Author Archives: Zach Abbey

Ananda Farm goes to Folk Life

Yesterday, Memorial Day, concluded an eventful and engaged 4-day sojourn for Ananda Farm, as first-time vendors at the Folk Life Festival at the Seattle Center. For myself (and others), this was the first experience with Folk Life altogether; an event which has continued since 1972 to be one of the largest free festivals in the world, celebrating music, arts, food and culture from the world over, finding home now in the PNW. This year there is an estimated 250,000 people who attend, 6000 performers (volunteers!), and 800 volunteers.

For us as Ananda Farm, the experience was a surprising and joyful one. Only two or three weeks we ago received invitation to vend, after not having been initially accepted upon applying some many months ago. Though this had the benefit of kicking the ananda herb shop production into overdrive, none of us were quite sure what to expect, nor, how best to share our own mission as a yoga-nature farm with the public at large. We are of course in the peak of gardening season, with continuous rounds of weeding, planting, seeding, watering and mulching, happening in approximately that order, as often as we have the time!

Yet for all the effort required from the farmers to participate and share in the event, what to mention the frequent commutes from Camano Island  and back to the Seattle Center, what we found at the end of the festival was something we all could feel Joy in.

My own experience didn’t actually begin at the festival until Sunday morning. Having somewhat organized our team into shifts, we also realized the importance of keeping a presence and efforts moving in the gardens and at the farm. Hailey and Paean on the other hand, found energy and joy to participate each of the four days. Arya, 3 full days, and Sharon opening the first two. Stanley joined us on Saturday, and Justin Lee, who encouraged our participation from the beginning, seemed present throughout, including at the farm until 2am the night before the first day! Whew.

All that aside, what I’ve found great feeling and joy in reflecting upon, both the last two days at the festival, and again this morning, is the Spirit which manifested in the magnitude and vision of this event. A principle of permaculture, and one Swami Kriyananda spoke of as a ‘trend in the New Age’, is that of “Unity in Diversity.”

In often silently, and joyfully traversing the Seattle Center grounds the last two days, what I experienced in myself was far different than what anything I expected. Averse to large crowds in general, I found my approach to the festival to be cautious, if not a bit withdrawn. But as Sunday morning moved along, and I felt a contagious sense of contentment bubbling within, no doubt shared by Paean, Hailey and others, I couldn’t help but begin to feel a sense of awe at the incredible collection of culture, people, art, sounds, instruments, dogs, sites, and beyond. Thankfully, with 4 farmers present throughout the two days of my attending, shifts were indeed possible and necessary. That meant quite often we could each take time to walk about, enjoy and even bask in the joy being shared by so many.

My own first walk through the gardens of folk life, brought me to the main garden (stage) featuring an incredible group of taiko drummers, traditional to Japan, banging, dancing, and smiling throughout. The people in the crowd, myself included, all willingly reciprocated the good will, whether previously ‘aware’ of this style of music or not! Upon venturing beyond that same morning, I was inspired to feel the joy emanating from a 10-man brass band, and then again a beautiful celtic group occupying the traditional stage. On and on it went. It wasn’t even until yesterday, that I stumbled across the Gospel stage – pure heart and soul belting, wriggling and praising the Lord!

What to mention, in all of this, of the vendors. From african baskets, to hand woven monk robes, to the highest quality woolen blankets and olive wood spoons, to our very own ananda farm. The Diversity of culture and harmony together, was both stunning and inspired. I couldn’t help but realize the delicate balance manifesting within the gathering, when one of the singers pointed out in fact the irony of a ‘beer garden’ lingering nearby the gospel stage, to which the beer gardeners gave a few hearty cheers.

As the hours passed by (vending continued each day, from 11am to 8pm), my own inhibitions about participating in this mass of humanity seemed to melt away into a peaceful feeling of happiness to be present in such a vast garden of dance, heart , song, and soul. I found my way a few times to the bluegrass stage, and then was legitimately awed to observe the break-dancing, culminating in a rather incredible spinning back-flip off the stage. Gradually it became clear, the more I could forget myself in this process, the more enjoyment was coming to me in each new moment.

