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Welcome back to Green Gulch Farm’s modern agricultural expression.

I can’t help but notice how the orientation of this online presence manifests in perfect accord with the life of the temple where it arises: it floods into life during the growing season & falls still & silent in the winter months as we tend toward the ritual & study of the self as articulated by the gently fierce Zen flavor of our founder, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi.

In a small beautiful book I just received, entitled Remembering The Dragon, there are many recollections of Suzuki Roshi by his American students, as well as short teaching quotes by the master himself.

“In its wide sense, everything is teachings us:
the color of the mountain, the sound of the river,
or the sound of a motorcar. Each one is
a teaching of Buddha.”

I can attest in some small way to the clarity of this truth. No matter what you may conceive of as ‘Buddha’, there is a world of animate & inanimate that is teaching all the time. No exceptions.

It’s good to remember this when you are emptying 10 gallons of hydraulic fluid from a tractor after reading about tar sands oil trains 111 cars long derailing all over the country. It’s good for me to remember that the purity I perceive in the surroundings I’m privileged to dwell in are in direct relationship to the most violent, polluting, confused things I can imagine. Our devout vegetables grow in muddy waters.

That being said, our growing season has officially begun!

9 wonderful apprentices have come from as far away as Peru & Mexico, as well as different states in the union to create an organic farming family for 6 months. They are bright & shining individuals with rich lives behind them & the smiling golden eternity in front of them. It is truly a blessing to tend the land with these sincere people who come to Green Dragon Temple to practice dharma, live simple lives in community & dedicate their waking energies to sowing seeds & harvesting wholesome food. What an immeasurable gift.

We look forward to growing together as humans, as well as bringing forth abundance from the earth in as balanced & ethical a way as possible. In so doing, we will open the gates of the farm to any & all who come: school groups from San Rafael, Richmond, San Francisco, Oakland & Berkeley; college groups, hikers, bikers, horseriders; couples on dates, old folks on pilgrimage, the boy who has been obsessed with our small orange tractor since before he could walk. We’ll also grow vegetable starts & share them widely with good projects: school & neighborhood gardens, non-profits, interfaith groups. We donate food to the homeless community of San Rafael & the Food Bank of Marin which distributes it to those in need of affordable, healthy produce. Weddings & memorials are held in the garden, young people in the coming of age program have sleep-overs & take dawn walks to the beach. There is so much.

In welcoming the new apprentices in an opening ceremony I spoke spontaneously, but the night before I had written this:

Welcome to each of you unique expressions of reality!
Beings with your whole lives manifest
in your hands, shoulders, hips & feet.

You have come to sit & tend the land.
You have come to ask the deep questions
& practice patience with the answers
& non-answers that arise.

The green gate swings open.
Spring visits us, we anticipate
summer & can only imagine
the effulgence of joy
& grief that lies ahead.

May we open to the elements,
to one another,
to the teachings
of Shakyamuni Buddha,
to the insights of physical labor,
to the gratitude of time & space.
May we acquiesce to
unbounded good fortune.

The change of the season is upon us. I know it because bit by bit my wardrobe is taking on the smell of smoky pine and eucalyptus. I know it because the ratio of empty fields to those still to be harvested is steadily increasing, and the first sprouts of cover-crop are beginning to emerge. I know it because full-moon long-pies are baked to celebrate the birth of our Scorpio brothers and sisters who, hailing from deep water, make up the blood and marrow of our farm family. I know it in my body.

Last night we met to celebrate the life and work of a dear friend and constant companion. She arrived, clipboard in hand, ready to do business as always. One of those essential Scorpios, her 73 years have taught her a thing or two about beginnings and endings and seasonal swings. To be in her presence is to love her, and to love her is to give in to being loved – fiercely, respectfully, with room to grow and a line ready to reel you in.

The melody of that old, familiar birthday tune leaked from our lips, leaving a slightly somber taste. Some sort of a recognition, it seemed, of our great good fortune to have made it this far and be in such good company. A Thanks-giving that we may meet in joy and leave a space for the common melancholy that runs through us all in turns. Being together now is enough. I think that’s all she’s been trying to teach us.

These days it seems the seasons of my life are adjusting their way to a peaceful congruence with those of the natural world. Slowly, storms grow softer and tides more predictable; my own expansions and contractions are gently supported and validated by those of the Earth Mother. Summer is a time for loving and giving birth, for meeting and letting go and meeting again. Come autumn, we must let die what we brought to life. We must disentangle the bean tendrils (gently and carefully, so no bits are left behind to rot) and dismantle the trellis that they clung to. Remembering all the while how we allowed these things to live and they did the same for us; silently appreciating the endless metaphor that is our life. Although, it must have an end, right? What are we doing if not following this stream to its conclusion – the point where it either grows thin and dries up or somehow reaches the ocean? Is one more conclusive than the other?

