1,083 miles away


Over a thousand miles away from Green Gulch – and at 7600 feet above sea level – two former Green Gulch farmers are farming, together. I’m entering my second year as the garden manager in this relatively new farming program in Southwest Colorado (it’s my sixth season farming!), and am thrilled to get some Green Gulch company in the field from Emily Haefner.

Emily – a Green Gulch apprentice from last year – has joined the Old Fort Market Gardens’ farming program as a farmer-in-training, or FIT. She’ll take care of a little over a quarter acre, with two fellow FITs and minimal involvement from Old Fort staff. (Or that’s the idea, anyway. I’ve been up in the plot almost much as the three farmers in these first few weeks of the growing season.) Text messages fly and our binder fills up with notes about what’s been accomplished. We’ve already had irrigation problems, planted potatoes, and built pea trellises. Emily sees everything that needs to be done. The quarter acre is in the incubator farm plot, surrounded by a very tall deer (and elk!) fence and the beautiful cottonwoods and scrub oak of the La Plata River Valley. To the north, we can see the snow melting off the La Plata mountains. A few 12,000′ peaks, our neighbors.

The incubator farm program provides low-cost access to land, water, and mentorship to beginning farmers. Incubators can take up to 5 years at the Old Fort to build a name for themselves in the region and transition to owned or rented land. Realizing that many people wanted or needed more experience before starting their own farm, even with the safety net of the incubator program, we decided to offer a guided farming program with a basic crop plan and a lot of freedom.

Our last frost date isn’t until June 10th, so we begin the season slowly and cautiously with hardy plants and lots of row cover. Broccoli, peas, spinach, potatoes, onions, and leeks are in the ground. One of the FITs, Brandon, is sharing his knowledge of indigenous foods from his home of Black Mesa, Arizona, and yesterday decided it was safe to plant some Navajo White corn, but not yet the beans and squash that we’ll grow from seeds he’s saved.

Sadie, the third FIT and barista extraordinaire, contributes excellent recordkeeping, an inescapable memory, and touching humility. We all have so much to learn from each other, from the land, and from this first and experimental year of the FIT program at the Old Fort.

Who would like to join us next season? There’s a collection of us former GGF-ers in southwest Colorado area: Emily, Elicia, Danny, Sarah, Michael, Minna, formerly Betzi, and maybe more to come. For former apprentices, future farmers, and friends: come visit, or come farm.

Wish us luck for temperatures above 32 degrees ’til September (that’s about all we can hope for) and for cultivating and receiving that deep joy of farming together in our current circumstances, a joy that all the readers of this blog know well.

Much love and luck to the current Green Gulch Farm crew: for the first time in 5 years, I have no idea who most of you are.



Emila said to me, Love is Everything, We’re all going to die soon anyway, what else is there to do?

The season is fast going—we’re over the apex of solstice & down the other side. We will never be together like this again. And we are so fortunate to have able bodies to work with together under the sky, whatever weather appears around us.

I’m feeling so grateful for this life together. How rare & precious!

I want to thank you all for embracing the enormity of our humble task with great good humor, gentleness & energy. Turning the soil, feeding microbes, sowing seeds, cultivating in all our actions together a mindfulness of the ephemeral nature of our activities. How brief our passage on this earth.

I was gifted a collection of the Mad Farmer poems by Wendell Berry & these lines jumped out at me last night as the sky grew dark & the ladies brushed their teeth at the lower yurt:

Come into the life of the body, the one body

granted to you in all the history of time.

Come into the body’s economy, its daily work,

and its replenishment at mealtimes and at night.

Come into the body’s thanksgiving, when it knows

and acknowledges itself a living soul.

Come into the dance of community, joined

in a circle, hand in hand, the dance of the eternal

love of women and men for one another

and of neighbors and friends for one another.

Always disappearing, always returning,

calling his neighbors to return, to think again

of the care of flocks and herds, of gardens

and fields, of woodlots and forests and the uncut groves,

calling them separately and together, calling and calling,

he goes forever toward the long restful evening,

and the croak of the night heron over the river at dark.


