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DANBY — Manchester's own Orvis has long prioritized local volunteering in their corporate philosophy, and that commitment came to life last Wednesday when more than 80 Orvis retail managers traveled to Danby's Smokey House Center to give back—and get their hands dirty.

As a local non-profit organization promoting on community agriculture, education, and preservation the Smokey House Center was glad to have all hands on deck according to farm educator Jamie Lombardo, who began coordinating with members of Orvis' corporate team in March prior to the company's annual conference last week.

"As small staffed as we are here at the Smokey House Center, it can often be challenging to get big projects completed," Lombardo explained. "The leadership, enthusiasm, and skill that a group of retail managers brings to a situation is astounding."

"We got the kind of work done that required a lot of hands, and we had a great time doing it," said Smokey House Executive Director Jesse Pyles. "The day was a great success."

The collaboration was a perfect match according to Pyles, as both organizations maintain a strong commitment to conservation and community. In the past employees at Orvis' local rod shop have even traveled to the Smokey House Center as part of their yearly Green Up Day project. And while the group of retail managers undertake a service project during each of their annual conferences, the Smokey House provided an opportunity to take on one large project as a single group this year.

"Local volunteering has been a long-standing component of our annual retail managers' conference, and this is the first time we were able to work as one large group at one location," said Orvis' Andrea Beruman. "We were thrilled to be able to bring our energetic and enthusiastic retail management team to the Smokey House."

"Giving back is integral to our Orvis core values, and each year we take a break in meeting content to do a service project in the local community," added retail operations coordinator Shea Imhof. "It provides time for us to connect with the outdoors and other qualities that make Vermont, and our brand, so special."

In the midst of meetings and group activities at Orvis' Sunderland headquarters between September 17-20 — geared towards training managers on new projects, customer service, and operational strategies — the group made their way to Danby on Wednesday afternoon for two 45 minute work sessions related to the Smokey House Center's Community Farm Project, which provides fresh produce to local schools and organizations alongside their work in conservation and education.

"The districts helped us to harvest winter squash — likely a literal ton, though it's not all processed yet — as well as onions and turnips," Lombardo said. "They also help to mulch blueberries, clean up a trail that was completely overgrown, paint several sides of one of our main campus barns, and take down high tunnels that needed to be moved. They even lent a hand pulling the greenhouse plastic a touch tighter before the snow flies!"

While the Smokey House Center does have the opportunity to work with large groups of volunteers from time to time according to Lombardo, those efforts make a big difference when it comes to building the organization's Community Farm Project. While schools and organizations are the most frequent volunteers, community members also come together at the Smokey House's "Work Day" events. The next, a harvest community work day, will take place at the Center this Saturday, Sept. 29.

The squash and root vegetables harvested by those volunteers, as well as Orvis' group of retail managers, will continue to be distributed through local hunger relief programs throughout the fall according to Lombardo. And in the midst of harvesting, she says, there's plenty of fun to be had on the Smokey Houses expansive grounds.

"After volunteering [the Orvis retail managers] broke out into six activity groups that brought people into our woods hiking, around the pond foraging for edibles, painting the landscape that is the green mountains, and into the conference barn kitchen for a farm to table cook-off," Lombardo said. "It was a pleasure to have this many folks engage with Smokey House."

"We all loved every bit of our time at the Smokey House Center," Imhof said. "They are a wonderful organization doing important work, and we are so thrilled to have contributed a little bit of effort to their cause."

That effort, according to the Smokey House's staff, makes a measurable difference for the community organization.

"We will be looking at some of the good work they did in just a mere hour and a half for years to come," Lombardo explained. "This was an amazing collaboration and I hope that is becomes one of many."

"I love sharing this special place with folks from all over the country, but I'm most excited to work with a local company in a way that helps us serve our local community," added Pyles. "The youth, volunteers, and visitors who come to Smokey House Center will have a richer experience because of the work that Orvis employees put in here last week."


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