By Hannah Dorrel, Community Fellow
As I write this entry, the Allegheny Mountain Farm is currently covered in a frosty blanket of snow. Not just three days ago, it was over sixty degrees. The sudden change in weather coupled with the fast-approaching end of my Community Action Year offers a time to get cozy by the woodstove, drink a cup of tea, and reflect upon my time at AMI.
For me, this year has been defined by trees. After being introduced to the fascinating world of silviculture and agroforestry, my personal interest in trees has grown steadily. At first, I was interested in how they grow and what they do, but upon reflection on this snowy day, I am fascinated by the lessons and guidance I have received from the trees this year. These trees have defined the seasons of my fellowship experience, a chapter now drawing to a close.
In the late winter, as I moved back to Highland County during one of the hardest winters of the past decade, the landscape, while beautiful, seemed a bit bleak. I missed the fluttering foliage and the smell of red clover in the fields, instead of the snow and ice that engulfed the property as far as the eye could see. Winter was a season of ferments, reading, crafts, and Popsugar Fitness workouts to fill my time. Among my reading about trees, I came across an old recipe for hickory syrup. It called for the bark of a Shagbark Hickory and sugar. I immediately went trampling through the woods, identification book in hand, to find this tree and its distinct bark, easily identifiable in winter. Upon meeting this friend, I took some bark, and through a process of washing, toasting, simmering, and boiling, I created an exquisite syrup that tasted of a summer campfire. The Shagbark I found in the forest became a comfort to me, reminding me of the possibilities of creativity that exists everywhere, even in the doldrums of winter.
Spring came slowly but brought a resurgence of life with each passing day. I passed the hawthorn in the Village every day on my way to the farm, observing the progress of its unfurling leaves. In Celtic mythology, the hawthorn is a symbol of hope and love, as it is one of the first trees to bloom after the darkness of winter. It is also believed to be a gateway to the otherworld, a fitting metaphor for the tree that marks the entrance to the other side of the Village. Its resurgence marked the shift in my work, as we began preparing to welcome the new Farm Fellows in May.
Summer brought on the full glory of the farm, with the gardens overflowing with vegetables, the tables laden with food, and an environment of learning in bloom. In July, the black walnut trees started to produce their unripe nuts. Using the wisdom of TikTok, I experimented with creating black walnut ink and Nocino - an Italian liqueur flavored with immature black walnuts. In the midst of the busyness of farming and supporting Farm Fellow activities, the black walnut reminded me to take time to take care of myself through this experimentation.
Autumn was marked by brilliant shifts of color on the leaves and warm days with chilly nights. Yet what struck me the most was the abundance of fruit that grew on our farm and nearby. Last year, a late frost froze all the blossoms off of the fruit trees on our property resulting in a year with no apples and pears. This year, the abundance of apples, pears, cherries, peaches, and pawpaws that I foraged inspired an attitude of gratitude for the bounty we have - because we never know when a late frost will come into our own lives.
As we enter early winter, I find myself yearning for the energy of spring and the myriad of vibrant greens around me. One of the things that give me solace in this time of short days and long nights is the Norway Spruce outside my window. Standing over fifty feet tall, this gentle giant retains its rich color throughout the year. As arboreal allies, they remind me that indeed, some things are evergreen. The drive that AMI possesses to pursue its mission is evergreen. The spirit of creativity and camaraderie that infuses the Allegheny Mountain Farm is evergreen. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the friendships that I have made here are evergreen. I am grateful for the opportunity to live and learn here during my time as a Fellow and I cannot wait to see where the lessons I have learned will take me.