Between all this sensory experience was always a much appreciated return to the tangible peace of the Ananda Farm tent. Located on the outskirts relative to the heart of the festival, but also conveniently at one of the main entrances where many friends entered and exited from, the beautiful colors and relative calm and quiet of our booth was priceless, indeed. From this little booth, we met hundreds of people, made more than a couple thousand dollars in sales (a lot for us country mice in the big city!), and even found the right moments presenting themselves to share about Ananda, yoga, meditation, and the soon-to-arrive visiting Swamis Jyotish and Devi, and their events two weeks from now. Though certainly these subjects were not of great interest to a majority of the attendees present in such a hub bub of activity,  to a few visitors it appeared to be even their sole (soul?) purpose in attending. Regardless, it seemed, most all who visited seemed to be positively impacted by their time at Ananda Farm. Many dozens of new folks now know about farm suppers, lavender festival, the Ananda meditation temple, East West Bookshop, and the Living Wisdom School. What it will come of it? Only time will tell. And yet, what has already come from it, has been wonderful, indeed.

For in the process of participating in this event, I myself realized my own role wasn’t to convince, nor sell anything. It was, and always is, to be present. To enjoy each moment. To not merely wish to talk about what we are doing, but to honor what you are doing. And as much as anywhere I can remember, Folk Life does this. 100 years ago such an international celebration would be unfathomable, but today, it so commonplace that we can simply ignore it’s relevance in our own tiny bubbles of the world. All’s well and good, and surely a festival of this size isn’t for everyone, and yet, there can be no question that there is something for everyone. Be it a Mozart sing along, inspired art galleries, hand-made cribbage boards, or the stage with the Diwali celebration of Light.

As a farm stand we did well at folk life. But as a collective garden of people, many people grew this memorial day weekend. In feeling the joy in myself of receiving what so many give to each other, I felt calmness and expansion in so much vastness of experience around. Beyond all the multi-farious forms of music and arts and food manifesting, there was dynamic energy. There was consciousness. And there was Joy.

May this memorial weekend and all future folk life festivals serve as a reminder to bask in these universal virtues, of energy and joy, of unity and in diversity; and may we all strive to honor this in each other.


