Allegheny Mountain Institute Builds Community with Food and Education


A few weeks ago, folks in Highland County may have noticed a group of young people on a scavenger hunt in Monterey trying to get acclimated to the area. So who were these new faces? They were eight Fellows beginning their journey as part of this year’s Phase I of the Allegheny Mountain Institute.

Education Director, Jessa Fowler, tells us more about this organization. She says, “The Allegheny Mountain Institute is a non-profit that’s working to help create healthy communities through food and education. The flagship program of AMI is a Fellowship. It is a two-phase, eighteen-month program. Six months are in Highland County, and then the Fellows spend one year in Highland and Augusta Counties. During the six months the Fellows are up on Allegheny Mountain, they’re learning gardening skills, but they’re also taking part in a variety of workshops, so they’re learning things like shiitake mushroom cultivation or bee keeping, as well as some community development strategies like grant writing or how to teach a lesson.

“During Phase II, Fellows are doing things like creating school gardens and working with children, teaching cooking and nutrition classes, and they’re also helping to promote local farmers and work with them. The Fellowship started in 2011 as Allegheny Mountain School, and as the program has grown and we’ve expanded in to Staunton to now have an urban project there at The Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind, we grew in to our own non-profit, the Allegheny Mountain Institute. Last year, we took a year off from the Fellowship to do some facilities improvements.

“This year, we have eight Fellows, and they’re coming from as far away as Wisconsin and as close as Lynchburg. The Fellows arrived on April 30th, and since then, they’ve experienced pretty much every kind of weather that Highland County has to offer, including a dusting of snow, so that’s been exciting for them. The first couple weeks are pretty intensive orientation, where they’re learning basic garden skills, learning how to make things from scratch like bread and yogurt so that they’re prepared to do that on the farm, because during the Fellowship, they’re really raising almost all of their own food and preserving it for the next year’s Fellowship. In the upcoming weeks, they’ll be transitioning to getting more involved in the Highland community, so they’ll be working with the summer school garden program and teaching the youth that participate in that program. They’ll also be at the Highland Farmers’ Market, providing some educational demonstrations, and they’ll also be here on the radio. We’ll be doing a little local foods report once a week, so you can look forward to hearing them on this radio station.”

So, why does this program exist? Mrs. Fowler explains by saying, “It is kind of reclaiming this disappearance of home gardening that is happening, even in our rural area, that people are no longer gardening or don’t know how to do some basic things in the garden or preserving food. And so, one of the ideas is that through our eating, we can have more control over our health and have healthier communities.

“Even though we are a bit remote up on the mountain, the Highland community is so important, so Fellows often are involved in other ways in the community outside of the Fellowship, playing in the adult orchestra or helping out with the fair, so there are several Fellows that have gone through the program in the past couple years who have stayed in Highland beyond their Phase II placements or, like myself, even come back to live here. We love being a part of this community, and we want the community to be involved, too. We hold two open houses on July 22nd and September 23rd that we invite any of you who are interested in learning more about AMI and what we do to come on up.”

And even sooner than that, new staff and Fellows will be at the Highland Farmers’ Market on June 2nd for a Meet and Greet. For further information, you can call 540-468-2300 or visit .

Story By

Chris Swecker

is the Assistant Station Coordinator and a News Reporter for WVLS. He has roots in Highland County going back several generations, and he grew up in Monterey. Since graduating from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and Design, he has pursued his career at a news station and advertising agency in Virginia, on Microsoft’s campus in the state of Washington, and in both states as sole owner and employee of a video production company. He enjoys exploring life with his wife, Jessa Fowler, traveling, hiking, hunting, gardening, and trying new foods, all while discovering more about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. He feels blessed to be a small part of this talented AMR team to help give back to the community that has provided him with so much.

Current Weather