Category Archives: Permaculture

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.



Drought, Trees, and Water



Recently there have been many articles relating to NASA’s research and predictions of “mega-droughts” for the American West.  See one example from the BBC, here.

The ultimate conclusion reached by the scientists states that “The cause of the drying was twofold: reduced precipitation – that is, reductions in rainfall and snowfall; but also increased evaporation, driven by higher temperatures, leading to more parched soils.”

Certainly, in California, and even in Washington, where the snow-pack is at record lows right now, and where February has felt more and more like April with each passing day, none can deny the significance of such a report.

NASA’s findings of reduced rainfall and increased temperatures and evaporation seem to be characteristics of a desert, not the causes of desertification. What then, are the causes?

In the article, scientist Cook states “The droughts that people do know about like the 1930s ‘dustbowl’ or the 1950s drought or even the ongoing drought in California and the Southwest today – these are all naturally occurring droughts…”

The language which catches my attention is the ‘natural’ part. What exactly is natural, and what is caused by our own interactions with the earth?

In George Steinbeck’s haunting and compelling novel The Grapes of Wrath, we see a desperate farming family fleeing the dust bowl of Oklahoma in the 1930’s, in hopes of finding new life in the lush central valley of California. Unfortunately for them, no such hope exists, and the chilling ending foreshadows California’s own future. What Steinbeck makes clear, is that the Dust Bowl conditions spreading throughout the Plains are no natural phenomenon, but rather a product of man, money, machines, and the desire to control nature for our own perceived benefit. Where did all that dust come from, if not our actions in exposing the soil that was once stable grassland ecosystem?


Though studies such as these mega-drought projections may be helpful in raising the awareness of the severity of our environmental shifts, they do little to offer solutions, nor take responsibility as a people or (agri)culture for the actions which have brought about such changes.

In the writings of Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese natural farmer, he offers some practical causes and solutions.

Upon visiting the lush and fertile American west in the 1980’s, he was shocked to be greeted by a new American desert. “Clouds no longer form here, and rain no longer wets the ground.” “I explained to one farmer that his soil had not always been poor. I told him that the soil had probably grown leaner each time the tiller had turned it over.”

What Fukuoka goes on to suggest, is that we as God’s children inhabiting this planet are in need of a revolution of our own thoughts. “Perhaps rain falls from above meteorologically, but philosophically it falls from below. If there is vegetation on the ground, then water vapor rises here, condenses into clouds, and falls back down to the earth as rain.”

In this statement, we see a very real basis for understanding that our activity on the planet will either bring forth the rain, or limit it. When we remove all the trees, and repeatedly till the soil, we are depleting the earth’s natural reservoirs. Soils become parched when the organic material is removed. The organic material in the soil comes from permanent plant root systems, decaying plant matter, and soil microorganisms. When we practice a form of agriculture that seeks to control nature and excludes all Life but our own, the desert isn’t merely forming in the soil, but it is growing also in our own hearts. We must shift our way of thinking, to view trees and weeds alike, all as serving a purpose in facilitating Life. We can do this through the cultivation of loving acceptance for all Creation.


As quickly as the trees and vegetation have been removed, they can return, and with them the water. As we grow in awareness of what is happening in the world, and accept responsibility for our collective actions, we can yet again be stewards of life on this planet. The ‘news’ of mega-droughts need not destroy our spirit, but rather send us back to the source of Spirit itself. In the trees, plants, and animals of this earth, there exists the one flowing Spirit of all life.

Happy tree planting everybody!

Autumn Update

A Joyful Season


The seasonal shift has already begun, and so too at the farm our priorities will begin to change.

Last Friday marked the final Port Susan Farmers Market of the 2014 season, with the Camano Island Farmers Market ending a couple weeks ago. We said hello and goodbye to many new familiar faces of customers and vendors whom we’ve gotten to know this year. The connections made were great strides taken towards the community building model we seek and require as a community farm.

 Fall Garden Prep Workshop

We will be offering a hands on workshop on Saturday October 25th 1-4pm, for fall bed prep here at the farm, teaching interested folks how to prepare no-till garden beds for the winter. Naturally, an increasing role for the farm(ers) will be the education and sharing of the permaculture / hand-cultivated model of production, which will continue to refine itself in correlation with our own understanding. What are the benefits in this model, and how do we share them that we and others may grow in our collective understanding of the role of agriculture in the extraordinary dawn of the 21st century. Sorry, that was a thesis for something else… hehe.