The Spirit of Natural Farming

The Spirit of Natural Farming


Recently while walking the farm with a couple visitors (and CSA members, who happen to be two of the greatest supporters of the farm’s ‘prana’ greens and herb mix), one of them said to us, “You need the sign we have at our front door: ‘Ring bell. If no one answers, pull weeds!'”
Though we don’t actually have a door bell on the farm house, nor can a person easily make it to the front door without the dogs giving them away, we do have an abundance of weeds! or seen in another way, dense, lush, tall vegetation! I recall times in the passed when new visitors have even asked, “Where is the farm?”
This especially feels to be the case right now, on a cool, breezy and WET May morning; the grass is tall, the dandelion powder-heads are at half mast, with the other half already having been dispersed into the wind, and thistles are ‘inter-planted’ here and there in what can sometimes feel to be invading armies, depending on which side of the bed you woke up on a given morning.
Meanwhile, the edges of many of the gardens and orchards, which transition into forest and trees, are often dense walls of brambles. 20 feet deep or more in some places, himalayan blackberry growth all but stifles any forward progress for us two-leggeds (quite the contrary for the countless critters that inhabit and find salvation in those very same bramble beds!).
Upon an initial and quick review, the farm could well appear to be in chaos! Hence, our recent introduction of 4 dwarf nigerian goats to the vast hillside.
And yet, I’m well aware that the farm isn’t is in chaos. Well, not to me at least!
Just beyond groves of thistle or 3′ grass, lie layers of mowed, mulched and burlapped walk ways. Interspersed within the dense vegetation are patches of persistent and expansive white clover, gradually increasing it’s stabilizing impact with the surrounding soil. In the garden beds themselves, though classic weeds emerge here and there, countless crops are growing and thriving. Magnificent and hearty garlic beds with emerging under story of bush beans. Hundreds of tomatoes under-sown with root crops, soon to be interplanted with peppers and lettuce. Row upon row of trellised snap and snow peas. Fava beans who stand in clusters of 5-6 plants in the middle of the long beds offer both stability and nitrogren to the brassicas and greens which share the edges of those same rows. Corn and Sunflower seeds are poked in between those same Fava Clumps. Mustards, carrots, and radish seed germinate on the soil and mulch alike, in dozens of beds throughout the expanse of the 2 acres of gardens. Oregano, Sage, Comfrey, Thyme, Hyssop and Rosemary are peppered around. Apple, Pear and Plum whips, Maple, elderberry, and alder saplings, all poke their head above the crowd, anywhere from 2′ to 10′ above the ground, interspersed throughout most all of the gardens.
Amidst all the seeming wilderness, there is an organized chaos! Amidst all the diversity of plants and critters, there is a great Unity. Compared with the hyper-controlled farm models of conventional agricultural, Ananda Farm looks more than a bit unkempt. There are no freshly tilled rows of empty soil (though I’m happy to announce there are indeed a few freshly weeded ones!). Piles of woodchips and brush are here and everywhere. Tall grass and mowed pathways. Goats, Alpacas, Chickens, Dogs, Cats, thousands of Plants, and a small group of Ananda Farmers who garden with hands, hearts, and minds, in an ever-evolving dance with life. This dynamic balance of life is for us, the Spirit of Natural farming.
Though it may not look like a farm; it grows food like one! As the soil regenerates through mulch and perennial plant power each season, and as the soil, herbs, trees, and life on the land mature on their own path of realization, so too the abundance that ‘natural’ farming provides. Though the organized mind may understandably shake it’s head at the audacity of a no-till, yoga-nature farm, a growing number of people on the planet realize it’s passed time for a different direction in agriculture; The idea of growing food for ourselves must once again expand to include all of nature in ideals of stewardship, harmony, abundance and cooperation. Yoga, after all, means Union, or Oneness.
In many ways, this is a new paradigm given where we are today in a world of mono-cultures, tilled fields, GMOs and chemical applications. Yet in the grand scheme of things, it is an old one. In a time before industrial revolutions, before the ‘dark ages’ of the medieval era, there were prolonged periods of peace and harmony, both on and with Earth. It is this direction then that also represents the future; The sanskrit word Smritti means divine remembrance; in the case of living on this planet, this means the divine remembrance of how to live harmoniously and with love for all life on this planet.
These too are the ideals which Fukuoka brought from his small farm in Japan to the world. Which Bhaskar Save brought from India to the world. Those ideals of Love which helped Luther Burbank and George Washington Carver create agricultural Renaissances in America in their own times of need.  And so too today, does this connection to Nature, Plants, Animals and People need to be facilitated, nurtured and shared, each in it’s own unique way.
Each and all on this planet have a role to play in living and farming. Regardless then of your outward path in life, May the Joy of Natural Farming be within You.
 “Feel the love of God…. You will find a magic, living relationship uniting the trees, the sky, all people, and all living things; and you will feel a oneness with them.”
-Paramhansa Yogananda

Fall Newsletter – Final week of CSA

Greeting farm friends

The seasonal shift is officially upon us.

The first order of business: this is indeed the final week of the CSA for 2016. So we want to offer a huge heartfelt thank you to everyone who made the great commitment to grow with us, each and every week this season. We realize it is in fact a great commitment; to be present to pick up your box each week (and hopefully return them?), to be willing to adapt your own kitchen customs, and to support an alternative and still-evolving no-till, yoga-nature farm model.

Meanwhile at the farm we are setting the sails to catch the winds of fall, and get carried forth into an ever new sea of change and future farm expansion. With the Camano market already having come to a close, the final Stanwood market coming up this Friday, and the final CSA distribution on Tuesday and Wednesday, we will joyfully begin setting roots anew at the homestead. Throughout the growing season, as we plant, harvest and travel to and fro, the farm list at home steadily ascends the mountain of aspiration. The seasonal flow of nature offers a solution to the growing to-do list of life on the farm: “Adopt the pace of Nature, her secret is patience,” Ralph Waldo Emerson. And yet, when we are in harmony with the seasonal transition, it is nothing short of beautiful to experience each and every passing season.

