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  • 26 Nov 2014

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Tryon Life farm refigures its mission

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - The outdoor kitchen serves as a headquarters for the Mother Earth School at Tryon Life Community Farm. Its also used for workshops and cheese making.If you run into Brenna Bell at Tryon Life Community Farm, she probably will want to show you the farm’s new yurt.

The yurt is a round, roomy, tentlike structure that provides a meeting or educational space for the farm folks, friends, guests and visitors. It’s 30 feet in circumference, based on a Mongolian nomadic home.

“Before when we hosted workshops and field trips and retreats, all we could do was pray there wouldn’t be a downpour of rain,” Bell says.

The intentional community at Tryon Life, which serves as a fertile testing ground for many sustainability precepts, held a yurt-warming party in December, attracting a huge crowd. Be it ever so humble, there is no place like a yurt as far as Bell and the other sustainability pioneers at Tryon Farm are concerned.

The yurt symbolizes how far the farm near Tryon Creek State Park has come since it started out as a bright idea 10 years ago and then bloomed with gardens, berry patches, food forests, a school for children, a giant kitchen, tours and conferences, and a goat milk operation. A few weeks ago, they planted new orchards.

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - Brenna Bell has played a key role in making Tryon Life  a reality, including a recent campaign to add a yurt.“For years people have been asking us, ‘What are you doing?’ Bell says. In the early years, the Tryon farmers asked that question of themselves.

“We rode the wave of the land (purchase) campaign and it ended. It has been eight years since we saved the farm,” Bell says.

“Maintenance requires a different kind of energy.”

Hitting adolescence

Now, after a period of soul-searching, the group seems to be coming into its adolescence, she says, and getting a firmer answer on what it’s all about.

The big changes are reflected in its new mission statement. The first statement focused on building sustainable skills. The new one focuses on building relationships.

“Our fundamental value is sharing,” Bell says. “We grow community. We want to build connections between people and we want to build connections between people and the Earth. Sustainability does not happen in isolation.”

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - AmeriCorps volunteers take care of some serious business - clearing away blackberries - at Tryon Life  on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.Usually such idealism fades away under the hard knocks of life, but not with Tryon Farm. It all started in 2004, when the Tryon folks began their epic battle to acquire the 650 acres of land for the farm, near Tryon Creek State Park at 11640 S.W. Boones Ferry Road.

Bell, a lawyer in her professional life, was very much the public face of the effort, pouring her intellect, energy and communication skills into winning the land acquisition campaign. However, it took so much to succeed that everyone was exhausted when the work to build the farm actually began. The question was, “Now what?”

Fortunately, during this transitional period, people were always fascinated with what was happening at Tryon Life Community Farm. College students, many from Lewis & Clark College, would come visit on weekends to watch 20 Tryon Lifers work to make the land productive, define their values, share in the raising of their own children, and create a new way of living.

“They watched how we made decisions,” Bell says. “Now we have four people who are professional facilitators for other groups. We’re coming to a deeper understanding of our purpose and creating an infrastructure to share what we’ve learned.”

School vital to farm

by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: VERN UYETAKE - A bunch of old wooden doors were turned into an attractive floor for the yurt. Even more important, the yurt has a roof.Perhaps the most important project at Tryon Farm is the Mother Earth School. It offers youngsters a different kind of education in which they pick herbs from their own garden and interact with farm animals, like the lovable and funny goats. There is a constant flow of people in the school area because classes from other schools come to observe. The school has grown from one little kindergarten class to two kindergarten classes, a pre-school, and classes for grades one through three, plus a summer camp.

Tryon’s 10th anniversary party will be held later this year, but the farm had a big day on Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20. Friends and supporters, including 30 AmeriCorps members, flocked to the farm for a work day. A big part of their effort was devoted to clearing out blackberries, which Bell says “is a hell of a project.”

Beyond her all-encompassing involvement with Tryon Farm, Bell’s 9-year-old daughter Ember is a symbol of what the farm is all about. She gave birth to Ember at almost the exact time the farm campaign began. 

“You take nine months to give birth to a child and then you always have it,” she says with a laugh. “That’s the same way it is with this farm.”