Experiment in urban sustainable living largely succeeds, now stresses sharing.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JAIME VALDEZ - Preschoolers enjoy a meal at Tryon Life Community Farm. A little more than 10 years after Tryon Life Community Farm was founded, those behind it say they've accomplished much of what they set out to do.

Situated on seven acres adjacent to Tryon Creek State Park in Southwest Portland, the farm was envisioned as a demonstration project for advanced — even radical — sustainable construction practices and living standards.

Today, the 17 people who live in two large houses on the property also use several structures made almost entirely of recycled materials. The residents also are served by two composting toilets and reuse all of their cooking and cleaning water, two things that required changes in state laws that they researched and lobbied through the Oregon Legislature.

"We were pretty idealistic when we started and didn't realize how much time it would take to accomplish some of what we wanted to do," says Brenna Bell, a lawyer who is one of three founding members still living on the property.

But Bell says much has changed about the way she and the others think about sustainability over the years. Originally, new technologies seemed to offer the most promise. She still works with a local organization called ReCode, which has an office in downtown Portland, to make construction codes more sustainable. It promotes ideas that spun off from the farm.

Even more important, Bell now argues, are relationships between people. For example, learning to share living spaces actually can save more resources than if everyone lives in LEED-certified homes, she says.

"The best hope of the future is rebuilding human relationships. If I give you something you need, you don't have to buy it," says Bell, who also works as a staff attorney and policy coordinator for Bark, a nonprofit organization working to preserve the Mount Hood National Forest. Bell believes learning to live together has

become especially important since Donald Trump was elected president, who she calls extemely dangerous.

PORTLAND TRIBUNE: JAIME VALDEZ - Brenna Bell looks toward the property of Tryon Life Community Farm that she helped found in Southwest Portland.

School's in session

Today, lobbying elected officials seems far removed from day-to-day activities on the farm.

On a brisk November morning, the farm's herd of dairy goats are eating their first meal of the day. Chickens scurry in and out of their coop. All of the apples have been picked from the small orchard, and almost every crop in the garden has been harvested, except kale, which thrives in cold weather and is now called the "kale forest" by Bell.

The largest amount of outdoor activity revolves around 10 young children in the Willow Creek Forest School, who learn to bake bread in an outdoor wood stove before playing in the woods on the property. The preschool, which is open three days a week, is operated by the farm with two teachers. It replaced a previous one with a separate operator, which closed at the end of the last school year.

"The goal of the school is to help children foster a sense of reverance — which they already have — of themselves, others and the Earth," says Isobel Charle, a teacher who lives on the property.

Most other events take place on the farm during warmer months. They include monthly tours and land discussions, a Bloom Spring Celebration in May, and the fall Apple Fest in September. The farm also has organized community workshops in the past, but is taking a break from that in favor of allowing other organizations to host them at the farm.

As residents have left over the past year, Bell and others have made a special effort to replace them with people of color and others who are marginalized, including members of the LGBTQ community. Today, a collective within the farm called the Bridgewalkers Alliance works to teach land and food knowledge to minorities who have limited access to nature.

At the same time, the farm is just now kicking off a fundraising drive to improve physical access to the property. Projects include realigning and grading the narrow driveway onto the property from Southwest Boones Ferry Road, increasing parking capacity, and reconstructing the main path network to become wheelchair-accessible.

The fundraising goal is $22,000. The drive includes the farm's first crowdsourcing effort at

The money will be in addition to next year's operating budget, which is $95,000.

History of the site

As noted on the farm's website, the land where it is located originally was part of the vast hunting grounds for two Native American tribes, the Tualatin Kalapuya and the Clackamas Chinook. They thrived until devastating diseases swept through their villages about 200 years ago, severely reducing their populations. Before they could recover, waves of mostly European immigrants and their descendants colonized the land now called Oregon.

One settler named Hotchkiss Socrates Tryon claimed the valley where the farm and namesake state park now are located. Eventually, a family purchased the farmsite and built a large house, probably in the 1920s, and started a goose and hog farm. Large-scale agricultural farming was — and is — unrealistic because much of the land is shaded. Bell estimates that the farm only generates about 20 percent of the food eaten by the residents.

"Being 100 percent self-sustaining was never the goal, and shouldn't be. Sharing is more important," Bell says.

In 1977, the property was purchased by a family that intended to create a yoga retreat. After converting the existing farmhouse and garage into apartments, the project ran out of steam and the units eventually were rented by environmental activists and supporters of organic farming.

When the family decided to sell the property in 2005, a developer quickly bought an option, intending to tear down the existing structure and build 23 new homes. But the residents fought back with a public campaign to save the property by creating an educational model for sustainable urban living.

The family agreed to sell the property to the residents for that purpose for around $1.5 million, including closing costs. But they had less than a year to raise the money, prompting them to take out loans and start a fundraising drive that got covered by much of the local media.

The City Council even kicked in $200,000 to help buy a buffer between the property and the park that would remain even if were developed some day. The project also was supported by $200,000 from Metro and $100,000 from Friends of Tryon State Park.

The fundraising drive succeeded and the title to the property was transfered to the Oregon Sustainable Agriculture Land Trust, which entered into a 99-year management lease with the farm and Cedar Moon, the residential community whose members lived on the property. Bell says all remaining loans are scheduled to be paid off in 13 years.

To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the farm, go to


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