Pioneering an Innovative Equity Fund for Farmers


Historically, many farmers at the end of their careers were left with no alternative but the sale of their farmland to developers in order to provide for themselves and their families. If farmers did not own the land they farmed but instead were leasing it, they were frequently left in the unfortunate position of facing their latter years with meager resources. In either case, development on the lands or a scrape-by existence, the situation was not an attractive one.

For years, Smokey House Center has leased its farms to different farmers. Now, with the benefit of a grant from the Castanea Foundation, SHC has created an equity fund and from it developed the concept of an equity agreement for one of its farms. This agreement provides that annually over the course of the lease, a sum (the amount depending on the investment performance of the equity fund) is earmarked for payment to the farmer at the end of the lease term. Hence the idea is to create a retirement-like fund, not unlike the concept behind a 401(k), for the farmers so that at the end of their farming career, they will have accumulated some equity on which to fall back.

It is an expectation of SHC that the conservation of the Lewis Farm will bring additional financial support so that the equity funds and agreements can be established for the other two farms at SHC.

Smokey House Elects Officers

Smokey House Center recently elected a new slate of officers to its board of directors

Curtis Rand of Salisbury, CT, has been elected President. Rand is First Selectman of the Town of Salisbury, CT as well as a forester and educator. He has a long association with Smokey House, most recently as Vice President and Treasurer. Holly Darzen, a Principal at Linea 5, Inc., Architects in Boston has been elected Vice President and Treasurer.  Amanda Dixon, a Putney, VT resident and schoolteacher in Townshend, VT has been elected Secretary of the board.              

At the November meeting of the board, John M. Whalen was re-elected as a Director after stepping off of the board in 2011 to serve as Smokey House’s Administrator during a transition and planning period.  Whalen, an attorney from Arlington, VT, has served the organization for over thirty years.

Continuing board members include Consie West, a resident of Manchester and associate editor for The Review of Archaeology, as well as Paul Beaulieu, a resident of Cambridge, MA and Arlington, VT who was recognized formally at the meeting for his leadership of Smokey House Center as board President for the last fifteen years. 

Board Member Perspective: Why I Believe in Smokey House Center

Twenty years ago, when I was new to Manchester, my family and I took an autumn drive, leaf peeping up over Danby Mountain Road. After we had passed all the houses of Dorset rising up the mountain road, we traveled through the woods and then emerged into the most beautiful high valley of fields and farmsteads surrounded by embracing peaks. This was my introduction to the lands of Smokey House Center (SHC).

Over the years I came to know the work and mission of Smokey House Center: Land, Agriculture, and Learning. I have bought their produce at farmers markets, have come to know the farmers working the land and seen how the land produces a valuable work ethic in the lives of youth.

Last January when board president Paul Beaulieu asked me to join the board, I surprised him and myself by accepting without hesitation. I realized that the SHC mission combines all of my major passions: conservation of working lands, educational opportunities for at-risk youth and sustainable local agriculture. And the chance for me to work with the board as they re-launched the education program was too good to be missed.

This coming year SHC will mark its 40th year of operation. I am excited to be a part of this as we ensure that these lands are fully protected, that they are accessible to and fully utilized by our young, entrepreneurial farmers and that a new generation of youth will benefit from both the learning and the working experiences provided by them.

Consie West, SHC’s newest board member, developed a passion for conservation early in life, growing up in northern Delaware where suburban pressures gnawed at the edges of the meadows and woodlands she played in. Through careful planning, she and her siblings were able to preserve those lands for the enjoyment of all. Since then she has lived in Alaska and Wisconsin, and has spent the last 30 years in Vermont where she has been involved in conservation projects with the Vermont Land Trust and the Vermont Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.

Wilderness First Aid Course Offered

The Tutorial Center at Smokey House will offer a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) course next month in Danby.

This two-day, sixteen-hour introductory course provides knowledge and hands-on practice in prevention, recognition, and treatment of backcountry injuries and illnesses.  Taught by SOLO instructors, WFA certification is provided upon completion of the course.


