Allegheny Mountain Institute Now Accepting Applications

We recently spoke with Jessa Fowler Swecker, Education Director for the Allegheny Mountain Institute, to learn more about the organization and its plans for this year.

“The Allegheny Mountain Institute is a non-profit organization based in Staunton, but also works here in Highland, and they are really focused on building healthy communities through food and education. Allegheny Mountain Institute used to be known as the Allegheny Mountain School and it’s been re-named, so now we can just refer t it as AMI.

“The flagship program is the Allegheny Mountain Institute Fellowship Program. So the Fellowship brings in around nine young adults who are interested in farming and food, and how those things work together to help make healthy communities. They’re bringing them up to the mountain to learn how to farm, to learn homesteading skills, to learn skills around cooking and nutrition, so then that they can go out and teach those skills to others.

“The AMI farm and campus is located on Allegheny Mountain, and it has cabins, a dining hall where the fellows live, and spend their six months, and then the farms where they spend a lot of their time working and learning.

“The fellows are busy up on the mountain – they spend a lot of time farming and gardening and learning through experience, by actually harvesting the food – because some of these people have never gardened before. But we also have a really amazing variety of workshops. So we have things like bee-keeping, mushroom cultivation, seed saving. And these workshops are led by local individuals, as well as experts from around the region that we bring in.

“So after the fellows are here in Highland, they spend a year working with a partner non-profit organization. And in the past, fellows like myself have worked at organizations here in Highland, like The Highland Center. AMI has also established a really strong partnership with the Virginia School For The Deaf and Blind, where they’ve established a three acre urban farm, and are working with 100% of the students that are at Virginia School For Deaf and Blind.

There were no fellows in residence at the AMI Highland Campus this past year, but that will change in 2017 as Ms. Swecker explains.

“We are currently recruiting fellows to join us. The application deadline is February 1st, and our application is all available online. The fellowship will start at the end of April, and it will run until November 1st, so six months where fellows can really experience the growing season from start to finish. The application is available at

“We’re really excited to be having fellows come back to Highland this year. I know that it’s been a hole for some people in the community, and we’re really excited that those fellows are coming in, our applications are coming in now, and it’s exciting to see what people might be coming to Highland, and what strengths they might be bringing to this community.

“We’d love for the community  to come visit us, and we’ll have several open house dates in the summer, for community members to come up and see what we’re doing at Allegheny Mountain Institute – we’d really encourage you to come take a look.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

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