By Grant Higginbotham, Community Fellow
To think, so recently my sights were set on completing my Community Action Year, saying a tearful goodbye to the mountains and the woods, and heading up just a little further north to live in a big city. After all of this? For months, I’ve shared these plans with friends and family to much confusion. Why, after all this, after all the love of farming and being out in the sun surrounded by plant friends and a wild cacophony of animals and insects that make every single day interesting, why would I move to a concrete jungle devoid of this abundance? I even told myself I’d work on a rooftop garden in the city (absolutely no offense to such projects because I think they’re incredibly important and game-changing for urban farming efforts) which would’ve been cool but… recently, I’ve been asking myself more and more, why was I doing this?
Sure, I could lay blame on my partner who works in film and say, “oh, he’s been so gracious by letting me spend a year and a half living in Virginia farming, I’m only returning the favor by moving to the city so he can pursue his career now,” but that seems not completely true. I suppose it was me running away from or being in denial of a deep truth that bubbled up inside of me since I started my time at Allegheny Mountain Institute - I want to go home.
The deep love and connection shared by the people of both Highland County and Augusta County, the way that this place and its people open up its arms year after year to us AMI folks and allows us to carve out a warm, little, if not temporary home has left me aching for the places that I originally called home. It’s funny -- as a high schooler, I told myself I’d leave Louisiana and never come back. Upon searching the country over for schools, I resigned to New Orleans and told myself, “it’s just college, I’ll get out after.” But my time in New Orleans created in me such a deep appreciation for the place that I came from, my soul shifted. I loved being in Louisiana, I loved being in a place that I had always been and being able to speak truth to the experience of living there. Graduating college, I spent another few years being there and feeling happy - creating a home and a family with my partner and our animals. This is not a blog about COVID - in 2021, life circumstances led me to start dreaming about getting out and doing more with my life than was currently being afforded to me and I sought out a farming job, found AMI, you know the spiel.
Local agricultural movements heal land, communities, and individuals. Growing and sharing food with the people you love and the people in need is simply one of the greatest joys a human can know, I think. And being a part of the local ag movement here in Highland and Augusta, completing the AMI journey and looking back on the crazy time I’ve spent here, thinking about all the changes I have witnessed on the AMI Farm at Augusta Health, the changes in people around me - some coming, some going, all of them having a deep place in my heart - and the changes in myself… it’s impossible to deny the voice of truth inside of you when you live this way. It’s time for me to go home. It is okay for me to return home. To return to my hometown at the age of 26, God forbid. Who would’ve ever thought?
All I want is to be close to my grandparents while they’re still around and know them as deeply and intimately as I have come to know the plants on my farm. All I want is to start a garden that will eventually become a farm with my partner. “In Louisiana?! Good luck!” is what everyone says, so maybe I’m also out to prove a point. And all I want is to cook for people I love, to reconnect with my Cajun heritage and to learn all of the foodways and lifeways I was always wanting to run away from when I was younger. To go fishing, to go dancing to zydeco, maybe even go hunting. To connect with and learn from the Chitimacha tribe and the Houma nation of Louisiana. To learn the native plants of Louisiana and cultivate them. To learn which medicinal plants grow best in the Gulf South and plant as many as I can. To go foraging in the woods I played alone in well into my teens. To spread the knowledge that I have so gratefully learned living in this magical place called Appalachia to my loved ones back home. To go back to Louisiana with new eyes, a reinvigorated heart, and maybe a generative, smiling little chip on my shoulder, as always.
You know you’re making the right move when you tell folks you’re moving into a little house on your grandparents property to start a big garden and everyone says they’re so jealous. No one was jealous of my moving to New York City. No farmers or forest dwellers in Augusta County anyway. I guess you could say I’m living my cottagecore fantasy.