Thank you for making Green Gulch such a beautiful place of refuge & nourishment. I am deeply moved by your myriad, unique expressions of lovingkindness.

the mid-season experience

It’s been another season that seems to have had no beginning & will know no end at the gulch.

This morning was a more familiar expression of the weather pattern than we’ve experienced for quite a number of weeks: thick marine fog layer a few hundred feet up keeping the morning cool & the skies gradually parting to high blue skies, white clouds & low seventies. Even so, our harvest ended hot, harried & humbling; the long list of produce to bring in from the fields of plenty greater than the hours allotted for our collective labor. Nonetheless our trusted refrigerator is packed to bursting with a large number of commercial deliveries, a full Mill Valley farmers market load & about half of what we’ll be taking into the city on Saturday.

The arc of a farm season is long & the vicissitudes of our communal energy for the many challenging circumstances of our Zen farming venture can beguile. There is something about the mounting enthusiasm that rises toward a peak at solstice–with her long long days & early mornings–that begins to show signs of weariness as we enter the era of declining light. These transformations are definitely a part of what we are studying in our lives together: How do we sustain excitement about another harvest day? Another round of pulling & picking, trimming & rinsing, cleaning & packing & labeling & O the bending forward! (Hip hinge is a new catchphrase aimed at reminding farmers about how to be healthy with our surfeit of leaning into the work of caring for the land), O the walking & logistics of getting from one place to another! O the subtleties of bunch size, box choice, & how to do all that needs be done in as efficient a manner as possible without losing sight of the Spirit of Giving that is what has actually brought us to this large temple garden!

Like any deeply considered circumstance, mid-summer fatigue & last third of the farm apprenticeship leads us to ask (in a sometimes loaded way): What are we doing here??

What we do know, I propose, is the joy of honest labor. Moving as a body with multiple consciousnesses, the farm crew is united in “being up for it”–whether It is sickness, mania, boredom, or unidentified ennui, or the more sunny feeling of effervescent warmth for the whole surround of creation & the self-arisen assurance that:

There are many things in the world and you
are one of them. Many things keep happening and
you are one of them and the happening that
is you keeps falling like snow
on the landscape of not-you, hiding hideousness, until
the streets and world of wrath are choked with snow.

(In the words from the beginning of Robert Penn Warren’s poem, Love Recognized)

In the midst of all this human centered poetic snow falling, or as an integral part of it, a remarkable bounty of life is expressing itself in the fields in dialogue with our work: large knobby seeds are becoming big chioggia beets that gophers are chomping at night, Mexican sunflowers bedazzle passersby & form a curtain of bright behind which the summer squash is fruiting & flowering. At night or during damp mornings, the white & lime nicotiana springing up hydra-headed behind the sunflowers, gives off the sweet night scent of heaven flowers. These beings & manifestations are living paintings that remind us that change & transformation are the mark & sign of wholeheartedly expressing our true selves, which may be inevitable.

The mid-season experience seems to be one of collective maturation & renewed appreciation for the uniqueness of each of the ten thousand things. Which is just saying what Gary Snyder loves to quote: “seeing emptiness gives rise to compassion”.

What else could we do with our precious human life?

My thanks to the farmers of the present & all the conditions that give rise to the bounty.IMG_0211

Yesterday the season’s farm & garden apprentice crew mounted our annual pilgrimage around the local mountain.

We were guided by an opening reading of “Advice to the Wayfarer”, pilgrim verses composed by Richard Kollmar & Gary Snyder:

Begin a pilgrimage with a mind free from entanglement and regrets.
Abandon projects. Let go of plans, hopes, and dreams.
Go forth as if you have settled your affairs, made your will, disposed of your possessions
paid your debts, resolved your differences with friends & acquaintances, provided for the
care of those who are dependent upon you, made peace with your enemies, and bade
farewell to your loved ones.
Go forth as if you will never return.

We began at Deer Park Fire Road in the thick swirling mist of a deep marine layer that prevented us from seeing anything to the west or south into the bay until we were up on top of East Peak.

Silence until we reached Lone Tree Spring. A few words & more silent walking until Pantoll Station.

Then up Old Mine Road & out onto the waving grass flanks, covered in dew, leaving behind the dripping oak & bay laurel rain systems.

