Embezzling nearly $1 million from The Sequoyah Fund in Cherokee will land the organization’s former executive director in federal prison for more than two years, U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger decided at a Dec. 15 sentencing hearing.
The former director of an organization charged with spurring community development on the Qualla Boundary has pled guilty to embezzling nearly $1 million from the institution she once led, bringing almost three years of investigation and prosecution to a close.
Dustin Cornelison of Haywood County has turned his belief in living a sustainable and frugal lifestyle into an actual business.
Drawing upon his past experience as a sustainability technician for an environmental education center and his skills as a welder and blacksmith, Cornelison, along with his wife, Sara Martin, have put together a plan to turn their farm, Two Trees, into a model of sustainable practices.
“We are selling the farm life style,” Cornelison said. “We hope to demonstrate self sufficiency and furnish people with the tools and knowledge to live off their own land.”
While still a student at Haywood Community College, Cornelison’s business plan was chosen as the 2011 winner of the Sequoyah Fund Community College Business Plan Competition. Cornelison received $10,000 to help him make his business a reality. The Sequoyah Fund encourages and financially rewards students who aspire to start businesses in the seven western-most counties of North Carolina and the Qualla Boundary.
Cornelison founded Sustainabillies, a company that promotes sustainable gardening and living through example, education and artistic recycling and retooling of scrap metals and used objects. He plans to create and sell a variety of custom garden tools and accessories, with the emphasis on using as much recycled materials as possible.
“Designs may be simple and functional using entirely recycled elements or they may be more artistic and use a combination of new and recycled materials,” he said.
Cornelison’s welding shop is located on Two Trees farm.
“I want to incorporate found objects in my designs as much as possible,” he said. “I can re-purpose heirlooms to create unique functional pieces.”
Some of the crafted items that will be for sale are a variety of trellises, trellised planters, compost barrels, rain barrel stands, rain barrels, raised bed components, fire rings, decorative hand rails, fences and gates. Cornelison will also sell artistic handmade benches and indoor and outdoor furniture as well as a line of home goods such as towel and pan racks. He will carry a selection of tools such as knives, hoes, axes and custom/specialty hand tools. He will also do commissioned specialty metal work and forging for clients based on their designs or needs.
“All of the items I make are of the highest quality. They are intended to last a lifetime,” said Cornelison. He can also fabricate new pieces based on old designs or tools.
As another component of Sustainabillies, Cornelison is planning a portable welding shop. “I can come directly to a client’s property to fix equipment. A person won’t have to worry about loading up heavy equipment and hauling it somewhere to get it fixed. I will be able to fix it on the spot,” Cornelison said.
Sustainabillies also sells small apple cider presses designed for home use. With the press, people can harvest juice from apple trees in their yard—another sustainable practice advocated at Two Trees Farm.
The business will offer several services such as the installation of permaculture, and the design and implementation of native, rain and edible gardens. It will offer all aspects of implementation, from tilling and planting to harvesting and preservation. Consultations on sustainability audits and the best use of a property will also be offered.
For now, the blacksmith and welding shop is open for business and Cornelison and Martin are making plans for other ways to use Two Tree Farms as a resource for their community. By next summer, the couple hopes to have farm tours once a week and to also offer a variety of workshops on sustainable living.
“We want to show people that you can live a normal, comfortable lifestyle-sustainably,” Cornelison said.