Great Basin

Tryon Farm

Photo: Tryon Farm members chat in the early days of Tryon Farm.

The Owyhee Puzzle

In the Owyhee Desert of Southeastern Oregon, we find a mysterious native site and a stone tool.

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Just after moving to Portland a year ago, my younger brother Hans and I were running in one of the city's forested parks.  It was a bright, sunny day.  A day kind of like today.  The sort of day with cricket sounds and cottonwood seeds in the air.

The trails were small single track dirt trails.  We were still learning the trail system of Tryon State Park, but we knew that this relatively untrampled trail couldn't be an authorized sort of park trail.

For curiosity, we took it, and catching our breath we paused in a bright meadow.  For a few moments, we wondered where we were, this meadow, overgrown by thorny blackberries.  Then some goats, fenced in.  And a pair of old houses.  It was clear that we had left the park. 

"Welcome," a voice.  And then it's like they just popped out of the meadow; two young ladies with a baby on the top of one of their heads.  Barefoot, they approached us as we refused their welcome.  And again.  "Welcome to the farm!"

This land, this handful of acres, they explained, is slated to become an upscale condominium development.  Somehow, Jenny and Brenna and the other Tryon Life Community farm members had a purchase option to sit on this land until the end of the year.  If they could raise $1.6 million by January, they could purchase the land. 

Their idea is to build a small community farm - the sort of place to teach people how to grow organic, how to save energy, how to get back to the Earth.

The idea, they explain, is to create a model of modern urban sustainable living.  To Portlanders, this kind of talk is not unfamiliar.  Americans consider Portland their greenest city.  And Portlanders take the tag seriously; just this year the city earned notoriety for surpassing the goals of the Kyoto Protocol.  Additionally, the city is the only one in the U.S. to actively and somewhat successfully fight sprawl. 

The Tryon Farm story was exciting to me, because of how closely it resembled Great Guana Cay’s fight in the Bahamas.  I agreed to interview and photograph their campaign to win the seven acres.  Hans agreed to volunteer at the farm that summer, chopping invasive blackberries for them, which had encroached on their meadow.

He would come to my place, ask to borrow the machete for his volunteer work at the farm.  In the evening, he would return with the scars and blood of blackberry thorns up and down his arms and legs.  Why he returned my seven dollar machete to me every evening, at the expense of another half-hour of his time, was at the time unknown to me.

But Hans was expecting that I needed my machete back.  I was supposed to be chopping my own invasive blackberries.  It was the beginning of my Oregon education.