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Spring has Sprung, Maybe

By Sophia Hutnik, AMI Fellow

This past week, it went from winter to summer and then back to winter in the blink of an eye. At Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind (VSDB), this meant that Katrina, our farm manager, Stephen, fellow AMI Phase II Fellow, and I were able to spend most of the week out in the sun and wind, which was glorious. After living in Sweden for two years, I have greatly enjoyed the milder and sunnier American winters. I also get so excited over the daily lengthening of the days after the winter solstice, that I forget how nice spring is. I wouldn’t go as far as to say spring is significantly better than winter, but I am unfailingly reminded of how wonderful it is for the sun to stay in the sky later each day, for birds to sing, and for dandelions to make the lawn pop with bright yellow bursts.

April 17 on the Allegheny Mountain Farm campus

This time of year brings the excitement of spring foraging (and the slight stress of an amateur). There are ramps, morels, various tree barks, dandelions, cleavers, violets to discover, and more things to forage that I want to start learning about, and how to identify and find.

After moving to Staunton in January, I need to learn when and where things grow in this new place and I’m feeling a self-imposed time crunch to get on it!

Phase I of AMI exposed me to many different topics and cultivated just as many new interests; being inundated with vast pieces of knowledge that I want to amass is overwhelming. I usually must take a deep breath and remind myself that the type of knowledge that I am trying to accrue is born out of a mixture of research, experience, and mentorship. And, it’s often accumulated slowly through time. It’s hard to swallow sometimes, but learning to identify and use five plants per season will probably be more meaningful to me in the long run.

Dandelion and violets, April 17 in Staunton, from winter I drove back to spring

Along with the mixture of joy and stress that spring foraging is bringing me, there is also the anticipation of the arrival of the next batch of Fellows. As I type, I am at the Allegheny Mountain Farm campus finishing a day of unpacking, cleaning, and organizing to get ready for the next cohort of Fellows. Spending time in The Village – the collection of buildings where we ate, slept, and spent a lot of our leisure time – has brought a mixture of nostalgia, familiarity and regret.

Some of what the new Fellows have to look forward to eating while they wait for produce to start coming in from the garden.

Nostalgia from when I first arrived to AMI sweeps over me and I remember how luxurious everything was – hot running water! An industrial kitchen! Nice warm cabins! I don’t remember what I was expecting, but I definitely wasn’t prepared for how comfortable everything was. Nostalgia over the time I spent on the mountain, all that I learned, experienced, the Appalachian culture I was exposed to, the people I met, and more. These two days are the last time that it will just be my cohort on the mountain. Starting Sunday, it will be the new cohort of Fellows’ time to live with the mountain and the baton will be passed.

I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to share all that I have learned, like my favorite places and trails, where skullcap grows under trees, where I found one chanterelle and where we saw blue cohosh. While I enjoy my new house and life in Staunton, I definitely feel a sense of loss from that time living and learning on this mountain that has passed.

On a brighter note, I had the pleasure of flexing my organizational skills today as I helped clean the kitchen at Mountain Farm and helped set up the pantry, setting out last year’s canned goods on the shelves. Seeing the colorful jars all lined up in their multitude was a wonderful sight and very rewarding. We all worked very hard last year, learning and then actually making a variety of goods such as salsa verde, pickles, preserves, tomatoes and more. I loved imagining how much the coming Fellows will enjoy them.

It’s mid-April and it had seemed like the warmer days of spring and eventually summer had come, that life was coming out of hibernation. With a slight relapse of winter flurries and cold this past day, I think it may confuse me as much as it will the plants! However, I think that we have all seen and felt the hope of spring - and I am greatly looking forward to the challenge of reigning in my self-imposed expectations for knowledge accumulation and becoming a guest on the mountain.

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