We offered incense & shared out intentions for the walk on the ridge of serpentine, after we rescued a man lost in the fog after he followed a deer into the mist. Lunched at Portrero Meadow, sighted a magical stag of our own, soared with turkey vultures, marveled at the artwork of nut-jays. A few northside drainages still trickling with spring water.

And descended down Fern Canyon to Panoramic Highway & into the redwoods & tourists of Muir Woods.

Back to cars along the parking lot chatting amiably.

Bowing out at 4:30, 10 hours from start.

Let us now be friends for the rest of our lives!IMG_0010

Whatever wholesome intentions & good qualities of mind have resulted from this practice,
May they contribute to the welfare of all beings.
Above, may they repay those to whom we are indebted.
Below, may they release beings from torment.
In all who see, hear or think about them, may they bring forth the will to awaken.
May all of us go for birth in the pure land!

early spring

It’s time to bring the most recent post on this blog back to Green Gulch – which is where I happen to be again, here for a few months, just since January, and at the brink of my own transition.

In human news, Qayyum Johnson, our beloved farm manager, is shuso! The shuso is the head student for a practice period, a kind of teacher training opportunity in which the shuso can “share the teaching seat” with the senior teacher – in this case, Abbess Fu – who’s leading the practice period. Qayyum gave his first dharma talk last week – a talk inviting all of us to get in touch with our bodhicitta, or wish to awaken. A joyous collaboration among many of us helps the farmwork happen so that Qayyum can put some of his immense energy toward being in the practice period.

The farming news here is the unseasonable warmth, the unrelenting dryness. I came back to Green Gulch prepared with winter farming gear; my years-old, used, on-sale Goretex rainjacket holds up well for a few hours in heavy rain, and though my rain pants are pretty badly ripped, I thought they’d get me through another season. But aside from a wet weekend in February, we haven’t had a drop, except what the eucalyptus can steal from the fog. We’ve mostly gotten away with not having to irrigate the cover crop, which is good, because the ~1960s pump that we rely on for summer irrigation is on the fritz.

The cover crop – and our winter plantings of chard and kale – seem to be responding to the warmth and the clear days, growing beyond our wintry expectations to armpit height, and blooming. The bell beans blooming means it’s time to mow and disc the cover crop into the soil, before the plants back take up the nitrogen they’ve been putting into the soil in favor of making beans. Now that I’ve managed to operate the tractor we call ‘New O’ well enough to move some compost piles, I watch longingly as Sara Davis pulls the disc at high speeds, lifting the bucket up when she makes a turn. The tractor looks at those moments like a big beast lifting its neck to yawn. Already we’re looking ahead to our first planting in the second week of April, when we plant out the starts we sowed last week. The stretch of field it’ll be in is already bare ground, waiting.

The dino kale is blooming, and all of our winter greens growing fast enough that our kitchen and community can’t keep up with the cooking and eating. Tomorrow I’ll wake early and drive the decrepit box truck on my first solo Tuesday town trip, making rounds to a handful of restaurants and Rainbow Grocery, delivering chard and kale and cilantro and rosemary. Every week the truck returns full – of boxes that we diligently reuse, of produce purchased from a vegetable distributor that supplies us that all we can’t grow (which, at this time of year, is most things), and City Center’s compost buckets. I’ve been advised to take all precautions not to let those buckets spill.

The farm these weeks is a whirl of preparatory energy: the warmth is letting us start everything early, urging us to an unseasonable busyness and flush of energy. My words for the seed sowing ceremony mourned winter, conjured all those days a seed spends as a seed before we celebrate its sprouting. With the robinsong and blooming beans and longer days, the signs say that winter as an incubation period is over. We tumble forward into the year, half-baked.

Thanks, Qayyum, for the invitation to blog; this is my first summer season since 2011 not working fiercely on the farm at Green Gulch, and I’m grateful for the chance to say hello to all of you on this virtual turf.

I bear the unwieldy title “Head of Grounds” at Tassajara, Green Gulch’s higher and drier counterpart in the Santa Lucia mountains. I prefer to include “Garden” somewhere in that title, as my passion is for eking abundance of food and flowers out of this heat, this sandy soil, this monastic-ish schedule, alongside the watchful eyes and voracious appetites of blue jays, ground squirrels, and deer.

