Archive | December, 2014

2014 Report, plans, and your help requested

22 Dec

Dear Friends,

Here is a summary of the farm this year, and a request for money to help us continue manifesting the dream.


  • Found and bought the land, moved in, met neighbors. Planted a garden, foraged, planted a few trees and shrubs, explored the woods and fields, learned local plants and animals. Pickled, froze, and otherwise put up a lot of food. Collected rain water from roof for drinking – excellent results. Experimented with goats and fences.
  • Hired an experienced permaculture designer who designed a perennial woody polyculture farm. Consulted with other specialists about water management, ponds, erosion, and outdoor space. Hired an architect specializing in passive house and alternative energy design. Figured out how to change the existing house (former barn) to hold 6 people and function off-grid. Chose a provider for photovoltaic panels.
  • Hosted volunteers and guests, plus some paid workers, and two longer visitors, one of whom will move here in 2015. Did a lot of erosion prevention.
  • Bought two chain saws and cut a lot of firewood. Bought a wood cook stove. Had a masonry heater built. Super-insulated one level of the house.
  • Went to farm trainings, conferences, field days, and such for a very intense learning curve. Talked with lots of government people and farming organizations. Started relationships in farming community.
  • Had a retreat every month since July; created a zendo in former bedroom; identified future zendo location; identified outdoor spaces for future ceremony and retreat. Started Mountains and Waters Zen Community.
  • Set up council of advisers, represented the farm to others, created brochure and blog, got a nonprofit fiscal agent, kept track of spending.
sketch of design - 2014

Early dreams of farm and land use

In process now:

  • install wood cook stove, install chimney for cook stove and masonry heater. Install wood stove in shop (formerly heated by propane)
  • Find farm manager, more residents, apprentices.
  • Start tracking all that volunteer time.

2015 PLANS:

  • Convert the house to a passive solar home for six people (some spaces are open).
  • Start serious farming, and teaching others. Install orchard, berries, and other plantings. Harvest maple syrup, nettles, mushrooms, and begin marketing. Conservation and land care as able.
  • Offer spiritual practice opportunities, and communicate them effectively. Work with local Zen groups.
  • Finish organizational structure and set up Board. Apply for our own nonprofit status. Raise money for these projects. Clarify future projects such as greenhouse building, food storage, water collection.


If we were only committed to sustainable living, that would be nice but maybe just personal. If we were only about practicing Zen, maybe that would be of interest to people who want to join us or visit us. If we were just farming, there are sources of help for new farmers. But it’s more.

Our whole existence – including farming and sustainable living, getting off fossil fuels, spiritual practice – is about the spiritual and cultural change needed by this society. We all are in need of reconnection with each other and with the other beings on the planet – evidence is in climate change, pollution, and the increasing violence everywhere. The business of Vairochana Farm is to foster that reconnection, including within ourselves and far beyond.

Up until now, I’ve personally funded the farm from my retirement savings, because this matters deeply to me. Now those funds are low. More importantly, the mission of the farm is all about community and cannot succeed without commitment from that community. If you are serious about driving spiritual and cultural change, I need you now. There are several easy options.


Free: Vairochana Farm has joined So if you sign up for, the farm can be your charity. When you shop online, a percentage of what you spend is diverted to the farm at no cost to you. You can set it up to be automatic. If you want to use iGive for your own project instead, you can say VF referred you and we will both benefit. (It would only take 800 new projects to get us the $20,000. Or $5 million worth of plane tickets. But every dollar received is one we didn’t have before, and it’s free.)

Tax-deductible: Vairochana Farm is now a project of Minnesota Alliance for Sustainability, a wonderful umbrella group that sponsors all kinds of sustainable activities. You can make a tax-deductible contribution here.

Old fashioned check: You can still mail a check to Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault MN 55021, as some people have done. Mailing a check will not get you a tax deduction, but 100% of the money will go straight into our checking account. We also have a Paypal account (

WHERE WILL THE MONEY GO?Cabot Rd - Jan 2013 059

If we raise $20,000 by the end of January 11 (that’s $1000/day), our architect/builder can proceed with renovations, lifting part of the roof for additional bedrooms and solar gain. This allows reasonable space for longer-term visitors and/or two more residents, which helps with living expenses, work, and creative energy. After that, donations go to starting the farm, plus the renovations that give us full living space, plus getting off fossil fuels, and eventually reaching out to sponsor others.

