By Maya Epelbaum, phase I Fellow
One of my favorite parts of being at Allegheny Mountain Institute is the amazing people we meet and the stories we hear. Just in the past week, I met Joy at the Heritage Harvest Festival, Michael and George from Edible Landscaping, and Norm at Geezer Farm. They have inspired me to believe that any foodie can create success for themselves, their land, and their communities through dreaming, creativity, and hard work.
I'll start with Heritage Harvest Festival: Upon arriving at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate near Charlottesville, Virginia, I see thousands of people all coming together to savor the history and culture of food. Since AMI cherishes everything from the seeds we plant, to the people that harvest and cook them, it was a perfect place to advertise AMI's mission at a booth and to learn more by exploring the exhibits and lectures. In one of the lectures I attended, I was honored to meet the presenter, Joy Crump. After starting out as an English major with Hollywood dreams, Joy explained her journey to where she is now, an owner of a franchise of three award-winning restaurants in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She did so by finding a gap in the market. Joy buys the secondhand food with holes or brown spots--the kind of thing that other chefs won't dare get near--from local farms. She then uses the whole ingredient, from carrot top to peel. This allows her to bring affordable, farm-to-table food into the city.
I started this Fellowship, in part, because I struggle with the fact that about 50% of American food is wasted. It was amazing to see someone who is also actively making a difference (and making money!) while solving this problem.
The week's inspiration did not stop there. We next ventured to Afton, Virginia and discovered Edible Landscaping, a little piece of heaven. As we pulled in, we found ourselves surrounded by fruit trees galore: muscadine grapes, hardy kiwis, fuzzy kiwis, blueberries, jujubes, juneberries, persimmons, elderberries, pawpaws, flying dragon trifoliate, beach plums, sweet scarlet goumi, hardy pomegranates, and che fruit--just to name a few. Michael, the man behind the fruit, led us through the greenhouse where they seed and graft new fruit trees. By exposing people to the little fruit tree heaven as a tasting ground, Edible Landscaping is making a difference, too. This inspires people from across Virginia--and from across the country!--to heed their advice, buy their baby fruit trees, and erect their own Edible Landscapes to beautify and grow the local foods movement.
The next role model of the week was Norm at Geezer Farm. Now, don't let the name Geezer Farm fool you; Norm has transformed his backyard into beautiful, almost weed-less rows of fruits and vegetables with the help of interns and previous AMI Fellows. After the tour, Norm cut up a watermelon, his favorite crop, and shared his fruit and his stories. We learned that he used to take photographs for the local paper, and at 55, decided he would rather be a farmer. He moved out to Staunton with his wife and taught himself enough to tinker sustainably with the land. He continued to get advice by trading his photography skills for plant skills. Now, he has a CSA, gorgeous crops, and sells to local restaurants. I respect Norm not only for his success on the farm, but because he has such a genuine love for food production, his land, and for treating people with respect and funny stories.
While last week was definitely special, I feel so lucky to have experienced daily inspiration from the AMI community and the land on which we live. As Phase II is approaching, I hope to use these passions and lessons to help make a difference in my community, too.