I just sent this text as an email to our CSA recipients, and thought I’d share it with anyone else who might be reading….

No rain yet, but the cool weather has motivated us to sow the first seeds of cover crop today in the kitchen garden. Between Sunday night’s wind and darkness creeping in on both sides of our day, it feels like time to sow our last seeds of the year. We’ll gradually reduce the KG’s summer diversity – all those varieties of lettuce, beds of arugula, turnips, parsley, cilantro, and radishes – to those four plants that Qayyum mentioned in his last email: vetch, bell beans, cow peas and oats. As we harvest the produce from the remaining beds, we’ll wrap up the remay – the white, floating row cover that protects baby lettuce from the emboldened quail – and put cover crop in those, too. The KG’s patchwork of colors – red, green, white, and brown – will, with our effort, turn to the big-leafed lushness of cover crop that anyone who walks the farm road in winter and spring knows well. A time for narrowing activity and intention.

In spite of this narrowing autumn focus, we’ve acquired new tools to work with on the farm, picked up on a recent trip to Chico, the closest town to a hometown that I’ve got. A small company in Chico makes wheel hoes and broad forks, and now we have one of each, to help us keep back the weeds and loosen the soil in handworked beds, respectively. We’ve only had these tools a few days, but so far we’re pleased with how they work! Watch for us using these large hand tools with (so far) bright blue metal parts.

It still felt nearly like summer in Chico, the dry grass and warm wind of that Sierra foothill country with cooler weather long overdue. Here at Green Gulch, we’re growing a vegetable – new to this farm – that we’re sending to you this week. It reminds me sweetly of childhood days in late fall – sometime after the World Series, and before Thanksgiving, around the time of the first appreciable rain – when my dad would bring back KOHLRABI proudly from the farmers’ market. He’d slice it up for us, and bring a plate of it around the house as a healthy pre-dinner snack. I remember his particular appreciation for this vegetable, the sense that it is a seasonal treat.

And that, dear reader, is your recipe for the week: peel the kohlrabi, slice it gently, and share it with your loved ones. It is a delicious vegetable, akin to broccoli stems (my favorite part!) but sweeter, and though it can be treated like a turnip and added to soups or salads, it is best eaten alone, but not in solitude.

There once was a man

There once was a man that had never stepped foot onto a farm

There once was a man that had never witnessed a handful of seeds become a field of life

There once was a man that had never learned to ride a bike

There once was a man that had never laughed so hard

There once was a man that had never loved so much

I now step onto the farm every week, I’ve helped sow seeds that became fields of life, I can ride a bike, I laugh with and love all the new friends I have made here.

There is a man, that smiles everyday :)

This is it

If you keep waking up and showing up every day, you begin to see the world, the gulch, is waking up with you. If you show up to crew “bow-in”, you’re going to laugh. If you’re feeling sick, the crew will utilize a gladiator style thumbs up or down to decide if you’re going to work that day. And they actually do care.

Each moment on the farm requires the crew’s attention. And moment after moment we keep coming back from our concepts of each other, from our concepts of “work”, from Jim Carrey movie quotes.

The vibrations from guitars and voices fill the soft space of the farm table after work. The sun is at 5 pm and the seventh planting has history now. Nettles continue to grow. The farm is quiet. Coyotes scream wildly at dusk.

body language

Just before falling asleep one night, a river of verbs and two years of farming flooded my consciousness:

planting pulling picking harvesting moving sowing sewing lifting driving boxing stretching talking guessing amending washing packing weeding counting cutting caring playing apologizing forgiving listening dragging digging switching changing growing watching feeling attending asking doing wishing hammering cleaning spraying wheeling hugging loving cultivating watering mowing discing sprinkling seeding dropping throwing tossing trimming blooming crying harmonizing brooding arguing thinking loading polishing slamming bending bowing

I’ve never thought of myself as a body person. I’m not naturally athletic, flexible, or relentlessly energetic. Yet I catch myself – and all us farmers – moving with a kind of fluency, a fluency born of kind attention to our bodies and to the task at hand. Unconsciously, our hands check box handles for rips, and lift from the bottom if the handles aren’t solid. We could reach for our harvest knives blindfolded, some sheaths buckled on the right – like a gun, we joke – or the left (that’s where mine is) like a sword. I know the exact pressure and push it takes to put my knife back in, and can read the sharpness or dullness of my knife by flicking my fingertip across the blade, by cutting a head of broccoli or the stems of chard. We balance in wet furrows, wearing rubber boots and carrying arcs of chard or kale in our upraised arms.

