and other Buddhist practices to save the planet
Digging the Earth
Every spring, apprentices in the Green Gulch Farm organic gardening and farming program settle into a six-month-long routine of daily practice and work in the community's gardens and fields. The connection they find between Buddhism and the environment seems unavoidable, says Sukey Parmelee, who coordinates the program, "It is made through Green Gulch being both a meditation retreat and a working farm."
The apprentices meditate each morning, have one-day sittings, and meet with a practice leader. They also attend lectures and take classes in Buddhism. These studies carry over to the hands-on work experience and instruction the apprentices receive in organic farming and gardening. ''Work practice is a strong practice in Soto Zen," says Parmelee, "so there's an attempt to work mindfully in the morning. We work in silence except for necessary conversation.”
Green Gulch Farm was founded in 1972 as a branch of the San Francisco Zen Center. It is situated in a narrow valley near the ocean, just north of San Francisco. The apprenticeship program, which was started by Green Gulch residents Wendy Johnson [Tricycle's "On Gardening" columnist] and Emila Heller in 1994, has always provided a solid introduction to the activities that go into running an organic farm and garden, but over the years the practice life has become a more integral part of the program.
Green Gulch provides apprentices with room and board in exchange for thirty-five hours of work and three hours of seminars and classes each week. After successfully completing the program, apprentices earn two fifty-five-day practice periods at the Farm, and it's possible thereafter to join the community.
"From our point of view, it's a wonderful gate to enter the Zen Center, and many do go on to practice in our community," says Parmelee. Others work as urban gardeners in the Chicago area, at a farm for troubled youth in upstate New York, or in school gardens.
And what do the apprentices take from the program? "A very good appreciation for the benefits of organically grown food and of the value of knowing where your food comes from," says Parmelee, "plus a good grounding in Buddhism. And whether they stay on in the community or not, they will always have that as part of their life."
For more information, contact Green Gulch Farm, 1601 Shoreline Hwy., Sausalito, CA 94965; (415) 383-3134; www.sfzc.org.
Image 1: Ascendant, Isabella Kirkland, 2000, oil paint and alkyd on canvas, 36 × 48 inches, depicts non-native species introduced to the U.S. that are outcompeting native species. © Isabella Kirkland, courtesy of Feature Inc, New York City.