areas, nature, and good food!
After living and learning on the AMI Mountain Farm for 6 months she is ready to put her new, and old, skills along with her reclaimed passion for the land and community into action at the VSDB Urban Farm. She is excited to learn from and instruct VSDB students and staff at the farm, work with and lead community groups and volunteers, make additions to the farm using her permaculture knowledge, and provide produce to her local community. Katie is interested in learning more about the marketing and sales of produce to local businesses and how farms can function to restore environmentally healthy practices.
Follow the AMI Fellows
What's it like to be a Fellow? Check out our blog posts by AMI Fellows and Alumni!
AMI alumni continue to make an impact in communities. Former Fellows are now nonprofit directors, environmental educators, food entrepreneurs, permaculture designers, graduate students, sustainable farmers and lifelong leaders in the local foods movement. Check out where they are now, and what great work they do:
I stepped foot onto the mountain in the spring of 2013, a beginning farmer/local food advocate curious about what the next two years might bring. No one besides the fates would have known the knowledge and growth that AMI helped me obtain from immersing myself in study and practice with the growing AMI family. Most of all, my AMI Senior Fellowship position as the 2014 Village Manager prepared me in unspeakable ways for what life had in store for me in the next chapter of my journey.
Today, I have the pleasure of working with the Chicago Botanical Gardens’ Urban Agriculture Department: Windy City Harvest. My main role in one of their many programs is with the Harvest Corps program. The program is a transitional job training program for people who were once incarcerated in their life. My main duty as Farm Operations Crew Leader is to train our members in urban agriculture skills and help them prepare and find future employment in the many opportunities here in Chicago.
Every day I touch thousands of lives. This is possible, when one's work is with seeds. In every singular, viable seed an embryo awaits the sufficient conditions to grow into the world. Countless lives pass through my hands and the hands of my co-workers every day.
I have joined Turtle Tree Seeds as their assistant seed garden manager. We offer over 300 varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers grown using biodynamic and organic practices both in our seed garden and by other farmers and gardeners who use biodynamic methods. Turtle Tree Seed is part of a Camphill Village in Copake, NY, a life-sharing community which includes people with developmental disabilities.
Each day, our group of about 20 adults of all abilities help with processing, cleaning and packing our seeds. We are also beginning to raise seedlings which we will grow out this season for seed as well as caring for the biannual crops over-wintering in our greenhouses. Most of us highly anticipate the spring - the start of this year's seed gardens, the hum of the bee hives, the blossoming of the apple trees.
As a child, my mother taught my sister and I to pull the dead petals of the marigold to discover the seeds the plant had developed there. We stored them in old coffee containers for the following year. In the summer of 2009, the UMass student farmers harvested a row of Siberian Kale that had unintentionally gone to seed and likely saved enough seed for the next decade of student farmers.
I belong to the 2013/2014 fellowship cohort of the Allegheny Mountain Institute. My AMI Senior Fellowship was with the founding team to create the AMI Urban Farm at VSDB. That was the first educational farm I helped to build, now I'm working on the third.
I signed on as a "Location Manager" for a non-profit called The Amir Project. Amir builds gardens and farms at summer camps and runs programming during the camp season aimed at teaching ideas of social justice as well as the more obvious "where our food comes from" rag. It is a compelling idea and I saw it work. With just a little reminding and mindfulness I saw children take an understanding of our role of power in the garden.
My job at the Amir Project was to first help run our seminar to train 80 farmers to go tend and teach in gardens at camps across the country, then to manage a team of 5 to build (from scratch) and run programming in a productive one-quarter acre farm in just three months! That is an insane goal and we did it.
Now I am living and working in northern California at the Environment Celebration Institute's demonstration farm. This is the non-profit that Elaine Ingham works through. She is something of a celebrity in the biological farming movement, and for good reason. Her soil biology consulting work has been quietly transforming unstructured and lifeless farm soils back into resilient productive havens for microbes, like soils are meant to be. Her work has been widely embraced internationally, and the demand for consultants is outstripping supply. She relies on scrutinizing compost for the life it contains, using extreme discernment to select the right compost for the job, and applying it as an inoculant, not a fertilizer. Our workhorse is the light microscope, we make a lot of compost, and keep a lot of records.The purchase of the farm was final in the late spring of this year. There is still a great deal of work to be done on our soil which has been chemically managed and is currently host to very few organisms other than bacteria.The purpose of the farm is to be a teaching center for the microscopy skills necessary to understand and inform all types of growing operations.Currently Elaine uses the farm as a kind of personal retreat for about one week each month where she can garden, catch up on email, and rest from her global work life.This is lucky for me as I get lots of coveted one-on-one microscope time with her which seriously rocks. I am getting back to my roots in Biology (my undergrad major) and quickly gaining soil literacy.These skills are needed all over the world and I am honored and flattered to be considered to do this big work.
