Treleven embraces education

NEW HAVEN — Craggy hillsides surround the pond and a meadow of grazing sheep at Treleven Farm in New Haven, sheltering the small valley off Route 17 from the outside world.
The farm has welcomed all sorts of visitors over the years, but now Cheryl and Don Mitchell, owners of the farm and founding board members of the educational nonprofit Treleven, are refocusing their efforts inviting people in to learn and teach.
The focus, said Cheryl Mitchell, will be on the intersection of sustainable agriculture, land management, social justice and spirituality.
None of these are unfamiliar territory for the family — over the years, the farm has hosted Middlebury College students in Don’s “Nature’s Meanings” courses to help birth lambs, held skill shares and workshops open to the public, hosted silent meditations together with the Middlebury Friends Meeting and invited local musicians (including their daughter, Anais Mitchell) to perform outdoor concerts near the pond.
But at a certain point, the family began looking for ways to tie all of that together.
“We wondered, were there other ways we could share (our land) with the public?” Cheryl Mitchell said.
While the organization has been a nonprofit for about two years, the momentum is just beginning to build around its educational programs. In the coming year, the organization will offer classes and workshops in partnership with Castleton State College and Union Institute, with topics ranging from early childhood education to the art of migrant workers.
After Don retired from Middlebury College in 2009, he built a house alongside the main one, which can serve as a classroom space for about 20 people. That’s in addition to a smaller classroom building alongside the pond, which doesn’t have electricity. In addition to the events that Treleven runs, Cheryl said groups can host workshops and classes in those spaces, and artists and those with other skills to share can use the facility as a space to teach.
“Some things we’ll host, and some things others will host,” she said. “We’re hoping for retreats at least once a month.”
This fall, Treleven will host part of a culminating seminar for early childhood and afterschool professionals. Cheryl Mitchell, who was a co-founder the Addison County Parent-Child Center in Middlebury, is one of the instructors of the hybrid seminar, which takes place online for the most part, with several in-person sessions at the farm.
Spring of 2012 will bring a workshop called Invisible Odysseys to the farm. It’s a three-credit graduate workshop for teachers, taught in conjunction with Castleton and inspired by a 2010 art exhibit of the same name. The exhibit featured dioramas that represented the experiences of Mexican migrant farmworkers in Vermont, and the class focuses on teaching students about migrant labor in Vermont through art.
Fifth- and sixth-graders at the Lincoln Community School created art inspired by writing, photographs and art by and about migrant workers. That student art went on display along with the dioramas at the Vermont Folklife Center in the spring of 2010. Lincoln teacher Alice Leeds, who led the project, is one of a number of local teachers and leaders who will help teach the Treleven workshop.
“It’s all about helping groups to translate the emotional experience into writing, art and theater,” said Mitchell.
Looking even further ahead, Mitchell said she hopes Treleven will broaden its offering of classes, possibly putting to use the skills of its board members, who include five local families: John and Rita Elder, Peggy and Shel Sax, Benj Putnam and Erin Ruble, and Ethan Mitchell and Susannah McCandless.
Mitchell said that to build on the agricultural side of the education at Treleven, the board is hoping to offer a farming internship by next summer.
And ultimately, Mitchell said Treleven will move toward a more coordinated certificate program or master’s degree that combines sustainability, farming, land management and spirituality. Mitchell said the role that spirituality and spiritual renewal plays in working the land is often lost in the agricultural master’s programs that schools offer.
“There’s a role that spirituality plays in the way people interact with the land,” she said. “But there tends to be a disconnect in the (educational) programs.”
Building a larger program may take a while, since it’s still in its formative stages, Mitchell said. But there’s no question that any program that Treleven runs will be intimately connected with the land where it is taught.
“We want to share what it’s like here,” she said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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