While we simultaneously move into the new season at the farm, one also can’t help but feel the inward pull of the fall weather; shorter, cooler days, which naturally bring us more into a space of peace and quietude. And most likely as well, back around the farm table in friendship and satsang.

This passed weekend, Hailey, Sharon, Paean, and myself were able to venture west to Fort Flagler to attend the annual PNW permaculture convergence, which alternates annually between sites in WA and Oregon. Sharon was blessed to be present Friday night for the keynote by Paul Stametz, world-renowned mycologist (“How mushrooms can save the world“); listen to his Tedtalk, if you haven’t already. And Saturday the group of us spread out and took a variety of classes and made great connections, including that of Michael Dolan, the owner of Burnt Ridge Nursery in Onalaska, WA. At the forefront of perennial agriculture, Burnt Ridge has the most incredible selection of fruit and nut trees and shrubs in the PNW. He operates about 21 acres of farm-nursery, collects cuttings and varieties from all over the world, and shares as much of his abundance and wealth as he can. We are hoping to arrange a visit to his farm later this month.

Meanwhile at Ananda farm, we are gearing up to host our annual investors meeting this weekend, in the form of farm supper and sharing. This is an opportunity to host and update all the great souls that made the original investment in the farm possible by pooling their resources. Though our cooperative model doesn’t offer fiscal returns, the investment and return does come around in the form of energy and community-based solutions. It’s wonderful, in fact, to share with others the basis of Ananda as a community farm – a merging of ‘elders’ with resources and experience, and youngers with energy and enthusiasm, to help create something greater than any single one could do on their own. The farm continues to grow in its own ability to provide abundance and happiness through its residents and the growing community of like-minded friends on Camano Island. The farm serves as a great example of what is possible when we invest willingly of ourselves and our resources in causes that are indeed, greater than ourselves.

On the farm, Hailey serves in the medicine shop with Sharon and Paean, making the last rounds of herb harvests for the year, pots of comfrey oil bubbling, the final distillations of lavender coming to a close, and fresh batches of soap being pulled out of the oven. Glenda is back in the canning mode, having made dozens of preserves, from plum to pear sauce and tomato jam; as well, she is back into the candle shop pouring candles for the alters in the winter months. Alpaca fiber is in process from Swami Dakshina, as well as apple cider vinegar and fermented veggies. Stanley has helped lead the fruit harvest (and all harvests!!!), and the corresponding cider press efforts, a big job indeed with this years fruit crop! Paean has been sharing her cookbook, Cultivating Your Inner Chef: A Sustainable Guide to Cooking, a wonderful, holistic education on how-to-cook, techniques and right attitudes in the kitchen; in addition to running the farm kitchen, lavender still, and apple pie efforts! Sharon will actually be leaving this month to join Don Tipping at Seven Seeds farm in Williams, Or, for the Seed Academy. Don and the seed school are at the forefront of seed culture in America, and his voice and example serve as one of the most respected in the world of sustainable, regenerative agriculture. Sharon is the most awesome ambassador for Ananda Farm.

We have a new addition of 13 little chicks. It’s been three weeks and we have not lost any! Cute Olive is not so much a puppy anymore. She has grown and matured in leaps and bounds, being the best understudy Tulsi Dog could ever have.

Some other topics of interest at the farm:

