Evan Dayringer and Britten Stringwell
by Patrick Dunn
They've created a line of raw energy bars, established a small farm, and revived the "Yellow Barn" community arts venue. But Evan Dayringer, thirty-two, and Britten Stringwell, thirty, agree that their latest creative collaboration--the arrival, eight months ago, of daughter Liipa Daywell--has brought a new sense of "organization" to their myriad endeavors. "I think she's helped us get our ducks in a row," says Stringwell.
It's a freezing cold January day, and they're at the Barn, a rough-hewn old building just west of the Ann Arbor Railroad tracks on Huron. As they describe their work intended to create "hubs for holistic living" in Ann Arbor, the couple are in constant motion--passing the baby back and forth; pacing with big, bounding steps to calm her: or moving from one worn couch to another. (Liipa's first name derives from Lip Hop, a pet name her parents had for her while she was still in the womb; they created her last name by blending their own.)
A loose, stylish blouse peeking out from Stringwell's winter layers hints at her background as a designer and seamstress--she makes her own clothes and has supported herself selling handmade "unihoods" (think hoodie minus the sweatshirt). Dayringer, a math grad turned farmer, is lean and strong, with short brown hair and an intense gaze.
Their advocacy for the Barn began about five years ago, when Stringwell started working with then-property manager Bill Gross to organize community events like the "Bizarre Dance," a combined open mic night and dance party. "We might have a high school swimmer and then a janitor" up to the mic, she says, "or some college students doing a swordfight and then a musician."
The barn has recently become even more central to the couple's lives. Last year, Gross left, and the space went dark. Stringwell and Dayringer spearheaded a push to maintain the barn as a community center. They joined a like-minded group of artists to form an L3C, a for-profit business entity emphasizing
social benefits and minimal income, to rent and manage the building. They've since cultivated a busy schedule of events including concerts, craft nights, fitness workshops, and a revival of the Bizarre Dance.
"It's a center for just meeting your neighbor," says Dayringer. "It's a center for having someplace to go with your kid." The common thread is building community.
Dayringer says his mother, Charo Ledon, taught him that "you can make your community." Born in Cuba, she moved to Ann Arbor alone at age twenty. She married (Evan is one of two sons), ran small businesses, and now runs the Casa Latina community center.
At Michigan State, Dayringer alternated between science majors before settling on math. He earned his undergrad degree in 2008 and thought of going on to grad school but soon became frustrated with the cost of school and the "high stress" of trying to win an academic position. Instead, he pursued a hands-on education in farming and food production, working at Frog Holler Farm, the Brinery, and Chelsea's Tantre Farm.
Stringwell graduated from Huron High and went on to the U-M, where she designed her own major in "environment and behavior." Studying architecture, psychology, and natural resources, she explains, she learned how to create spaces that "feel warm and welcoming and inspiring." She also took a second major in graphic design, graduating in 2005.
They met in 2009 at the Ann Arbor Farmers Market. He was working with Frog Holler, and she was selling her raw-food "B Bars." "He really liked the bars and came and got them regularly," Stringwell recalls. "I think he really liked them, unless he just wanted to talk to me." Dayringer is quick to clear up the matter: "No, I really liked the bars!"
He started Eat Ideas Farm in 2012. After going through two small locations in as many growing seasons, this year he'll be working a plot at Packard and Nordman, just down the road from the Cobblestone Farm Market, where Dayringer is an organizing member and a regular vendor. Neither Dayringer nor Stringwell regards the previous locations as failures; Stringwell describes them as "a series of experiments," a learning process that will lead to an ideal end location. However, she's hoping the newest site proves successful, since it's a neighborhood the couple would like to settle in eventually--currently, they're living with Ledon at her home on the West Side.
The Yellow Barn is bringing in enough income to cover its rent, but any extra is plowed back into improving the venue. So at the moment, Stringwell's B Bars are the couple's more financially lucrative project. With occasional help from a few friends and family members, they make bars three days a week, producing around 1,000 bars a month for sale at area farmers' markets and the People's Food Co-op.
Dayringer says they'd like to raise that number "quite a bit." They've rigged up a kitchen in the Barn, and since Liipa's birth they've been working on food safety certification and improved packaging in order to introduce the bars at bigger retailers like Whole Foods. Stringwell says all the elements for an expansion are in place except funding; they've taken out "really small loans" from her mother, but otherwise want to maintain sole control of B Bars. "We'll still be able to do it," Dayringer says. "It'll just be a longer slog."
The young couple says their community of family and friends will keep them in Ann Arbor. They note that their college educations could always help kick in income--she can do graphic design, he can tutor math--but "as far as going into the traditional mainstream economy, I don't think they'd have us," Dayringer says. "If you've been out of that, or even in that, there's like eight job seekers for every position. I don't even see that as an option."
He doesn't sound discouraged. "All these different projects--B Bars, Eat Ideas Farm, the Yellow Barn, our family--everything is sort of coming together on a shoestring."