Growing food. building community.
The AMI Story
In 2011, Allegheny Mountain School (AMS) was founded by a resident of 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 the health of their community.
This was accomplished by the creation of the two-phase Fellowship program, which remains central to AMI. Each year a cohort of 8-9 Fellows is recruited for this 18-month educational experience. During the first 6 months, Fellows receive intensive, hands-on, farm-based training using bio-intensive, organic, and regenerative practices. In the following year, they put their training into action by working with nonprofits to grow the local food system, support sustainable farming, increase access to nutritious foods, and promote health. Partners have included Project Grows, Highland Children's House, City Schoolyard Garden, and others.
From 2013-2018, AMI supported the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind to develop and operate the largest Farm to School program in the state. Before graduating from the program, 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 production vegetable farm with multifaceted farming and nutrition education. 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, AM built twelve raised garden beds directly on the Kate Collins Middle School campus. These garden beds and the future production farm will be 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. AMI will begin 2021 by working with students and teachers to expand to a one-acre production farm that is adjacent to the school property. It will 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. The farm will be designed to feature organic, four-season crops and companion planting while promoting and teaching full ecosystem health. Regenerative agriculture practices will be employed, mimicking the patterns and relationships found in nature. This project aims 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 68 Fellows, many of whom have gone on to serve in professional roles in education, agriculture, and community development. In 2021, AMI will welcome its tenth cohort of Fellows to the Allegheny Farm campus. In addition to working on the Allegheny Farm, AMI Farm at Augusta Health and Waynesboro City Schools, Community Fellows support school gardening and outdoor education efforts at Staunton City Schools.