- The Farm
- The Alliance
The summer on the land has been amazing – living with the smell of trees and plants constantly, being able to see the stars at night, having my work require hands in the dirt…
The goats are going back tomorrow; they were wonderful but it just took too much time to take care of them the way I wanted. (I loved taking them for walks; I didn’t love trying to get them back into the fence.) Hopefully in the future of more residents, there will be goats again, and chickens and other animals as well. Here is a photo of “Brave” letting my granddaughter pet him.
Here we have three events on the calendar, two land-related and one Zen teaching.
Wednesday, September 10, 6:30-8:30 at the Northfield Buddhist Center on Division Street: Zen practice group, begins with a half hour of meditation, then presentation and discussion. RSVP greatly appreciated. (This group also meets 9/24, 10/8 and 10/22.)
Friday, September 12, 9-5 (or whatever) at Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault. Erosion Control Work Day – We’ll stabilize a hillside and do some stream diversion, to protect the bridge and access to our northern woods. Strong backs are helpful, but there are light tasks as well. RSVP for carpooling, lunch, and coordination. (It’s possible to get paid for working this day – let me know)
Saturday, September 27, 1-4 pm (or 9-4). at Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Fblt. Sheet mulch workshop – learn the natural method of gardening without tilling. Suggested donation $5; or come at 9, help move materials into place, and no donation. RSVP for carpooling. Morning people, bring your lunch. There will be information and handouts.
Carpooling is more than recommended, it’s almost essential due to parking limits and climate change. RSVP is to help planning.
I’ll send some reflections when I can.
To get event reminders in your email, use the wheedu page: http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/
It’s starting to look like fall, and still unimaginably beautiful. How can a world be so precious?
The bridge looks beautiful, but the area to the right of it is washing out more with every rain. I no longer use it to walk to the beautiful bluffs on the Cannon River, because it seems that fragile. Less than 4′ wide in sections, and washing out from underneath.
On Monday and Tuesday, September 1-2, I invite people to come and help solve this problem. Depending on what tools we have, we may move rocks and/or build a wall; we definitely will work on water management, including moving trees into place for diversion, and creating overflow spaces upstream.
Volunteers will receive work exchange credit for future farm events; otherwise $10/hour. Most of this is heavy work, but there are plenty of other options beginning with a cook. There is sleeping space indoors and outdoors.
I absolutely need to know if and when you are coming, and whatever you would like to tell me about skills.
(The next two events at the farm are an all day meditation retreat (sesshin) September 20, and a sheet mulch workshop September 27. If you want to get more involved, sign up at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/
The rains have come. What was dry has become green, and as an extra blessing the mosquitoes have not returned. For over a week, every day it would promise to storm and then quit, returning to sunny blue skies. So it’s no surprise that I left my laundry out and it got soaked.
The goats have escaped twice; it was not a disaster, and yesterday I took them for a walk. They nibbled here and there, leaving my lawn looking much better. I did pruning; they disappeared a few minutes after I turned my back. Repeatedly. But it’s a joy to watch them going wherever they want, jumping and climbing and so forth. Because of them, I found the place in the creek that can easily be dammed for a pond – sand beach and all.
As I put up the fence while they watched, I imagined they saying “Hands up Don’t shoot.” Not quite right, of course, I am merely imprisoning them. But Ferguson is on my mind.
The amount of work to do is overwhelming. All the time: freeze another quart of beans, save seeds, make vinegars and pickles (exciting new learning), look for tomatoes and zucchini. Forget about housecleaning; I barely keep food and semi-clean clothing going. Before winter: get wood stove in house. Cold frames or something to protect my late vegetables. Cut firewood. Varnish the deck and seal a couple potential leaks.
Before the next torrential rains: erosion prevention in two places (protecting the driveway and the land bridge to the north half of the land). Yesterday we started working on the driveway part: me, Joe (farm manager with many more skills), and two 13-year-old girls who were very impressive. The piles of rocks in the picture need to be enhanced with a LOT more work.
And I wanted to remove buckthorn, use the money from the grant. The goats will eat it, but it’s not going that fast. I want bunny fences on the main garden, and sheet mulch, and there are still trees to plant that have been waiting since spring. (Most are alive and healthy.) I want more time walking in the woods – especially now that the mosquitoes have gone.
If anyone would like to come here and do heavy physical labor for a week or two, I’m happy to house and pay you. Even medium-heavy labor would be helpful. There is a guest room. You might make it possible for me to actually go to Ferguson for a week in September, as I would like to do.
September 20, one-day sesshin (Zen retreat). Actually this may be canceled if I actually go to Ferguson.
