By John Pierce, Community Fellow
In honor of Spotify Wrapped season, here’s a (not-so) little creative writing piece I’ve been working on.
The AMI experience can’t be contained in a playlist, but we tried anyway. For best results, throw this on shuffle while you read.
But enough about music, let’s talk about the AMI experience of 2021-22!
Over the last 18 months, you ventured into the veggieverse. You planted and harvested approximately 200 different varieties of produce in at least 21 families and four different kingdoms of life (Plantae, Fungi, Animalia, Bacteria). In no particular order:
Brassica - broccoli, mustard greens, kale, turnips, radishes, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, tatsoi, arugula, kohlrabi
Lamiaceae - rosemary, basil, mint, shiso, lavender, sage, oregano, tulsi, lemon balm
Poaceae - sweet corn, grain corn, rye
Fabaceae - beans, beans, and more beans!
Amaranthaceae - beets, swiss chard, spinach, amaranth
Polygonaceae - rhubarb, Japanese indigo
Malvaceae - okra, thai roselle, hibiscus
Cucurbitaceae - squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons
Solanaceae - peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes
Convolvulaceae - sweet potatoes, morning glories
Asteraceae - lettuce, sunflowers, sunchokes, artichokes, marigolds, zinnias, calendula, spilanthes
Apiaceae - carrots, celery, dill, fennel, celeriac, parsley, cilantro, lovage
Alliaceae - onions, garlic, shallots, chives
Asparagacaea - asparagus
Vitaceae - grapes
Rosaceae - apple, cherry, peach, pear, raspberry, blackberry, cornelian cherry, strawberry
Ericaceae - blueberry, ghost pipe
Tropaeolaceae - nasturtiums
Betulaceae - hazelnut
Omphalotaceae, Pleurotaceae, & Hericiaceae - shiitake mushroom, blue oyster mushroom, & lion’s mane mushroom, respectively
This year you had layers, like an onion. But unlike an onion, you didn’t just grow more onions.
All that farming added up. In 2022, you and the Farm Fellows harvested 13,960.63 lbs of produce. And the year before that, it was 11,932.4 lbs, for a whopping total of 25,893.03 lbs of produce grown on just two acres. And that’s just what made it onto the recordkeeping sheets! As Distribution Coordinators, you and your predecessor Jamie ensured that over 5,000 lbs of that bounty made it out into the community, free of charge to those receiving.
You didn't just pick and pack, though. Farming requires infrastructure, and you helped install 240 feet of solar caterpillar tunnels, added about an acre of farming space including over 1,000 row-feet in the new field garden, and spent about 20 hours constructing a solar dehydrator.
You’ve spent about 60% of your time this year on the mountain, and 40% of your time in Monterey at the Highland Center.
Over two seasons, you and the other Farm Fellows preserved over 150 quarts of produce to keep the season’s bounty year-round. And that’s not including frozen, fermented, and dried items.
But with one veggie, it was love at first bite. Your top produce this year was: Brilliant Celeriac
Dirty and difficult, but worth the effort, this root-bound relative of celery has an amazingly subtle, earthy celery salt flavor and a texture somewhere between a beet and a potato. You loved them roasted, mashed, caramelized with leeks, and grated into soups. Artichokes were a close second - you steamed the flowers, dried and tinctured the leaves, and even pickled the stems in a brine made with vinegar, sugar, and anchovy. But you've never met a veggie you didn't like, have you?
Your top five veggie varietals of 2022 were:
Green Globe Artichoke
Pan di Zucchero Chicory
Magic Molly Purple Potatoes
Green Wave Mustard Greens
Many wonder but few know the hidden lives of vegetables. As a two-season farmer, you can now speak on this hot-button issue.
Here’s what a few of your favorite veggie varieties might say if asked the eternal question: “What vibe do I give off?”
Green Magic & Arcadia Broccoli - Smart but feels lonely sometimes, good at math.
Deep Purple Carrots - Popular, but can come off as snobby. Secretly an old soul.
Cipollini Onions - Down to earth, absolutely gorgeous but low key crazy af. Heart of gold.
