Learning from Experience at Allegheny Mountain School
Highland County residents were able to visit The Allegheny Mountain School on Saturday during their open house. The Allegheny Mountain School describes itself as an “experiential fellowship program designed to serve communities in developing a more secure food system.” On the subject of experiential learning, Program Manager Kayla McLaughlan explained that at the 550 acre farm in Highland County, Allegheny Mountain School fellows primarily learn through doing.
“You can read at length about different topics, ideas, concepts,” she said, “but until you actually get down close, get next to a plant, observe it, stick your hands in the soil and feel what that feels like, you’re never really going to have a full understanding of how something works. There’s a lot to be said, I think, also, about being outdoors and being in nature. Not only does that contribute to a sense of place here in Highland County for these students, but I think it also just creates a really beautiful atmosphere for learning and working together.”
According to McLaughlan, the summer open house is a chance for visitors to learn more about the AMS program, meet the fellows, and see the gardens in full bloom.
“The Allegheny Mountain School is a two-phase program,” McLaughlan said. “The first phase of the program is six months and that happens here on the farm up on Allegheny Mountain. They come here to basically learn organic food production so that they can take those skills and go out into communities and teach other people to do the same.”
Currently, there are nine fellows participating in the first phase of this eighteen-month program. After their six months in Highland County, AMS Fellows receive a monthly stipend to do community outreach for a year, working with partner organizations in the Shenandoah Valley and Allegheny Highlands region.
“There are several different projects that the fellows get to do during the six months when they’re up here,” McLaughlan explained. “One of them is a permaculture design project that they do with their permaculture teacher Trevor Pearsall. They are currently working with him to design a food forest in the small orchard that we have started to develop here on the farm. In addition to that, they’re working on what we call their capstone presentation, which is basically giving them the opportunity to take an area of interest related to food and community and our AMS mission. They take the six months and use the resources and all of the knowledge that we have here in the community, and they spend the six months researching that topic that they then will present to the community at the Highland Center.”
“Just some examples of that would be alternative energy, catchment, farmscaping, soil science, nutrition education as it relates to cooking, and also leadership as it relates to gardening,” McLaughlan said.
The Allegheny Mountain School program began in the summer of 2011. Three years later, the program continues to evolve to meet the needs of its fellows and the communities they serve.
“We like to open up our farm to the community so that they can come up and see what we have to offer as well as interact with the fellows and learn about what they have been researching and learn about the different projects that they have been involved in,” McLaughlan said. “It’s kind of a way to give back because we have a lot of support that comes from our community here in Highland, and we like to show people that this alternative form of education does work and it’s powerful and impactful. And what greater way to spread that than through growing food?”