There's not much gain in counting nematode eggs and flagellate cysts before they hatch, but I'm excited for whatever is next.I usually have a hard time looking down the road, even a few months.In fact, AMI gave me the longest steadiest engagement I've had since college.Wherever I go I take the fruits of that immersive learning and meaningful work that I shared in Virginia with my cohort.
AMI taught me so much about the power of food in building, nourishing, and sustaining local communities. It has inspired me to build a small farm business of my own, and reinvigorated my vision of building a farm-to-table restaurant and educational hub someday. However, I also want to empower others to grow their own food and in doing so, contribute to a more resilient and diverse food system, wherever they may be.
Since I've left Virginia, I've encountered mentors who taught me not only how to grow vegetables, but also how to run an effective business enterprise. This season, I'm excited to be finally growing for myself, managing a farm with two other business partners in Southern Ontario. We've carved out a one-acre market garden, tucked away in the valley of an old Simmental cattle farm. There remains much for me to learn, and while AMI did not give me all the answers, it certainly instilled in me the confidence that I'll be able to figure things out. I look forward to the challenges of this journey, and I hope you will join me as I share my experiences about gardening, cooking, and everything food-related through my podcast, 'To Grow a Meal'
You can find us on iTunes, Google Play, or www.togrowameal.com
Who is Allegheny Mountain Institute?
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Founder, Board President
Laurie moved to Highland County in 1975. There she began taking an active role in local environmental protection and intensive organic gardening. Her non-profit community involvement includes being a founding board member of the Highland County Arts Council, The Highland Center, Highlanders for Responsible Development, and most recently as the Founder of Allegheny Mountain School, now Allegheny Mountain Institute.
Currently on the Board of the Valley Conservation Council, Laurie is a strong advocate and spokesperson for maintaining and building agricultural vitality while protecting and preserving our valuable soil structure and watershed. However her deepest passion is in growing food and teaching others to appreciate the importance of eating fresh foods for optimum health and well being.
Laurie is also an avid naturalist, beekeeper, permaculture enthusiast, hiker, music maker, and mother of three grown daughters, who all share her love of gardening, earth stewardship, and fresh cuisine.
Sarah grew up in Nelson County in the mountains of Virginia, so she felt right at home when she moved to Highland County in 2011 to participate as one of the founding Fellows at the Allegheny Mountain School, now Allegheny Mountain Institute. Sarah loved being a part of the Highland County community so much that after finishing her Phase II placement at The Highland Center, she has continued to live here.
Today, Sarah uses the additional skills she acquired through the Fellowship as the Orchardist and Cellar Master for Big Fish Cider, Co. based in Monterey, Virginia. In addition to being a board member for the Allegheny Mountain Institute, she serves on the Highland County Economic Development Authority, Highlanders for Responsible Development, and the Highland Tourism Council.
Growing up, Sarah first learned to care for plants from her parents in their garden and yard. After going to the University of Virginia to study architecture and environmental science, she discovered landscape architecture and went on to get a Masters Degree in that field from the University of Georgia.
Sarah is married to Joshua Simmons, a Highland native, and the County Building Official as well as a general contractor. Together, they enjoy spending time outside, hiking and camping with their two dogs. They also caretake a small farm while they make plans for their own farm. Sarah also enjoys making pottery, jewelry, baskets and working with wood and recently co-launched Highland Made, a locally operated pottery studio and maker space for the people of Highland to further their artistic desires.
Tom was trained in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Ecology at the University of Michigan. He went on to manage environmental work for electric and gas utilities in Michigan and New York, believing that it would be easier to influence corporations to behave responsibly from within.
He later founded a computer, software and services company to promote the advantages of the newly introduced personal computers. He also created an organization to heal ailing businesses, eventually traveling the country to help businesses get back on their feet.
