We have been pretty quiet on the blog for a while, but that certainly isn’t because nothing has been happening. On the contrary, we have been so busy this past year that there has scarcely been a moment to sit and reflect!

Since the last time we posted exactly a (leap) year ago, we have been doing project after project after project to get the new space event and program ready.  We built a greenhouse, converted our garage into living and community space, converted grass to landscaped gardens, built an herb spiral, planted fruit trees, built a composting toilet, made up-cycled spool tables, installed a cordwood floor, the list goes on…


After a winter, spring, and summer full of dawn to dusk projects, we finally had an opportunity to test the event readiness of the homestead…

On September 2, 2018, Sean and I were fortunate enough to be able to host our own wedding here at our home and the future site of Sugar Mountain Center. Loved ones came from near and far to help us break ground in a celebration of love, community, and friendship.


We were especially grateful to be joined by most of the members of our original conservation corps family, the SCA NH Corps. New Hampshire Conservation Corps is where Sean and I met in 2011 as part of a cohort of 30 young adults who lived and worked for a year in Bear Brook state park in the middle of the NH woods.

This reunion was so special because it brought together those who were such a meaningful part of where it all began. New Hampshire Corps not only helped us begin our personal relationship, but also taught us the rewards of being part of a community, showed us the value of ecologically-conscious living, and shaped our desire to share this life changing-experience with others.


We had over 100 guests for the wedding, about a quarter of whom stayed with us onsite- testing our kitchen, composting toilet, campsites, and community spaces. Amazingly, the weekend’s festivities were pulled off seamlessly. It was an incredible experience and we are deeming the test of site readiness a booming success!

We want to thank all of our friends and family who went above and beyond to help us make the weekend the most magical experience that we will cherish forever.


And now…we look towards 2019 for the public opening of Sugar Mountain Center. We plan to hold a grand opening event sometime in May 2019 and will be offering workshops and events summer 2019!

In the meantime, please check back here over the coming weeks where we will be sharing a series of how-to’s on some of our projects this past season.


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Slowing Down…Kind of

Here I sit in our cozy living room, my hands cradling a mug of hot cocoa, watching giant snowflakes fall quietly on our little homestead. The season has finally decided to change,  and with the colder weather comes a call to slow down and enjoy some rest and reflection.

The break is welcome, as up until this point we have been working around the clock to get our spot into shape, with a lofty goal of beginning to host trainings and events by next summer. As per SMC tradition, our house is covered in white-boards all sporting various charts and to-do lists.

Daunting at times, but so rewarding seeing the center begin to take shape. In the past few months we have cleared lots of brush, cleaned out and sheet mulched the gardens, planted some perennials, built a compost, put in floors, split firewood, painted, purchased tools, experimented in making lumber, and made plans to convert our two story garage into a meeting and bunk space. We are currently working on building a greenhouse using recycled windows and lumber milled on site, working fast so as to beat the heavy snow!


Was a lovely fall…




And now we are looking forward to the calm and beauty of winter!


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Sugar Mountain Center

We are excited to unveil plans for SMC Northeast; henceforth known as Sugar Mountain Center! Late this July, we officially became owners of a beautiful 10 acre property in the Vermont Mountains on the South Royalton/Tunbridge border, and have already begun working hard to transform the new permanent space to be ready to host trainings, events, programs, accommodate guests, and grow food.


First photo as owners


So grateful for these beautiful mountain views

Sugar Mountain Center will build upon the vision and mission of Smoky Mountain Corps, working to support resilient community, foster environmental stewardship, and promote sustainable agriculture practices.

The new training center and residential facility will support trainings, retreats, community events, and service learning programs in conservation skills, permaculture, leadership development, and low-impact living.  Our goal is to be ready to host trainings by next summer.

And what does all of this mean for now? Lots and lots of work! We have already begun, and will be spending the coming winter and spring (and the many years that follow) transforming our space…converting a garage into meeting and bunk space, building a pavilion, prepping gardens, planting fruit trees, and many more exciting projects!

Here are a few photos of our work thus far. If you are interested in volunteering to help with any project, please contact us at There is lots to do! We may be able to make work/trade arrangements, and are particularly looking for anyone with carpentry skills.

We also of course are always accepting donations via paypal or through mail to 34 Gee Hill Road, South Royalton VT 05068.

Strategic felling-opening up the garden


utilizing our resources. chipping wood for sheet mulching


before-clearing the garden, removing old garden fabric


after-uncovering some beautiful landscaping


clearning and sheet mulching overgrown garden beds (cardboard and layered grass clippings, wood shavings, leaves, compost, etc)


ready to break down into soil over the winter


cover cropping-Austrian winter peas and rye (and the peas are edible. yum!)


Lucky to have the wonder plant comfrey growing everywhere! Using this dynamic accumulator  to build soil in all of our gardens and activate our compost.


planted our first “guild”…mulberry tree, comfrey, ground cover, and daffodils.


couldn’t resist planting a small annual garden this year. Even though these weren’t in the ground until August, somehow we got tomatoes!




perennial time! This hardy kiwi vine will produce yummy fruits in the years to come




home sweet home…


Thanks again for all your support, and stay tuned for progress!

