- The Farm
- The Alliance
It’s fall here; the colors are in full swing and you can see through the trees – all the way to the river. Time to gather firewood, install wood stoves (got a cook stove), and finish processing the food brought in due to frost. Collecting black walnuts with no idea when I will finish them. Get the mower running for one last mow. In spring we plant trees, and remove about half the lawn.
It’s a busy time; this will be brief. I’ll start with farm and practical notes, then move on to Zen and spiritual and community things. I’ve started a personal blog at www.CompassionateEarth.wordpress.com, which had been about the Walk. I’ll write there occasionally.
Land: there were two places with major erosion problems – the culvert under the driveway, and the “land bridge” that was pictured here before. This Sunday the neighbors who share the driveway will be getting together to do culvert maintenance with rock and landscaping fabric. I can stop worrying, and I hope it will be a time of building friendships. On the land bridge, there’s been some work using fallen trees and dirt-filled burlap bags, while we waited for a bid from a contractor who is also a permaculturist. He put in a bid, we talked, and it seems like we can get the work done for maybe $5000 if we also get a lot of volunteer labor. More on money later.
I’m working with the most experienced local permaculture designer, Paula Westmoreland, to design a practical woody polyculture farm. While she observes thousands of things to do – for example improving the health of the woods – she is helping me to take reasonable steps that I can actually complete. So we’ll plant some trees next spring (chestnut, mulberry, apple, pear, Korean nut pine) and some berry bushes, all with proper preparation and enough time to make sure they succeed. The following year will include hazelnuts, more pines, and I forget.
Buildings: Last week it was so cold I had to turn on the propane. And this is early fall. I bought a wood cookstove that was not all rust, and Joe is coming today to start prep for installing it. I’m actively talking with the masonry stove builder, who thinks that might be November or December. I paid the propane company to fill the tank, and am still concerned about running out while I’m away in January. The architect (Joe) may do some interior work while I’m away, which could give a few more bedrooms and other practical things. The vision for six bedrooms plus a zendo and plenty of other space is pretty clear though not in drawings yet. But we don’t have a plan for storing summer heat for winter, and I’m restless about that. I imagine myself cutting wood with axes and saws at age 100, and I’d rather not.
Meanwhile there’s a very small pile of firewood ready, but two good chain saws, and dry wood scattered around the property waiting to be picked up.
The dream of a separate greenhouse/farm work building is still a dream. In the long run, it’s essential. It waits for people and money, both.
Community: There have been several visitors. There have been volunteers, but not a lot. One friend and one lovely new woman came to the sheet mulch workshop; we got in two keyhole beds but I consider the relationships worth the advertising. I am trying to start a Faribault area permaculture guild or work league or whatever – so we can help each other at our farms. I’ve been too busy and distracted to send out a note about that, but there are 6-8 local groups I know about who seem like candidates. Last week Ben came for five days. We sat zazen morning and evening every day; I set the alarm and got out of bed on a schedule; it was lovely and I promised myself to continue. We worked morning and a couple hours in afternoon, took turns cooking, and got a lot done. We varnished the deck, cleaned a lot of things, moved furniture, did farm and yard work – all the unglamorous things that I avoid asking of volunteers. And we took a day off, as one needs to do.
So “community” sounds like “getting work done.” That’s not what it is, but the work situation is pretty serious, as everyone on a farm knows at this time of year.
I made brochures and took them to a Zen priests’ conference, where I also spoke on environmental activism and told the story of the Compassionate Earth Walk. A month before I’d taken brochures to the North American Permaculture Convergence. I’m trying not to hurry in recruiting residents, because the people I want are the people who want to sit zazen and work cooperatively and all that. Conversations are happening, one at a time, and I’m expecting that all will work out in its own time. Turning the house over to the carpenters while I’m away is totally appropriate; there will be space for more people at the time when people may be ready to come.
Money: Modifying and insulating the house will take twice as much money as I have personally, so there will be a fundraising campaign for that. The greenhouse building stays a dream until money comes in. Meanwhile I make decisions like: “Spend money and time on the land bridge, or let it go forever.” “Spend an extra $5000 for a stove made from soapstone instead of brick, which will result in 10% less wood cutting in perpetuity.” And there are future questions like “How will we actually collect and save drinking water from the roof?” (Right now there are two 30-gallon barrels sitting outside the front door, to be brought inside before they freeze. The well is on the neighbors’ electricity, and they don’t mind if I convert it to solar, but why waste good rain water?)
The broad concept was that farming would support us, once the construction and plantings are done. It will take at least a few years because we’re investing in trees, but there is income here that I’m not making because I don’t have enough time or knowledge. (That would be more foraging, harvesting all the black walnuts, tapping walnut trees now for sap and syrup, selling timber, and going through all the antique tools left here, for sale or use.) In spring I hope to be ready for sap, mushrooms, and much more.
All this is being funded for the moment by money inherited from my parents – which would normally become my children’s inheritance – and I’m doing my best to go forward prudently, spending what needs to be spent and not wasting. I have a little envelope with cash donations received for the farm; it’s always possible to mail a check; and after setting up temporary tax status I will do a major fundraising campaign this winter.
Zen: The small group meeting in Northfield is becoming a real group, and will soon have a name. The sesshin one day a month becomes 7 days in December and then 5 until the spring work period starts up again. Though I’ll be traveling – in December to work with my teacher on finishing the book editing, in January to visit my Atlanta family. Time and money have gone into training and travels, and will continue to do so; it will probably be quite some time before the dana received balances the expenses, but there is dana and it encourages me immensely.
The farm has a zendo, an altar, and people’s names on that altar who have asked for support: sickness or other life difficulties. There are people who have died, and soon I will do a memorial service both for those people in my life, and for a long list of people murdered in Ferguson, the Middle East, and elsewhere over the past few years. The increasing violence and hate in the world is, along with climate change, an integral part of my practice and of the life here.
At the conference there was a Jizo garden, a place of great warmth and comfort. Jizo is a Buddhist folk character who helps people, especially children. We will be making a Jizo garden here, with help from the wider Minnesota Zen community and of course open to all.
Having lived in Zen community gives me a vision of how this community may operate well, and I’m holding that as more important than getting bodies in here to help with work and costs. I’ve paid some people a modest wage for hard physical work, but that can’t go on forever.
New people are adding themselves to the websites. I don’t know where you are physically, but do know who some of you are. As we move into fall, I send warm wishes and blessings to you all.
I’m now actually writing in my personal blog at www.CompassionateEarth.wordpress.com
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#/
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.
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.