My task with this blog post is to describe a typical day here at AMS. A typical day… does that exist? To simplify, let’s start with… last Monday.

A new week starts, and my fellows and I meet at 8am for our weekly check-in. My cohort and I have spent the last few days (collectively) relaxing on the mountain, hiking at nearby Seneca rocks, visiting family for a sister’s wedding, showing another sister around the mountain, and sharing beers and maple fudge with an uncle. We meet to refocus. First comes the check-in.

Our check-in is a chance to share with the group how we are feeling, physically and emotionally. Did we have a wonderful, relaxing weekend? Do we feel fully recharged? Are we worried about things that are happening at home? Are we anxious about the blog post we are a month late in submitting? Our emotional and physical states are the framework with which we interact with the world. As our group interacts in close proximity and with unavoidable regularity, this exercise helps us gauge our interactions for the day and understand how are friends are feeling. While it took some time allowing ourselves to be vulnerable with one another initially, this practice has helped us connect and understand each other. It’s been invaluable.

Then we shift our focus forward. What’s on our horizon? What workshops do we have to prepare for this week? How much time do we have in the garden? What are our goals? These questions help us focus our life  on the ground and set the foundation for the most fundamental perspective we have here at AMS, that is, our roles as farmers.

Our growing season is coming to a close on the mountain and there is a lot that we would like to get done. The next couple of weeks will be filled with lessons taught by our competent managers on topics related to cover cropping, seed saving and food preservation. Then we practice, we put beds to sleep and store seeds and food for the bundle of fellows that will be moving into the mountain next year. With all of our effort in uncertainty come questions that we can only wait find answers to. Will our cover crop be strong enough to survive the first hard frosts? How long will we be able to continue harvesting tomatoes? When will our broody hen be successful in hatching new chicks? We do our best to allow these things to happen, and step back and see what answers the sun, the mountain, the soil and the rain, provide.

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After a morning in the garden, an afternoon downpour provides a break from the tasks in the garden and allows us to focus on working on the projects we will be presenting to the community this fall. For me, this signifies a shift from practical farm learning to a more theoretical perspective on farming in general. My research focuses on alternative measures for pest management through garden design. When first beginning research along these lines, I thought this would entail planting specific plants that deter our voracious pests and maybe some plants for pollinating insects. The more I read, however, the more my idea of pest management was challenged for an idea of creating a system within a growing space that provides for its own needs. That means attracting predatory insects into your garden by incorporating water and nectar sources into your garden and designing to have those amenities available year round. That also means giving those insects shelter in which they can stay alive during the winter months. For this approach, a person wants a garden that looks like a thriving ecosystem that will keep populations of things in check. By having a diverse and abundant ecosystem, a person builds resilience into their system. This system perspective is important to keep when farming, as the big picture directs the small.

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That night, the clouds depart just in time for our astronomy workshop with guest astronomers Scott Duresky and Ed White. Our perspective shifts to the universal this time, and our minds are blown. Throughout the night, we discussed the potential for extra terrestrial life outside of our solar system, relative distances in space (if our planet was the size of a microscopic ash particle on the end of a spent cigarette, the Milky Way galaxy would be as wide as the continent of North America… woah), and went out under the stars to gaze at galaxies and hear stories the Greeks and Romans used to make sense of it all. It’s only Monday night and our view has shifted from the ground to that of the heavens.

As the week progresses, our cohort is represented at meetings discussing the natural gas pipeline that is proposed to move through our county, at a fundraiser dinner in town, and as volunteers for the county fair. We are as much members of our small but vibrant community as we are farmers and residents of our mountain. We wear many hats and with those, come new perspectives.

Life up here on the mountain is sometimes trying. We’ve all had hard days, we’ve all felt sick, we’ve felt stir crazy. I think that has to be natural when you live in a small isolated community. The thing that consistently draws me back, though, is what great clarity a shift in perspective can afford.

I can’t speak of your experience, but for me, anxiety and restlessness are often brought on when I fail to widen my vision. Worries about little details seem gargantuan when one is focused solely on those details. Retaining motivation to push for positive change can seem overwhelming when one lives in thinking about the problems our society faces as a whole instead of focusing on realistic change in your community. To be successful, a gardener has to work with the whole garden in mind. They have to hold onto their theoretical, researched knowledge and balance that with experience gained in the dirt. They also have to think about other gardens down and upstream, about local rules and, large, overarching government regulations. Without all of these perspectives, part of the experience is missing.

Ok… we started this blog with Monday. Is there a typical day at AMS? Not really, but when you throw all of the days together, you get something like the awesome collage of ideas and perspectives that I‘ve tried to describe for you here. Every cohort will be different, so will every group’s dynamic and so will every year on Bear Mountain. What’s typical of a day at AMS? The challenge of balancing multiple perspectives and the gift of clarity that comes when it all falls into place.

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Goodnight, Allegheny Mountain School

 

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