September 26, sheet mulch workshop. We’ll sheet mulch much of the main garden, including making some keyhole beds. Orientation: How to do this in your home garden. Without buying materials. No charge, but there will be a parking fee if you drive alone in a car. To discourage fossil fuel use, and also we don’t have that much parking space here.
Yesterday a friend and mentor came over, we talked, and we went for a walk in the dark. Only starlight, except a little glow from the two closest towns. She talked with me about listening to the land, about the feel of it (which she finds more like Anishinaabeg than like Dakota, and she has connections with both), about trusting, about how it would help me.
The day before Beth called from Cambodia to tell me to stop imagining that I was not practicing Zen or not doing enough. She said – “Stop thinking you should be doing something else.” I am finding a way to live that will last; this is worth while. It’s okay that I’ve always wanted to live like this. And – “This time will never come again; be here for it.”
Because I’m living in paradise. Yet occasionally, reading posts from Doug Grandt with Moccasins on the Ground or wherever he is, I remember living on the road and walking under the sky, day after day, and being part of that community. Here, mostly alone, I am in a way underground, growing into the earth here, being led by the frogs and snakes and sounds of eagles and water and wind. It is a miracle. A little lonely, but that’s how it is sometimes. I think this is my retreat time, though it looks like work and busyness, and when it’s finished then people will begin to come and live here.
My friend told me to take four years to listen, to learn what the land has in mind. It’s hard to imagine that level of patience, when I’m thinking things could collapse at any moment and I want the food growing now. I need to be told again, again, and again.
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees in a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,
If we will make our seasons welcome here, asking not too much of earth or heaven,
then a long time after we are dead, the lives our lives prepare will live here,
houses strongly placed upon the valley sides, fields and meadows rich in the windows. The river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it bird song like a canopy. ……
This is no mere paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.
You can find the whole poem online. It encourages me, even though he wrote it long before climate change was in our awareness and thus it may not be possible any more. Every action we take is a ceremony, an act that influences the future of ourselves and the world. There is no waste, no time off; our play matters as much as our so-called work and maybe more. Beth tells me, what I write is full of life. I am surrounded by life here, and doing my best to allow it to re-create me.
Next week I go to the North American Permaculture Convergence; in October at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference I offer a session talking about the Compassionate Earth Walk as ceremony, and co-lead a session on Buddhist response to environmental crisis. And by November I hope to finish the editing of my teacher’s major commentary on Dogen’s Mountains and Waters fascicle – the core teaching about our relationship with all that lives.
Please hold me in your hearts. Come when you can. Conversation happens at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/ And there is a place there for “supporters,” which is actually a kind of classified ad which is still free, and which will eventually generate some income for the farm.
Love to all,
Seven goats arrived Thursday morning, to spend a few months eating brush and giving me a chance to figure out whether I want to live with goats. So far the only hard part is needing to move the fencing every few days. They still won’t let humans come near, even though I’m spending half an hour sitting quietly in their pasture every day. I think we’re doing a little better.
Also: we’re in harvest season. I went away for 2 1/2 weeks and returned to find weeds overgrown like crazy and a lot of food: peas, beans, greens, the first zucchini – and a lot of promises. I found the raspberries! I get unreasonably excited about these small things.
There are lots of things to do: get the house off propane heat before winter, the big one. Work on water management before the next flood season, probably fall, to avoid more erosion. And take care of the gardens, shrubs and trees already planted, plant more, harvest, mow the lawn…daily life.
My two weeks away were at a training institute for Soto Zen priests, on the topic of caring for the Zen community. I’ve also had helpful conversations with friends and supporters. Several people have told me “Just do your practice.” Some things are becoming clearer. This is not the time to invite students to live here – not until the place has actually become a monastery, whatever that means. It’s also too early to be doing a lot of outreach. I need to settle in.
There was a discussion on hermit practice by Red Pine, which helped me immensely. “… in China the hermit has always been seeking the wisdom with which to guide society…. Persons who could “break the mold” and become teachers almost always required a period of seclusion for maturation.” This is my time to clarify what my practice is, hanging out with the plants and the stars and the land and finding my own rhythm of practice, more than any words, and only as isolated as I care to be.
Though I’m not offering much, zazen is different – just part of my practice. The first one-day sesshin here, last Saturday, felt like coming home. One person came for part of the day and requested instruction, and we sat together toward the end of the day. I’ve posted a sesshin schedule through December.
If you would like to get email announcements of events here, sign up at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/. If you’re signed up here, you’ll just get the occasional post – which are also at the wheedu site.