  • We hope to add our biggest greenhouse to date this winter, a lean-to off the south-side of the Haven barn, as the new start house for spring seeding.
  • A new walk-in fridge in what is currently the barn’s ‘tack room.’ The fruit abundance this year has made it abundantly clear that we need to cold storage!
  • Re-walling and insulating the bungalow, that it may host visitors even in the winter months, like Paean’s family for Thanksgiving.
  • A goat shelter and tool at the base of the lower field, that soon we will allow a goat family to be supported by the incredible abundance of goat food on the hill side! This will ultimately open up space for more expansion into the rich tilth of the alders, brambles and native cherry trees stands which densely populate the hill.
  • The gardens will continue to expand, especially so at Haven, where the warmth and windbreaks near the barn and house make for wonderful tomato and hot crop growing conditions. This also is to include a round of nut tree planting – in the form of cold hardy Russian almonds, Japanese Heart Nuts, and Burnt Ridge Chestnuts.
  • A final great development worth mentioning – the constant request for yoga and meditation gatherings at the farm have been heard, and we are actively exploring what it will take to create the right space for the farms own meditation chapel, large enough to host guests and groups like yourself. Do you want to be involved or contribute in the manifestation of the Yogananda Farm Shrine?

As always, the updates could go on, but well, the sail is catching wind! We’ve got a couple more CSA boxes to fill, and goat shed to finish! Thank you all for a beautiful season.

Please find us and the full line of farm products throughout the fall and holiday season, on Sunday’s at the Ananda Meditation temple in Bothell, directly after Sunday Service, and at various holiday markets, and at Camano Marketplace on Camano Island.

Also, this is a good time to let you know of an event we will all be attending – the showing of Seeds: the Untold Story, in Bellingham, at the Pickford, on Oct 26th. All the farmers will be in attendance, and would welcome you to join us in the spirit of Seeds of Hope for the Future. Get your tickets as soon as possible; the director will be in attendance, and it will likely sell out!

Let us stay in touch. If you would like to help out at the farm or at the gardens in Lynnwood, please email us.

With love, on behalf of the ananda farm family. Zachary



The last farm supper. Farming harmony.

Yesterday, Sat October 1st, we concluded the farm supper season at Ananda, with a final hurrah, a four course farm feast. A mixture of roots (turnips, beets, carrots, potatoes, leeks), leafs (Kale and Basil), Flowers (in the form of brocolli fritters), and fruits (tomatoes, apples, pumpkins, and cucumbers). It’s always fun to welcome friends and newcomers to the farm, and especially to feed them.

The supper yesterday was especially sweet, as the seasonal transition forced us to reinvent the backyard summer suppers into the cozy confines of Haven House, candle lit, with about 35 guests and 10 or more farm residents and friends.


Paean serenaded us with her violin, and then the rest of the farmily joined her for a song to the Source – Door of My Heart. We even had the joy of the birthday song and pie, for our own Swami Hrimananda. I couldn’t help but notice as the hour passed 7, the typical departure time, nary a visitor did lift from their seat. These were each exceptional moments, all contributing to a communal warmth and feeling of harmony.

In between down pours, the sky even parted for the arrival of guests around 330, and then again around 6 for a fresh-air farm walk prior to the apple and pumpkin pie presentation. It’s during these walks that we often have the opportunity to share and experience the farm, some of it’s philosophy and practices.

Earlier this week, in preparing for a class, I opened Autobiography of a Yogi (as many a devotee has been known to do), hoping that in my search the Master himself would grant the perfect seed thought to sow in class that night. Well, it didn’t work quite like that, but it did drop a seed for another day. And that seed now helps me to see something beautiful growing in the gardens of Ananda farm.

In the story I opened to, Yogananda tells of the life-long blessing he receives after serving at his first winter solstice festival with his Guru, Sri Yukteswar Giri. Though subtle in revealing his own role in preparing for the event, he does share Sri Yukteswar’s sentiment afterwards, when he tells his disciple: “Tonight you have conquered the fear of fatigue and hardwork; you shall never be bothered by them in the future.” An incredible blessing, indeed

With this thought already percolating, it had many opportunities to resurface in the observation of a subtle and unspoken harmony which seemed to permeate the environment at the farm leading up to our own final ‘festival’ of the season. I noticed how every resident, and every friend who joined to help, remained joyfully focused throughout preparations, during the event, and to put back the pieces! How fluidly each and all communicated and worked with each other – without the need for excessive meetings and discussions, how each person could simply take on different aspects of what needed to be done, and see it through. This is, in fact, an incredible, regularly occurring phenomenon at the farm, be it for the bi-weekly prana mix, or the willingness to head to the market and mingle. The willingness to serve together, and strive to all do our best to help Ananda Farm grow.