It’s a big vision, way bigger than one farm or even one Zen community. Imagine a world in which friendship and family are our main security, most people love their work, hunger and homelessness are a distant memory, people trust their governments and don’t worry about terrorism, nobody has to justify war or violence, the weather is reliable again… Not saying we can deliver that. But we’re going that direction and you’re invited to come along. In any way you can – money, time, good thoughts…

Thank you to the people who have already given, especially without being asked!




Rohatsu sesshin and what else happened here

10 Dec
The altar, from my seat in the zendo

The altar, from my seat in the zendo

As I do every year, I joined the annual commemoration of Buddha’s enlightenment, Rohatsu sesshin, by sitting seven days of zazen December 1-8. Unlike most years, I sat alone in the zendo at the farm.

Although my tradition does not include work periods, many do – usually a couple hours. Mine ranged from two hours to maybe eight.2014-12-04 13.46.58 I did not choose the timing of any of these events. I did accept it, with the thought that delay would be unworkable.

During that time, three masons (Eric M, Patrick, Jacob) built a masonry heater that will become primary heat for the house.

2014-12-04 16.28.04

An excavator (Eric B) and two others (Joe, the general contractor, and Justin) used giant machinery and small shovels to expose the 2014-12-06 Justin at foundationfoundation for massive insulation.


Eric started piling rock in the eroded land bridge area at the creek.
It should be finished tomorrow. I had given up, imagined the land would wash away and then the bridge. But now it looks like this (way below), utterly secure:

2014-12-09 erosion safe

For a few days my job was to get fires going to soften up the frozen crust for digging. Then I’d go back inside and sit. Later, I had to watch what was happening at the creek, even though he didn’t need help.
Sunday was the last day. After all the workers left, I finished sesshin by sitting late into the night. With gratitude. On the 8th – Buddha’s enlightenment day – I offered a nontraditional service: a memorial for people killed by police and in other ways, then blessings to those needing healing and those doing various kinds of good. I was disturbed by the fact that at least five names were added in the seven days of retreat. Fully engaged in the scenery of life, I guess, in spite of my commitment to waking up.

With three hours of sleep, I then attempted to function all day, went early to bed and slept in today, and here I am catching up.

Still to come: the insulation gets installed. And a lot more work, heading for a passive solar house in which wood is the backup. There will be fundraising. my next task, to be done while traveling to see my teacher and my family.

There will be some writing that comes out of the retreat part of this time, probably in a few days. Until then, joy and blessings to you.

Gratitude and more

1 Dec

On the verge of entering Rohatsu sesshin – the annual, traditional seven-day retreat remembering Buddha’s enlightenment – I have a few thoughts to offer, and a poem.

Yesterday was beautiful and warm. Finally I had the energy to organize the office and to make space for a third bedroom. And then I walked outdoors, with only a light jacket.

Cannon River, early winter 2014

Cannon River, early winter 2014

Roy Dopson left this morning, after a ten day visit. It was lovely. We would sit together in the morning, and after dinner would simply find ourselves in the zendo again. His wish, for being here (my words): that it be a place for deep spiritual life, more than anything else. He will come back next fall, after working the fire season. In addition to being a firefighter, Roy is an Advaita teacher. His website is here, with some very interesting thoughts:

Our mutual “yes” provokes many thoughts and images about what will be happening here. I imagine practice periods of three months, five-day retreats, visiting teachers. The farm plan is in process, and the conversion of the house will begin very soon. The nature of the community, how it will welcome guests and short-term residents, all are forming – and will be discussed after I come out of the retreat. Right now it is time to sit, to go into the silence, to allow things to be as they are.

And these words from Walt Whitman speak so well to how it is in my heart these days.

“This is what you shall do:

Love the earth and sun and the animals,

despise riches,

give alms to everyone that asks,

stand up for the stupid and crazy,

devote your income and labor to others,

hate tyrants,

argue not concerning God,

have patience and indulgence toward the people,

take off your hat to nothing known or unknown,

or to any man or number of men—

go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—

re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book,

and dismiss whatever insults your own soul;

and your very flesh shall be a great poem,

and have the richest fluency,

not only in its words,

but in the silent lines of its lips and face,

and between the lashes of your eyes,

and in every motion and joint of your body.”

–from Preface to “Leaves of Grass” (1855)

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