Monday, June 27, 2011

Adventures in the Mountains...and in the Valleys

The second week of TMI's Mountain Adventures Summer Camp is in full swing! As I write this, the campers have probably just finished orienteering to the summit of Spruce Knob, the highest peak in the state, and are now languidly lying around the grassy summit eating lunch or climbing boulders.

The first week of camp wrapped up on Saturday. Ten campers, two instructors, and Claudia, our long-time camper-turned-intern started the week off with an overnight paddle through a section of the S. Branch of the Potomac River. They also pranced across the high ropes course at Camp Hidden Meadow in the East Fork of the Greenbrier Valley, swam in Seneca Creek, and zipped through the tree canopy high above the North Fork Valley at Nelson Rocks Preserve (top picture).

Tomorrow, campers head into the Seneca Creek Backcountry for a two night trip through beautiful high elevation Red Spruce forests.

For more information on TMI's Mountain Adventures Summer Camp, check out

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Holy cow, I think we've met before!"

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The Spruce Knob Mountain Center is proud to let you know that we now serve pork sausage and beef from Flying W Farms in nearby Burlington, WV. With the rising gas prices, local food sourcing is making economic sense now more than ever. This meat-seeking non-profit can relish not only saving a few bucks, but also in hearts that don’t sink with every mouthful of biscuits and sausage gravy. Why do our omnivorous hearts now soar? Because unlike trucked-in pounds of meat, local meat comes with answers to our questions: How were these animals raised? How much gas did it take to get this meatball on top of my spaghetti? What farmer raised what animal and did they like each other – those creatures that depended on one another for so much?

The certified natural beef we buy from Flying W Farms is pastured for about three quarters of its life and grain finished outside Petersburg, WV on their farm. It is also processed (slaughtered and butchered) on that same farm. I emphasize place because most of the beef in this country is pastured in one state, grain finished in the feed lots of another, moved again for processing, and trucked even further on down the road to a distribution plant. It is impossible to know much about the life of what you are eating when it has passed through so many different hands.

I am all in favor of wanderlust, but I have to admit, such cultured cows make me downright uncomfortable. Why buy perishable items that have been tramping all around the country instead of those that had the sensibility to stay home? They can come home with all kinds of troubling new ideas. USDA food qualifications such as “Organic,” “Cage-Free,” and “Non-GMO” help us differentiate from what we have come to call “conventional.”[1] To be certified as “natural,” meat must be “minimally processed” with no artificial ingredients added (to the meat). Additionally, Flying W does not administer growth hormones or antibiotics (to the animals).

The pork processed at Flying W Farms comes from David Hevener’s farm outside of Franklin, WV, from whence came our own joyous pig Chicha (also known as Eleanor). On that farm I have seen with my own eyes grand sows lounging in the pastoral shade of a sunny day. I have shaken the very hand that helped pull a wee piglet into this corner of Appalachia and created new life from grass and rocks and drainages, a life whose body will nourish my own.

West Virginians spent almost $4,000 each on food last year, but less than 1% of that went to in-state farms. West Virginia has never been a big producer of non-timber cash crops, but we have managed to send a large percent of our money and resources out of state. Spending our money on in-state farms, however, has a ripple effect that improves the general local economy: “a $1 dollar increase in personal income of farm establishments creates roughly a $4 increase in total personal income in the West Virginia economy.”[2]

Small farming communities are part of our Appalachian heritage, in a land where mountains have hemmed in development and dictated livelihoods – where immediate community can be more important than large-scale industry. As non-renewable sources of energy deplete, let us turn to each other, for on the day that they are gone, what will we know how to do? Who will we thank for our food and our heat and our laughter? How about our neighbors? How about ourselves?

Next time your near Burlington, visit Rick and Margaret Woodworth's Flying W Farm store on Route 50 & 220 or drop them a line at 304/289-3005. -EG

[1] Visit:

for more information on certification terms and conditions.

[2] Visit: for more information on farm industry and local economy.

Monday, June 20, 2011

TMI Wraps Up another Week of Prairie Restoration

One doesn't generally associate West Virginia with prairie habitat. In fact, much of the east coast would be forested if not for human interference. In Smoke Hole Canyon, within Grant County, however, prairie is the norm. The hot, dry climate and historic disturbances (likely grazing of elk and wood bison) prevented forests from forming and allowed grass species to proliferate, many of which exist nowhere else in the eastern United States. TMI has been working with The Nature Conservancy for the past two years to restore the native prairie to a small test plot in this unique pocket of the Mountain State. For more information about this project please see our article, "TMI Begins Third Season of Prairie Restoration in Smoke Hole Canyon," in the Spring 2011 issue of the Spruce Knob News.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Work Weekend: No Longer an Oxymoron

Many thanks to the volunteers who gave their time and energy to the Spruce Knob Mountain Center this past weekend. With ten volunteers and four staff members, we were able to resurface one of our dormitories from start to finish.

The stucco on the Mud Hut was beginning to crumble, so we tore it and the insulation beneath away to expose the rammed earth wall. Then we resurfaced the building with a lime-based plaster which will (in theory) hold up better.

Many of our volunteers worked from can't see to can't see to get the job done.

The building is still tarped, to protect it from too much sunlight while the plaster finishes drying, but before and after photos will be soon to follow.