The Dream Continues

Many exciting changes are in the works for Smoky Mountain Corps these days. After three amazing years of building community, growing food, learning, and serving the parks in Southern Appalachia, Smoky Mountain Corps/Smoky Mountain Center is moving north. Wayyy north. To Vermont. I will get to that in a little bit, but first, I want to share a bit of our experience thus far.

Max Patch, NC

The past few years have been an almost indescribable journey for me.  It wasn’t easy, creating Smoky Mountain Corps and keeping it going strong for over two years took virtually non-stop work with little monetary compensation. Oh, and of course there was the ever looming threat of total failure.

I have learned so much about so much these past few years. I learned to negotiate with CEOs of large organizations. I learned how to build community partnerships, create programming from nothing, and find money for projects. I learned how to be in charge of other people (still learning that one). I learned how to get corps members to appropriately ration a block of cheese. I learned how to apologize for screwing up and how to let things go. The list goes on and on. There are so many inspirational mentors, community leaders, corps members, and partners to thank for our learning and our success. I have learned so much from those around me the last few years, from incredible organizations in our community all the way down to that guy who rented out our yurt for a while.

All this learning and growth has its rewards of course. For instance, it is a remarkable feeling to run into a former corps member at Great Smoky Mountains National Park–in uniform and working on a paid national park crew, or to come across a Facebook picture of former members reuniting a year later. Being able to watch and help young adults realize their potential, build long term support systems, and find ways to make a living helping others has been truly inspiring. For me, it is the reason I do this.

This learning and growing and success has been so much more than a personal journey. During the 2016 season, for instance, our members managed invasive plants with Mountain True, built trails in the Great Smoky Mountain’s National Park and the Appalachian Trail, harvested produce for Dig-In Community Garden( a program that provides fresh produce for families in need), taught elementary students about gardening and nutrition with FEAST, and created a new wildlife sanctuary in Chattahoochee Bend State Park. They also learned about permaculture design, lasagna gardening, fermentation, canning, botany, and food justice. It was an incredible season filled with personal and professional growth for all involved.

 

And though SMC is moving north, we did have a final opportunity to leave our mark behind in Burnsville. We worked this spring with the Toe River Food Security Network and several local partners to secure an AmeriCorps VISTA for 2017-2018 who will be tasked with coordinating partnerships and supporting a number of projects to alleviate hunger in Yancey County. Additionally, we will continue to provide support to our southern partners from afar by facilitating connections between project needs and volunteers as well as continuing to provide support for the Chattahoochee Bend State Park Wildlife Sanctuary.

Chattahoochee Bend State Park wildlife sanctuary site

And now, please bear with me for a gigantic THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU to all our partners, mentors, supporters, and friends in North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and around the country who have helped make SMC go from vision to reality. There are way too many people and organizations to thank here, but ya’ll know who you are.

Because of you, SMC went from some scribbles on a small piece of paper to a real place in real time with real people. People who among other things, created or improved over 35 miles of trail, built or maintained 178 structures, managed 200 acres of invasive species, cleared and planted 4000 sq ft of gardens, harvested over 7000 lbs of food, and provided training and education for over 200 students and community members.  Even more significantly (in my opinion), you gave over 25 members, staff, and volunteers an unforgettable opportunity for training, experience, and lifelong community. So from the bottom of all of our hearts, THANK YOU.

Finally, the moment you have been waiting for, we would like to announce phase two of our project. Smoky Mountain Center will become Snowy Mountain Center (send us suggestions, we’re attached to the acronym). We are purchasing a 10 acre property in Tunbridge, Vermont, where we will soon roll out plans to convert the space into a training and community service center focused around conservation, sustainable agriculture, and community building. It has always been the dream to find a place of our own to be able to support programming in a more permanent way, and we are thrilled the opportunity has presented itself. SMC is living on, and we are more than excited to keep the dream alive. Stay tuned for detailed plans for phase two and ways you can help!

