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Fellowship Road Trip

By Julia Loman, Phase I Fellow

For a full week in August, we came down from the mountain and hit the road, participating in workshops, and experiencing life away from the small county of Highland. It was great to get some perspective on what we’re doing and to meet lots of new and inspiring people!

Hitting the road

Our first stop was Polyface Farm. This was incredibly exciting, as many of us had heard and read about Polyface and Joel Salatin even before we began the Fellowship. The tour group was huge, but there was room for all of us to pile onto two giant, tractor-pulled trailers covered in hay bales. Joel led the tour, and under his guidance, we saw his systems for broiler chickens, laying hens, pigs, and cattle. It was especially interesting to hear about his strategy for dealing with winter manure from his cows: throughout the season, they add hay and corn to the manure, which the cows trample down. In the spring, they bring in their “pig-aerators” to dig through the manure for the corn and, in the process, aerate it in preparation to spread it on their fields.

The legendary Joel Salatin with his laying hens

On Tuesday, we spent the day in a workshop with the Fellows from Tricycle, an urban gardening non-profit in Richmond that, similar to AMI, teaches young people farming practices, empowering them to farm themselves or work in areas of food justice. Our workshop leader, Alicia Nance, came from New Orleans where she works with youth to make sure their voices are heard amid issues of racism and inequality. She worked with us to create a space to discuss the systemic processes that create inequality, and how to approach them as we work with food systems. It was very inspiring to explore these issues from a place of openness and curiosity, and it left us all with a lot to think about.

In the afternoon, we explored Tricycle's garden sites around the city.

This perennial walkway is a new project that enlivens a small lot but won’t require a lot of management once it is established

This young orchard produces a great deal of fruit, which Tricycle harvests and sells, and is also open to the neighborhood for harvest as well. This is another site that requires minimal regular management

Each of their gardens was equipped with an impressive water catchment system that allows the crops to be irrigated without pumping water. On the mountain, we get a lot of rain and have access to a spring that provides the rest of the water we need, so it was useful to see how people manage the issue of water when it isn’t so abundant.

On Tuesday evening, we shared a meal with the fellows at Tricycle at their main production garden. It was great to connect with another group of young people who are interested in growing vegetables and shifting the dynamics of our food system-- all around a beautiful potluck! As we toured the garden, it was interesting to notice the similarities and differences between our farm and methods, and theirs.

Turmeric and Ginger High Tunnel

Tomato Tour

We spent the day on Wednesday helping Tricycle and working alongside their Fellows as part of their normal workday. It also happened to be the big harvest day for the week, so we helped harvest and pack vegetables and make flower bouquets. We also did some planting, weeding, mowing, and laying landscape fabric - it was a busy morning and we accomplished a lot as a group!

Prepping flower bouquets

Tricycle work day

In the afternoon, we made our way to Shirefolk Farm in Palmyra, where we camped for the evening in anticipation of our workshop the next day.

Logan and Emilie Tweardy of Shirefolk Farm gave us a tour of their farm in the morning. They currently focus mostly on livestock farming, including layer hens, broiler chickens, turkeys and sheep. They’ve been farming on their land for about three years, using sustainable rotational grazing practices similar to those at Polyface.

As a relatively new farm, it was interesting to talk with them about some of the challenges they’ve been facing as they figure out what works for them. It was also interesting to see how their methods differed from Polyface, such as using Freedom Rangers for their broiler chickens rather than Cornish Cross, and giving their birds more room to roam around.