- The Farm
- The Alliance
Here is a summary of the farm this year, and a request for money to help us continue manifesting the dream.
THE 2014 SUMMARY:
In process now:
WHY YOU MIGHT WANT TO HELP
If we were only committed to sustainable living, that would be nice but maybe just personal. If we were only about practicing Zen, maybe that would be of interest to people who want to join us or visit us. If we were just farming, there are sources of help for new farmers. But it’s more.
Our whole existence – including farming and sustainable living, getting off fossil fuels, spiritual practice – is about the spiritual and cultural change needed by this society. We all are in need of reconnection with each other and with the other beings on the planet – evidence is in climate change, pollution, and the increasing violence everywhere. The business of Vairochana Farm is to foster that reconnection, including within ourselves and far beyond.
Up until now, I’ve personally funded the farm from my retirement savings, because this matters deeply to me. Now those funds are low. More importantly, the mission of the farm is all about community and cannot succeed without commitment from that community. If you are serious about driving spiritual and cultural change, I need you now. There are several easy options.
HOW TO DONATE
Free: Vairochana Farm has joined iGive.com. So if you sign up for iGive.com, the farm can be your charity. When you shop online, a percentage of what you spend is diverted to the farm at no cost to you. You can set it up to be automatic. If you want to use iGive for your own project instead, you can say VF referred you and we will both benefit. (It would only take 800 new projects to get us the $20,000. Or $5 million worth of plane tickets. But every dollar received is one we didn’t have before, and it’s free.)
Tax-deductible: Vairochana Farm is now a project of Minnesota Alliance for Sustainability, a wonderful umbrella group that sponsors all kinds of sustainable activities. You can make a tax-deductible contribution here.
Old fashioned check: You can still mail a check to Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault MN 55021, as some people have done. Mailing a check will not get you a tax deduction, but 100% of the money will go straight into our checking account. We also have a Paypal account (VairochanaFarm@riseup.net).
WHERE WILL THE MONEY GO?
If we raise $20,000 by the end of January 11 (that’s $1000/day), our architect/builder can proceed with renovations, lifting part of the roof for additional bedrooms and solar gain. This allows reasonable space for longer-term visitors and/or two more residents, which helps with living expenses, work, and creative energy. After that, donations go to starting the farm, plus the renovations that give us full living space, plus getting off fossil fuels, and eventually reaching out to sponsor others.
It’s a big vision, way bigger than one farm or even one Zen community. Imagine a world in which friendship and family are our main security, most people love their work, hunger and homelessness are a distant memory, people trust their governments and don’t worry about terrorism, nobody has to justify war or violence, the weather is reliable again… Not saying we can deliver that. But we’re going that direction and you’re invited to come along. In any way you can – money, time, good thoughts…
Thank you to the people who have already given, especially without being asked!
Since my last writing, the birds have flocked. Now it’s all about cold and snow. We can see through the woods, see the shape of the land that had been hidden under the green. Farming is done for the year, except perhaps I’ll be able to dig up the last carrots (under an inadequate cover, not a real cold frame). I’m eating from the plants in pots by the windows – onion, celery, and a few herbs – brought in before the freeze. I was given lots of apples and have mostly been making applesauce. There’s a mouse – four about two weeks I’ve taken out one or two mice every day, in a catch-and-release trap, but the current mouse seems to be able to get the cheese without triggering the trap. There’s more I could do but there are other things to do as well.
Tuesday morning zazen is now open for guests to come and sit – which so far means often there are two of us on Tuesdays. I sit every day, but to be open requires snow removal, outside lights, and not scheduling early meetings – so it’s one day a week.
Two people have visited to consider living here; both have been wonderful. Roy is here now, outside happily cutting firewood while I get caught up on paperwork. He’s an Advaita teacher, and we’re having very interesting conversations. Soon I’ll go out and split wood, giving my body a break from sitting still.
Formal Zen practice: Mountains and Waters
The small Zen group in Northfield has a name now: Mountains and Waters Zen Community (Sansuiji in Japanese). This is a big step. Some people from the group have come out to the farm, once for our regular Wednesday evening gathering, twice for retreats.
Every month there is a one day silent retreat at the farm. In December it will be seven days, the traditional Rohatsu sesshin honoring Buddha’s enlightenment. I think I will have some company but not full time. It’s difficult to sit so long, but it also nourishes me and I’m looking forward to it. Last week at the November retreat I allowed one hour for silent walking outdoors, and I think I’ll do that again.