He moved to Kaua’i and helped government leaders and the island utility to explore various sustainability issues, including local food, renewable energy, housing and transportation issues. As a faculty member he was able to facilitate student learning at the high school and college level.
A lifelong organic gardener, he hopes to promote the training of a new generation of farmers and local food advocates to build greater physical, social and financial health in our local communities.
He spent his childhood in the lush woods of Tennessee, his teenage years in the dry forests and deserts of Israel, and his adulthood in Boston, New York, and Boulder. Everywhere he goes he always finds himself in love with the natural world.
He has a B.A. in Biology with a specialization in Ecology and Conservation from Boston University, and a Masters in Traditional Oriental Medicine from Southwest Acupuncture College. He has spent time farming in the Berkshires and pushing the edge of cooperative urban homesteading in Brooklyn, where he worked as an environmental educator for the New York Restoration Project.
Noah now lives in Boulder, Colorado, where he merges his understanding of ecosystem dynamics with those of the human body to promote health and optimal vitality as an Acupuncturist and Herbalist. Noah also tends to chickens, bees, and a growing garden. He is also a dedicated husband and father.
Bob Cantor, a lifelong resident of the Washington DC area, loves the stimulation of the city, but also enjoys the solitude of quiet, peaceful environments. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1974 with a degree in Social Studies Education, and received a Masters in 1979 in Industrial Education.
Bob taught in the public and private school arenas for 40 years, teaching a wide variety of subject areas, including Vocational Horticulture, Coop Work Study Coordinating, every high school history subject known to man, and AP Psychology. He is now retired and looks back on his career with great satisfaction and fulfillment. Bob is still in contact and friends with many former students.
Bob has farmed a sustainable organic intensive two-acre garden and sold vegetables at the Women's Farm Market in Bethesda for six years. Bob understands the challenges and promise of organic farming from firsthand experience. He has always had an organic garden since his college days.
Bob was a founding board member of Camp Attaway, a summer camp for children with emotional and behavior disorders, and has taken great pride in the growth and success of the camp.
As a retiree, he enjoys playing golf, going to sporting events, taking classes at the University of Maryland, traveling, reading, and is always looking for ways to support friends, family, and community and help out where he can. Bob looks forward to continuing to assist AMI, and working to promote and implement the mission and vision of the organization.
Originally from New Jersey, Julianne lived in Alaska for 25 years until she returned to the East Coast in 2015 to spend more time with family.
She served as Executive Director for the Alaska Botanical Garden for 7 ½ years, and now has her own writing and consulting business, Aisling Mhor Consulting --“Dream Big” in Irish Gaelic. She co-authored the Alaska Cooperative Extension Service publication on “Growing Garlic in Alaska”.
A lifelong avid organic gardener, micro-farmer, and Master Gardener, Julianne loves to cook, farm, forage, kayak, and travel. She has a B.A. in Psychology, and completed coursework for a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She has worked as a social worker in Manhattan, managed a community radio station in Alaska, and was a caterer and camp cook. Her campfire recipes have been featured on the Food Network.
Julianne is a lifelong student of herbal medicine and nutritional healing and plans to have an organic garlic and medicinal herb farm when she settles down in one place again. Julianne is pleased to share her expertise in non-profit management and community development as a member of the AMI Board of Directors.
After graduating from Virginia Tech in 1974 with a degree in Textiles, and upon the suggestion of a good friend, Somers opened a women’s clothing store in Altavista, Virginia in 1976. In 1977, she moved the business to Lynchburg, Virginia, and over the next 30 years, with the help of an outstanding staff and great customers, Somers’ Place became one of Central Virginia’s leading women’s clothing boutiques.
Shortly, after the sale of the business, Somers fulfilled a lifelong desire and attended and graduated from Rhodec International School of Interior Design and went on to create interior design projects for individuals as well as colleges and businesses over the last several years.
Somers' natural tendency to be of service to others became apparent when she became aware of the alarming decline in the health of our citizens, including our children. As a result, she was inspired to be part of the answer rather than part of the problem. In addition to investing time in educating herself about health, nutrition and exercise, Somers enrolled in the Duke Integrative Medicine Professional Health Coach Training Program and graduated as a Certified Professional in June 2015.
Sue brings over 20 years of experience in education and urban agriculture to AMI. Prior to joining AMI, Sue served as Director of Education with Casey Trees in Washington DC, and held leadership roles with The Greening of Detroit and the Mid-Michigan Environmental Action Council. Sue has created and implemented environmental education programs for adults and K-12 students and has extensive experience in training and directing staff and volunteers to get the most out of their time and talents.
