MEET OUR AMAZING TEAM
Committed to food justice, Kim comes to AMI with 20 years of experience in higher education, community development, and food system change. She started her career as a Peace Corps Volunteer focused on youth development in Namibia. After receiving a Master’s degree in International and Intercultural Management, Kim worked as a professor and program coordinator for Augsburg University's Center for Global Education in Namibia before returning to the United States. During the following 13 years at Gettysburg College, Kim facilitated social justice education while developing campus-community partnerships to advance systemic change. Much of this work focused on immigrant rights and the food system as she facilitated the Adams County Food Policy County and led the transition of the Painted Turtle Farm into a hub for food and community. In her free time, Kim loves to hike, ski, and travel with her family
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. Her passion for the Farm and Food Fellowship brought Jessa back to AMI in 2016 and she has been managing the Fellowship ever since. In her spare time, Jessa enjoys working on her homestead with husband Chris in Blue Grass, VA.
HEAD MARKET FARMER
Originally hailing from Pardeeville, WI, Pat developed his passion for environmental justice and farming after a 3-year quest that included travel to Central America, working and leading trail crews in AZ and CO, and then, ultimately, working as a field hand on a 3-acre farm outside of Madison, WI. Pat was a part of AMI’s 2017 cohort and spent his Phase II placement as the farm manager at the AMI Farm at August Health. When not obsessing over farming, Pat enjoys the challenge of trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle through cooking; preserving and fermenting the food he grows.
Originally from the foothills of Eastern Tennessee, Grayson feels rooted in the rich food heritage of Appalachia. After graduating from the University of Richmond with a degree in English Literature, she followed her passions for service, public health, and outdoor education across the United States before returning to Virginia as an AMI Farm and Food Fellow in 2017. A proud apologist for vegetables, Grayson also enjoys books, tea, coloring with toddlers, singing to seedlings, hiking, and splashing in creeks.
Rick comes to AMI with over 30 years of accounting and business management experience. He worked with grants, capital budgets, and accounting software implementation at the University of Virginia. He also put in many years of corporate accounting at the former Rocco, Inc, poultry company in Harrisonburg. A graduate of James Madison University, Rick originally hails from Tidewater, Virginia, but has developed deep roots here in the Shenandoah Valley. When not trying to get on the golf course, his other passion is training, showing, and loving his herd of English Springer Spaniels.
FOUNDER and BOARD PRESIDENT
Laurie Berman moved to Highland County in 1975 as a homesteader, to live simply on the land, working with nature, while becoming food self-sufficient. Her drive for making good things happen led her to take a leading role in local environmental protection and community development as a founding board member of each of the following non profits: Highland County Arts Council, The Highland Center, Highlanders for Responsible Development, and Allegheny Mountain School / Institute. Other Non profit board posts have included Valley Conservation Council and currently the Virginia Food System Council. Laurie is passionate about growing food and teaching others to appreciate the importance of eating fresh, locally grown foods for optimum health and well being. She is also an avid naturalist, hiker, music maker, wild-crafter, and mother of three grown daughters, who all share her love of gardening, earth stewardship, fresh cuisine, and the vision that if we nurture our land and our watershed appropriately, we can provide well for ourselves and our communities.
Sarah Collins SIMMONS
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.
Kayla MacLachlan was born and raised in the rolling countryside of upstate New York, just outside of Syracuse. In 2009, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Adolescent Education and English literature, but quickly realized her true passion for land-based learning and regenerative agriculture.
After graduating from the State University of New York, College at Fredonia, she served with AmeriCorps NCCC before becoming an Allegheny Mountain School (now Allegheny Mountain Institute) Fellow in 2012. Falling in love with Highland County and the work of AMI, she worked as AMI's Program and Fellowship Director for several years, before pursuing work as an Adolescent Lead Teacher at the Staunton Montessori School and part-time farmer at Geezer Farm. Kayla is a graduate of the Association Montessori Internationale Orientation to Adolescent Studies and completed her coursework at the Hershey-Montessori Farm School in Huntsburg, Ohio.
No matter where her professional journey leads her, Kayla strives to find work that bridges her joy of teaching and mentorship with her love of plants, music, food, community, and the great outdoors. She enjoys working peacefully in her gardens, playing Irish music, writing, hiking, practicing yoga, and cooking fresh, wholesome food for all to enjoy.
Kayla is excited to join AMI's Board of Directors as a way to give back to the organization that played a vital role in crafting the compassionate, connected, and community-oriented woman she is today.
Mark Botkin serves as general counsel for many closely held businesses, often from their inception. This including advising on choice of entity and structure as well as providing advice on federal and state taxation issues. Mr. Botkin has substantial experience in estate planning and pension and employee benefits. Having been raised on a farm in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, Mr. Botkin enjoys helping farm families preserve their farmland for future generations through the use of such techniques as conservation easements. His areas of practice include agriculture law, business, business and tax planning, conservation easements, education law, real estate and wills, trusts and estates. He graduated with a B.A. in 1985 from the University of Virginia and a J.D. in 1993 from the University of Richmond School of Law.
Penelope Ferguson is a Registered Dietitian. She was born and raised in Shenandoah County Virginia, where the ‘family-farm’ looks very much like the AMI farm in Highland County. As a child, her life included gardening, canning, butchering, cooking and being part of the lifestyle patterns of rural living and garnering food ‘off’ the land in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, Penelope utilizes her knowledge of local foods, recipes and traditions in food columns, writings and her food demonstrations. She loves to cook and believes in featuring local foods and returning to simple cooking techniques. Her approach with food-based support is simple: for individuals and families to get back into the kitchen to embrace basic real food that is local which has been prepared and served with respect for Nature and with love for those that are eating it.
Penelope volunteers throughout the community, especially with the Valley Program for Aging Services, teaching diabetes management, self-management of chronic diseases. She is also a Biblical Storyteller, telling ‘by heart’ stories and passages from the Bible. In addition, she enjoys construction and house renovations.
Penelope is an experienced lecturer and is able to explain medical nutrition needs and how to change the diet to accomplish therapeutic results. She is a member of the Food & Culinary Professionals with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a member of Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Nutrition. Having lived in an era of self-sufficiency, and witnessed the transition to a scientific and medical mindset when fixing everything was a mere band-aid, Penelope is now inspired by seeing the commitment of those that are back-to-earthers and the need to regenerate the soil and health and spirit of this community.
Barbara has lived in the Staunton area since 1988. She grew up on a river south of Mobile, Alabama; but her father was from the Gloucester VA area, and she knew, even as a child, that Virginia was the place she wanted to call home. Barbara was in the first class of women to graduate from Davidson College N.C. with a B.S. in Mathematics. In Staunton, she taught math at Stuart Hall School for 8 years. Always interested in gardening, she became a landscape designer and has practiced in that field for the last 20 years. Her interest in and love of native plants has inspired her to regularly incorporate as many as possible into her designs, and into her own woodland gardens. Vegetable gardening has also been a priority, believing that healthy food is an essential ingredient for a healthy lifestyle.
Barbara has served as board presidents in Staunton for the former Mid-Atlantic ChamberOrchestra and Valley Symphonic Concerts, and the Beverley Street Studio School. She was a founding board member of Shenandoah Green, and initiated in 2019 its “food waste for compost” collection program at Staunton’s Farmers’ Market. Barbara has always been an advocate of non-profit community organizations, believing that these are the life blood of every healthy and thriving community. She also enjoys time with her adult children, hiking, paddling, traveling, drawing, cooking, and most of all, gardening.