At the beginning of the season, we puzzled over how to teach these skills to the new apprentices, in a society where teaching means talking and skills means book-learning. How can I tell you how to hunt for nettles, when I hardly know myself the exquisite combination of the visual scan for those serrated leaves and the lumbering knife-swing at the tender tips? How can I tell you about the rhythm of the vacuum seeder, the constantly-calibrated and embodied calculation of accuracy weighed against speed? So we tried to teach, by working together, by giving constant and consistently inconsistent feedback, and by trying to understand more clearly the mechanics of what we’re doing, what gestures and intentions speed or slow our work.

But now, perhaps in spite of all that talk, I see each farmer’s fluency: Camille, loading the market truck with me at 4:15am, moves steadily and purposefully, handling our over-used boxes with an efficient kind of care. Kai multi-tasks, running irrigation and picking dino kale, moving so fast on the little blue road bike you don’t notice he’s left the bunching greens until he returns, dropping the bike at the edge of the road. Morgan dances among the CSA boxes each Tuesday, creating 25 vegetable art pieces in the awkward packing shed. Colby tells us about picking bunching greens in the previous post…Betzi…Julian…Steven…Tell us all about your embodied fluency! I know I’m seeing it.

We’re becoming fluent too in the unspoken communication of bodies living and working together. I know when someone comes to work tired, or with something on his mind. We can all see the drooped shoulders of someone with waning enthusiasm for a long task, or the let’s just get done! fast efficiency of a late afternoon in the packing shed. I can tell Qayyum, with just a shrug, an eyebrow wiggle, and an ambiguous head bob, that “I have no idea how the #@^% that happened,” or with a slight variation (narrowing eyes, feigning innocence) “I’m so sorry this didn’t go the way you wanted it to, but we can’t do anything about it now and you can forgive us, right?”

He does.

My brother, who IS a body person above all, just came and sat a sesshin here, his first. I watched him take the forms into his body, his gassho (palms together at the face), move up over the three days from the yoga-style gassho (close to the body, in front of the heart), to our Zen one, fingertips in line with the nose and a fist-length away from the face. The community seemed to think he fit right in, but maybe it’s because we have the same smile (some said), or eyes, or oryoki serving style. (I think the feature we have in common most is the crinkles around our eyes, when we smile.) My brother said he’d taken up the forms with relative comfort because he’d taken karate as a kid and teen, so he was familiar with the form of bowing.

So I wonder, what fluency does farming give us, what reverberations does this life so close together have for our future as bodies? How do our months or years farming at Green Gulch carry in our bodies into a world where work and relationships are sometimes more virtual than tangible? Where is the recipe for the unspoken joy that sometimes floods a body fluent in its work? What is the music of the harmony and uniformity of a farm crew in late August, and by what coincidence of imitation and effort and speech and love will it come again?

The season of growing is most certainly upon us. Each week we all partake in the beautiful dance of caring for for this magical, foggy gulch. The essential art of sowing, planting, and cultivating is our daily life. We balance our zealous ambition to plant more crops with the wisdom of compassionately tending to the immense fields already full of ripening food. The first two plantings have given such bountiful produce and now will decompose to nourish the coming crops. Witnessing the arising and passing of these plantings in the field, the bacterial phenomena of the compost yard, the fresh bunched greens packed neatly in a market box, we are intimately connected to this cycle of impermanence- life and death. And again as I cut liners from re-re-re-used broken and mushy wax boxes, I am reminded of the inherent falling-apart-ness of this material world!

And as I walk in furrows heaped in greenness, I remember a time when all the fields were bare or cover-cropped. I remember the eager, beginner’s mind and the feeling of limitless potential for growth. I knew nothing of bunch sizes or lettuce varieties, but embodied a genuine enthusiasm for working with my hands on the land. That enthusiasm has been diligently cultivated and I feel within me the springing buds of spreading this energetic wealth as a young farmer and global activist. A familiarity with the daily routine sinks deeper each time I pick a “24-count for rainbow.” As I walk the entirety of the crop to see how hard to pick each plant, I fasten the blue “Organically Grown Produce” twist ties to my front belt loops. Then I bend and gather leaves. Rhythmically pick-pluck-twisting each leaf at its base and stacking several in my left hand. When the weight and girth and leafy-ness are just right for a commercial size bunch (a little smaller than bunches for farmers markets), I slip one tie from my waist. With a blur of a blue twist tie, a brief flurry of fingers, a flick of the wrist, and a spin or two; I lay the fresh bunch in the row behind me. Consistent bunch sizes is key. Not too big, not too small. Then collect all 24 bunches and pack them into a leaf box (with a cardboard liner for reinforcement). Rainbow cuts the stems themselves, so these bunches go straight in the box, no trim work needed. Water it down, put a clean new paper on top, and then stack the box under damp burlap to keep it cool. I notice that this routine and all the details of information was once unknown, foreign, and new. Now it is my practice. Alongside the monotony of picking box after box after box is deeply rooted appreciation, joy, and a continual awe of this experience. This is indeed a wonderful place to exercise one’s ability to be present for each day, each box, each leaf, each breath.
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