CSA 2014

This Wednesday marks the final week of CSA, which by most accounts has been successful and mostly fun too.  We hada small but mighty group that helped almost every week to help the boxes get harvested and distributed. Thank you, team, for your dedication and friendships. Thank you also to all the CSA members who supported and consumed our growing efforts! Finally we wish to express our gratitude to Gil  of Skipley Farm, Spencer & Karen of Hazel Blue Acres, and  Robin & Craig of Silvana Produce; it was a joy to work in cooperation with you to fill our weekly boxes with quality local fruit and veggies.


For Hailey and myself, we will be in the back of our minds at least, starting to prepare for a 3 week break. Our return will be in time for holiday events starting up on the Island (Camano Center Holiday Bazaar, November 22nd), as well as Sundays at our own Ananda Temple in Bothell.  Our vacation will be a visit to my parents in St Louis for 5 days, and then a ride with two old friends to the the Baja Sur for about 10 days of sunny beach time a midst the desert.  In our absence, Sharon from Laurelwood will be staying at the farm house, taking care of the animals, etc.
Meanwhile, at the farm, we will spend the next two weeks winterizing various aspects, spreading mulch, burlap, and sowing seeds. So too at the community, we will begin to work with Omprakash for fall bed preparations. In addition, the fall is an excellent time for planting fruit trees, of which we have many from our grafted trees in the spring, and so staking sites and planting will be a continuous operation through the winter.


The abundance of the orchard (which we lease outside of Stanwood) has been wonderful, and a true God-send for the second year farm.
photo 3Each week seemed to grow a little greater with the handsome and delicious heritage varieties of apples and pears offered. The experience of working with almost 90 mature fruit trees for both Hailey and myself (pruning, thinning, and harvesting) has been invaluable to our growth as aspiring sustainable farmers… And quite amazingly, the realization also that although quite abundant, we could use a lot more fruit going forward. The demand for local, freshly harvested and organic fruit feels quite limitless to the creative mind. We have begun selling fresh spiced cider through the Camano Marketplace for the holiday season (thank you to Gil from Skipley farm for always sharing your press with us!). Going forward, cider presents an exceptional growth opportunity both for market and our own health reserves throughout the winter.

Herbal Medicinals


The herbal medicinals continue to be a big part of the farm operations, and grow in their out-reach. The amount and quality of feedback we have received from folks having used the comfrey oil for example, is quite extraordinary. One day we will start collecting testimonials! In the meantime, a slow but steady growth of small batch production seems the best model for sharing the farm remedies and maintaining the best quality control. We don’t wish to compete with dove and irish spring – but we do hope to provide our community with better and more effective alternatives to the basic health and body needs we often share.

Meanwhile, Glenda has lead the food preservation charge: tomatoes, salsa, fruit preserves, apple butter will all be offered during the holiday season.

Looking Ahead

At the farm, the winter hopefully holds slower periods for reflection and planning, in addition to some time spent improving the farm’s infrastructure. Last winter we put up and built beds in greenhouses, a chicken coop, and created a tree nursery. This year we will look to erect a harvest/processing station near the farm house, and work towards creating seasonal outdoor living accommodations for farm interns and ourselves, continue the expansion of vegetable beds in the lower field, and plant more fruit and supporting trees here on the farm.As one may guess, I could go on, and on. A final and important note of gratitude, to all of you, who have helped the farm come into fruition, and provided the field for which Ananda Farm(ing) can blossom. Praise be to God and Guru for providing the knot of community which ties us together and makes all things possible.In grateful service

zach and hailey

Ananda Farm no-till community-grain-growing experiment


 Ananda Farm no-till community-grain-growing experiment –
This Saturday, April 26, 11 am – 4 pm
Lunch served at 1 pm ($5)

The first annual community grain sowing happens this Saturday at the farm on Camano Island

What is this for?
To prepare seed beds and sow grains and chickpeas at the farm for the 2014 season.

Last year we began the exploration of no-till grain growing, with Barley, Oats, Quinoa and Rye.  No till means no tractor and thus no disruption to the life in the soil, and no dependence on oil. The goal is sustainability as a farm and community, and cultivating uplifted consciousness in our farming methods.