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How to Make an Awesome Infinity Mirror

The new Smoky Mountain Center in Tunbridge/South Royalton, Vermont closes on 7/28/2017, so in the meantime Heather and I have been tinkering with other projects.

I finally had the time to complete a project I have had an eye on for a while, the Infinity Mirror! It was incredibly fun and has made on of the most useful (not to mention beautiful/trippy) items I own.

First, I went to Home Depot and bought materials to make an easy and large Infinity Mirror. The dimensions are 30″ x 24″ (32″ x 26″ with frame). I hope to turn this into a coffee table with relative ease. The results were well beyond my expectations!

Take a look at the video which explains the process and shows off the finished product.

How to Make an Awesome Infinity Mirror!

I was able to easily make this infinity mirror from a few items available almost anywhere. Everything was gotten at the same Home Depot near my house in one trip.

(4) $8 -“x2″x30″ for wooden frame
(2) $2 -3/4″x1″x8′ trim for interior spacer
(1) $6 – Roll of Black Duct Tape (regular will work, black is best)
(1) $20 – 24″x30″ Mirror (square, no frame, beveled is fine)
(1) $10 – 24″x30″ Pane of Glass (the thicker the better)
(1) $30 – 36″x15′ Mirror Window Film (one roll can make 7 of these)
***(1) $60 – 18” LED Color Strip Lights (with remote)

Total Cost: $136 (Made it entirely free with found materials the day after making this)

***I got the deluxe LEDs for this one, because I wanted to go all out. This piece can be a simpler LED strip, Christmas lights, etc.***

Tools Needed:

Spray Bottle with Light Dish Soap Water Mixture
1 or 2 Bath/Beach Towels on a Flat Surface
Box Cutter
Saw (any kind really, there are only four minor cuts)

Step 1: Set Down one or two large towels on a table or flat surface as a work space. The towel gives a forgiving cushion so the glass is less likely to break.

Step 2: Clean the glass pane extensively. Make sure as little hair/smudges/dust is on it as possible. Then spray the glass with the soapy mix, do not wipe off.

Step 3: Cut a piece of the window film to roughly 26″ x 32″ (eg a few inches bigger than the pane). Remove the protective cover from the window film. Spray the soapy mix onto the adherent side of the film helps to take of the covering. It will be put straight onto the soap anyway, so feel free to douse it.

Step 4: After removing the protective cellophane-thing from the window film, very, very carefully lay it onto the pane of glass. This is hard to do well, you may want to watch a video for the technique. It helps to lay it on from the top of the 24″ side and slowly walk it down to the bottom, removing the large air-pockets as you go.

Step 5: Take a flat smooth surface (a credit card works well) and remove as many of the imperfections in the film on the window. It will be a lot of small air bubbles which may require a slight bit of readjusting corners of the film and such. Be careful it can tear and might be useless.

Step 6: Set the filmed glass to the side and let it dry. By far the hardest part is over, enjoy the rest it is a lot more fun.

Step 7: Set the mirror on the towels, this will be your work space for the rest of the project.

Step 8: Cut the 3/4″x1″8′ trim to fit on the edge of the mirror (two cut to 23″ and two cut to 30″ or whatever). This trim can be as small as your light strip will allow. I probably could have used 1/2″x1″2″x8′ and it would have been even better. The mirror will reflect the space between the two panes back and forth. The narrower the space, the more often it reflects. Therefore if the space between is 2″ deep it will replicate half as often as 1″ and a fourth as often as 1/2″. It is a matter of preference. With the tape my space is probably 7/8″.

Step 9: Apply the duct tape to the piece of trim. Only one side needs to be solidly covered (the side that will be reflected).

Step 10: Cut two of the 2″x2″x30″ pieces of wood to be 2″x”2″28″ (just cut off two inches on one end). Then make the box around the outside of the mirror and screw the ends together.

Step 11: Put the trim with the tape around the inside of the box over the lip of the mirror. The covered side should be the vertical one between the panes.

Step 12: Create a space for the LED’s wiring to enter and exit. You can use a drill or saw, or do it before fastening the frame, but there needs to be adequate space for the strip(s) to exit on one corner.

Step 13: Apply the LED Strip along the inside of the trim all the way around. Feed the wiring through the corner. If using 18′ LED’s exit at the same spot and apply the rest of the strip wherever you like (I wrapped it around the outside of the frame, which looks great and makes it a decent light-source as well).

Step 14: Back to the last annoying part. When the pane has dried take a box cutter and cut the excess film off of the pane of glass. You can cut up to 1/2″ of the film at the edges of the mirror. Using a straight edge just inside the edge of the mirror seems to work best.

Step 15: Take the filmed pane of glass and put it into the frame with the film on the inside of the mirror.

Step 16: Turn on the mirror and be amazed!

The first mirror was such a success I made a second Infinity Mirror entirely (nearly entirely) out of Recycled/Upcycled materials found around the house.

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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!




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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: 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!

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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


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