All of this is in context with what’s happening in the world. Death and flames in Gaza. Drought and floods and climate change, many places, and both practical and legal dealings with all of it. “Life-and-death is the Great Matter; impermanence is swift. Do not let your mind slacken,” says Dogen, founder of Soto Zen, my home. We are called to attention.
I came home after 2 weeks in a Zen priest training, and today is my first day. It’s hot, the garden, weeds, and grass are flourishing along with most of the baby trees, and tomorrow I get eleven baby goats to take care of for the summer. Meanwhile, needing one day off and time for reflection, instead I went out on the tractor to mow. And I enjoyed it. The world is out of control: Gaza is a nightmare, climate change is out of control, and the conversation on Facebook is full of extremes (to mention just three). My life is out of control: flood damage to prevent before the next rains, keeping relationships and handling the gardens, and the book to edit. And what if that mysterious thing in my lungs actually is cancerous? Once again I don’t have health insurance. I’m acting as though I have decades more to live and work.
So, instead of sitting zazen or sitting with my journal, I went out and had the pleasure of watching the long grasses fall, making neat borders between tame and wild, enjoying the power of how fossil fuels are so much faster than one body with a scythe. (And wondered how fast I can convert lots of this lawn to better things. All steep lawn places WILL become gardens.) Watching the frogs jump, and noting gladly that they always move before the blades arrive.
And then the mower quit mowing. Is it expressing me? I suspect it’s a certain bushing, and the question of whether I can get it up onto blocks and look underneath – safely – or haul it into town (which requires getting it up onto the truck) – I have postponed until tomorrow.
Vairochana Farm – farming things:
We have planted a couple dozen fruit trees and bushes, most of which look alive and healthy. There are several small gardens and a lot of vegetables that look well; some are overgrown, some going to seed, and when the time comes I will have lots of squash, melons, cucumbers, and more. I remember little, but the plants seem forgiving. Some of the perennials (rhubarb, scorzonera) are thriving while others (asparagus) are faltering. It’s all learning for me; I’d just started gardening after my first permaculture course, then forgot most of what I’d learned. The rabbit fences are not up, and a search for “rabbits” and “green beans” tells me not that they probably ate my beans, but that I shouldn’t give my pet rabbits too many. I’ll take that as a yes.
For most of spring I foraged; I love wood nettles and they are so healthful! There are still young ones out there to gather, and it’s on my “list” to fill the freezer. But yesterday I froze radish greens instead, and today probably lamb’s-quarter and Asian greens. Have to look up how to save seed from the Asian greens, and whether to plant some more. The poison ivy is doing really well, even where I tore it out. As is the wild cucumber. Wild grapes are an unexpected menace, but some seem to actually have grapes; excitement!
There are tentative plans for public programs, still without dates: building a solar oven, building a solar food dehydrator – large!!! Buckthorn removal, for which some government agency will pay us – but are there really volunteers for that?
Primary thoughts for income are selling off black walnut trees (there are so many they need thinning for the health of the forest), and maple syrup in the spring. Other possibilities include mushrooms, black walnuts. Long term plans include chestnuts and hazelnuts, other nuts and fruit, maybe sunflower oil, a plant nursery. All require investment, tools, and learning.
Tomorrow I borrow 11 kid goats for the summer; their job is weed removal, and my job is to find out whether I can do the goat thing – and get my own goats next year. Chickens, the same question. And there are things to do before cold weather, primarily finding another way to heat the house. (Update: five goats. Less scary.)
Vairochana Farm – community and practice
I’m alone here, though many people have visited and the “we” means me and Joe, the part time farm manager. The work wants more people to live here. But I am encouraged by the words of Red Pine (Bill Porter): “My conversations with hermits in China led me to conclude that [for them] seclusion was like going to graduate school. Afterwards they can teach….Persons who could “break the mold” and become teachers almost always required a period of seclusion for maturation.” So there is no hurry. Eventually, I hope there will be six long-term residents (the legal limit), peers, along with teaching that includes residential group practice.
We had a dedication ceremony in June, about 20 of us, in addition to some private blessings with individuals from different traditions.
I am resolved to begin holding sesshin here, alone or with others, a gentle invitation. Here are some dates:
(Schedule will be the basic Antaiji 4 am – 9 pm “just sitting,” modified for practical matters such as need to cook, possible animal care, beginners’ support, self-care, etc. Call for more information.)
Also the Northfield sitting group (formerly a class) will resume in September, alternate Wednesday evenings.
I strongly hope to offer the Dharma freely, as I received it, and support teaching and practice through farm activities. And I hope that there will be donors. When it’s time to build, there will be a fundraising campaign.
I’ll try to write more often.
In the middle of moving to the farm, I notice that I haven’t been updating. I’ll add a photo or two and brief information.
