FISHERSVILLE — Sustaining farmland and encouraging the next generation of farmers are goals in Virginia.

Allegheny Mountain Institute pursues the state’s goals with its farm at Augusta Health and through a fellowship program.

AMI’s first Farm to Table Celebration will be held Sunday at Augusta Health to raise funds toward food and education for the local community.

Guest speaker will be Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring.

“For us, this event, the Farm to Table, is really a chance to take advantage of the bounty of local food, and how it can support local families,” said Grayson Shelor, education coordinator for AMI at Augusta Health.

Sunday’s meal will be prepared by Chefs Mike Lund and James Harris of LUNdCH in Staunton.

Shelor said 200 pounds of vegetables will come from AMI’s farm at Augusta Health, and meat, eggs, bread and beverages from local farms and eateries, including Newtown Baking in Staunton, Basic City Beer Co. in Waynesboro, and chicken from Polyface Farm in Swoope.

Sunday will be “a very unique local buffet,” said Shelor, who lives in Waynesboro.

Participants will choose items from a buffet, then sit and enjoy their meals.

“We’ll also be offering farm tours,” Shelor said.

Proceeds will benefit AMI’s Farm & Food Fellowship program, which is “the heart of what we do.”

Youth are welcome to join an 18-month fellowship program. In the first six months, fellows live on an AMI farm in Highland County.

“And that’s really the learning portion of the program,” Shelor said.

In the last 12 months, fellows in the program are paid a salary and serve a local nonprofit while experiencing hands-on work. Shelor said fellows might also be placed in a school system for work experience.

“One of the key elements of having an event like Farm to Table is being able to keep [the fellowship program] funded,” Shelor said.

Fellows come from all over the United States, but mostly from the Mid-Atlantic, to participate in AMI’s program. From 8 to 10 fellows are chosen for each program cycle, and nine were chosen this year.

Shelor was a fellow in 2017 from Tennessee, then served as part of the team that started AMI’s farm at Augusta Health.

Fellows may go on to become local farmers, pursue careers in local food education, own a bakery, teach, be a soil scientist or work in a local restaurant.

Pat Banks is manager of AMI’s farm at Augusta Health. He was also a fellow in the 2017 program.

He is most looking forward to Sunday’s event as “bringing everybody together not just for AMI.” The community will come together for healthy eating and in support of local farms.

He is also looking forward to enjoying a locally-produced meal.

Banks and two of his AMI co-workers will conduct tours of the farm.

“It’s a more unique style of farming that we do,” said Banks of the AMI farm at Augusta Health.

AMI does not use large farm equipment to tend the farm, yet a lot of food is planted in a small space.

So far in 2019, the farm has yielded 18,000 pounds of vegetables.

“There’s nothing more local than what we’re doing,” Banks said.

Vegetables from the AMI farm at Augusta Health feed patients at Augusta Health, as well as members of the local community.

“I’m very excited about being a part of the event this weekend,” said Ring Wednesday by phone from her downtown Richmond office.

She said she loves that AMI has a “focus on growing food and building communities” with its work in Highland County and at Augusta Health.

“I just think that it’s really thoughtful and intentional,” Ring said.

AMI’s farm at Augusta Health serves as a great model for the Valley and for Virginia by illustrating rural economic development, maintaining farmland and addressing food insecurity, all of which align with the state’s goals.

Most importantly, AMI is getting future young farmers out into the fields.

“They do a lot to educate across the board,” Ring said. AMI not only provides healthy, nutritious foods, but workshops to educate the public on how to cook healthy foods.

In doing so, Ring said AMI is addressing community issues of obesity and diabetes.

“It’s just a full circle,” she said of the work AMI does with the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind and several other community organizations.

Ring applauds AMI’s efforts.

She said she will keep her comments brief on Sunday because she will speak between a tour of the farm “and folks eating a delicious meal,” both of which she is also looking forward to enjoying.

Ring will speak on the importance of growing food locally, AMI’s importance in the local community, and how the state can support and “hold them up.”

She will mention the state’s efforts for agriculture and farm-to-school programs, as well as increasing the presence of Farmers Markets across the Commonwealth.

AMI focuses on sustainability and soil health, and, Ring said, the state wants to do everything it can to support AMI’s goals.

“I think again what’s unique about AMI is they’re building community and they’re building up youth,” Ring said.

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