Admin Manager / Development Coordinator
Julia brings over 20 years of nonprofit experience to AMI, specializing in Communications and Development. Her background includes work in the areas of education, environment, maritime interests, visual arts, and museums. She served as Communications Director with the environmental nonprofit, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater in New York working to promote youth empowerment and education programs, environmental awareness campaigns, and a Green Cities agenda. Originally from Patrick County, Virginia, she comes from a long line of farmers. After a decade in the Hudson Valley, she and her husband are happy to now call the Shenandoah Valley home.
AMI Urban Farm at VSDB Manager
David has always been passionate about growing food and sharing his knowledge with others, and he has been actively growing fruits and vegetables for over 12 years. He earned his Bachelor's of Science in Horticulture from the University of Georgia, where he also earned a certificate in Organic Agriculture Production and a certificate in Local Food Production. He returned to UGA and earned his Master's of Science in Horticulture. He has worked on small-scale farms and gardens, where he taught gardening workshops, sold produce to markets, and worked to promote community gardening and farming projects in the greater Augusta, Georgia area. He hopes to one day own a homestead and host educational workshops and retreats, and continue to educate and involve local communities. His hobbies include hiking, pottery, home brewing, gardening, teaching, biking, scuba diving, and camping, to name a few.
Urban Farm Intern
Katrina Beitz grew up outside of Cincinnati, Ohio and attended American University in Washington, DC. She graduated with a BA in International Development, and served two years with AmeriCorps: The first year in post-disaster areas for FEMA, and the second working in a District Attorney’s office in bush Alaska. She stumbled into farming after experiencing the food desert of rural Alaska, which made her look more critically at the national food system. Katrina has spent a season in the Santa Cruz Mountains learning to grow Michelin-quality vegetables, and volunteering at an educational farm for elementary-aged kids. She most recently worked at Waterpenny Farm in Sperryville, Virginia. Katrina also enjoys hiking, reading, dogs, and cooking way too much food. She hopes to spend this season engaging with the community and making kids excited to eat their vegetables.
Urban Farm Intern
Mynor Moore graduated from Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind in 2012. He is excited to return to the campus to work with AMI’s Urban Farm. Mynor comes from farm stock; his grandfather grew up on a farm in Bridgewater and has told Mynor stories of life on the farm. Mynor trained in carpentry at Valley Career and Technical Center and worked at James Madison University on the grounds crew where he enjoyed learned how to care for plants; he is excited to share his knowledge about farming and food production. Since Mynor is Deaf himself, he looks forward to direct communication through American Sign Language (ASL) with the Deaf students at VSDB. Mynor enjoys traveling, helping people, hiking and movies.
After studying ancient agriculture in college and co-teaching fifth grade, Jessa followed her passion for building healthy communities as an AMI Fellow in 2012. In her subsequent work at the AMI partner organization, The Highland Center, Jessa worked to build local food systems in the region. Jessa earned a Master's in Education from the University of Washington, where she studied and worked in the fields of nutrition and garden education, outdoor education, non-profit management, and curriculum development.
Carter Wallace brings a passion for eco –literacy and experience in farm management and design. He is a devoted husband and father, jazz musician, and "ag-tivist." Carter's love for engaging with food production and nature connection has led to him serve as a garden educator for at-risk youth in Los Angeles, as a good food journalist for the Pacifica Radio Network, and as a farm manager at Farfields Farm in Afton, VA. He is driven to be a part of the carbon farming solution to climate instability, particularly through the Holistic Management of livestock, and agroforestry.
Village Manager & Lead Gardener
Maggie was born and raised outside Berea, Kentucky where she developed a love and passion for the land and outdoors. She completed her B.S. in Geography at Western Kentucky University. Maggie graduated from the Peace Corps Masters International Program at the University of Washington in the spring of 2015 with a Masters of Forest Resources. As part of this program, she served two years as an Agriculture/Environment Peace Corps Volunteer in Adaba, Ethiopia and taught small-scale sustainable gardening, tree nursery establishment, and leadership and life skills. She also conducted research with a local, community-based ecotourism as part of her thesis.
AMI in the News!
Check out our most recent published articles spreading the word about how much our programs have to offer.
Working together to build a healthy community