Grex Beets - LOVES getting ready to go out, very silly but knows when to get real.
White Egg & Oasis Turnips - Down for anything, love em or hate em.
Winter Giant Spinach - Loyal, iconic, not going to hog the spotlight.
Carmine Splendor Okra - Stunning, unique, and stylish, always has good insights.
Lacinato kale - Down for whatever, pizza and wings or a night at the opera. Always has exactly what you need on their person at any given time.
Bodacious Sweet Corn - Fun and well meaning, but kind of a space cadet.
Tie-Dye Slicing Tomatoes - Never knows what time it is, but you love them anyway, gives great advice. Secretly loves horror movies.
Green Wave Mustard Greens - WILD, but an expert at self-care. Lowkey is a genius but not annoying about it.
Cegolaine Lettuce - SO organized, will help you get your life together.
Pan di Zucchero Chicory - Fun to talk trash with, knows the dirt on every other vegetable.
Fava Beans - Meticulous attention to detail, very witty, secretly loves trashy reality TV.
From sunrise to sunset, you kept it interesting with the fauna of Allegheny Mountain:
Your morning vibes started with - Otis, Jethro, Beehive, and Deer
You seized the day with - Rhea, Chicken & Duck, Jinx, and Luxk the giant, mischievous but friendly salamander that may or may not live at the bottom of the pond
You embraced the night with - Lightfoot, Ron, Coyote, Cows mooing at the sunset
During your time on the mountain, you were buzzed by approximately 18 fighter jets flying low over the farm. Your tax dollars at work!
You visited Green Bank Observatory 3 times. The truth is out there. Your most visited population centers outside Highland county were Lynchburg, Staunton, Harrisonburg, Franklin, and Elkins.
You enjoyed roughly 912 farm-fresh meals over the course of the past eighteen months!
You cooked for everyone roughly 45 times.
Top five farm meals you made (keeping in mind that the best thing you ate all year, and likely have ever eaten in your life, was Arden and Emily’s farm-to-table Rosh Hashanah feast):
Madeleine & John’s herbed fettuccine with goat cheese stuffed squash blossoms and bachelor’s button flower petals.
Udon bowls with snap pea & horseradish “wasabi,” kombucha braised summer squash, cucumber ginger walnut salad, fermented roasted potatoes, and tahini “peanut” sauce, made for the beekeeping workshop.
Taste of Highland sauerkraut and kimchi, beef meatballs with yogurt dill sauce and garlic scape pesto, kale salad with raspberry maple vinaigrette.
Farewell feast veggies including cumin roasted root veggies, grilled radicchio with goat cheese, pepitas and balsamic/blackberry cider vinegar reduction, mashed potatoes and celeriac with caramelized leeks and celeriac, alongside of coffee-kombucha roasted beef made by Teddy, Jessa’s hearty Italian kale and white bean soup, and Madeleine’s pumpkin pie.
A breakfast sandwich with fried deer bologna, “Dublinder” cheese, a fried duck egg with fresh ramps and zaatar, and a kimchi radish, on an english muffin.
Honorable mention to the sweet corn and chili ice cream you made for the Chili Cook-off.
You won big at the Highland County Fair, taking seven first place and one third place ribbon for your stem flowers, and second place for both your linocut art of an Amanita muscaria in the moonlight, and for a Highland Community Food Coalition educational display! But nothing compares to the demolition derby.
You drove approximately 700 miles for donations, field trips, farm visits, and other Fellowship things! That’s not including all the times you drove to Lynchburg to visit your boyfriend, and all the times Madeleine graciously drove you around like a little prince.
Even with a knee injury in prime spring foraging season, this year you spent over 50 hours foraging! That’s more foraging time than a rigorously guesstimated 99% of the US population!
Your top five favorite foraged items this year were:
Red spruce tips - Infusing them in gin or other clear liquors makes a bright yellow-green, piney “sprouzo” (SPROO-zo) that turns cloudy pale green when you add ice.
Smooth Chanterelles - Cooked with butter and salt and nothing else.
Ramps (Thanks Alex Y and other ramp harvesters!) - See number 5 on the farm meals list.
