Allegheny Mountain Institute’s Phase II Brings Workshop and Other Collaborations to Highland County


The Allegheny Mountain Institute brings young folks to Highland County in Phase I for immersive training in sustainable food practices, and all that training gets applied in Phase II.  While some of the Institute’s Fellows work in Augusta County with organizations like Project Grows, The Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind, or even the recently-announced AMI Farm at Augusta Health, two are staying right here in Highland County to partner with local organizations and work on community programs.  Mary-Ellen Garner is the Food Programs Coordinator at The Highland Center, and Elora Overbey is AMI’s Community Outreach and Village Coordinator.

We spoke with Elora about Phase II.  She says, “So during Phase II, a lot of the projects are really looking at food access, and especially during those winter time and early spring months of when people might not have their own gardens going, it’s how can we help increase access to fresh produce and fresh veggies ‘cause it’s a long trip over the mountain, and also just doing different sorts of educational workshops and putting on events that hopefully can just bring the community together around food and gardening.

“There’s so much to learn from living here.  In addition to having like a really rich natural beauty and history, Highland has a really vibrant tradition of growing food, and it’s been really wonderful to have conversations with people here over the last, you know, six to eight months about their traditions and how they’ve done it and, really, to integrate that with everything that we’ve been learning and to kind of carry that forward in the work I want to do in the future.

“I’m feeling really excited to be back in Highland, and it was really wonderful to get to know some people over this last six months, and now I feel like I’m coming back, and we’re able to kind of dive deeper in to some of these friendships.”

One event just around the corner involves the second year of The Little Switzerland Seed Library.  Elora continues, “So this Sunday the 25th, we’re having an event at the Highland County Public Library.  We’re partnering with them to host a free composting workshop and that will be followed by an informal seed exchange, so if you have seeds from your past year’s garden, bring ‘em in.  You can swap them.  If you don’t have seeds, you can come check out seeds for free from the seed library and take them to grow in your garden this summer and then bring some back in the fall for other people in the community to use, and it’s a really wonderful resource to have access to heirloom seeds so you’re having to buy seeds every year.  It’s a free event and we’ll have some snacks and refreshments there, and it’s with Joe Murray, who’s a local expert, and we’re really lucky to have him come out and do the composting workshop with us.”

So what exactly is a composting workshop?  Elora explains, “It’s learning how to take your kitchen scraps, how to take, maybe, old hay, and turn it in to a really nutrient-dense, awesome material to spread on your gardens to make healthy soil and healthy plants, so it’s taking things that might be viewed as as just waste and turning it in to something that’s really valuable for growing food.”

The seed swap and composting workshop event runs from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, February 25, 2018 and is open to everyone, no matter the experience or skill level.  Elora concludes, “I love having community workshops.  I think it’s a really awesome opportunity to get everyone together and to share some food and share stories and, especially, I think seed swaps are really fantastic because you’re not only sharing seeds that you’re able to use this following season to grow food for yourself and your family, but you’re able to share stories of the seeds, and a lot of times, there’s people who are bringing in seeds that, they know the history of that seed, they know how it does best and what climate, and usually there’s a funny story or two attached to how it got it’s name.  So it’s really great to be able to sit down and talk with somebody about the background of where those seeds came from and what to expect for the year and then pass it on in the following season.”

Elora says AMI is looking to contribute to other entities in the community, such as the farmers’ market, Valley Program for Aging Services, and the school garden, which she is notably excited about.  In case you miss the workshop, the seed library is available at the Highland County Public Library any time.


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.

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