-Heather

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Words from the Crew

Southern Exposure

 By: Elizabeth Villano

On my way up to the homestead, my GPS cut out. “No service!!”, my phone cheerfully rubbed in my face. As I slowed to a stop, I surveyed the gorgeous mountains around me- surely the same ones that were scrambling my previously taken for granted cell service. After finding SMC, it didn’t take me long to discover an eclectic community hidden in the idyllic Blue Ridge mountains, one that constantly surprised me with its generosity, curiosity, and passion. I found good friends, even better food, and a space to explore who I was and where I wanted to go.

As a member of the Food Access crew, a kick-butt dynamic duo composed of Jess and myself, we focus on bridging gaps in the food system. And if that seems vague and liberal artsy, we thought so too until we got down and dirty with a month of learning from incredible women (as I affectionately took to calling them, our boss ladies) about the tireless work they do to ensure everyone gets the education and food they deserve.

passionate ladies

passionate ladies

Before I get into what we did, it’s important I take a moment to talk about what food access is, and what gaps in the system actually look like. While it may sound daunting by name, the food system is everything and everybody that goes into producing, distributing, purchasing, and consuming food on a global scale. In 2015, 42.2 million of Americans lived in food insecure households (lack of access to healthy and fresh food), including 13 million children. North Carolina, the state we work in, comes in at number eight, with 15.5% of the population reported food insecure. Food insecurity is a pretty name for a serious issue- children who face food insecurity face potentially irreversible developmental stunting. Latino and black communities, both of which face disproportionately high levels of food insecurity, face continuous and systematic blows to their communities, increasing risk factors for disease, poverty, stunting. (Source: Feedingamerica.org) Food affects us all- when you’re hungry, or when you only have access to highly processed and unhealthy food, you can’t think as well, your body doesn’t work as well, you’re more at risk for injury, disease, malnutrition. And beyond basic human rights, you’re not as productive- food insecurities have been causally linked with decreases in GDPs. (Source: WHO). To learn more, watch this engaging and incredibly informative John Oliver episode.

the learning garden at Vance elementary school

the learning garden at Vance elementary school

We started off our whirlwind tour with FEAST, an incredible and well-respected organization based in Asheville, NC that seeks to empower youth and families to learn about food, and to eat healthy. We were stationed with two teachers, Miss Jordan and Miss Summer at two different elementary schools: Vance and Fletcher Hall Elementary School respectively. Both women ran community, learning based gardens that were incorporated into the curriculum at each school. In addition to the monstrous task of caring for a garden, both were able to find innovative and engaging ways to engage the kids with gardening, growing and cooking fresh vegetables. One lesson that stood out was one that Jordan did at Vance, where she told the kids that they were a part of an alien race that was having a lot of trouble growing food, and were sent to Earth to figure out how we were growing food so well. We helped them sift through the dirt and take notes about different types of soil retention and composition. The FEAST model works to establish an early foundation of environmental stewardship, while simultaneously broadening children’s exposure to fresh and healthy produce- and teaching them how to use it. Some of my best memories from SMC have been playing with kids, teaching them to love gardening.

We also had the opportunity to work with Dig In, a community garden based in our hometown of Burnsville, NC that grows tons (literally) of fresh produce, and donates it all to food insecure families in the area. Dig In, a powerful and resourceful nonprofit, is run by two powerful women, Kathleen and Olivia. Dig In is unique in the emphasis they place on community empowerment- they don’t just grow produce, they create a community that rallies around their battle cry. Kathleen, as we very quickly realized, knew just about everyone there was to know, and managed to get them all thinking about food access. From an elderly farmer named Kermit across the road from their facilities who was quick to volunteer his equipment, to a new area transplant looking for community and good work, Kathleen and Olivia were so successful that people all the way in Asheville had heard about our work. One day that I will always remember was a gleaning session we did in a nearby field. On a typical farm, when a farmer has already gone through their field and taken all of their crop that they could sell, they leave the rest of it to rot. Most of the food is left for aesthetic reasons- too small, a weird shape, has something growing on the outside. Gleaning is when a group of volunteers comes and takes the food to people who need it. We moved about 7000 pounds of squash off the field to food banks in the area- food that otherwise would have gone to waste. Dig In firmly believes that lower income people should not have “seconds”, that they deserve healthy and organic food to be grown for them just as everyone else receives. Their humanistic and empathetic approach to the food system left both Jess and I feeling touched, and proud to have worked with them.