In reflecting on Sri Yukteswar’s statement to Yogananda, I feel how those same blessings grow in the time and space of this farm. How when we choose to work together, without fear or concern for what could go wrong, or all that I might have to do, we can in fact experience our own moments of conquering the great delusions of fatigue and fear of hardwork.

More so than any awareness (or lack) of fear or fatigue yesterday, is the awareness of an intrinsic harmony in the people and life, that live and serve and grow here. Everyone contributed in a significant way, and did so with joy. This is both notable and inspiring, in a world that often feels to be spiraling into greater disharmony with each passing season.

When we take the farm walks, one of the greatest opportunities for each person is to feel harmony with the activities of the farm and life around us. So often in our busy lives, in cities, and superstores, we forget our connection to life, and don’t feel our inner harmony with it, much less with each other.

Gandhi’s first principal of natural farming states “Harmonious coexistence for mutual benefit.”

Sri Yukteswar told Yogananda, “God is Harmony.”

Yesterday, as I experienced the smiles, comradery, and service of the farm family, I felt the greatest harvest of the farm to date: Harmony.

May peace and harmony grow within us all!




Burbank and the Blackberry

Burbank and the Blackberry

Recently I had the pleasure of being sent a radio and written feature from KUOW here in Seattle, on Luther Burbank and the Himalayan Blackberry. The article reveals the little known fact that the blackberry was actually an experiment by the legendary ‘wizard of horticulture’, Luther Burbank. In fact, he brought this blackberry from the East because of it’s incredible propensity for growth and abundance, like many an eastern export!

Yet, we find many a garden clubber, homeowner, farmer, and conservationist alike, a wee bit troubled by this plant and it’s seemingly uninhibited expansion in the landscape. Ultimately, much like Burbank himself, the blackberry lends itself to asking bigger questions about the role plants play on the planet, as well as our own proper and ideal relationship with Life itself.

Gandhi’s Second Principle of Natural Farming 

At the farm we have a sign on the herb shop with Gandhi’s 5 principles of Natural Farming, as both a means of affirming our own relationship with the farm, and in sharing the spirit of yoga-farming with others who visit. Time and again, when communicating with and about blackberries, thistles, and all plants labeled as ‘invasive’, or ‘noxious’, I find myself returning to Gandhi’s second principle: Nothing born out of Mother Earth is Waste. 

gandhi principles

Ultimately, the rise of the blackberry is a wonderful opportunity for both those confounded and awe-inspired by its presence, to practice the awareness which Gandhi was attempting to share: Literally, that nothing, which comes from the Earth Mother, is waste. This in itself, is to honor an all-pervading consciousness within all of creation – to realize in fact, there are no accidents, in the Nature, or in our life’s.

The No Waste Principle in Practice

Since the inception of the Ananda farm on Camano, the no-waste principle has been fundamental to our growth and ability to find free and readily available resources, capable of accomplishing great improvements in the garden and with life on the land. Even cleared blackberry canes, we would harvest, bundle with jute, and lay on contour of the land, before covering with soil, to provide a longer rhythm of soil building inside new garden beds. Similarly, we were fortunate enough to befriend an arborist, who, needing a place to dump his tree and shrub prunings, gladly traversed the farm to locate the orange cone we had left at each new site for a future terrace and berm, to make his dump. The abundance of free organic material which ultimately returns to earth to create rich soil tilth, reveals truth in Gandhi’s principle – nothing is waste! Neither in death, nor in life.

The fact that as a culture, we so often send away our lawn and yard clippings, trimmings, leaf litter and free mulch and compost in bins often labeled ‘yard waste’, is a mere reflection of our failure to apply this principle in the most natural setting – our own homes and backyards!

Backing up to the blackberry, we find ourselves truly challenged by the loftiness of such a principle, to affirm that nothing is waste, while simultaneously confronted with an expanding wall of thicket and thorn!

