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From Seeds to Service

By Grayson Shelor, Phase II Fellow

On a rainy night in October, AMI welcomed its very first college service group into our community. The students came from Emory and Henry college as a part of an intentional fall break experience, and I could scarcely have been more excited to meet them and introduce them to the whirlwind tour of AMI. Here was our chance to show off the farms we love, the projects we dedicate ourselves to, and the people whose lives are touched by our work.

Liberty, Alysan, Maggie, and Donavan spent their fall break from Emory and Henry College with AMI at both our farms.

I really dig service learning. I love it with a nerdy, glowing passion that I tried to quietly hug to myself so as not to alarm my four new friends. Growing up, I went to a K-12 school that revered the phrase, “Unto whom much is given, much is expected.” I thrived on simulations of stakeholder debates and model United Nations councils through college and worked as my team’s service learning guide during my time with AmeriCorps. When I work with groups of youth, I can see the proverbial lightbulb turn on the moment that students tie the concepts they are learning in to the wider world and its imperfections. These connections - ‘the why’ – are profoundly empowering and inspirational.

So, it was a true joy to journey with our visiting students, both conceptually and physically, to grow food, serve our neighbors, and work towards building a stronger, more resilient community.

Naturally, we began in the garden. We started by transplanting our fall succession of greens. I think the students were taken aback by the volume of lettuce needed to go in the ground!

Under Maya’s guidance, Donavan transplants the first of the seedlings.

The team also assisted with some projects to increase the outdoor teaching capacity at AMI Farm at Augusta Health, including an expansion of the teaching compost bin, and a brand new wooden picnic table.

The picnic table in progress.

At the end of their day on the farm, the students returned to their temporary home at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waynesboro, where they assisted with preparing a community dinner alongside their hosts.

The next morning, we began bright and early, back at AMI Farm at Augusta Health. The whole team immersed themselves in the harvest, collecting eggplant, peppers, and lots of kale.

Donavan helps Farm Assistant Sean to harvest fresh Kale.

These veggies were destined for Disciples’ Kitchen in Waynesboro, a local ministry which serves a hot, fresh meal to homeless, lonely, or otherwise in-need citizens of Waynesboro three days a week. At Disciples’ Kitchen, we prepared a meal of green salad, Ratatouille, sausage, and bread. The staff at the ministry agreed it was the freshest and healthiest meal served at Disciples’ Kitchen to date.

The chefs at work.

After eating lunch with the clients at Disciples’ Kitchen, we returned to the classroom for a closer look at the ways food shapes our communities. The students mapped their home community of Emory and Henry’s campus, labeled the resources they take advantage of, and began to dream up ways that the design of the community could be adjusted to facilitate greater wellbeing. I challenged them to use the mapping exercise as a framework to evaluate the communities of Waynesboro and Monterey that they would visit on the trip..

Later, the team helped us transform the same classroom into a farm stand in preparation for Food Farmacy, AMI and Augusta Health’s prescription produce program. After listening in on the evening’s nutrition lesson, they visited with participants and observed the nutrition and health intervention in action.

Mapping Emory and Henry’s Campus.

The next morning, it was off to Highland County. After winding up to the mountains, the students toured AMI’s mountain farm, visited the farmers market, dined with the Phase I Fellows. The students capped off the week helping community members make apple butter the old-fashioned way as part of Highland County’s Hands and Harvest Festival.

Apple Butter takes a village at Laurel Fork Sapsuckers.

All too soon, we had to say goodbye. From seedlings, to nourishment, to community, we loved having Emory and Henry be a part of the transformative work we do here at AMI! We wish our new friends all the best as they continue their own journeys, and hope to welcome them back to our farms someday!

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