The Living Lab at Smokey House Center exists to conduct applied research and demonstration that focuses on better understanding the ecological, economic, and social impacts of farming and forestry. This work is approached through a collaborative lens that emphasizes the importance of long-term partnerships, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and bottom-up local capacity building. Research, education, and outreach efforts at the Living Lab aim to build ecological and economic resiliency into regional food and forest systems in a way that demonstrates global solutions while securing local community benefits. At the core of this approach is our dedication to continuing the legacy of hands-on learning and work opportunities for underserved youth that has been so central to Smokey House's mission since its genesis.
Smokey House Center and its partners have access to the facilities, partner farms and forest to pursue the Lab’s ongoing interests.
The core programing of the Living Lab revolves around:
Collaborative research efforts with our local and regional partners on Smokey House Center’s 5,000+ acres of farm and forestland.
Development and demonstration of climate-smart agriculture and forestry practices.
Place-based environmental education for local youth.
Coordination and hosting of multi-stakeholder dialogues around issues of regional land management, policy, and rural livelihoods.
It’s no secret that small and family farms have found it increasingly difficult to survive as consolidation and commercialization have profoundly altered our food system. Now, these farms face new threats from an increasingly unstable climate. The Living Lab is interested in conducting research and demonstrating agricultural systems that help these small and essential producers survive and thrive, with particular interest in the integration of perennial crops onto farm landscapes.
The role of farms and forests in mitigating climate change has received a huge amount of attention of late, but there are still deep ambiguities around the science of mitigation. The Living Lab is dedicated to taking a balanced and in-depth approach to investigating the potential of carbon sequestration in these systems in order to better understand the way forward.
Increasing the carbon sequestration capacity of farms and forests is important, but only represents one piece of the puzzle to avoiding climate catastrophe. Building resiliency into these ecological systems is equally important. The Living Lab works to develop and demonstrate systems that will continue to be resilient and prosper for people and planet even in the face of a changing climate.
Multi-use Forest Management
Forests are complex ecosystems that provide innumerable benefits to people: ecosystem services, wood products, non-timber forest products (NTFPs), sustainable livelihoods, recreation, habitat for rare and admired species, spiritual connection, amongst countless others. This diversity of forest benefits can only be managed using a diversity of management strategies, including a balance between active management and forest reserves. The Living Lab aims to promote sound and sustainable forest management strategies through research and demonstration that improve both human and landscape wellbeing while promoting forest-based livelihoods.
We believe that locally-based and sustainable economic development initiatives are essential for ensuring the resiliency and vitality of rural communities into the future. We are interested in collaboratively working with the communities around Smokey House Center to develop new place-based industries that contribute to a more just regional economy. Specifically, the Living Lab is interested in developing new income streams derived from non-timber forest products (NTFPs), hardy and productive perennial crops, and low-input and integrated agricultural systems.
Farmers, foresters, and other land managers learn and adapt by seeing examples of successful ecological systems, not by being told by high-level policymakers what is right or wrong. In a time when global circumstances require large-scale shifts across virtually all forms of land management, well-designed and easily accessible demonstration sites are more critical than ever. Yet there are currently very few regional demonstration sites exhibiting climate-smart, resilient, farming and forestry systems. The Living Lab is working to address this gap in demonstration by working with farmers and foresters to create examples of the successful, resilient, and productive ecological systems that we need to ensure a vibrant future.
Smokey House Center has a long standing tradition of working to empower kids and young adults that have grown up in and around Danby, VT. We are dedicated to continuing this tradition at the Living Lab–local youth environmental education programming is foundational to the mission of the Lab. Our educational programing gives kids and young adults the opportunity to learn about the natural world, and how humans are a part of that world, through the exploration of Smokey House’s 5,000+ acres of fields and forests. The Living Lab also emphasizes a grass-roots approach to educational programing in which community members are welcomed to lead, teach, and share their knowledge and skills. Grounded in place, educational programs focus on natural history, place-based ecology, farming and food systems, and practical job training.
Dialogue and Outreach
The Living Lab is committed to acting as a community cornerstone to Danby and other communities nearby to Smokey House Center. In addition to educational programming focused on local youth, The Living Lab provides educational programming for all community members near and far. This includes hands-on workshops, discussions, and speaker series that are informed by the research and projects happening on the farm and in the forest. The Lab also provides a platform for community members to share the exciting work they are doing outside of the property boundaries of Smokey House.
With so many questions around the future of our planet and where humans fit into that future, tensions can run high and debating these issues can be tricky. The Living Lab is committed to leaning into the controversial and defining issues of our time by providing a place and platform for different stakeholder groups to come together, converse, and find common ground.