Who can help?
All are invited to participate. and opportunities for service do not discriminate by size, talents, age, hair color, size or shape. All those with love for life are welcome to participate and take a hand in growing the farm’s abundance.

This is an experiment, and one we are sure to learn from. Come be students of nature with us, and learn together as we grow.

In Joy
Zach, Hailey, Glenda & Nivritti
The Ananda farmers

Questions? Ask ’em here!

Please park at
732 Haven Place
Camano Island

Spring Garden Tour and House Blessing

Enjoy Lunch and Tour the Farm

Sunday March 16th

orchard terraces

  • Vegetarian Lunch at 1:00pm @ Haven Place
  • Haven House Blessing @ 2:15pm
  • Garden Tour at 2:30pm
  • Parking @ 732 Haven Place, Camano Island

Spring is Coming…

The plants have gone dormant for the winter, but we haven’t! Help us welcome our second spring here on Camano Island. Come view transformations in the landscape, meet new animals, see the first plants of the year, and enjoy lunch with friends.

Walk about the Farm…

We love working out here with Mother Nature and are looking forward to sharing with you!

packies and rudi

  • See for yourself where this year’s fruits, vegetables, and herbs will grow.
  • We’ll point out the soil building plants and identify beneficial native plants that have lived here all along.
  • Take a look in our nursery to see what is yet to go out, and what you might like to take home.
  • Peek in the greenhouses to see plants getting an early start.
  • Meet the 6 alpacas, 5 chickens, the cat & dog.

We look forward to seeing you!


A Great Success!


A big thank you to all those who turned up to help with the farm activities on Sunday, from Lynnwood to Bellingham (Dave and Marylin) and out to Whidbey Island (Krishnapriya).

LavenderMany hands lead the lavender harvesting charge and processing, too (Sadie, Chandi, Betty, and many others), leaving the entire house smelling of divine essences. Bundles hang on the walls drying, and bowls filled with flower trimmings await honey infusion. Hailey will be joined again today for more processing activities.

Randa lead the kitchen charge, creating delicious lemonade, farm salad, and a fresh Tabouli salad that warranted 3 servings on such a hot day.

Dakshina supplied the farm with much needed homeopathic bee sting medicine. I tested some stings out myself last week to confirm the need to upgrade the farm’s first aid kit.

Kieran joined in the terrace construction and engineered a new blueberry terrace in the driveway circle, with a partial stone foundation with rocks supplied by Larry’s efforts in the lower field.

Sandhya and Catherine Hobson and Brian lead the mulching charge, dressing the apple pear orchard with fresh chips.

Whew. There was more, and in the moment of typing I forget others who joined us in the activities, and many other activities performed by those mentioned. The farm truly felt like a farm, with so many devotees buzzing about like the bees.

Thank all of you for your joyful service, and helping us (me?!) to remember to have fun amidst all the summer farm activity. Truly inspiring.

Blessings from your Ananda Farm on Camano.
The caretakers

Healing Gardens

painting app by ChandiNow is the time to visit the healing gardens on the Ananda Farms at Camano,Island.

I had the pleasure to visit on Saturday to help Hailey and Zack during the Saturday harvest. Something touched me so deeply when Zack talked about the harmony, how they planted certain combinations together, and the ancient ways of the Native Americans. It was so moving. I could resonate on the deeper truth of his wisdom while we picked.  We didn’t even touch the surface of the bounty that lays in this land. It felt like each plant was raising up sweetly as a choir,in joyful service to us.

Then the next day after service, a little voice touched me and said; “You need to return to help them get ready for our “spiritual leaders”of Ananda Worldwide to come! This is an important time, for their blessing.” Since school is out for the summer, I thought, what day is this? When are they coming? Do I have the time to make it?

So I quickly called Bhakti and we cleared our schedule to help serve in what ever way was needed.

I had more than a couple of astral experiences there.  I was sitting on the porch bathing in the morning sunlight right after our morning Sadhana, listening to the bees singing their astral songs amidst the California lilacs. What a gift! There must have been 100 bees singing in Joy.

I can’t wait to return again to the farm to be replenished mind, body and soul.

Take an afternoon, to be in this healing consciousness of all life in balance. There isn’t any separation from our meditation practices and walking this land. Chant in the gardens and join Hailey and Zack as you too, will be touched as I was.