Pennsylvania's Bryn Gweled is one of the nation's oldest intentional communities, where helping each other is a way of life.
Photo by Bradley C Bower
Though Nelson and Kristin Arias had never heard the term “intentional community,” a bit of research revealed that was just what they were looking for. They found their community in Bryn Gweled Homesteads in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
“We’d always talked about how cool it would be if people who cared about the same things could get together and create their own neighborhood,” Nelson says. “We’d lived in ‘neighborhoods’ where people literally never talked to each other. Then, Kristin found Bryn Gweled online and we were fascinated.”
Now celebrating its 75th year, Bryn Gweled (pronounced Brin Guh-WELL-ed ) was formed by residents of a Philadelphia Quaker settlement house who pooled their resources to buy land together. Bryn Gweled is a Welsh term meaning “Hill of Vision,” and the founders’ dream was a community where each family could have enough land to create individual homesteads, with opportunities to enjoy outdoor recreation while working together for the common good. The community now comprises 75 families, each with a 99-year renewable lease on a 2-acre homestead, plus about 90 acres of shared land, some of it in permanent conservancy. Work parties maintain roads, a community center, a swimming pool, a soccer field, a community garden and woodland trails.
Susan Corson-Finnerty, who’s lived in Bryn Gweled for six years, says residents share a wide variety of resources. There’s the wood chipper and wood splitter co-op, a 15-family CSA that’s hired a farmer to grow food and teach gardening skills, and groups that operate a food- and coffee-buying co-op and a monthly “freecycling” event.
“We have an online community Listserv that makes sharing resources and other kinds of help extremely easy,” Corson-Finnerty says. “There’s also a health and welfare committee that quietly keeps track of which households have a member with serious illness or injury, and provides meals, rides to the doctor, and other support for as long as the neighbor needs or wants them.”
All community members — even those who inherit their homes — go through a thoughtful, deliberate process to join. Hans Peters’ parents moved to Bryn Gweled in 1946, when he was 3 years old. After college, he left for 20 years, but returned and has been there ever since.
“Homesteading is part of the DNA here,” he says, “along with the idea of living an Earth-centered life that’s connected to the land. We are all involved to some degree in each other’s lives. But there’s also plenty of opportunity to be alone here, if you need solitude from time to time.”
Want to learn more about our 2015 Homestead Hamlets? Read Joining Forces for More Sustainable Communities to learn more.
K.C. Compton is senior editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, and formerly was Editor in Chief of our sister publications, The Herb Companion and GRIT. A huge fan of the food chain, from molecules to meals on the table, K.C. is passionate about the idea that most of what we need to be healthy can be found in the garden.