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.


The farm apprentices have been given the chance to write a dedication for our biweekly plantings this season.  I gave the offering for the 5th planting on June 11th.  Thinking of what to say gave me space to reflect on what it is that I want farming to be from a spiritual perspective.  By and large, the tasks for farming apprentices are fast paced, repetitive and in the realm of action.  I enjoy this.  But  I was happy to shift to a greater scale and think of what farming means to me, what it connects me to, and if and how it can be an instrument of sustainability and good.

At the same time, while here at Green Gulch, I’ve been connecting more and more to my indigenous spiritual practices and beliefs, which is shaping how I see and interact with the land, the people who walked before us, and all beings.  It felt good to write the dedication to mother earth and ask for her permission and blessings.  Writing this helped me realize that farming connects me to the past, present and future through the ancestors who lived and worked in the land (past), the actual present day plants, farmers and all beings in need of nourishment, and my wish for the cultivation we do help to provide a sustainable home for the future generations.

We planted a half acre of mixed vegetables and a half acre of squashes the day prior.  All together about 13,000 plants.  May they grow happy and strong.

The pictures are of the 5th, 4th and 3rd planting, planted in 2 week intervals .  They show how beautifully and drastically the plants grow every two weeks.


A Blessing for Planting 5

Mother Earth, Pachamama, The Apus of the hills surrounding this valley, Great Mystery, Life Force. We offer you incense, bows, words and our hearts.

We ask for permission to use your land on this the 5th Planting Day at Green Gulch Farm. We honor you and ask for a blessing for the growth of the plants, seeds, the farmers and all life that nourishes us. Mother earth: You are home and giver of life to all. We are family in your valley: the plants, the farmers, the soil, waterways, the air. All species and phenomena are brothers and sisters, mother, father and child. Giver and receiver. We are not above or beneath each other.

We honor the presence of those who walked before us, our ancestors, without which, we and this farm would not exist. May their lessons of both harmony and discord never be forgotten and teach us. Please guide us and let us feel your presence.

We honor the life of the plants, seeds and soil. Thank you for your endless giving and medicine that sustains our life. We ask that all their needs to grow be provided. In this year of drought, we ask for sufficient water and food for us and our brothers and sisters who are thirsty and hungry throughout the world.

We recognize that our work will cause both life and death. Forgive us any harm to you and to our brothers and sisters. Know that our intentions are good and that we are learning. May our work contribute to a home of sustainability and goodness for the unborn, our future children, the future generations of this earth.

Please awaken us to care for you and our family, as you care for all of us. Please guide us in our path to good and awaken our hearts to recognize that we are one and we are you. 


DSC00145 DSC00143 DSC00138 DSC00129




2013 farm apprentice Colby made a surprise guest appearance in the 4th field during our Friday morning harvest & helped Emila & Kogen land a giant Samantha lettuce from the back of the field. He’s begun a start-up CSA farm with friends an hour & a half north of here & showed us a picture of his first box, replete with herbs, lettuce, turnips, radishes, bunching greens… a thing of real beauty!

He also brought some high-tech thing called a smartphone that one can both talk into & take pictures with… glory be, look at those smiles! We are so fortunate to have this life together.

Busy days on the farm: bowing in, sowing, planting, hoeing, laying out drip, watering the greenhouses, cleaning up, bowing out. Covering beds with reemay, closing up the hoops, emptying hoses, moving pipe, spreading gypsum and feathermeal, transplanting off the tractor, spraying out flats, making potting mix. We began the week with our biggest Monday harvest of the season and gave a successful shot at bunching our weedy first spinach planting by considering words from Janisse Ray’s fantastic book, The Seed Underground:

Every story has a substory, sometimes many substories, and one of the substories of Yanna (“the Sweet Potato Queen”) is generosity. In my investigations, generosity is a trait that I’ve found almost ubiquitous in seed savers, many of whom realize that in order to preserve genetic diversity, seed must be shared. They also seem to realize that we need people to become passionate first about gardening and then about sharing seed, and that sometimes a gift sparks a passion. In fact, maybe generosity is the story and seeds are the substory.


I am so grateful to the crew for allowing for the busyness and dynamism of farm work under a beginning farmer (the definition for this is anyone who has been farming less than ten years, no age limits). It is actualization of the perfection of generosity. I hope we inspire in each other a profound respect for the land and elements that sustain our lives. May we seed a passion for gardening, seed-saving and the endlessly expansive practice of generosity.

I hope we all learn to love bunching, pulling, cutting, washing, sorting, trimming, packing, lifting, loading, unloading and selling vegetables that people will eat. It’s so satisfying to give someone food that you have grown. It is good to give.


Next week we begin giving veggie boxes to our neighbors at Muir Beach.



The job of enju (garden manager) is most difficult and extremely troublesome. Only people who have the mind of the Way have served in this job. People without the mind of the Way cannot fill this position. The garden manager must always be at the vegetable garden to plant seeds in accord with the season. With the face of buddhas and ancestors, they must have horse and donkey legs, like farmworkers and fieldhands. Without holding back their own life energy, throughout the day they must carry spaces and hoes, plow and till by themselves, and haul manure. They can only wait for the vegetables to ripen, and then must not miss their time. When they plow the ground and sow seeds, they do not wear their two-piece robes, one-piece robes, or their okesa. They wear only coarse workclothes. However, when it is time for the whole community together to chant sutras, do nenju, go up in the hall for the abbot’s lectures, or enter the room for dokusan, the garden manager must definitely go along with the assembly. They must not fail to practice. Morning and evening in the vegetable garden they must offer incense, do prostrations, chant and recite dedications to Ryuten and Doji, without ever becoming lazy or negligent. Even at night they sleep at a hut near the vegetable garden. Workers provided for the garden are sometimes rotated according to the supervision of the work leader and must be trained by the garden manager. Truly people with the mind of the Way and people of great renown have filled this position. Fellows of little ability and the crowd of mediocrities have never served in this job.

–from Pure Standards For The Temple Administrators, Dogen Zenji


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