MEET OUR 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 spending time in her garden and exploring the outdoors with her family.
DIRECTOR OF MARKET FARMING
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 helped pilot the AMI Farm at Augusta Health managing it for 3 years before becoming the Director of Market Farming for AMI. 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.
ALLEGHENY FARM MANAGER
Teddy comes to AMI with 9 years of experience working in organic agriculture and running vegetable CSA farms throughout the Southeast. After working and interning on a variety of market farms in Asheville, NC, he started Living Culture Farm in Scottsville, VA. Eventually returning to Asheville, he continued to hone his skills in small scale bio-intensive vegetable production while building urban micro-farms and working on food equity. Prior to AMI, Teddy managed the gardens at the John C. Campbell Folk School while working to design and teach garden based workshops and lead the Work-Study program. When he's not in the field, Teddy enjoys playing board games, reading comic books, and preparing and sharing meals with loved ones.
AMI Farm Manager with Waynesboro PUBliC SCHOOLS
After studying Biology and Studio Art at the University of Virginia, Julia spent two years in Detroit exploring interests in art, community gardening, and horticulture. Returning to Virginia, Julia worked on a flower farm and came to AMI as a 2018 Fellow, where she spent her Community Action year as Village and Garden Coordinator at the Allegheny Farm. Julia recently completed a livestock apprenticeship in California where she learned about regenerative practices for raising cattle, sheep, and pigs. She is excited to be farming in her home state again, deepening roots and working with the Waynesboro Public School community. Julia is passionate about plants and growing food, and loves to share this enthusiasm with people of all ages. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, cooking, and making art.
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 moved to Virginia in 1975 as a homesteader to live within nature and become food self-sufficient. Her commitment to protecting natural systems and improving her community led her to take a leading role in local environmental protection and community development as a Founding Board member of Highland County Arts Council, The Highland Center, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Allegheny Mountain School/Institute, and later as Board member of Valley Conservation Council and Virginia Food Systems Council. Laurie's passion for seasonal eating for optimum health and well-being has recently shifted her focus to inspiring others to enjoy 'Farm to Table' as the proprietor of Newtown Baking & Kitchen. She is an avid naturalist, 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, Virginia, and felt right at home when she moved to Highland County in 2011 to participate as a Fellow at Allegheny Mountain Institute. Sarah loved being a part of the community, so after finishing her Phase II placement at The Highland Center, she has continued to live here. Today, she uses the additional skills she acquired through the Fellowship as Programs Manager for the Appalachian Programs at Future Generations University.
Growing up, Sarah learned to care for plants from her parents in their garden. After going to the University of Virginia to study architecture and environmental science, she discovered landscape architecture and went on to get a master’s degree in that field from the University of Georgia.
Sarah is married to Joshua Simmons, a Highland native. Together with their young son, they enjoy spending time outside farming, restoring old houses, and hiking their two dogs.
Kayla MacLachlan is an AMI alumnus from upstate New York. Since completing the Fellowship program in 2013, Kayla's passions for food, connection, and community have been the driving forces guiding her professional journey. Falling in love with Highland County and the work of AMI, she worked as AMI's Program and Fellowship Director, mentoring several cohorts before pursuing work as an Adolescent Lead Teacher at the Staunton Montessori School and Market Farmer at Geezer Farm. Feeling the need to connect deeper with the Staunton community and serve as an advocate for the hard-working food producers and regenerative farmers in the area, Kayla left the education and farming world to fuel her entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, Kayla works as the General Manager of Newtown Baking and Kitchen, a wholesale bakery, cafe and drive-thru local foods market with a simple mission to provide the community with fresh, local, organic, wholesome foods.
Barbara has lived in the Staunton area since 1988. She was in the first class of women to graduate from Davidson College, with a B.S. in Mathematics. In Staunton, she taught math at Stuart Hall School. Always interested in gardening, she became a landscape designer and has practiced in that field for the last 20 years. While having a strong interest in and love of native plants and 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 the president of boards in Staunton for the former Mid-Atlantic Chamber Orchestra and Valley Symphonic Concerts, and the Beverley Street Studio School. In 2019, she initiated a “food waste for compost” collection program through Shenandoah Green, at Staunton’s Farmers’ Market. Barbara has always been an advocate of non-profit community organizations, believing that these are the lifeblood of every healthy and thriving community.
Penelope Ferguson was raised in Shenandoah County Virginia, where the ‘family-farm’ looks very much like the AMI farm in Highland County. As a child, her rural life included garnering food ‘off’ the land in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, Penelope utilizes her knowledge of local foods, recipes, and traditions. She loves to cook featuring local foods using simple cooking techniques. Her approach with food-based support is simple: for families to get back into the kitchen to embrace basic real food that has been prepared and served with respect for Nature and with love for those that are eating it. Penelope is a Registered Dietitian and is a member of the Food & Culinary Professionals with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having lived in an era of self-sufficiency, Penelope is now inspired by seeing the commitment of those that are back-to-earthers knowing the need to regenerate the soil and health and spirit of this community.
Enrique Bunn grew up in the desert of the southwest. For him, fruits and vegetables were something that came frozen in a bag. Water was scarce s0 growing food was not encouraged. Moving to the lush Shenandoah Valley opened his eyes to the world of local, fresh produce. Wanting to support the local economy, he visited multiple farmers' markets and was blown away by how much was available and easily grown. One day he visited the AMI Farm at Augusta Health and immediately knew it was something he wanted to support. Leaning on his professional training, Enrique offered to support by doing what he does best - move product. He helped patients and staff step outside of their comfort zones and try new vegetables by staffing the farm stand. Enrique is committed to building community and is an advocate for health.
Susan Artis-Venable has more than 26 years in early childhood education, serving as a teacher, assistant, caregiver, and operated her own home-based daycare. During this time she noticed many children living in poverty and promised to address hunger in her community. This commitment ignited the creation of Artis Transitions, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization Susan founded in 2016 to provide individual and essential care management and social supports for economically vulnerable families. She currently serves as CEO and President of the Board of Directors.
Susan has supported a variety of organizations in professional and volunteer capacities, including Wilson Workforce Rehabilitation Center, Shenandoah Valley Office on Youth, Valley Community Services Board. West End Alliance Organization, and the Staunton Food Council. Susan studied in Mass Communications and Psychology at Norfolk State University in 1982, a B.S. in Applied Behavioral Science at Ashford University in 2016, and a diploma in Medical Billing and Coding at Penn Foster University in 2011. Susan enjoys loving on her grandchildren, jewelry designing, singing, acting in plays, gardening, watching comedies, and describes herself as “a huge mystery buff.”