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Laying the Groundwork

By Sophie May, Community Fellow

During the past month and a half since I arrived in Staunton, my focus has been on laying the groundwork for growth - plant growth, mushroom growth, and personal growth alike. My teammates and I spent our chilly January days at the AMI Farm at Augusta Health designing new systems for the farm, organizing the controlled chaos of the barn, and generally preparing for the fine spring day when we no longer have the time to sit around drinking too much coffee and fine-tuning our plans because we’re knee-deep in brassicas and the weeds just keep coming(!).

In some ways, this planning might feel like an exercise in futility because of course, even the best-laid plans tend to fall apart when put to the test of the high-season frenzy. No doubt, at some point we will find ourselves making revisions and cutting corners, and throwing our carefully-made charts and schedules out of the truck window in frustration. (Just kidding, we wouldn't litter. We might rip them to shreds and compost them though!) However, I like to think that plans are meant to be changed and that the important thing is to be intentional about your planning, and to realize that adaptability is absolutely necessary in the planning process.

Itty bitty kohlrabi seedlings.

In my free time, as well, I am working to develop the skills of intentionality and slow, deep transformative action. Part of my reason for wanting to develop these skills was the realization of my own tendency towards acting on my own created sense of urgency, a tendency that I have learned stems from white supremacy culture, in which saviorism and performative allyship are prioritized over true allyship, avoiding the deep inward work, relationship-building and sustained action for the long-term that is required for such truly meaningful allyship. (See ‘The Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture’ by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun, excerpted from their book Dismantling Racism at

As I work to develop my ability to make choices with intention and to make deep change within myself and my relationships, I have been creating consistent practices for self-reflection and for my own education around intersectional issues. I’m working to weave these practices and education into my daily life because I believe this to be the first step in a much longer process of growth and change that I hope to undergo. I know I have a lot to learn, but I’m trying to hold myself accountable when I do make mistakes, while also giving myself enough grace and love to be able to make changes and use those mistakes to grow and move forward.

Freshly harvested, winter-grown kale mix.

At the farm, we are making slow and intentional plans to grow for the years (and Fellowship generations) to come. This spring, we will plant out beds of perennial plants that will hopefully work to capture and store rainwater so that the farm doesn’t flood every time there is a storm. Many of these perennials will take several years to establish themselves and start producing a crop for harvest, so the fruits of our work, including many useful medicinal roots and shoots, will hopefully be reaped by future Fellows and farm clients alike. Likewise, the mushroom operation that we are planning and working to get underway will hopefully grow, develop, and provide pathways for future workers and visitors at the farm to deepen their relationships with edible fungi.

The farm is still sleepy, but the plants are growing! Soon, our greenhouse will be chock full of little green aliens pushing their bodies up out of the soil, vying for a place in the sunlight and readying themselves for the outside world. I’m looking forward to that day with great anticipation, while also enjoying these last few weeks of relative calm and quiet before the storm.

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