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By Nick Hodgson, Phase II Fellow

Transitions can be hard. For many, they are often met with lots of apprehension and anxiety over the uncertainty of the upcoming change.

I have experienced a lot of this over the past few months. When I left the mountain after Phase I, I was ready to head home and be with family, and to meet my two-week old nephew River. As I met this precious beautiful human, I was instantly hit with the power of family and how much I had missed them. During the break, I went back to work for my father’s landscaping company, worked on my tiny-home, and had lots of quality time with family and close ones. It was a nice change of pace and I was enjoying the feeling of living on my own again.

However, I also noticed that the pace of life seemed to significantly increase during my time at home. I noticed people moving at frantic speeds, commuting hours to work, eating convenience food, showing signs of poor health, and overall, lacking a sense of connection. I wondered why community seemed to be non-existent, even as the spread-out farmhouses surrounded by farmland were converted neighborhoods, with homes so much closer together. Shouldn’t the closer proximity to each other further our connection to each other and increase our interactions?

Unfortunately, this is not the intention of designing these new communities. I think these neighborhoods are designed to maximize profits of developers and increase consumption. With very little mass transit, nothing within walking distance, and very few common areas, the people who live there don’t have to interact with each other. Furthermore, these urban areas continue to sprawl outwards, increasing people’s daily commutes.

This is a stark contrast from our time spent in beautiful Highland County. As I sat on the beltway in bumper to bumper traffic, I reminisced how our commute to the farm consisted of a ten-minute leisurely stroll surrounded by a grove of locust trees, a trickling spring, tall grassy meadows filled with wildflowers, and a pasture housing four pregnant Galloway cows. The things we valued on the mountain Phase I - growing our own food, consuming fresh produce, making meals from scratch, having patience, being creative, and building community - seemed to fade away as I entered this new reality.

Beautiful Highland County

Being back home, how distracted and rushed our society has become was all too real. I quickly became overwhelmed as I got tossed back into this frantic, less mindful pace of life. I saw farmland being bulldozed. I saw houses being tacked up at breakneck speed. It is a tough thing to watch a community go through.

I wished I could slow this transition and revitalize our once rural community. My head began to swirl with questions like, “Where do I start?” “How do I best serve my community?” “Should I really be leaving for another year?” When I didn’t really have the answers to these questions, I began to feel a sense of helplessness. I battled with the thought of leaving this place once again. It felt wrong to be abandoning my community that so desperately needs healing. I thought about joining local activists and coalitions who are at the forefront of the fight against the rapid urbanization and all the ills that it can bring - loss of productive farmland and forests, increased pollution, more traffic, higher property taxes, and loss of connection and culture.

However, I also realized that I wasn’t yet ready to be the change my community needed. Sometimes, you need to leave home to discover opportunities that will help you build and craft skills in order to best serve your community down the road. So, after a brief two months, I embarked on another transition. I headed to Staunton for my Phase II placement at AMI’s Farm at Augusta Health.

Even so, it felt strange to be leaving home again and I felt some pangs of unease. The first week at work was a little hectic, as we worked to get our bearings and oriented with our new jobs at the hospital. But then, we all attended the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers Conference in Richmond, VA.

As I reconnected with everyone from the mountain at the conference, I was flooded with so many memories of my time during Phase I and all the growth and change that occurred to each of us during that time. There was a real comfort being re-united with Fellows and staff and I felt so fortunate to have gotten to know so many wonderful humans, people that I now consider lifelong friends.

It was also great to see so many people who are passionate about growing food and building healthy and inclusive communities attending this conference. During this weekend, I started to get excited about the upcoming year. I felt rooted in our mission of improving the health and well-being of our community through better food access and education.

Happy Fellows!

Back at Augusta Health, we have been staying busy on the farm. So far, we’ve rebuilt and extended our greenhouse, plowed and prepared half of the farm's production beds, started seeds, and got our first transplants of the year in the ground in February! Oh, and we also started this awesome vlog called “Friday with the Fellows” You can tune in every Friday to stay up to date with farm happenings and get a little goofy! You can find it on our Youtube channel AMI Farm at Augusta Health.

This is only the beginning of my year here and I feel like we’ve accomplished a lot, but I know there is so much more ahead. I can’t wait!

Re-shaping the garden beds at AMI Farm at Augusta Health

The newly constructed greenhouse

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