Growing food. building community.
The AMI Story
Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) was founded in 2011 by Laurie Berman in Highland County, Virginia. She recognized the need to re-invigorate Appalachian communities to return to their agrarian roots, once again growing their own food and taking charge of their personal health and that of their community. The vision remains basically the same today as it did a decade ago - to train the trainer - to teach others to experience the joys and health benefits of growing one's own food so that they can go forward and teach others what they have learned.
Central to AMI's success has been the creation of the two-phase Fellowship program. Each year a cohort of 8-9 Fellows is recruited for an 18-month immersive, educational experience. During the first 6 months, Fellows receive hands-on, farm-based training using bio-intensive, organic, and regenerative practices. In the following year, they put their training into action by working to grow the local food system, support sustainable farming, increase access to nutritious foods, and promote health through educational programming.
Allegheny Mountain School's first fiscal sponsor and partner was The Highland Center in Monterey, VA. Other regional community partners in the 2nd year of the Fellowship have included Project Grows, Highland Children's House, City Schoolyard Garden, Valley Conservation Council, IRC New Roots Farm, Highland County Public Schools, and New Community Project.
From 2013-2018, AMS/AMI supported the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind to develop and operate what was then the largest Farm to School program in the state. The AMI Urban Farm at VSDB provided a place for students of all ages to learn, play, and grow outdoors. The farm offered a year-round gardening curriculum, incorporating hands-on experience in its vegetable farm, educational gardens, outdoor classroom, kitchen, and orchard.
In 2014, AMS established itself as a 501c3 non-profit and was renamed Allegheny Mountain Institute (AMI).
In 2017, AMI entered into a partnership with Augusta Health in Fishersville, VA to develop and operate a 1-acre production vegetable farm integrated with community educational programming. Once again, Fellows from our flagship educational program took on the leadership role to create this successful farm-to-hospital model. Per the 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA), Augusta Health identified challenges it had the greatest ability to impact: nutrition, physical activity, and weight, diabetes, and mental health. In response, the AMI Farm at Augusta Health was created as a venue for agricultural and nutritional education for visitors, patients, educators, community and school groups, hospital staff, health professionals, nutritionists, and volunteers. Focused on organic, four-season crops, companion planting, and soil health, the farm has grown and distributed approximately 25,000 pounds of vegetables in each of the last three years. This produce has reached patients through a variety of hospital-based and outreach programs to address food security as well as reducing chronic health issues, including heart disease and diabetes. Community education augments produce-access programming to reinforce the connection between growing and consuming nutrient-dense, fresh local foods, and enjoying optimum health.
In 2020, AMI grew to support Waynesboro City Schools in Waynesboro, VA in the development of a farm-to-school partnership. In the initial year of collaboration, AMI built twelve raised garden beds directly on the Kate Collins Middle School campus. These garden beds and the Waynesboro Educational Farm were utilized to demonstrate how to grow food using organic, sustainable practices and integrate hands-on, farm-based learning into both core-curricular and elective classes for improved outcomes, life-skill building, and social-emotional learning. From 2021-2022 AMI worked with students and teachers to expand to a one-acre production farm located at Berkeley Glenn Elementary. The Waynesboro Educational Farm was established to be a resource for healthy food while strengthening connections between classroom learning and real-world applications and matching academic standards alignment with agricultural and nutritional education. AMI's farm and education staff implemented Certified Naturally Grown, four-season crops and companion planting while promoting and teaching full ecosystem health. Regenerative agriculture practices were employed, mimicking the patterns and relationships found in nature. This project aimed to address and impact food security and nutrition while promoting a better quality of life for students, staff, and community members.
Today, AMI has graduated over 80 Fellows, many of whom have gone on to serve in professional roles in education, agriculture, and community development.