Finding Purpose in All Life

One of the great benefits of reflecting on the principles of natural farming, is that they are applicable to all life, and therefore are universal in their application. Stated positively, the nothing is waste principle becomes “everything that comes from mother earth has Purpose!” To not be waste, implies as much. This principle applies as much to a pile of grass clippings as it does to you and me! More so even, I would speculate, in the latter!

And this, is seemingly a great starting point for how to approach the blackberry. What is it’s purpose? Why is it growing here?  A far cry from – “Invasive weed, you have no place here!” It’s hard to imagine we can learn any lesson from a plant, or person, when we are condemning their very presence! “Noxious, invasive, non-natives.” Whether discussing plants, or people!, we must be careful in our own thoughts to not separate and condemn new or different plants, or people, as invasive or illegal, without first seeking the greater role each and every being plays in this world. And equally as important – what lesson each person and plant who comes into our lives, has to teach us, individually and collectively as conscious beings.

Finding Purpose in the Bramble Bed

The blackberry’s growth is hardly random, nor is it disturbing, when we consider the circumstances around its expansion. Most often it grows, like most all plants deemed invasive or noxious, in the most disturbed areas; disturbed that is, by human activity. Nature always responds appropriately to the misappropriations applied to Her creation. And in most cases, her response is quite magical.

Not only do blackberries cover disturbed areas in thickets, as if to say ‘get away from this soil, son of man!,’ but they actually provide incredible benefit to the life of nature as a whole. Just ask your local beekeeper about the blackberry as a pollinator; it is one of the most reliable in the Pacific Northwest.  In a time of rapidly declining bee populations, some of the very best natural pollinators are those of the ‘noxious’ variety: blackberries and knotweed stand out in our area as being the most maligned of plants, and yet, two of the most life supporting in bee-friendly, nectar-full abundance.

Beyond this, the incredible array of creatures and fliers which call the safety of the bramble patch their home is at times astonishing. I was blessed under the stars one night to encounter my first porcupine up close. Upon calling off the curious and cautiously circling farm dog, I began telling the porcupine it was okay to move along. After a few moments, he slowly made his departure across the driveway, and directly into the wall of brambles. It felt in that moment as if he dissolved into an entirely different dimension. I’ve never seen him again, but I was fortunate enough to realize that a specific lesson existed for me in this special encounter. Such is the awe-inspiring nature of the bramble patch. It may be, for all I know, another dimension. Open only to the Devas and Spirit creatures, an abundant refuge from the destruction of Nature and the environment, occurring with such alarming regularity in the modern world.

What to mention, of the month long berry harvest, for people, birds and 4-leggeds. Or the soil underneath the plants, which builds, season upon season, as leaves and organic material fall and become trapped in the dense vegetation; often we find the best soil at the farm, preserved under a recently cleared bramble bed.

In the expanded perspective of asking ‘what is the purpose of this plant?’, we come to see that the blackberry is incredible and multi-faceted in it’s form and function. When we ourselves expand our sympathies to include all of life, it is simply awe-inspiring to realize the role many plants play, in facilitating and giving life and joy to others.

In this spirit of awe-inspiring possibilities, we realize that everything mother nature grows has specific purpose in a greater context and consciousness. Everything and everyone has purpose, in the Divine Plan of Life .

Opportunity Consciousness

Paramhansa Yogananada said, “There are no obstacles, there are ONLY opportunities.” To listen for the purpose in life’s obstacles, in the very presence of ‘invasive weeds’, is to seek new opportunities which lie just beyond our current place of understanding. With an expanded sensitivity to Life, we see the blackberry as an incredible opportunity to teach us about Life, and our role as stewards within it. To write it off, to condemn it’s presence, is to simply diagnose a ‘problem’ without learning our particular lesson. And, one may speculate, the greater the ‘problem’ feels in the context of our own life, the greater the opportunity we have to learn!

If we truly ask the question, as Swami Kriyananda encouraged so many to do, “what is trying to happen here?,” it may be that we find answers beyond our imagination of expectancy. In the blackberry, maybe it will be that we realize a conscious entity, sent here, by the wizard of horticulture himself, to support all life and nature in a myriad of miraculous ways, at a time when this planet needs more life-support than ever. It may be that the blackberry is here to show us the proper means of working with life – by supporting it, not controlling. By always stewarding more life, not less.

