- The Farm
- The Alliance
It’s just like this today…
The water heater is indeed broken, and at 20+ years old it makes no sense to spend $400 fixing it. I had planned to install a solar hot water system anyway. But I was going to do that when it was convenient. So it looks like I’ll be taking sponge baths for a while. In principle this is fine with me; hot water is one of our biggest luxuries. In reality it’s a bit uncomfortable and inconvenient. I’ll be bumming showers and laundry when I can.
The questions are: Will the Weatherization Program be willing to help me with solar hot water instead of propane? (They’re supposed to be about sustainability.) If not, will I give in and let them install the evil fossil fuel appliance? And, either way, how long will it take them to get around to it?
And the other questions are: Where did I put that solar camp shower? Will my visitors get upset if I don’t have conventional hot water by the time they arrive?
A string of visitors are coming this spring, for visits of a day, a week, a month or more. I’m excited about that, and about them. Plenty of room for more. Also, I’m talking with various government people about conservation programs and other things, and happy to have help making plans. (There WILL be a group weekend of replacing buckthorn with friendly plants – stay tuned. Maybe April.)
I won’t bore with organizational discussions – seems to me I said enough about that last week. Or climate change information, even though it keeps coming. There’s a quote from Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.” I try to keep that in mind.
I cleaned the counters, and the mice seem to actually be gone. But I hesitate to trust it.
It’s snowing again. As it should, at this time of year. I went outside a little, but am too much indoors. And I’m noticing craving – I want a bath – this will be interesting. I did find the camp shower and have put it in the window.
Sometime in the past, I used to write. Now I just catch things that float by, that give life. Here is one from Rumi:
Sit, be still, and listen,
because you’re drunk and we’re at
the edge of the roof.
I did write recently, though, about thoughts: https://compassionateearth.wordpress.com/
Peace to you all.
It’s been a quiet period: information coming in, little going out, gestating. It’s included consulting with experts on development, organization, marketing – and waiting for construction of the chimney for the masonry stove.
The brief report is that we are going to restructure, so the farm and land activities are formally separated from the residential spiritual community. The farm has a new mission/vision statement, here. And although we need major fundraising to create the off-grid house and buildings, that will be postponed while we strengthen our people base. And we’re thinking about names, now that there are two entities. Could be Compassionate Earth Farm, or Vairochana Farm, or I don’t know what else.
Visitors (recent and near future) include possible apprentices, residents, and supporters. We have not yet settled on a farm manager.
We do have a nonprofit sponsor for the farm, so donations can be received here. We’ll be applying for conservation and farming grants, and will do the first plantings this spring.
And the water heater is not working. I had wanted to get a solar water heater working before this happened. I’m away, visiting grandchildren, and will decide what to do (repair, replacement, or transition) when I get back.
This is the season for planning. That includes conferences. Yesterday by phone I attended a gathering of the Savanna Institute, a research project on woody perennial polyculture agriculture. At the end of February is MOSES in La Crosse, the big organic farming conference; I’ll be there to learn and network.
You can help by:
There’s also the outside world: intensifying climate change, mass extinctions, and business as usual: The KXL pipeline, the many tar sands sites, fracking for gas and oil, disappearing indigenous women, Black men killed by police, Palestine…. if you pay attention instead of seeking blame, the heart just breaks. What are we becoming?
I think that climate change is making the violence and everything else worse. Every animal, including humans, becomes more violent and less rational under stress. Here is a glaciologist explaining that it’s too late to stop the loss of the West Antarctic ice shelf. There’s sea level rise. This talk, by scientist Jim White, spells out the severity of the situation, including the fact that changes can be very abrupt, and that we are already in a time of rapid climate change. A crisis denied still has an effect on everyone.
Joanna Macy identifies three basic responses to the environmental crisis: holding actions (marches, protests, civil disobedience, and more), creating alternatives (Transition movement etc), and consciousness change. We find our places, each of us.
Love to you all.
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!
As I do every year, I joined the annual commemoration of Buddha’s enlightenment, Rohatsu sesshin, by sitting seven days of zazen December 1-8. Unlike most years, I sat alone in the zendo at the farm.
Although my tradition does not include work periods, many do – usually a couple hours. Mine ranged from two hours to maybe eight. I did not choose the timing of any of these events. I did accept it, with the thought that delay would be unworkable.
During that time, three masons (Eric M, Patrick, Jacob) built a masonry heater that will become primary heat for the house.
An excavator (Eric B) and two others (Joe, the general contractor, and Justin) used giant machinery and small shovels to expose the foundation for massive insulation.
Eric started piling rock in the eroded land bridge area at the creek.
It should be finished tomorrow. I had given up, imagined the land would wash away and then the bridge. But now it looks like this (way below), utterly secure:
For a few days my job was to get fires going to soften up the frozen crust for digging. Then I’d go back inside and sit. Later, I had to watch what was happening at the creek, even though he didn’t need help.
Sunday was the last day. After all the workers left, I finished sesshin by sitting late into the night. With gratitude. On the 8th – Buddha’s enlightenment day – I offered a nontraditional service: a memorial for people killed by police and in other ways, then blessings to those needing healing and those doing various kinds of good. I was disturbed by the fact that at least five names were added in the seven days of retreat. Fully engaged in the scenery of life, I guess, in spite of my commitment to waking up.
With three hours of sleep, I then attempted to function all day, went early to bed and slept in today, and here I am catching up.
Still to come: the insulation gets installed. And a lot more work, heading for a passive solar house in which wood is the backup. There will be fundraising. my next task, to be done while traveling to see my teacher and my family.
There will be some writing that comes out of the retreat part of this time, probably in a few days. Until then, joy and blessings to you.
On the verge of entering Rohatsu sesshin – the annual, traditional seven-day retreat remembering Buddha’s enlightenment – I have a few thoughts to offer, and a poem.
Yesterday was beautiful and warm. Finally I had the energy to organize the office and to make space for a third bedroom. And then I walked outdoors, with only a light jacket.
Roy Dopson left this morning, after a ten day visit. It was lovely. We would sit together in the morning, and after dinner would simply find ourselves in the zendo again. His wish, for being here (my words): that it be a place for deep spiritual life, more than anything else. He will come back next fall, after working the fire season. In addition to being a firefighter, Roy is an Advaita teacher. His website is here, with some very interesting thoughts: http://www.onesteppath.com/
Our mutual “yes” provokes many thoughts and images about what will be happening here. I imagine practice periods of three months, five-day retreats, visiting teachers. The farm plan is in process, and the conversion of the house will begin very soon. The nature of the community, how it will welcome guests and short-term residents, all are forming – and will be discussed after I come out of the retreat. Right now it is time to sit, to go into the silence, to allow things to be as they are.
And these words from Walt Whitman speak so well to how it is in my heart these days.
“This is what you shall do:
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
give alms to everyone that asks,
stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,
or to any man or number of men—
go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—
re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,
and dismiss whatever insults your own soul;
and your very flesh shall be a great poem,
and have the richest fluency,
not only in its words,
but in the silent lines of its lips and face,
and between the lashes of your eyes,
and in every motion and joint of your body.”
–from Preface to “Leaves of Grass” (1855)
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