Farming the Way

Riff on Mindfulness in Farming

Mindfulness in farming involves both a close look & an expanding awareness of the big picture. Recognizing that you are seen & felt as you move in the world with beings.

What are you doing?

Mindfulness does not mean slow.

Mindfulness means knowing where you are going, attuning to an ongoingly transformative & personally engaging landscape mapped in your mind & body.

Mindfulness means making eye contact & vocally affirming that you have heard & understand. It also means asking clarifying questions if you don’t understand.

It also means imagining yourself doing the task & trying to articulate the questions that will help make the task & goal easy to achieve before you ride away.

Mindfulness is fundamentally relational.

Mindfulness means putting your energy into the task at hand, seeking to follow instructions closely—to try the method that’s being transmitted with sincere effort.

After sustained mistakes, you master the transmitted way & it becomes possible to improvise like an adept.

Mindfulness in farming oftentimes means you should look at your watch & be intimate with time.

Sometimes mindfulness means hearing crows trying to intimidate a redtail hawk or an owl; sometimes they are playing, sometimes two murders come together & try to hustle each other over an invisible border in the air.

Mindful farming happens when you look around & notice the elements—they are at work in the soil, too.

Mindfulness is curiosity.

Mindfulness means using & putting away every tool, treating every piece of equipment, as if you were borrowing it & wanted it to be available to the next person for the following project.

Mindfulness is responding to the next thing, while not forgetting what you just did.

Mindfulness means not forgetting what you are doing.

(What are you doing?)

Mindfulness means not forgetting what you are doing.

Mindfulness in farming is a way of looking for how you can be most useful to accomplish collective aspirations.

Mindfulness is remembering to remember what your own self-study is—uprightly asking: what are the ways you are bringing your life to the activity you are doing? Are you doing it with all your attention, grace & generosity; your particular talents & disposition & wish to awaken to your entire potential?

Mindfulness is energetic: your vast field expressed in simple terms.

Mindfulness is a wildness channeled into a particular form.

Mindfulness is the gorgeous inheritance of this human life.

July 15, 2016


Our Place In The Mandala

-for Alan Chadwick & the archangels


the humble specificity of white yarrow

in situ at the center of the shared world

distinct from other umbels

the hemlock’s upright white

coy horse-strong radish pink

& the incalculable others

equally self-full & self-less


we were born, learned to walk & see

& now this:

dwarfed by towering foxglove

everywhere the free coin of the realm

ten thousand poppies

proclaiming the ephemeral dharma


from season to season

moonrise to sunrise

our species scares itself toward chaos

while big quaking grass & button-seed mallow

wild apples & camellias, thimbleberries & oak

any pair of beings distinctly arranged

just so

just going on being

filling all space with fearless life


renounce smallness of vision for love!


go gently into everything

allow difference, offer refuge to the stranger

make amends for wrongdoing

bless the porous borders

& shimmering spider threads

& feel the clear wind that plays heart music

shaping the land & water

evoking this region

that births butterflies

that belongs to no one.



Yesterday Nick & I had the great pleasure & honor to chat with a visiting venerable friend of Green Gulch. Wes Jackson & his grandson Jacob eating plums at the bottom of the 3rd field! I couldn’t actually believe it was him (the Wes Jackson?, I said, when we introduced ourselves).

He proceeded to tell us of the incredible progress being made in developing perennial grain polycultures that will mimic the natural grassland prairies of the midwest. For decades The Land Institute has been pioneering this move away from annual agriculture.

In telling us about the project’s use of computational technology to do the complex selections necessary, he recited Gary Snyder’s poem, For The Children, which seems a fitting way of closing the loop with our Zen practice & agricultural practices. (To his grandson by way of explanation he said, Gary Snyder is a Buddhist Poet.)

For The Children

The rising hills, the slopes,

of statistics

lie before us.

the steep climb

of everything, going up,

up, as we all

go down.


In the next century

or the one beyond that,

they say,

are valleys, pastures,

we can meet there in peace

if we make it.


To climb these coming crests

one word to you, to

you and your children:


stay together

learn the flowers

go light

–Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island



“Things ripen of their own accord.

One day I was on the way to my teacher Sojun Weitsman and saw a small plum tree where the fruit was hanging heavy but still green. I said to my teacher that I felt like the plum: I was ripening, but not there yet.

Sojun replied: ‘The difference between you and the plum… is that the plum doesn’t worry about it.'”

-Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum, from Walking the Way: 81 Zen Encounters With The Tao Te Ching


It feels like every day these days is a Big Harvest Day.

The pulse of life is fantastic here in the Gulch. Robust, complicated, poly-vocal. The sound of ocean wind has been a near-constant soundtrack of late. The American Robin (so many jolly, cocky robins!) song struck me today as particularly beautiful: trilling like a parable of simplicity. And human speech, engine sounds, footsteps, the salad spinner.

What is an appropriate harvest of all this sensual abundance?

How do we respond in the face of such overwhelming beauty?

We try breathing deep of the clean moving air.

We try smiling, making eye contact & warming our hearts (especially here in the summer-disguised-as-winter) & with cold fingers continue harvesting spinach before the sun crests the hills above the fog.

We renounce clean clothes & look like overly happy outlaws, immigrants & itinerant monks.

We bow-in & bow-out of the day together.

We bow to each other, toward the inside of an open circle.

When in doubt, bow.

For bowing is to fall in love.

This love fills bodies & minds,

all space

the biggest harvest of all.

(Deep gratitude to the farm crew for their great & continuous effort to soften)



The Moment Monument

Welcome back to the blog!, I say to myself, absent these months…

I declaim: This has already been a special season on the farm in 2016!

We are currently–& have been at it since April–building a moment monument.

This means that we have been rejoicing in almost every moment at our good fortune to find ourselves together & able to interact with such special ground, within & without.

Let us count the blessings.

Earth, air, fire, water.

Being alive.

Living in the midst of a community devoted to sincerity, even at its most difficult.

There has been a parade of Green Gulch farmers-of-the-past who have returned to spend a few hours or days with us. This is the blessing of real connection. A connection to people, a place, a schedule of manifesting liberation (zen sitting practice), wholesome activity, the act of seeing.

In short, reunions are a monument to Good Work.

Here time is told on wood, with reverberating bells, with silence & laughter & work & joyous, reflexive, wildly diverse forms of bowing.

We are entering the post-solstice waterfall of activity as a farm body. Harvesting does not keep pace with the un-invited plant growth. The ‘firsts’ for most of our crops has come: broccoli & cabbage the newest cast members of the farmers market ensemble as of last week. New-dug Red Gold & Purple Viking potatoes in a week or two. Beets are filling out. Finochio is gradually going white & full. The lettuce is rampant, full & happy.

As for ‘weeds’: chickweed snarls lovingly around every crop stem. Groundsel flourishes in the sweet white alyssum pollinator rows. Nettle cuddles with vibrant, hairy potato plants, setting seed in what seems like minutes. Purslane subdivides like quicksilver & covers our 4th field like a terrifying Persian rug. Red-root Pigweed Amaranth grows muscles  along the wet side of the valley. And the white of Poison Hemlock undulates along all the wet spots in the watershed, speckled brown & green stems growing up to 10′ tall.

The 5th field remains a demanding conundrum. Lovely new irrigation pipe is watering in a mixture of introduced forage grasses, native wetland plants & cover crop gone feral (we’ll have a lot of rye in the 3rd & 5th due to my missing window to cultivate in March!). We were supposed to plant into that ground this week, but it is not meant to be.

Outside my window stags have begun to concentrate. The annual stag party where they awkwardly gather around the food trees & eat-down the plums & apples; breaking branches as they hover on hind legs & browse  fruit, leaves & branches to gum down.

This is also the halfway point, more or less, for the farm apprenticeship. And the farm crew is wondrous to behold. Every year it is the best crew ever, I don’t know how that happens.

We have been challenging ourselves to take responsibility for the incredible produce coming out of the land, to remember what the we looked like in April (pre-beards & wild pigtails); the fields were still in cover crop, the mornings wet & cold, trying to recall what it felt like to not-know each other in the ambient, lymbic, community-based way that we do now.

I have great gratitude for all the people who make it possible to have a practice community like Green Gulch. The union of physical land work with contemplative practice is rare in our modern world. This temple watershed is an extremely special refuge & inspiration to me & so many. Thank you.

We hope to see you at one of our markets: Friday, 9-2 in the Mill Valley Farmers Market at the CVS on Blithedale; Saturday, 8:30-1:30 in San Francisco at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market; and Sunday, 11-12:30 at Green Gulch after our public program, beginning with zazen instruction at 8:15.

So good to hear from Elicia, our most consistent & creative of farmer friends.

Thank you for sharing the vision & opening the invitation to join you in Colorado.

(Please support her work however you can.)

Thank you each & all so very much,