To have weed consciousness, is to wish merely to take things away. To have opportunity consciousness, is to first see the purpose in the plant as a part of the greater whole, and from that place, realize how to facilitate more harmony and steward more growth, not less. It may be, for example, that the abundance of bramble bed, may be a great opportunity to feed and support, a family of goats. Opportunities are infinite.

When we are open to listen to life’s lessons, we come full circle to the actual realization of Ghandi’s principle of natural farming – Nothing which comes to us in Life is waste.

Learning to Listen 

burbank and yogananda.

It was the “American Saint”, Luther Burbank, to whom the great Master of India, Paramhansa Yogananda, actually dedicated his own Autobiography of a Yogi.

It was Luther Burbank, who dedicated his life to creating a more harmonious world for the plants and people on this planet. And again from the bosom of his infinitely creative spirit, that humanity received 113 varieties of plum, 35 fruiting cacti, 13 types of blackberry, and one ‘Himalayan Giant.’

Burbank counseled, “Listen patiently, quietly and reverently to the lessons, one by one, which Mother Nature has to teach, shedding light on that which was before a mystery, so that all who will, may see and know”

Sage counsel such as this, in and of itself, is worth meditating upon. It is only in the Spirit and example which Luther Burbank embodied that we can begin to Listen and understand Her lessons for us.

May we each and all greet the Himalayan Giants in our lives, with open heart and mind, that all who will, may see and know the Truth in their presence, right here and now.

Peace and Harmony. And Love, from farmer Zach and all your friends at Ananda Farm.



Gandhi’s 3rd Principle of Natural Farming

“Farming is not man’s business, it is his moral duty.” Mahatma Gandhi, Third principle of natural farming.

What does farming mean to you?

A dictionary definition of farming reads something like “the activity or business of growing crops and raising livestock.”

Farming, however, represents much more than crops and business. Agriculture has been at the heart of human activity for the last 10,000 years; with the development of grain and vegetable cultivation, came the development of human culture.

Today, agricultural land currently represents over 18 million square miles, or almost 40% of land on the planet. In 1870 America, between 70-80% of the population was employed in agriculture; today, remarkably, that number is less than 2%. In modern culture, agrarian living is generally considered to be an antiquated and back-breaking way of life. Especially, when compared with modern comforts and opportunities of cities, technology, and the like. And yet, for all the progress of the modern world, what have we to show as our prize? Greater harmony? Greater happiness?

While modern technology has allowed much of humanity to experience an incredible expansion of possibilities and creativity, there have been notable drawbacks as well. The world is becoming a desert to Life, to name a big one. As tiller and television have spread across all lands, so the link between mother earth and earth children has grown more separate. The growing awareness of disharmony with and in nature, points us back to the roots of culture – farming.

Farming reveals the collective consciousness of humanity. Regardless of how we define farming as an activity, it’s practice and influence impact everyone. Is the farming we practice based on gratitude and mutual benefit? Or on controlling nature and personal gain? The more separate we feel from the land and nature, inside of our own hearts and minds, the greater the disharmony which manifests in the world.

When we take a moment to experience our relationship with all life on this planet, and not merely the human-centric reality, we lift our consciousness beyond cultural and social phenomenons of the day. We see a much larger role for ourselves, to take responsibility for our actions, to sow seeds of love, gratitude and peace, as stewards of the earth. This is the farming of which Gandhi speaks. Farming harmony of the heart and mind, as One.

In this context, humanity will gradually remember the truth in Gandhi’s principle : Farming is not man’s business, it is his moral duty. Farming is not for the machines, or for the 2% of Americans still stuck in the dredges of history. It is the honor of each and every person to appreciate and steward Life, whether in spirit or in practice.

Whether pitchfork or pencil is in hand, we are all farmers. Stewards of Life on this planet. As the great Indian Swami, Sri Yukteswar, so aptly stated, “so long as you breathe the free of this earth, you are under obligation to render grateful service.