We’ve been fortunate enough to work with a diverse array of incredible people, and learn about their innovative solutions to tackling such a large problem. I know I’ll be taking these experiences with me, and keeping in touch with the incredible people we met along the way!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Words from the crew

Surveying and Managing Non-Native Invasive Plants in Southern Appalachia

By: Stephen Knutson

Fall 2016 Invasives Mgmt. Crew. L-R: Katie Cyr, Nathan Wells, Stephen Knutson, Biomass. Photo Credit: Lauren Reker

“You’ve heard of Kudzu, right?”

This was our token response for interested campers at Davidson River Campground, where our crew of three Corps Masters and one experienced supervisor (Lauren Reker of Mountain True, an Asheville-based non-profit focused on positively impacting our region’s ecological contition) were charged with surverying the non-native invasive plant content of an expansive 150-acre piece of property nestled in the Pisgah National Forest in Western North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. We would then go on to explain that no Kudzu exists in our current survey area, but the plants we are interested in have the same propensity to spread like wildfire if left unmanaged, depriving our native community of the sunlight and soil nutrients that are so vital to a heathy forest. Plants like Multiflora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, and Oriental Bittersweet can climb into the sub-canopy and even the canopy layer, raining down seeds and quickly expanding their territory. Invasive trees and shrubs, like Chineese Privet, Autumn Olive, and Japanese Barberry are heavy seed producers who can easily form monocultures, outcompeting crutial native flora in the process.

“You’re surveying the entire campground?”

Campers were often amazed that a team of four individuals could accurately and efficiently collect the data required to sufficiently inform future management initiatives on the Davidson River property, especially considering the size of our survey area and the duration of our project, which was about eighteen total workdays. Surveying was slow going at first, as Katie and I had no prior experience identifying non-native invasives. However, thanks to Lauren’s breadth of knowledge and Nathan’s prior experience in the field, we were able to catch on quickly and were soon covering huge tracts of campground and forest every day. Our team used GIS software to delineate polygons (never more than an acre in area) based mainly on natural borders and existing landmarks within the campground. Once we were all clear on the spacial extent of a particular polygon, we would divide and conquer, with each team member surveying the percent coverage, age class, stem density, stratification, and seed presence of a select number of our target species. We would then reconvene, compare notes, and set out to reconnoiter the margins of our next survey area. This process allowed us to be incredibly efficient in our data collection and resulted in the timely competion of all objectives associated with the Davidson River Campground project.

“My favorite part of the biome.”

Katie rocking her SMC tee while hauling a load of biomass. Photo credit: Lauren Reker

As far as physically managing non-native invasives goes, an ecologist has many options to choose from, and that choice is influenced by factors such as effectiveness of treatment and collateral damage to the surrounding native community. One of the most effective strategies with the lowest chance of causing unintended harm to surrounding flora is known as cut-stump application. This process involves cutting a woody-stemmed target as close to its base as possible and subsequently dobbing both stem and stump with a 50/50 concentration of herbicide. It also creates copious amounts of biomass, which must be removed from sensitive areas and properly disposed of. Cut-stump can also be effective without the use of herbicide, which is necessary when working in close proximity to rare and endangered species like Bunched Arrowhead and Pitcher Plants.

“Ghostbusters from planet Eastwood.”

Nathan and Myself applying herbicide to a monocuture of Rosa mustiflora. Photo Credit: Lauren Reker

Another management tactic our crew became intimately familiar with this season is foliar application, or the process of applying herbicide directly to the leaves of target species via backpack sprayers. While this strategy is very efficient timewise, minimizing collateral damage becomes much more of a priority, and spraying is therefore reserved for significant inholdings of invasives located a sizeable distance from any rare or endangered species. Other management practices include string-trimming and hand-pulling, both of which are mainly reserved for non-native grasses, such as Microstegium, or Japanese Stilt Grass.

“So, how do you manage Kudzu?”

