New Haven couple sponsors workshops

NEW HAVEN — Don and Cheryl Mitchell knew they had found a jewel when they purchased their 130-acre farm in New Haven back in 1972. They raised their two children surrounded by rolling pastureland, majestic cliffs, stunning foliage and a flock of sheep that the couple continues to raise.
Now retired and their children well into adulthood, the Mitchells are sharing their jewel with others eager to learn, meditate and hike the rustic trails that Don Mitchell has blazed through what they affectionately call “Treleven.” The property, under their careful stewardship, has evolved into a nonprofit learning center and retreat collaborative that promotes environmental awareness, social action, reverence of nature and innovation, according to the Treleven website.
“Treleven” would have been Don Mitchell’s last name, had his father, as a young boy, not been asked to change his name by his stepfather.
“Knowing that my name would have been ‘Treleven,’ we are trying to keep it alive through the farm,” Don said.
Throughout this summer and fall, Treleven will host a variety of programs — offered for free or simply to defray the costs of invited speakers and/or course materials — to people of all ages and interests.
“We feel very fortunate to be able to share this place,” said Cheryl Mitchell, who many county residents might recall as a founder of the Addison County Parent/Child Center and former deputy commissioner of the Vermont Agency of Human Services under Gov. Howard Dean. “I think there is a lot of interest in this intersection between spirit and nature and social justice, and how a place can actually support people feeling more calm and happy about their lives and also doing things for the world.”
Don Mitchell recently retired after a 25-year career at Middlebury College, where he taught environmental studies, English and film/video. Among the courses he taught was “Visions of Nature,” through which his students took turns coming to the farm for an evening of delivering lambs. The Mitchells’ relationship with the college has continued even into Don’s retirement. Students still come to Treleven to study the abundant flora and fauna that flourish there. Treleven is also home to endangered bats, which the Mitchells take great pains to protect.
“We never posted the land,” Cheryl Mitchell noted, adding the couple would frequently host some informal “skill-share” gatherings for people who wanted to pick up new knowledge or skills.
“Don likes having a hammer in his hand and I like working with people,” she said.
The couple, now with more time to spend at home, have decided to increase access to the farm and have made a series of improvements to their facilities. Along with the defined hiking trails, Treleven now includes a picturesque pond and various outbuildings, including some gazebos.
Several years ago, the Mitchells launched a summer camp for neighborhood kids. The weekly Treleven Nature Program encourages children to delve into science and nature — including such topics as water cycle, erosion and the nature of air. The cost: $10 per class to cover camp materials.
That camp has morphed into a whole host of Treleven programs aimed at adults, with some of the offerings listed through Bristol-based Hogback Community College.
Governed by a board of five married couples sharing an eclectic set of passions and skills, Treleven offers such programs as:
•  Guidance on meditation and conflict resolution.
•  “Stillness days” spent exploring the farm in silent meditation.
•  Practicum on sheep obstetrics and lambing.
•  Retreats and training seminars for directors of childcare centers.
•  Promotion/implementation of the “Education in Human Values” curriculum to help school students become more respectful of themselves and others.
•  Tai chi.
•  A writing workshop called “Stories in the Land,” led by Don Mitchell and John Elder, who taught English and Environmental Studies at Middlebury College and the Bread Loaf School of English for 37 years. Participants will, among other things, write essays connecting present-day attitudes to nature. Plans call for those essays to be published as part of a Web anthology, Don Mitchell noted.
Treleven has benefitted from the help of a Middlebury College intern, Megan Cousino of Ferrisburgh, who is learning about food production. She also assists the Parent/Child Center.
The Mitchells’ son, Ethan, also participates in Treleven activities and lives in a separate home on the property with his family. He teaches at the Walden Project, an outdoor school with a heavy emphasis on environmental studies and run by Vergennes Union High School and the Willowell Foundation. The Mitchell’s daughter, Anaïs, is a well-known singer-songwriter who comes back to Treleven whenever she can. She will be performing at Middlebury’s Festival on-the-Green on July 8.
More information about Treleven can be found at treleven.wordpress.com.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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