Tumbling into summer for some time now, the heat overtakes us for a few days, then recedes again. Knowing that there’s fog at the coast, just a few miles away, is little comfort. The best advice I’ve heard (sung) is ‘lean in to the heat.’ Still, I brace myself against the bright days in the mid-nineties, and relax gratefully into the cooler evenings. I am reading Rebecca Solnit: in a year at the Poles, she says, there is one long day, and one long night. Not so at Tassajara. Here, every day has two seasons. The temperature extremes, at all times of the year, leave me wondering how best to moderate them for the plants in ground and greenhouse. The hottest day of this month was also the coolest: 102 and 51 both recorded on July 20th.

These days, lows are in the high 50s and highs in the 90s or 100s (the greenhouse, though, gets up to a shocking 120). In February, nights got into the 30s and days in the 80s – and the greenhouse, without shade from the then-bare trees, still reached the 100s and only moderated the cold nights by 10 degrees or so. It took a lot of convincing to get the seeds I sowed successively through the early spring to germinate, and then to GROW. Somehow, though, nearly every variety of flower was abloom by the solstice, and the leggy red kale born into those short February days is still producing [it’s been yanked since first writing, to make way for basil].

Gardening here has been a practice of patience. Patience with the extreme conditions that cause slow growth, hungry deer, dusty plants. Patience with the incredibly high turnover of summer students, which has meant that I’ve trained my garden crew on flower cropping, weeding, mulching, making bed cages, handwatering…more times than I care to remember. Patience with myself, for struggling to be organized in a new setting, having received no training in this job from any predecessor and wanting to do everything, and do it well. Patience with the surprising number of other obligations that the garden crew, which is viewed as non-essential, has within the community. I do a lot of driving for Tassajara back and forth over the 14-mile, hour-long dirt road, watching the native flowers bloom and fade, wondering when I can make it out of this (barely) creek-cooled crevice in the mountains to collect seed on the parched hillsides.

Maybe I’ll have a chance to collect some chia, penstemon, bush poppy, or woolly blue curls seed on my drive over the road this afternoon, in a newer and slimmer version of GGF’s ‘Boxy.’



 You arrive with the apple blossoms, fresh and pink.

What will you prune? What will you nourish?

Those may not have been her exact words, but that is the sentiment that has stayed with me from Lauren’s words the welcoming ceremony on Day 1 of the apprenticeship. You can imagine how easily those words return to me, every time I weed or hoe or plant or seed. I suspect that one could come here, to this place called Green Gulch Farm, without any intention to discover or transform themselves, and the magic of the place would do its work on them. But that suspicion will never be confirmed. The people who come are explorers and spelunkers of the inner and outer worlds. Just rubbing elbows with these folks as we sharpen our harvest knives or touch finger tips as we pass boxes of loose spinach down the bucket brigade, the earnest diligence and authentic curiosity of these people nudges you open. Or it nudges me open, anyway. Is this the way the morning mist nudges the seedlings out of the earth? Is farming really this much metaphor?


Farm Buddha



Garden Altar



The Talmud says there’s an angel that bends over every blade of grass and whispers, “Grow, grow!”



Tibetan Cherry Tree. Woof!



At Green Dragon Temple, there’s always an altar where you need one.





The farm & garden from the trail above.



The Farm Altar. Every morning we bow in here after breakfast.



Window to the optimistically named Tidy Shed.



My go-to source for info about edibles, Farm Apprentice Hannah, braves the wild cucumber! Careful folks, it’s mildly toxic.



Is it not so awesome? Can you believe this thing is native?



Walk to the beach. Oh California!



Muir Beach


Me after an enthralling Native Plant Walk with the excessively inspiring Head of Grounds, Sukey. Drinking Douglas Fir tea (so citrusy!), donning Clingweed crown. I love it here. I love being outdoors, sinking my hands into the soil every day, surrounded by people dedicated to understanding themselves. And dedicated to kindness. Kindness! Truly remarkable.



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