By Katie Gilman
Saturday, July 25th the Allegheny Mountain Institute held its biannual open house.
40-50 attendees gathered at our mountaintop oasis to snack on prepared items produced on our farm, chat with current fellows and senior fellows about their experiences, and get a glimpse into what life is like living in community, producing nutritious food, and learning with our hands, hearts and minds. Guests consisted of members of the Highland County community, prospective fellows curious to learn more about the AMI program, proud parents of current and senior fellows, as well as like minded small scale farmers and homesteaders from the Shenandoah Valley area and West Virginia.
We couldn’t have asked for better weather. The sky was a stunning bright blue with cloud patches offering a bit a shade on this 78 degree afternoon. Once greeted in our parking lot, guests were offered a shuttle ride to the “village” or had the opportunity to experience the picturesque walk down our driveway with lush green ferns and gently swaying trees on either side of them. Perhaps they caught sight of our neighboring hills and knobs through the breaks in the trees.
After a quarter mile stroll, a dirt path lined with stumps decorated in turkey tail and other polypore mushrooms brought them to what we fellows refer to as the “village”. This area consists of 3 cabins where we store all of our material possessions a bathhouse with separate his and hers showering stalls, toilet stalls, sinks, and a washing machine the studio and the beta house. Guests were invited to peek into all the different spaces we occupy in the village. The studio, a 1.5 story timber frame building, used by current fellows as a quiet space to study, read, craft, and exercise, was arranged quite beautifully with handmade displays created by AMI Senior Fellows Thea Klein-Mayer, Emily Sullivan, and Kelly Lecko about their respective senior fellowship placements with the Highland Center, Mary Baldwin College, and the AMI Urban Farm at the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind.
The beta house offered quite the spread of cucumbers, carrots, snap peas, zucchini, and squash to be dipped in chickpea hummus, kraut, black bean dip, and a variety of basil pestos. The list goes on - cheese and crackers, deviled eggs, cornbread and then the desserts apple crumble, raspberry -blueberry cake with cream cheese icing, chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, tea and reishi mushroom infused coffee. Grab a plate and enjoy a slideshow compiled from pictures taken over our first 3 months of the program.
Fellows offered tours of our upper garden areas where we are growing kale, spinach, lettuce, squash, eggplant, grapes, tomatoes, radishes, amaranth, onions, strawberries, to name a few. Before heading down to the farm, visitors could stop for a bathroom break in our tidy compost toilet and check out our mushroom log operation where we grow shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane mushrooms from cut logs. A farmer’s market display was set up outside so visitors could envision what goes on at the Highland County Farmer’s Market every Friday afternoon from 3:30 to 6:00. Visitors were encouraged to take some produce and leave a donation. An observation hive was also set up nearby with detailed information about bees and the status of our hives on the farm.
Guests were guided another half mile through a shady wooded path to the farm. Following the orange felt carrots hung as trail markers, guests could get a sense of the enchanting forest beauty that we encounter on a daily basis. Patches of neon yellow and red mushrooms sprouting out of the forest floor. Fallen trees caught in the midst of their decomposition process with deep, earthy red/brown colors emerging. Maybe they stopped to pick up a handful of inner tree material that now more closely feels and smells of soil rather than plant.
At last, they arrived at our pride and joy, the farm. Visitors were guided through our lower garden, production garden, hoop house, staple crop/cash crop area, our outdoor classroom, chicken palace, beehives, and root cellar.
All and all I’d say the summer open house was a huge success. Thank you to all AMI staff and senior fellows for your support and assistance in making the 2015 cohort’s first open house a real hit! Also a big thank you to all the community members who came by to show their support as well as all the curious individuals who came to learn more about AMI. The whole event was helpful in reiterating the reason why we are here doing this important work in learning how to create a better food system with community in mind.