The farm is 17 acres near Faribault, MN, in the Cannon River Wild and Scenic District. The house is a converted barn, and one of the projects will be adding bedrooms.
During the first summer, things will be fairly informal, with focus on gardening, land care, and care of buildings. It will be possible to visit, and open events will be posted here. There will be opportunities for Zen practice, posted here, and here’s a description:
Vairochana Farm: summer practice
The land for Vairochana Farm has just been purchased. During summer and fall of 2014, you are invited to live, work and practice here. Practice style will be Antaiji/Uchiyama Roshi style.
Details: morning zazen plus additional retreats and study opportunities; approximately 30 hours of work per week; initial stay 1 week, with mutual agreement for longer stays; no charge, but refundable deposit is due on acceptance. We hope to be accessible to people with disabilities including chemical sensitivity.
Vairochana Farm is located near Faribault, Minnesota, on 17 acres with a converted barn and several outbuildings. The land is woods, hills, pasture, and creeks, walking distance to the Cannon River and about an hour from Minneapolis.
The mission statement is in the May 19 post.
I have made an offer on a 17-acre farm and if all goes well we will close in late April. I’ll be looking for summer guests/interns/workers to help plant trees, fix up outbuildings, and whatever is needed. It is in the Cannon River Wild and Scenic district.
More details will be added after closing, but if you’re interested in coming for part of the summer please write a note now and we can stay in touch.
I’m looking for people of good will and strong energy to help me build Vairochana Farm, a small permaculture farm with flavors of Zen, activism, and a strong sense of community, near Northfield, MN.
You can come for a while, live and work here, or we can be finding out whether you will join the long-term community.
I’ve backed out of the original plan and am looking for beautiful land on a river. This might involve building from scratch.
Farm skill, garden skills, permaculture design, and construction skills are particularly welcome. But there’s plenty of simple labor too.
The intention is to live and farm in a way that supports the earth’s regeneration, grows food, and moves against climate change. The house will be made energy-independent; we will store rainwater for drinking and design a water-saving landscape. Our community will eventually include gardens, orchard, forest, wild plants, and animals.
This will be a residential community, with both long-term and short-term members, sharing social, spiritual and work life with friends from the broader community. We will find our own way of being together, using wisdom from many past groups. Children will be welcome.
We intend a strong and friendly presence in our local area, including hosting events from barn dances to community meetings, and participating as responsible citizens in building a strong and sustainable region.
I hope we will develop a shared spiritual life on some level. As a Zen priest, I practice daily sitting meditation and will be offering occasional retreats, workshops, and classes. Living here does not obligate you to participate, but you need to feel comfortable around it, particularly if you become a long-term resident. People who think spirituality is silly probably would not be happy here.
Human existence, and the continued existence of the planet as we know it, are endangered. It may already be too late. Thus the issue of life and death informs every action in a way never known in human history. Finding an appropriate response to this situation is part of the intention here. Exactly what that means will be discovered as we go forward.
We’ll be on land that should belong to the Dakota people. I’m looking into ways to address that – which at this point just means making some contacts.
The house will be smoke-free and scent-free, because of my allergies. It might be workable for a person with chemical sensitivities – check it out.
Food – ? No longer vegetarian, I eat mostly organic, whole, fresh foods. I love cooking and eating together.
Alcohol in moderation please, and no illegal drugs.
I am a single woman, 64, with children and grandchildren in the Twin Cities and elsewhere. I expect them to visit, and would expect you might also have visitors. Other things about me – I am a psychotherapist (retired) and an alternative healer (still play with it), spent the last 12 years of my life in Zen training and received dharma transmission from Shohaku Okumura. I have been gardening since the permaculture design course in 2006, and am in recovery from Western civilization.
This “to-do” list of farm projects was for a particular farm, but is still informative:
Rehabilitate the barn, animals below, possibly workshop space above, gathering water from the roof.
Chickens, goats, sheep, possibly cows that provide eggs and milk (and cheese etc) and mow the lawn, dig or weed the gardens, etc. As soon as we have a stable enough community to care for them.
Edible forest: expand and support the existing orchard, plant forest guilds near the road, learn to harvest the gifts of existing trees (oak, maple).
Build or modify the house, with insulation, enough bedrooms, large solar greenhouse, water collection, solar panels, partial green roof, and water collection. House is to be energy-producing.
Build at least 5-10,000 gallons of potable water collection we will not rely on well water.
Large root cellar.
Recycle/compost all wastes.
Sauna or steam room for luxurious bathing.
Pond, hopefully swimmable but unlikely, or river or creek.
Zendo and other public spaces.
Any existing outbuildings are salvaged, insulated and made functional.