Chicken of the Woods (thanks Brennan!) - Chicken-nuggets-of-the-woods with AMI homemade ketchup.
Hawthorn berries - Also great infused, with a little autumnal apple spice flavor. Heart healthy!
Five foraged items you may have missed this year, but we think should be on your list next year are:
Cattail (especially making a cattail pollen sourdough starter)
Rue & Golden Reishi, for tincturing
Sumac - Madeleine’s was delicious and you grew, there's no other word, covetous.
Wild Ginger & Rocket
Inshallah, a Morel patch
Everyone knows you’re a beverage boy. In 2022, your top five beverages were:
Fresh Allegheny Mountain water, straight from the pump.
A tie between Big Fish Cider (any variety) and fresh pressed, murky caramel brown apple juice from the pong ball sized pasture apples (real ones know which tree), pressed laboriously in the Chambers’ apple press.
Unpasteurized milk from Tangly Woods’ neighbors’ dairy cows (shoutout Janelle’s farmer’s cheese as well).
Aka Shiso (red perilla) juice - naturally bright magenta and better than Snapple. A completely unique, refreshing flavor.
Your new mixological creation, the Bog Mummy - equal parts Laphroaig Scotch and lovage-infused gin with a splash of farm-made Cynar over ice with a twist of grapefruit or lemon. Smoky, herby, and earthy with a bright citrus aroma. Guaranteed to preserve your hair, clothing, and any hemp rope or tinder conks you may be carrying around on your person in leather pouches.
You also made a spruce gin and hickory syrup drink with lemon, but you never could think of a good name. Leave ideas in the comments.
You spent the morning before writing this blog post:
Breaking the three inch ice in the chickens’ water trough and re-upping their water, feeding them and Lightfoot, and cleaning out the chicken coop. Lightfoot appears to have a cold, as he was sneezing.
Removing hoops and rolling row cover from F-Block, even though they were frozen together.
Cleaning up the wash-pack space and wiping down the chalkboard.
Composting a few veggies from the walk-in.
Taking a break to eat a biscotti with some coffee while watching the chickens.
The AMI Library is full of resources. Your top five nonfiction books consulted were:
The Art of Fermentation - Sandor Ellix Katz
The Modern Herbal Dispensatory - Stephen Horne & Thomas Easley
Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets - Deborah Madison
Saving the Season - Kevin West
Stalking the Wild Asparagus - Euell Gibbons
Nonfiction is great, but you seem to prefer fiction. Your favorite genre was anarchist utopian sci-fi, followed by post apocalyptic sci-fi, magical realism, and horror.
Top 5 books read on the farm:
The Dispossessed - Ursula K. LeGuin
Borne - Jeff VanDerMeer
The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis
The Postmortal - Drew Magary
Tender is the Flesh - Agustina Bazterrica
The number of physical books you read cover-to-cover onsite at the farm was: 14
Including books in PDF form from the Animorphs series by KA Applegate, that number jumps up to: 51. Don’t forget short stories by Jorge Luis Borges, Clarice Lispector, and H. P. Lovecraft.
Top Five movies watched on the farm:
Point Break (1991) [will never not be at the top of the list]
Serial Mom (1994) [will never not be at the top of the list, unless you watched Point Break]
The Ritual (2017)
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (2013)
Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)
Top Ten Highland County views you will miss most:
Nearing the end here, it’s time to list the top five staff members and Farm and Food Study Fellows!!
And finally, to give Jamie something she can more easily post as an Instagram caption:
I can’t promise that anyone would get what I got out of this Fellowship. I can’t give you a guide on the “must sees” and “must do’s,” because like with anything, you will have a different experience than I did, be drawn to different places and different activities, different people and different plants and animals, hear and feel different things when the community and the ecosystem here speak to you. And like farming, every year is completely different; inputs, outputs, and environmental conditions shift so much between cohorts, staff, weather, pests, disease, soil chemistry, etc, that it’s impossible for me to say if this experience will be the right one for you. That's why I said to put the playlist on random. I thought it would help my message of singular experience come across.