The shape of practice here at the farm is starting to emerge. Already we have zazen every morning, work, rest time, days off, and (sometimes) evening sitting. What it looks like as we move toward spring:
The plans to get off fossil fuels and have space for six residents are moving slowly. December 1 (yes, during Rohatsu) the mason will start building the masonry heater. Before and after, some carpenters will put in the stovepipe and set up the wood cook stove. Meanwhile I’m keeping the house at 50-60F, wearing sweaters and snow pants, sometimes running a space heater in one room. How much wood do we need? Maybe 4 cords – but less because the heater is efficient.
There is a farm plan, small enough to do successfully next spring, involving lots of fruit trees, berry bushes, and hazelnuts plus pollinator plants and anti-GMO screen plants.
Plans to fully insulate the house and get passive solar working are taking shape but require fundraising.
I’m working on the fundraising process, with help from some organizational consultants. It’s the major work this winter. By the end I intend to have a formal nonprofit organization with a Board, a workable structure, and money to work with. (The money left from my inheritance will not suffice, and it’s important that this is not just my project anyway.)
My farm manager has become a full time architect (and my architect), so I’m looking for a manager. Or two people: one to run the farm and another to get grants and do administrative things. Of course, to pay them – see fundraising above.
Ways to participate
From anywhere: Share the link to the page; offer long-distance skills; help network, help me find money. Somewhere may be a philanthropist for whom this is their dream project – do you know them? Invite me to speak – I’ll be traveling this winter and might be in your town. I talk about Zen, Zen activism, or can share the farm vision. Plan a visit or come for a retreat, workshop, practice period.
If you’re local: Come by, volunteer a few hours, come for a sitting. Bring food, especially during a retreat. Let me know if you have tools to lend or share.
I’ll be writing more often. The same things go on the wordpress blog and on the Wheedu page. Write on the Wheedu page – make it interactive!
for Vairochana Farm
This photo is of the east field, along the road, that will become an orchard with apples, pears, and chestnuts plus berries and shrubs, a roadside privacy buffer that also keeps out GMOs and supports pollinators, with poplar, black locust, lilac, rugosa rose, dogwood, and two kinds of willow. I took the photo with my back to the maple-basswood section of the woods.
Today I put two taps in a black walnut tree, picked up another 5 gallons of walnuts, and emailed a farm networker about access to a nut cracker. I also made a batch more applesauce (lots to go still), ate some of the green winter squash, and planted another green plant in the indoor garden – where the celery is vigorous, onions, parsley, and basil quite healthy, and everything surviving in spite of my poor watering habits.
Energy has been going to winterizing – mostly, getting ready for the masonry stove which is to heat the house with minimal firewood (plus insulation and solar gain), and the antique wood cook stove. I never imagined the number of decisions, measurements, small details – and the amount of trust in both my architect and the stone mason. I postponed insulating the foundation because I still have questions about exactly what to do. And because I want to get help paying for it.
There are also conversations about installing a photovoltaic system next year. It is to be paid for with the income generated by selling energy to the electric company.
The other use of my energy is in organizing, writing, focusing, making plans. At the same time I am teaching a little, writing a little, and planning to do more – because it is my teaching that will make everything possible here, make this different from the average permaculture farm.
The second serious visitor will be coming soon: 11 days in late November. May it go as well as the first. It’s time to find residents, who can support both finances and work and create community. There are sleeping spaces for two; two more real bedrooms can be made without much trouble, which means with the level of skills that I have. (But I’m lying: one of them needs windows added, on second-floor level – which makes me a helper not a leader. Of course 20 people could easily spend the night. There are beds for 7.) If I had raised money last year, the interior remodeling could happen this winter while I’m visiting family – but I didn’t.
I’m written a lot about erosion and culverts. Here is a picture of the magnificent work the neighbors did on the driveway culvert – the first side. And I’ll let you know what happens with the land bridge, that magnificent place.
I had oral surgery last Friday, and was disappointed that the whole week was impacted. I enjoyed the rest time, and did not enjoy the pain. Now, making my way back to normalcy, I feel well rested but short on the deep rest that comes from zazen. It was a joy to walk outside today in the sun. And I’m trying to catch up on non-physical work such as writing to you.
I would have chosen to spend this evening in community, in ritual. Next year, I think it will be so.
Blessings as we go into the dark time of the year.
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#/
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,
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.