  • Thurs. Feb. 27 & Fri. Feb. 28 – 9:30-5:30  (Note: This Thurs.-Fri class is aimed at young adults.  Limited space available.)  
  • Sat. Mar. 1 & Sun. Mar. 2 – 8:30-4:3

Where:  The Tutorial Center at Smokey House Center, 426 Danby Mountain Road, Danby, VT 05739

Cost: $195 – including course tuition, WFA book, snacks and lunch

For information and registration:  Contact Juanita Burch-Clay at

What is Happening in Our Forests

Walk the 4,700 acre Smokey House forest and you’ll notice how it ranges in elevation from 800’ to 3500’ and includes a diverse array of ecological types and wildlife habitats.

You will see alpine conditions as well as rich lower elevation forests on limestone soils. If you are lucky, you will spy numerous species that need large, unbroken habitats which they find in the Smokey House Center forest. And because the entire forest has been permanently protected, you’ll see flourishing rare plant and animal species.

Depending on the shoes of the person in which you are walking, you will see unique value in our forests. Smokey House Center and professional foresters carefully manage the forest to provide periodic income and support for the regional timber economy. In order to ensure we are managing the forests optimally, this past year we updated our forest management plan, which the state of Vermont approved in the fall.

For students of all ages, the forest provides an important educational resource, serving as a hands-on learning tool. And finally, and equally noteworthy, is the significant watershed value that is provided by the forested headwaters at Smokey House Center that eventually reach Otter Creek and beyond- though flippers, rather than shoes, may be best for that view. 

Tutorial Center Reintroduces Education to Smokey House

The Tutorial Center (TTC) and the Smokey House Center (SHC) have joined forces in an innovative partnership to re-boot educational services on the 5000-acre property.  Central to the partnership, and building on SHC’s decades of work-based programming, is the new YouthWork & Learn for high school students.  Environmental field studies and agricultural programs are also in place for local elementary and middle schools.

TTC’s YouthWork & Learn, is a full-day place-based and work-based educational model that uses an experiential, interdisciplinary approach to develop academic and personal skills.  Learning takes place in the garden, in the fields, and in the forest as well as in the classroom and online.  Participating students receive credit toward high school graduation.

“We’re excited to resume education programs at Smokey House with a new, individualized approach,” said Jack Glade, TTC Executive Director.  “The farm, field and forests provide a great learning space for high school students.  They thrive within our work-based system in this non-traditional setting.”

“It’s great to have the students using our outdoor classroom,” said Jesse Pyles, SHC Executive Director.  “Smokey House has a long history of success reaching high school students in creative ways, and this partnership with the Tutorial Center brings out the best of both organizations.”

For information on the Youthwork and Learn program at Smokey House, see details of the program online here

Conservation Reaches New Heights

Conservation of lands has a long history at Smokey House Center. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stephen and Audrey Currier began assembling what would become Smokey House Center by buying up farms and forest land surrounding their original farmstead property. Although modern conservation easements did not exist then, they built a de facto land trust by creating this large block of land. Their work was cut short by their tragic death, but the conservation continued under the administration of the Taconic Foundation.


In 1995 the lands of Smokey House were conveyed from the Taconic Foundation to Smokey House Center. Then in 2003, after a thorough strategic planning process, the Board of Smokey House placed conservation easements on the major portion of the forest and agricultural lands, legally limiting use of the land in order to protect its conservation values in perpetuity. These easements are held by the New England Forestry Foundation. At that point, there were excluded a number of potentially developable lots that could be sold in the future, if needed. These were called “banked lots.”

Most recently, the Board has affirmed its commitment to conservation by voting to place conservation easements on the banked lots and also on the large Lewis Farm, a total of more than 300 acres of agricultural lands. The funds raised to conserve this acreage will be used to add to the equity funds for the farmers’ retirements, creating a new model for farming in Vermont, that of young farmers leasing affordable land while being able to save for a comfortable retirement.