DANBY — Students from the Currier Memorial School seemed to believe they were at the Smokey House Center last Tuesday having fun.
But there was a lot of learning and community building going on.
Breann Thompson, a fifth-grader at the school, said she likes partaking in hikes and activities available at Smokey House.
“We get to learn a lot when we go on the hikes and learn what they had here. … They, like, build tepees and stuff, which is up on the hill up there,” she said.
Thompson showed great patience as she was interviewed, as she was clearly eager to go dashing off with her peers again.
Michael Luzader, who teaches students in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, said he thinks the outdoor activities help students learn an “appreciation for nature.”
“I think they see what it takes to produce food. I think they have a real great connection to the land. A lot of these kids live right around the corner from this place, so this is kinda like their backyard,” he said.
Jesse Pyles, executive director of Smokey House, said the entire Currier school body visits at least twice a year, once to help with planting and once to help with harvesting, and many students and their families will receive produce at no additional cost for their effort.
The center grows food to be given away to needy families, so they are not primarily supported by agriculture. Pyles said Smokey House is funded by various grants, from the Stratton Foundation and others, fundraising efforts and other activities on the grounds like the one-week summer camps that run through the summer.
Among the food crops grown at Smokey House are carrots, pumpkins, onions, potatoes and cabbage.
This is the fourth season, dating back to 2016, that Smokey House staff have run a community farm project, primarily with Currier Memorial School and kids from Danby.
“The community farm project grows food with local kids, volunteers and other visitors to give it away to hunger relief and community food programs. We distribute food through the Vermont Foodbank, through the Vermont Farmers Food Center’s (in Rutland) Farmacy project and through a fall Currier-supported agriculture program to local families through the school. Our pitch to the local folks is, ‘Your kids have helped us grow it, we’ve asked you to come out and grow food, so, take some home and eat it,’” he said.
Pyles said one goal is to increase awareness of the value of local food, supporting local agriculture and connections between residents and local farms and farmers.
In addition to the student activity, Tuesday is also the weekly day for volunteers to do some work at the farm. Using a hoe to clear a row for onions, Susan Sutheimer, of Poultney, said she was a “big fan” of Pyles.
She said she brought him to the Rutland County area when she hired him during the time they both worked at Green Mountain College.
But her love of the soil has been bringing her back to volunteer year after year.
“I love farming and gardening, so it gives me an opportunity to help out with something that I love to do,” she said.
The relationship between Currier and Smokey House is continuing to develop. Luzader said the students visiting the center last Tuesday were looking at what Smokey House had done on its grounds with the goal of developing an outdoor classroom of their own that will allow students to learn about nature and the environment.
Pyles added that Smokey House staff can do a lot on its grounds, but “we’re doing it in a way that we hope complements what they’re doing at the school.”
Most of the kids who attend the camp are from Danby or students at Currier, but that’s not a requirement. Pyles said spaces are available at the camps. More information can be found online at the center’s website at www.smokeyhouse.org.