Lauren’s ongoing applied herbivory project at Anderson Farm. L-R: AnnaLee, Stephen, Jasper. Photo Credit: Stephen Knutson

What most people don’t know about Kudzu is that the leaves are edible, with a similar flavor and texture to collard greens. While we as humans are a long way from incorporating this invader into our daily diets, Jasper and his thirteen hooved and horned counterparts subsist almost exclusively through the herbivorization of Kudzu. And they don’t just eat the leaves. These bad boys cause significant stem damage, hitting the plant where it hurts, and truly making an impact on their project sites. A herd of fourteen goats can typically devour an acre of Kudzu in around three weeks’ time, making applied herbivory one of the most effective and ecologically sound management strategies for dealing with the vine that ate the south.

“What’s the Point?”

A healthy inholding of Sarracenia purpurea. Photo Credit: Stephen Knutson

Many campers at Davidson River would ask us, “What’s the point? Why not let nature take its course?” It’s here that the word, “Conservation” comes to mind. We do this work in order to maintain and revitalize our native plant community, one that is nearly unrivaled in its level of diversity. We do this work to provide conditions in which rare species can not only live, but thrive, and we do this work to preserve the natural ecosystem of the Southern Apps that draws so many folks to this beautiful region every year. We do this work because we love and value the natural world, and we take pride in it because we know we’ve made a difference, a positive impact, in the place that we call home. And, to anyone involved in conservation, food access, animal rescue, or any other form of relief work, I, and every soul you touch with your selfless actions, truly do appreciate all of your hard work and dedication.

“That’s all, folks!”

Adios from the Fall 2016 Invasives Mgmt. Team. Photo Credit: Lauren Reker

Adios from the Fall 2016 Invasives Mgmt. Team. Photo Credit: Lauren Reker

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Words from the Crew

“Can I eat it?”

By: Nathan Wells

Words you might expect to hear from a child are often uttered at our worksites or on walks around the homestead here at Smoky Mountain Center (SMC).  We are fortunate to have met so many great botanists, permaculturists, and herbal medicine experts during our time here. Our skills at identifying plants and their uses have really blossomed, pun totally intended.  I have a goal of one day being able to feed myself (at least short term) solely from food I find or grow myself, and SMC has helped me take14731100_985203771605539_8551342697040738891_n several steps in that direction.  Half of this year’s program focuses on continuing to develop food access and food security projects in the communities of Western North Carolina, and that commitment is reflected at the homestead.

The title on our time logs may be Smoky Mountain Conservation Corp Master – yes, I love that “master” bit – but a big portion of our time at home centers around gardening and learning to cook with the produce we grow.  There are several gardens around the property where we grow greens, squash, beans, tomatoes, root vegetables, okra, berries, and herbs.  Most community days we spend part of the time in the gardens learning about organic methods of pest and weed control, soil building, and the proper way to raise seedlings and harvest.  We’re constantly adding to our compost pile, and one of our most successful community day projects used that and the skills we’ve learned to build our own garden.

We built our own rich soil in just an hour using only compost and mulches freely available around SMC, plus a little hay from a local farmer.  It’s a technique called lasagna gardening, and it can be adapted to almost any setting, rural or urban, with rich or poor soil.  Since the frost was not far off, we planted kale, spinach, and beets in late September, and are already beginning to harvest some of the greens.  You can really feel the difference eating something that w14355163_959530847506165_1662004892440218416_nas just picked off the plant minutes before versus trucked for days across country.  It just has so much more nutrition and energy in it.  Sometimes we get more produce than we can eat in a short time from our gardens, so Heather has taught us how to can and pickle vegetables, and another fun community day project centered around fermentation so it’s all come together really well.  We even got to meet Sandor Katz, the famous fermentation revivalist!

With just a few square feet of good soil and some staples from the local co-op, we’ve managed to feed 3-5 people this fall, and expand our cooking repertoires a lot!  The garden doesn’t even take that much time to maintain.  If you don’t have the space, time, or other limiting factors keep you out of the garden, it’s amazing what you can get for 14370082_960036617455588_4597194750408406324_nbarter from your local farmer, or through gleaning.  We will never need to buy butternut squash or bok choy again!

Some of the interns here have been working closely with local schools and Dig In!, a local food access nonprofit, which you will hear more about in later posts, so stay tuned!

