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Deep Roots Promote New Growth at Smokey House Center
Smokey House has always aspired to serve both youth and the environment. During its founding decades, it leaned into its work with youth in particular: Smokey House’s groundbreaking work on youth unemployment successfully developed a widely adapted solution to one of the most pressing issues of those times. Because of the concurrent conservation and solidification of its farms and forests, Smokey House is positioned to now lean into one of this era’s most pressing issues - climate change - with the same level of creativity and force it brought to employment training in its earlier days.
The Beginning
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The Beginning


4,730 acre Smokey House Farm is bequeathed to the Taconic Foundation for an undefined public purpose.



After six years of thoughtful study, the board of the Foundation recommends “the development of a program to demonstrate principles of ecologically sound and environmentally productive land management, and to conduct programs that provide employment training for disadvantaged youth” at Smokey House Farm.

The YouthWork Program at Smokey House is launched, engaging local youth at risk of dropping out of school in paid work and learning through their participation in managing the vast land reserve year round.

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50 Vermont boys and girls take part in the summer program at Smokey House.

The brilliance of the employment training that the group on the ground is designing and enacting is recognized when Smokey House became one of only 43 national demonstration sites chosen for the first round of funding by the U.S. Labor Department under the Youth Employment Demonstration Projects Act, a flagship enterprise of the Carter administration.

Smokey House Project becomes a Vermont non-profit corporation, separate from the Taconic Foundation, with an independent board of directors.

Core components of the thriving Smokey House design include: learning by doing real work; one adult crew leader for each six youth crew members; high expectations, no school/no work rule requires that young people stay in school to qualify; benchmarking of each young person’s individual progress.

Taconic Foundation takes the Smokey House model and applies it to urban youth by providing seed money for the Youth Energy Corps, which plans to enable high-risk youth from Harlem, the Bronx, and Brooklyn to learn key skills necessary for employment.



Youth employment programs are defunded by the federal government; Smokey House begins an era of increased foundation and tuition support.

Smokey House program is adapted for inner-city youth in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx as the Youth Energy Corps.



The Smokey House model is adapted in Dutchess County in upstate New York to train at-risk youth on a variety of worksites.

Smokey House receives a grant from the State of Vermont to help support wages for youth in the school year program.



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Researchers from Brandies University conduct a survey of past Smokey House participants, who report that Smokey House played a significant role in their success.




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Smokey House begins working with statewide business partnerships to promote education and employment readiness.


Smokey House is recognized by the Vermont Department of Agriculture as “Conservation Farm of the Year.”

Smokey House participates in U.S. Dept. of Labor demonstration program: Summer Beginnings.


Smokey House board begins planning for the Smokey House Land Reserve, comprising virtually all the project’s forest and farm land.


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Ownership of the farm property is transferred from the Taconic Foundation to the Smokey House. The Taconic board, a major funder of the Center up until this point, approves a $3 million endowment grant to the Smokey House Center.

Smokey House celebrates its 20th anniversary with presentations from Governor Howard Dean; Gerard Piel, editor emeritus of Scientific American; former senator Robert T. Stafford; and Janet Jamieson, superintendent of Rutland Regional Supervisory Union.

In cooperation with Poultney High School, Smokey House inaugurates the Environmental Field Studies Program, providing a four-week intensive curriculum for eighth grade students at the Danby site, thereby diversifying its offerings to schools as interest and funding for off-site school programming starts to recede. The Field Studies program expands to other area schools and continues through 2010. Field Studies students and Smokey House staff monitor environmental health indicators, conduct species counts, and contribute to wildlife and natural resource databases in the region.


Smokey House youth crews win Vermont Farm Show First Prize for their Christmas trees.

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A conservation easement to New England Forestry Foundation is put in place on over 4000 acres of forest land, including 1500 acres of alpine forest and 2500 acres of lower elevation productive timberlands, providing permanent protection from development.

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A conservation easement to New England Forestry Foundation is put in place for the Center’s 600+ acres of active, productive farmland, ensuring a permanent base for agricultural activities. This brings over 90% of the Center’s now 5,000 acres under permanent conservation restriction, with some remaining lands held out for potential future development.



Following the 2008 financial crises, and shifts in federal funding that significantly impacted provisions for youth wages, the decision is made by the Smokey House board to reduce the center’s programs to a point where they can be sustained without having to raise outside money.

Smokey House engages new small farm businesses -- Yoder Farm, Dorset Peak Jerseys, and Two Dog Farm -- to manage hundreds of acres of working farmland.






Smokey House enters into a partnership with the Tutorial Center, a 42-year old educational support service focused on enhancing literacy, developing work readiness and promoting other basic skills of adults and children for them to run programming at the Center.

Smokey House adds 245 acres of previously held out land to the Conservation Easement with New England Forestry Foundation, ensuring permanent protection of nearly all of the vast property.




A 40 year lease is extended to one of the Center’s tenant farmers - Dorset Peak Jerseys, a livestock farm - for a farmstead and a substantial portion of the agricultural land “in furtherance of Smokey House Center’s purposes and mission, in particular as they pertain to agriculture and the promotion of environmentally-responsible and economically sustainable farming”.

Smokey House establishes the Community Farm project to provide new work-based learning and outdoor education opportunities for area children, the public, and visiting service groups of all ages.

With the onset of the pandemic, the Community Farm project increases food production and distribution for hunger relief and other community food programs.





Through a partnership with the Yale Forest School, the Center develops a comprehensive plan for “conservation” rather than “productive timberland” objectives for its forestlands that provide a new lens through which to monitor success.

Work begins on a second, decades-long lease for Yoder Farm - a vegetable farm - at Smokey House Center.


In the winter of 2023, in recognition that agriculture and forestry are at the center of many of the causes of, and possible solutions to, climate change, Smokey House Center begins a new era as a Living Lab designed to develop practical climate solutions and adaptations that inspire realistic hope for the future.

Much like a terrestrial Woods Hole, the Living Lab’s work is embedded in projects done with partners on Smokey House Center’s “ocean” of 1,000 acres of working farmland cradled in 4,000 acres of forest with a 2,500 foot elevation range. In 2024, several multi-year and annual projects are already developing pathways forward in forest farming, agroforestry, timber production, field crop production and youth engagement, all held together by the common thread of climate action. Early project partners include the Yale School of the Environment, the Northeast Forest Farmers Coalition, our local area schools, University of Vermont, Vermont State University, Parsons School of Design, Vermont Green Builders Network, Vermont Youth Conservation Corps and the Vermont Center for Ecostudies, and Smokey House Center’s partner farmers. 



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