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A Letter to Prospective Fellows

By Melanie Canales, Community Fellow

Dear Future Fellow,

There are some things you should know before you pack up your life and caravan your way over to a remote mountain farm in ye old glorious Appalachia.

1: It is totally cool to be HECKA scared.

None of us admitted it until the end of our time on the mountain, but every single Fellow was low-key terrified of dropping everything we knew to start this program. Is it a cult? Is there wifi? Do the mountains have eyes that you’ll feel burning into your very bones when you get up to pee in the middle of a very starry night?

Well. I’ll go ahead and dispel the cult bit, but you will be living in very close proximity to a small group of people for at least half a year. There are pros and cons to this of course, but I’ve found it remarkable how comfortable I now feel with people who were strangers to me not four months ago. As a COVID pod, you’ll rise together, work together, eat together, get into shenanigans together, and hear each other snore and sleep-talk…and it’s a gift.

2: Redneck does not mean what you think it means.

I’m from the urban North, so I am very much a guest in this rural mountain space. All of us as Fellows are guests, and as such, it’s our responsibility to learn. I’ll proffer something I learned about the history of this sublime and haunted space: the battles of community and labor here have much in common with those being fought everywhere else.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between the farmers in Central and South America fighting against corporations and governments infiltrating and denigrating their communities and livelihoods with the coal miners fighting against similar powerful entities. In fact, rednecks were West Virginia’s original guerilla labor activists. Coal miners wore red handkerchiefs to identify themselves as unionists fighting for living wages, worker autonomy and ownership, safe working conditions. They were often killed and incarcerated for it.

As you enter this land to regenerate the soil (a healing act for all participants), remember that your fights for equity, for liberation, for food sovereignty, have more in common with the history of this land than you’d think.

3: Demand dignity!

All this said! There’s no denying that this is a pretty conservative space! The number of Trump signs and Confederate flags can be pretty demoralizing, especially for BIPOC, queer folk, and otherwise marginalized folks leaving their communities to come and live here. It is our responsibility as Fellows to support and advocate for each other so that all of us can walk with dignity and without fear where ever we go. I hope it’s a relief to you when I say that this program attracts folks who are willing to speak up and employs folks who are eager to listen. No matter what you’re feeling, never be afraid to take a beat, or to stick up for yourself and each other, even if you’re the only one vocalizing it.

4: Breathe!

Six months of learning is A LOT of learning. You’re going to grow in so many ways and discover interests you never knew were accessible to you, and that can be overwhelming, exhausting, and exhilarating. So don’t forget to give yourself a second to breathe. The good thing about living on a mountain is that there’s tons of room to find yourself a place to recharge and reflect. Or, y’know, to scream at the top of your lungs and startle the deer. The woods are straight-up magical and know that I am not prone to that kind of hyperbole. So breathe it in. Relax into it. You’ll miss it deeply when you’re gone.

5: Pick a good movie.

Y’all. This is so. Important. Your first movie will set the tone for all the movies and shows you will binge in the Timberframe together, and you best believe that after a long day on the farm, you wanna kick back with something good. For example, the first movie we watched together was The Mask of Zorro, and the last was the infamous Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. I recommend both.

6: Maintain Traditions

There are lots of them, some more important than others. But they’re all things to look forward to! Pizza Fridays, for instance. Prepare yourself to encounter produce you’ve never even heard of before, and shockingly, to love it. One of the Fellows in my cohort created a recipe book using some of those vegetables, and it’ll be made available to you if you need it! The most important tradition, of course, is the Annual Sunchoke Week that you all will observe during your last week on the mountain. Prepare for flatulence.

7: Pack Pretty

Pack pretty compact. And warm. I brought WAY too much stuff, and cramming it into my space of a shared cabin was very much a jigsaw endeavor. Things you may want to prioritize. GOOD rain boots. A giant, floppy cowboy hat. Work gloves. A portable speaker. Thicccckkk socks. Quite a few comfy sweatshirts and cozy things. You’re going to be in this space for six months, so think about things that make you feel most comfortable. If, for instance, that means packing a cooking material that you can only find in international markets, it may behoove you to do so.

8: Compost Toilet

Is optional! The bathhouse has sublime water pressure and a mouse drowns in the toilet only on occasion.

9: The Road Less Travelled

These roads are rough, my dudes. I drive a Honda Accord, and she struggled. If you’re driving to the mountain, make sure to get your car serviced before you come! Ask your mechanic about what you can do to lessen the wear and tear on your vehicle. Between rocky and dirt roads, and the MANY hairpin turns of the mountain, your brakes and undercarriage are going to take a beating. Drive slow, and drive safe!

10: Connect with the Community Fellows

They’re the people who most recently have gone through what you’re about to go through. The Community Fellows on the mountain will be excellent resources for you, but the other past Fellows in the area want to get to know you, too! So don’t be shy, ask them all the questions, get all the advice, and they will be so, so happy to help you in any way they can.

You must be freaking out, and that’s to be expected. You’re about to embark on a quite the odyssey. But if you find yourself having second thoughts, I urge you to go outside at night and take a look at the sky. What do you see? Planes? Clouds? Some stars? I assure you, you have no idea the number of stars waiting for you. You’ve never seen such a bright night.


The 2020 Cohort

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