 

14657362_985201721605744_2482318394648368521_n

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Now hiring Food Access and Conservation corps members!

DATES: Positions run from Sept 24 2016-November 18 2016.

NOW HIRING food  access and conservation members for our 2016 Residential Leadership Crew!! Calling young adults between ages 18-26, who want an opportunity to live communally on our awesome homestead near Asheville NC, complete food access and conservation projects both in our local community and on public lands, and learn about sustainable agriculture.

Members will complete an AmeriCorps term of service working on food access projects and trail maintenance/restoration throughout the Southeast. Following a brief orientation, members will be working at SMC headquarters and with local community partners on projects supporting local gardens and food access in under-served communities. Members will also prepare educational programming relating to these topics for public presentations.

Subsequently, members will complete 4 weeks of habitat restoration and trail management projects in Chattahoochee Bend State Park in Georgia, working and camping for up to 8 days at a time. Projects may include habitat restoration, trail maintenance, and/or trail construction.  Members will receive additional trainings pertaining specifically to these projects. Between project “hitches,” the crew will return to SMC base where they will continue to receive room and board during off days.

While living at SMC headquarters in Western NC, members will also have opportunities throughout the season to learn about permaculture, engage in trainings and projects with local farms and organizations, and experience community living on a growing homestead. Members will engage in a weekly “community day” on site, which may consist of community meetings, chores, onsite agriculture projects, field trips, and additional trainings.

During some projects, the crew may camp for up to 8 days at a time. SMC provides tents and other group camping gear.

COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS:

  • $90/week living stipend + full room and board for the duration of the program.
  • Trainings and orientation with SMC and project partners (trainings may include: conservation work skills and tool use, construction and green design, gardening, permaculture and sustainable agriculture, food preservation, leave no trace camping, leadership, community building, teamwork, etc.)
  • Experience living and working in a vibrant residential community.
  • AmeriCorps educational scholarship upon completion of the program.
  • Plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful southeast!

DESIRED SKILLS AND INTERESTS:.

  • Ability to hike for long distances carrying backpacks, tools, and equipment, completing repetitive motions, lifting heavy objects, and using machinery.
  • Ability to live and work in a physically demanding, possibly remote environment for an uninterrupted period of up to eight days.
  • Ability to work effectively as a member of a team despite potentially stressful and difficult conditions.
  • Experience and/or strong interest in conservation and invasive species management, and a desire to learn related skills.
  • Experience and/or strong interest in sustainable agriculture, gardening, and low impact living.
  • Experience and/or strong interest in leave no trace camping and back-country living.
  • Desire to live and work in a close knit residential community.
  • Willingness and ability to complete all aspects of the program. Members must commit to participating in all crew/team activities.

Apply now to join our 2016 residential leadership corps!

TO APPLY:  Please send cover letter, resume, and three references to Heather Buckner at Hebuckner@gmail.com.  Use subject line “SMC food access.”  Members offered positions will be asked to fill out an additional application form.

You can also complete an online application at http://www.thesca.org/serve/position/smoky-mountain-corps-food-access-member/po-00703442

Applications will be accepted until August 31 or positions have been filled.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hiring members for 2016 Residential Leadership Corps!

DATES: Positions run from August 5 2016-November 23 2016.

NOW HIRING members for our 2016 Residential Leadership Crew!! Calling young adults between ages 18-25, who want an opportunity to live communally on our awesome homestead near Asheville NC, complete conservation and habitat restoration projects on public lands, and learn about sustainable agriculture.

Members will complete an AmeriCorps term of service working on invasive species management, trail maintenance, and other conservation projects throughout the Southeast. Following a brief orientation, members will  be working with SMC partners to complete native plant management projects on sites near Asheville NC.  Additionally, the crew will travel to Georgia to complete trail maintenance and habitat restoration projects in Chattahoochee Bend State Park.

While living at SMC headquarters in Western NC, members will also have opportunities throughout the season to learn about permaculture, engage in trainings and projects with local farms and organizations, and experience community living on a growing homestead. Members will engage in a weekly “community day” on site, which may consist of community meetings, chores, onsite agriculture projects, field trips, and additional trainings.

During some projects, the crew may camp for up to 8 days at a time. SMC provides tents and other group camping gear.

