From left to right: Charlie Aller, Kayla MacLachlan, Lisa Millette, Trevor Piersol, Jessa Fowler, Jenna Clarke, Cabell Hodges, Chelsea Wakstein.
Richmond, Virginia – I have always felt connected to nature and the outdoors. Growing up in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia, sometimes that just meant exploring the woods behind my house, making forts or driving out to the Blue Ridge Mountains to go on hikes with my family (thanks, Dad!).
Proximity to the mountains is what first attracted me to Virginia Tech, where I met wonderful people, traveled and continued to explore the outdoors. After college I came back to Richmond to work for four years in fund development and communication with Rx Partnership, a statewide nonprofit connecting vulnerable populations to donated prescription medication at their local free health clinic. Most recently, I took time off to bicycle across Europe, from the Netherlands to Turkey where I spent a month working on an olive farm. That experience planted the seed and desire to dedicate myself to growing my own food and living a more intentional and sustainable life, one rooted to the earth and taking care of myself, my community and the people I love. I’m especially interested in the health benefits of a natural foods diet, and I can’t wait to learn more about gardening, identifying wild edible plants, composting, beekeeping, fermentation and making bread, yogurt and cheese from scratch. Some of my favorite things at the moment are morning yoga sessions, trail runs, long hikes, good books and hulahoops.
Jessa Fowler has lived all over the West Coast but mostly grew up in a remote mountain town in Colorado where “local food” meant surviving the winter on hunted elk meat. Jessa graduated Willamette University, in Salem, Oregon in May 2011, where she studied archaeology, with a focus on ancient food systems. While investigating things like ancient botanical remains from the Middle East and maize cultivation in Southwestern Colorado, Jessa realized that the civilization collapses of antiquity were often related to overuse of resources and intensification of agriculture. Wondering how we could learn from these mistakes, she began learning more to about sustainable agriculture and issues of food access in modern times. She volunteered at her university’s sustainable farm, led a club serving breakfast at a homeless shelter, and worked with a team of students to create a plan for sustainable agriculture in the Willamette Valley. Jessa got a taste of big agriculture with a summer job with the seed company Seminis and explored the other side of agriculture through an internship with the non-profit Oregon Tilth. After spending a year teaching fifth grade in an inner-city school in Connecticut with the Episcopal Service Corps, she’s excited to get out of the city, spend sometime outside at the Allegheny Mountain School, learn and grow and get her hands dirty, and give back to local communities.
I grew up in Warm Springs, Virginia, a town of 400 people, bordering Highland County. There always seems to be a part of me that can’t let go of my connection there. Part of my desire in being at AMS is to reconnect with my homeland and learn the skills that can aid in living in a simpler, more connected way.
Graduating from James Madison University in 2007, I realized I was quite an idealist and yet did not have many practical skills to provide for my subsistence and livelihood. I worked in West Virginia upon graduating to help start a community organizing project in Mingo County with residents opposed to mountain top removal coal mining. I yearned strongly to leave the academic mindset and come to know myself on a more spiritual level. I set off to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in March of 2007. I lived for a year in Idaho as a backcountry ranger, potato farm hand, and served as an apprentice in a model of nature awareness called, “coyote mentoring”.I have spent several years struggling to find my place in this culture and one of the most important things I can choose to ask myself is what are the experiences that allow me to feel fully human? What is the relationship I want with the earth? And how do I arrive there? To me being fully human means being able to work in harmony with the land, to use one senses to their fullest potential, to be able to interact, engage and learn from all forms of life, be it human, animal, or plant. I am seeking a lifestyle in which I can live more closely to the earth as well as a life’s work that helps bring people more into their “truest selves”, their empowered joyful beings.
Being a lover of freshly prepared foods, I can no longer alienate myself from agriculture. I am now ready to connect with nature in a new way, by learning to provide food for myself and others. I have strong interests in soil reparation, forest gardening, and cultural repair through ceremony and creating space for healing and reflection. I enjoy watching summer evenings, swimming in clear emerald green streams, wandering and foraging, singing, dancing, building with cob, and challenging my body.
I grew up in a picturesque valley just outside of Syracuse, New York. Rolling hills, lush pastures, open fields, and fresh country air surrounded me in my youth, making 3363 Pleasant Valley Road an ideal place for cultivating land, as well as the mind. As a middle child in a family of six children, I quickly learned to hold my own at a young age, independence and autonomy manifested in my sense of self, and I always found myself slightly detached from the rest of my kin. And while we all may identify ourselves as “country kids,” I approach the term with a bit of a different regard. When I think of the country, I think of all the beauty that surrounds it, and all the life that’s within it. I think of the transformative nature of the land itself, and find a comfort in knowing that it, alone, can create much of life’s wealth.
