by Laura Johnson
New Life Farm is aptly named – while I failed to get Cory Bryk’s explanation of where the name came from during my July visit to his farm, I can imagine several.
When Cory got out of the Marines in 2007, which he had joined after finishing high school in upstate New York, he wasn’t sure what to do next. But, knowing he wanted to make a peaceful and purposeful life with his new wife, Jenny, in Boone, he started a home garden.
"It was really therapeutic and purposeful,” Cory said. “As a Marine or a soldier you’re trained and taught that your job is to defend this country…you’re protecting the innocent, you’re protecting our American ideals, but I think just as important as protecting people is feeding them, providing for them.”
The transition from the military to agriculture was a natural one, Cory explained. “The way you’re conditioned as a soldier translates well to this occupation because it’s long hours, it’s physically demanding, it’s a lot of problem solving, critical thinking and overcoming hard obstacles,” he said.
“And that’s a lot of what you’re trained to do in the military. There have been times over the past three years where had I not been trained physically and mentally the way I was in the military, a lot of things would have overwhelmed me…so it was a good way for me to transition and find something that still fulfills me.”
Cory knew from the start that an office job would never fulfill him. “There’s kind of this grassroots movement of us young, first-generation farmers who are realizing that all this luxury and comfort and wealth that are emphasized as imperative, they aren't important. We’re realizing they're not really that satisfying.
“As a small farmer I’m a business owner, I’m an entrepreneur, and in some ways I’ve limited myself to a job that’s solving a problem,” he continued. “A genuine problem, a real-world problem like hunger, poverty, things like this, those are the things I want to devote my life to. I don’t want to just work a job so I can retire one day and live happily ever after. I want to leave a legacy and feel like I’ve contributed, and I feel by doing this that’s what I’m doing.”
Cory first put his hand to the ground on New Life Farm in fall 2011 after slowly but surely teaching himself the skills he’d need to make it as a farmer. “We gradually replaced things off our grocery list with things we produce,” he recalled. When he and his family wanted fresh, organic produce, he planted seeds. When they sought free-range, local eggs, he got chickens. When Jenny wanted honey for baking, he installed some beehives.
“So I kinda jumped into it. I put the cart before the horse sometimes,” he laughed. “But I learned to do it eventually.” He sought advice from the farmers at the market, who were eager to offer their help and support.
“There’s kind of this grassroots movement of us young, first-generation farmers who are realizing that all this luxury and comfort and wealth that are emphasized as imperative, they aren't important. We’re realizing they're not really that satisfying."
“It kind of snowballed over time,” Cory said. “And I knew I really liked what I was doing because the only thing that frustrated me about it was that I couldn’t devote more time to it.” He was earning his degree in Sustainable Development from ASU at the same time, which broadened his perspective and understanding of issues related to agriculture.
“I started learning about the economic, environmental, social implications of our industrial food system,” Cory said. “I classify myself as a problem solver, and the way I perceive our industrial food system is as a problem. It requires a big solution, and I knew that I single-handedly couldn’t solve this big problem, but I wanted to be a small part of it.”
New Life Farm is now producing organic chicken, duck eggs, Thanksgiving turkeys, pastured pork and a variety of field crops on 20 acres. “Anything that our climate will allow us to grow, we try to grow it,” Cory said. He sells his products at the Watauga Market and also offers a mid-week community supported agriculture (CSA) program.
New Life Farm, then, offers new life in many senses – it provided a new life for Cory and his family (which has grown to include three children), for the land, and for his customers who come to learn the value of eating and supporting local, sustainably grown food. He’s participated in the Farm Tour since 2012 to tell his story and spread his message.
“Even if people were seeing us week after week at the farmers’ market, they were just seeing the product,” Cory said. “They didn’t see really what went into it or where exactly it came from. And there’s little time at our farmers’ market to really have a conversation with people where I kinda get on my soapbox here and tell our story,” he smiled.
“So the Farm Tour provides an opportunity to have people come out here and in some ways I can finally talk about it and show it, and people can get excited or at least gain some degree of appreciation for what I’m doing.”
He challenges visitors to New Life Farm to begin the process of questioning: “I kind of charge you to ask yourself - where did this come from, and who and what am I supporting when I buy this?” he said. “Whether it’s a bag of coffee, a tomato, clothes. But food’s a good place to start.”
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture
PO Box 67
Lower Level, 171 Grand Blvd
Boone, NC 28607
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture (BRWIA) is dedicated to strengthening the High Country's local food system by supporting women and their families with resources, education, and skills related to sustainable food and agriculture.