COMPENSATION AND BENEFITS:

  • $90/week living stipend + full room and board for the duration of the program.
  • Trainings and orientation with SMC and project partners (trainings may include: conservation work skills and tool use, construction and green design, gardening, permaculture and sustainable agriculture, food preservation, leave no trace camping, leadership, community building, teamwork, etc.)
  • Experience living and working in a vibrant residential community.
  • AmeriCorps educational scholarship upon completion of the program.
  • Plenty of opportunities to explore the beautiful southeast!

DESIRED SKILLS AND INTERESTS:.

  • Ability to hike for long distances carrying backpacks, tools, and equipment, completing repetitive motions, lifting heavy objects, and using machinery.
  • Ability to live and work in a physically demanding, possibly remote environment for an uninterrupted period of up to eight days.
  • Ability to work effectively as a member of a team despite potentially stressful and difficult conditions.
  • Experience and/or strong interest in conservation and invasive species management, and a desire to learn related skills.
  • Experience and/or strong interest in sustainable agriculture, gardening, and low impact living.
  • Experience and/or strong interest in leave no trace camping and back-country living.
  • Desire to live and work in a close knit residential community.
  • Willingness and ability to complete all aspects of the program. Members must commit to participating in all crew/team activities.
  • Environmental science, biology, botany, resources management, or similar degree preferred but not required.

Apply now to join our 2016 residential leadership corps!

TO APPLY:  Please send cover letter, resume, and three references to Heather Buckner at Hebuckner@gmail.com

Applications will be accepted until July 15.

Applicants may also be asked to complete an additional online application which can be found at http://thesca.org/serve/position/smoky-mountain-corps/po-00699166.  Use code PO-00699166 when requested.

For questions or to request more information please contact Heather Buckner: Hebuckner@gmail.com

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

WE’RE BACK!!!

After a bustling summer and action packed fall here at Smoky Mountain Corps (the last of our 2015 corps members left us in November), it has been all peace and quiet here for the last several months. But the calm won’t last much longer…it is time to amp up preparations for our 2016 season!

SMC had an amazing first season in 2015. During 2015, we successfully launched our Residential Leadership Corps program which brought together a diverse group of young adults to receive hands on leadership training in conservation, sustainable agriculture, and community development while completing 14 weeks of service to the Southeast region.  SMC Native Plants Interns spent their days working at Mountain True to manage invasive species on lands with federally protected rare and endangered plants. Additionally, SMC hosted a Summer Associate VISTA member who coordinated a public Community Garden Festival in Knoxville, TN and organized projects and trainings for the SMC Residential Leadership Corps.

35The crew was able to work in some incredible places completing a myriad of meaningful service projects; trail work the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, bald management and habitat restoration in Pisgah National Forest, and the Community Garden Festival at the Center for Urban Agriculture in Knoxville.

 

In 2015, SMC members performed 10,133 hours of service, improving over 22 miles of trail and managing over 30 acres for habitat improvement.  Members removed 27.5 acres of invasive species, cleared and planted 3000+ sq feet of gardens and assisted local community farms in projects for 100 hours.  At the Community Garden Festival at the Center for Urban Agriculture, Members led 8 free public workshops and activities for over 120 people.  In addition to all this service, SMC members received 20+ trainings in everything from trail construction, leadership development, and wilderness medicine to gardening, food preservation, and taking care of chickens.

Please see our annual report for a full overview of the 2015 season.

Indeed, it was a busy year.  And now it is time to start all over again! We are extremely excited to announce that this year, SMC will be working under fiscal sponsorship of the Student Conservation Association, the organization that gave us our introduction to the conservation world, to run our second season of corps programming. As members ourselves of SCA’s esteemed New Hampshire Corps program way back in 2011, we began dreaming of one day building our own program down here in the beautiful Southeast.  Now, with the support and guidance from SCA, Smoky Mountain Corps will have the opportunity to continue providing meaningful opportunities for young adults in the Southeast.

Please stay tuned for more updates and hiring announcements coming shortly!

Please consider making a donation Smoky Mountain Corps.  100% of contributions will be used to support and grow programs.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment