Stop Shopping

and other Buddhist practices to save the planet

Susan Moon

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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;

—James Keough

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.

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This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.'s picture

Sadly, ironically, when I first tried to share this article to my FB friends, by default the post included a graphic ad for selling stuff. (You can choose another graphic when posting from a PC, but still...)

kshile's picture

I work in healthcare. Horrifying indeed is the amount of waste produced in the name of infection control and non harming. Does anyone out there have any insight into bringing green practice in to the hospital setting?

jackelope65's picture

Hand washing with simple soap and water done frequently before and after every patient is the simplest but most important thing any individual can do no matter their role in the hospital whether visitor, janitor, social worker, nutritionist, administrator, therapist, nurse, or doctor, not leaving anyone out on purpose, because it applies to all. Unfortunately sterilization of surgical equipment does not work well and causes a lot of waste. A society not polluted with toxic chemicals, not eating so much meat, exercising, and attending to spiritual and personal needs will not be so needy of hospitals. There is no solution for not taking care of ourselves and the world other than reversing this trend. I think many hospitals should clean up their meals. In 40 years of medical practice, I only ate hospital food 4-5 times. It is hard to teach patients to eat properly when most, not all, hospital food is so bad. (Alcohol washes do not work as well and are ineffective against some organisms such as C. Difficile.) I fully agree with the author but would not eat caviar. My wife and I actually enjoy walking and biking places not having a car. The organic foods tastes better and does not feel like a sacrifice. I love ugly oranges with multiple seeds as the best fruit evolved to taste good with multiple seeds to propagate itself, true of most fruits.

sallyotter's picture

Stop eating meat. Factory farming is a big cause of pollution. And suffering.