Category Archives: Steward

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.