So, pardon my French, I've focused on my shit in this post. You will inevitably explore different opportunities, take different risks if you come here. I came to Highland County with both excitement and caution, knowing that I could learn not just from AMI, but from the people who live here. I was enthusiastic about all the potential, for what I could learn, the connections I could make, and knowing that I loved living and working in close quarters with like-minded folks, but I was nervous about the nonprofit structure, the isolation, the cost of living and my pay, the amount of physical work, my age, my reintegration into group spaces after a year and change of self-isolating from COVID. I was pleased to find when I got here that for me, the enthusiasm carried me through any tough times (and there were tough times). It was easy for me to get lost in the work, to spend hours on the farm listening to music or podcasts or teaching someone how to ferment cabbage and can tomatoes, to wander in the woods listening to the birds and the wind arcing over the mountains, to read a book by the fire with a Fairport Convention or Big Country or Nana Grizol or Whitney Houston vinyl on. There were long days, sure, and difficult days, but there were also rewards in bounties I could not have foreseen.
Your mileage may vary. But I got more out of these past eighteen months than I could have known or hoped for - more joy, more frustration, more hard work, more laughter, more experience, more downtime, more “wow I actually live here,” more community engagement, more friendship, more dirty hands and dirty clothes, more sweat, blood, and tears, more acceptance, more listening, more educating, more interpreting, more passing on of skills, more conceptual frameworks, more connections, more humanity, more isolation, more solitude (but less loneliness), more connectedness, more spirituality, more esotericism, more comfort, more challenges, more kindred spirits, and more veggies – and gained many, many new questions.
As I write this, I don’t know where the next step is leading, other than south to Lynchburg, where I’m moving in with my boyfriend and his roommates. I have absolutely fallen in love, in love with him, in love with the physical intentionality of working with the land, and in love with this part of Appalachia. I hope my hands will get as dirty in 2023 as they did this year. I know that I will see Monterey again. I know that I will see everyone in my cohort again. I know that I will see my friends in Highland County again. The sheer number of excited but disappointed faces when I told my new friends around town that I couldn't find housing, would not be staying here next year, would be moving, will stay with me and necessitates frequent visits as penance for my unfortunately brief time here.
This has been a year of flux - noticing the changes of the seasons, the changes to the AMI program, the changes in myself. I can’t help but think about where I was at the start of this, and how far I’ve come after two seasons on the mountain. It’s been a crazy journey. I’m so incredibly proud of myself, and everyone who made the huge decision to drop everything and move here, even if only for a few months.
In closing, an anecdote: at our farewell dinner this October, Arden and Alex awarded all of us paper-plate superlative awards. I was honored with:
Master of Herbs
Best Comfort Person
Queen of Memes
Best retelling of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City episodes
While it makes no mention of my love of All Elite Wrestling, I think that that, along with some of the rest of this exceedingly long post, tells you the type of person I came here as, and maybe a bit of who I’ve been able to become for the community this year. Not that a paper plate or a long meandering blog post in the form of a music app’s stupid low-effort music-habit skimming social media ploy can summarize how iconic I am, or how special Highland has been to me.
On a serious note, I have loved working in this community, both within AMI and in Highland County at large, and thinking about what food infrastructure and restorative agriculture looks like in a region like this, the unique problems it presents. I am incredibly grateful for everyone in Highland and beyond that I’ve worked with, who have made this place feel like a second home with their warmth and enthusiasm. There are too many to thank by name, but if I’ve had even a passing conversation with you, I am thankful. If you've taught me something, I'm in your debt and I hope to one day return the favor. And if I’ve lived on the mountain with you, I truly don't know where to start, so let's leave it at "I could not have done this without you." I have loved the unfettered access to the produce and forest, the mountains and the streams, and the wind and the rain, and community and culture of Highland County. It’s been an honor and a privilege that few get, but more should seek out.
Thanks for spending 2021-22 on the farm! This has been AMI Wrapped. If you see yourself in this post, then maybe it's time you took a plunge in the pond. You never know what silt and what treasure and strange salamanders you might kick up.
Johnny out. 💜