And while I can attribute my love of the land, gardening, and exploring to the awe-inspiring area in which I grew up, I know that, deep down, it developed from something much more than that. From my first summer job at a local greenhouse, to neighbors that brought me on my very first hike, from our “pet” pigs Chad and Adam, to grandparents that raised and grew their own, environmental and agricultural influences have been predominant in my life, shaping me into the person I am today – a person who enjoys long hikes, bluegrass music, historical fiction, and sunsets but whose passion centers in on the taste, importance, and availability of fresh, wholesome food.
I have a degree in Education and English Literature, but a passion for sustainable agriculture. As I move forward into my post-undergraduate years and begin to think of the road ahead, my mind deviates from poetry and fiction to food and production. And while I often find myself fleeing from my thoughts, there are certain thoughts that never seem to flee from me, bringing me back to my roots, to a time in my family’s history when reaping the seeds of one’s success came from sustainability rather than spend-ability. I have always believed that one’s heightened interests and passions on a personal level should parallel that of the professional, as well. It is this ideology of loving to work, rather than living to work that creates a foundation for a successful life. This in mind I have been continuously searching for a way to expand on my passion for sustainable agriculture, all the while helping me to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to take my interests to a new level. This search lead me to many places, but nothing that felt “just right” – until however, it lead me to a quaint farm community in the mountains of Virginia whose arable grounds tested ideal for a young, spirited woman to germinate the seeds of her mind to ultimately sprout a life of success.
Shrewsbury, MA – While studying at UMass Amherst, I found myself drawn to the lifestyle of the Pioneer Valley; very much rooted in agriculture and cooperation. The combined influences of a student farming practicum and a grassroots community development course built in me a passion stronger than I’ve ever experienced. After graduating from university, this passion drew me to work with Growing Places Garden Project, a non-profit in Massachusetts which installs raised bed vegetable gardens for those with economic struggles.
The Allegheny Mountain School curriculum called to me as a way to expand my education in agriculture and growth of community. I look forward to building a close bond with the other 2012 fellows in harmony with a better understanding of the natural and built environment. I also have a love of yoga and wish to teach and practice wherever and whenever!
Richmond, VA – I grew up exploring Richmond’s amazing James River Park system, but it wasn’t until I went on a backpacking trip in Mount Rogers, VA as a Boy Scout that I first set foot in a truly wild place. Since then I have been drawn to the natural world and my adventures have taken me from the Smokies to the Cascades and as far as the Himalayas. My love for farming followed logically from my connection to nature and I’ve been at it ever since I grew my first mouth-watering Cherokee Purple tomato during my sophomore year of college. After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2010, I spent a year teaching English in China and studying Chinese. I recently completed a Permaculture Design Course and hope to apply what I learned to future farming endeavors. Right now I am most excited about deepening my understanding of the ecosystem here on Allegheny Mountain as well as helping to build a strong local food system in my community.
Northampton, Ma. Growing up, my family gathered for a homemade dinner every night and often my dad would take me to restaurants in Boston. This emphasis on the importance of good food cultivated my deep connection to food at an early age. By high school, my sense of taste and interest in participating in a more ethical food system led me to a more wholesome and organic diet. Around the same time, I also started to explore the great outdoors where I recognized the immense personal, ecological and community benefits of a life that is more deeply connected with nature.
I went to college in Memphis, Tennessee at Rhodes College where I studied sociology and specialized in food cultures. Not only interested in the culture of food, I was also extremely invested in cooking homemade creations and sharing them with loved ones and strangers. I began to spend hours upon hours in the kitchen and found it to be the environment where I am happiest. In college, I started a weekly supper club where I cooked a locally-sourced, inspired meal for a group of fifteen friends. I also worked in restaurant kitchens where I developed not only skill, but even more appreciation for food. I spent my junior year in Argentina doing ethnographic work on indigenous food ingredients – eating, traveling, and uncovering the powerful role of food in a culture’s history, present and future.
It was through all of these experiences that I began to see a direct link to the mental and physical health of a society and its food culture. Our culture is so disconnected from its food source. I decided that I wanted to bring my relationship with food full circle by
learning how to grow food. Thanks to the Allegheny Mountain School I have now sowed my first seeds and am learning the roots of our nourishment through the beautiful process of food production. My intention is to continue honing such skills that make me happy, so that I can share them with others. Here on the mountain, when I am not working in the garden, I love to make jewelry, cook and eat with the other awesome fellows, paint, hike, explore, stretch and climb trees. I am also interested in lacto-fermentation, beekeeping, and herbalism.
For Charlie Aller, as for many of The Fellows, something seemed to be lacking from higher education. This lack could only be filled by the crisp air and lush life in the Allegheny Mountains. Luckily, the framework provided by Allegheny Mountain School, complemented by the extreme generosity of Ted, Ellen, and Laurie, gave him a chance to start a new chapter, learning and living and loving life high up on the western border of sweet Virginia. Charlie said a tearful goodbye to his friends and family and plunged right in so he could climb higher than ever before, helping to blaze a trail for people who care about growing plants and making good food.