By Jamie Rudd, Community Fellow
As 2021 comes to an end, we’re celebrating having grown 11,400 pounds of produce (and counting!) on the Allegheny Farm this year. It’s been a highly impressive yield for a small diversified production farm that doubles as a classroom for first time farmers. And let me tell you, our Fellows and farm team are pretty dang proud of ourselves.
But where exactly, you may be wondering, did all that food go? Well, that’s precisely what I’ve spent the past 10 months determining as part of our distribution team.
It’s been an incredible opportunity to spend two seasons on the Allegheny Farm and see all that this small parcel of mountain land is capable of producing. I loved learning the intricacies of how to use sustainable, regenerative techniques to grow food in this context last year during my Farm and Food Study. But it has felt somehow even more rewarding to play a role in deciding what happens to all that food once it’s grown during my Community Action Year.
The simple answer to our question is that all our food ends up in one of four categories: sales, donations, fellowship, and farm. But clearly, you’re here for a deep-dive, so I’ll happily get more specific.
The Highland County Farmers Market and our associated Community Supported Agriculture program are at the center of our food sales. As one of the only sources of fresh produce in Highland County, we have built a committed following of farmers market regulars who visit us every week to say hi to our Fellows and purchase our fruit, vegetables, herbs, and eggs. Our market sales continue to grow each year as locals become better acquainted with our food, and this year we distributed over $10,000 worth of produce to the community via the farmers market.
We also provided 308 weekly bags of produce to our CSA members this year. Each one included a “What’s in my bag?” information sheet that I had the pleasure of creating and featured details about each item, how to prepare and store them, and a related recipe. For the first time this year, we were able to offer an option for small and large CSA shares as well as a sliding scale pricing model, designed to make our produce more accessible and affordable to a wider range of people.
In addition to our Highland County sales, we were also occasionally able to sell our produce in Augusta County, especially via the Staunton Local Food Drive Thru, a former Community Action Year host project that is currently managed by AMI alumna Georgia.
At the Allegheny Farm, we are committed to donating at least 20% of everything we grow to individuals experiencing food insecurity in our community. Where exactly those donations go though, has shifted over the years in line with community needs and partnership opportunities.
This year, we distributed the bulk of our donations using a CSA model in a new partnership with the Department of Social Services and Highland County Public Schools. Every Tuesday, we filled 14 bags with a range of our produce items and an information sheet. I drove into Monterey to drop off bags at the school to be picked up by families and to DSS after which they were delivered to recipients’ homes. In both cases, we relied on our partners to connect us with families who would benefit the most from receiving our produce.
Additional donations were made this year via the Word of Faith Food Bank, Highland Children’s House, Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and another free CSA program for Augusta Health patients done in collaboration with the AMI Farm at Augusta Health. We were also able to team up with the Monterey Presbyterian Church and Meals on Wheels twice this summer to provide “goodie bags” to local seniors featuring small, manageable amounts of our veggies along with a few other fun gifts.
Nearly half of the food we grew this year was happily consumed by our Fellows and farm staff. In addition to learning the art of planting, cultivating, and harvesting veggies, Farm Fellows also have ample opportunities to discover the joy of crafting delicious meals featuring fresh, nutritious, chemical-free produce. Additionally, Fellows learn a range of food preservation techniques including freezing, drying, fermentation, canning, pickling, and root-cellaring that they utilize to preserve food for the next year’s cohort.
Fellows take turns preparing lunch and dinner for the group in pairs every week, and are encouraged to get creative and make the most of our produce, supplemented with last year’s preserved goods and organic and locally sourced whole food staples. Favorite dishes this year included kale and radish chips, homemade kimchi, pickled beets, sautéed green beans, mashed potatoes, squash soup, and roasted carrots.
At AMI, we believe that agriculture has a critical role to play in reversing environmental degradation and know that we farmers must integrate into our existing ecosystems. This means that we don’t set out with the intention for every single vegetable we grow to be consumed by humans. Plenty of animals, insects, and microbes are other important inhabitants of Allegheny Farm who deserve to eat just as much as the rest of us. Thankfully, there’s more than enough to go around.
We also recognize that our soil is only as fertile as it is and able to grow as much food as it does, because it’s packed with organic matter. Nature has a beautiful way of recycling itself. We often help it along by cultivating compost that we spread over our garden beds in the spring. But we also frequently let our crops boost soil fertility naturally, by dropping their damaged or excess fruit to the ground, or simply living out their life cycle and slowly breaking down and becoming one with the soil. Thus, food that is not consumed this year simply provides the fertile ground (literally) for next year’s food.