Tryon farm becomes a beacon for sustainable life

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE - Brenna Bell has played a key role in making Tryon Life Community Farm a reality. Thanks to a new yurt, the farm is better than ever.

If you run into Brenna Bell at Tryon Life Community Farm she will probably want to show you the farm’s new yurt.

The yurt is a round, roomy, tent-like structure that lets the farm folks, friends, guests and any interested visitors have a meeting place and educational space. It is 30 feet in circumference, and Bell says it resembles a Mongolian nomadic home. A yurt warming party was held in December and was attended by a huge crowd.

Explaining why she loves the yurt so much, Bell said, “Before, when we hosted workshops and field trips and retreats, all we could do was pray there wouldn’t be a downpour of rain.”

Yes, 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 just how far the farm 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, a goat milk operation and orchards, which were planted only a couple weeks ago.

Outstanding craftsmanship turned a bunch of old wooden doors into a beautiful floor for the yurt. Even better, the yurt has a roof.

Bell said, “For years people have been asking us, ‘What are you doing?’”

She admitted that in early years the Tryon farmers asked that question themselves.

“Maintenance requires a different kind of energy,” Bell said. “We rode the wave of the land campaign and it ended. It has been eight years since we saved the farm. At least we’re coming into our adolescence.”

Now they have a firm answer on what they are all about.

“Our fundamental value is sharing,” Bell said. “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.”

AmeriCorps volunteers take care of some serious business - clearing away blackberries - at Tryon farms workday on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Too often such idealism can’t stand up to the hard knocks of life, but not with the Tryon farm. It all started in 2004 when the Tryon folks began their epic battle to acquire the 7 acres of farmland. Bell, a lawyer in her professional life, was very much the public face of the effort as she poured 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 nearby 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 said. “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.”

The Tryon farm goats pose for a team photo at their barn. The goats get rid of a lot of unnecessary foliage with their endless appetites. Best of all, they give milk.

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 preschool and classes for grades one through three, plus a summer camp.

Tryon’s big 10th anniversary party will be held later this year, but the farm already 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 admitted “is a hell of a project.”

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

Even 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 that the farm campaign began. To Bell, the farm and her child are just the same.

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

For more about Tryon Life Community Farm visit

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