Tag Archives: goats

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 iGive.com. So if you sign up for iGive.com, 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 (VairochanaFarm@riseup.net).

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!



7 Sep
Hi all. I’ve spent the last 2 weeks learning like mad, mostly permaculture and farming topics, and have much to share but need to go outdoors and work.2014-08-12 09.59.36
The summer on the land has been amazing – living with the smell of trees and plants constantly, being able to see the stars at night, having my work require hands in the dirt…
The goats are going back tomorrow; they were wonderful but it just took too much time to take care of them the way I wanted. (I loved taking them for walks; I didn’t love trying to get them back into the fence.) Hopefully in the future of more residents, there will be goats again, and chickens and other animals as well. Here is a photo of “Brave” letting my granddaughter pet him.
Here we have three events on the calendar, two land-related and one Zen teaching.
Wednesday, September 10, 6:30-8:30 at the Northfield Buddhist Center on Division Street: Zen practice group, begins with a half hour of meditation, then presentation and discussion. RSVP greatly appreciated. (This group also meets 9/24, 10/8 and 10/22.)
Friday, September 12, 9-5 (or whatever) at Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Faribault. Erosion Control Work Day – We’ll stabilize a hillside and do some stream diversion, to protect the bridge and access to our northern woods. Strong backs are helpful, but there are light tasks as well. RSVP for carpooling, lunch, and coordination. (It’s possible to get paid for working this day – let me know)
Saturday, September 27, 1-4 pm (or 9-4). at Vairochana Farm, 16922 Cabot Ave, Fblt. Sheet mulch workshop – learn the natural method of gardening without tilling. Suggested donation $5; or come at 9, help move materials into place, and no donation. RSVP for carpooling. Morning people, bring your lunch. There will be information and handouts.
Carpooling is more than recommended, it’s almost essential due to parking limits and climate change. RSVP is to help planning.
I’ll send some reflections when I can.
To get event reminders in your email, use the wheedu page: http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/
It’s starting to look like fall, and still unimaginably beautiful. How can a world be so precious?

September 1-2 work opportunity

26 Aug

The bridge looks beautiful, but the area to the right of it is washing out more with every rain. I no longer use it to walk to the beautiful bluffs on the Cannon River, because it seems that fragile. Less than 4′ wide in sections, and washing out from underneath.

On Monday and Tuesday, September 1-2, I invite people to come and help solve this problem. Depending on what tools we have, we may move rocks and/or build a wall; we definitely will work on water management, including moving trees into place for diversion, and creating overflow spaces upstream.

Volunteers will receive work exchange credit for future farm events; otherwise $10/hour. Most of this is heavy work, but there are plenty of other options beginning with a cook. There is sleeping space indoors and outdoors.

I absolutely need to know if and when you are coming, and whatever you would like to tell me about skills.


(The next two events at the farm are an all day meditation retreat (sesshin) September 20, and a sheet mulch workshop September 27. If you want to get more involved, sign up at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/

The land bridge to the woods, threatened by erosion.

The land bridge to the woods, threatened by erosion.

22 Aug

The rains have come. What was dry has become green, and as an extra blessing the mosquitoes have not returned. For over a week, every day it would promise to storm and then quit, returning to sunny blue skies. So it’s no surprise that I left my laundry out and it got soaked.

The goats have escaped twice; it was not a disaster, and yesterday I took them for a walk. They nibbled here and there, leaving my lawn looking much better. I did pruning; they disappeared a few minutes after I turned my back. Repeatedly. But it’s a joy to watch them going wherever they want, jumping and climbing and so forth. Because of them, I found the place in the creek that can easily be dammed for a pond – sand beach and all.

As I put up the fence while they watched, I imagined they saying “Hands up Don’t shoot.” Not quite right, of course, I am merely imprisoning them. But Ferguson is on my mind.

The amount of work to do is overwhelming. All the time: freeze another quart of beans, save seeds, make vinegars and pickles (exciting new learning), look for tomatoes and zucchini. Forget about housecleaning; I barely keep food and semi-clean clothing going. Before winter: get wood stove in house. Cold frames or something to protect my late vegetables. Cut firewood. Varnish the deck and seal a couple potential leaks.

Before the next torrential rains: erosion prevention in two places (protecting the driveway and the land bridge to the north half of the land). Yesterday we started working on the driveway part: me, Joe (farm manager with many more skills), and two 13-year-old girls who were very impressive. The piles of rocks in the picture need to be enhanced with a LOT more work.

And I wanted to remove buckthorn, use the money from the grant. The goats will eat it, but it’s not going that fast. I want bunny fences on the main garden, and sheet mulch, and there are still trees to plant that have been waiting since spring. (Most are alive and healthy.) I want more time walking in the woods – especially now that the mosquitoes have gone.

If anyone would like to come here and do heavy physical labor for a week or two, I’m happy to house and pay you. Even medium-heavy labor would be helpful. There is a guest room. You might make it possible for me to actually go to Ferguson for a week in September, as I would like to do.


September 20, one-day sesshin (Zen retreat). Actually this may be canceled if I actually go to Ferguson.

September 26, sheet mulch workshop. We’ll sheet mulch much of the main garden, including making some keyhole beds. Orientation: How to do this in your home garden. Without buying materials. No charge, but there will be a parking fee if you drive alone in a car. To discourage fossil fuel use, and also we don’t have that much parking space here.


Yesterday a friend and mentor came over, we talked, and we went for a walk in the dark. Only starlight, except a little glow from the two closest towns. She talked with me about listening to the land, about the feel of it (which she finds more like Anishinaabeg than like Dakota, and she has connections with both), about trusting, about how it would help me.

The day before Beth called from Cambodia to tell me to stop imagining that I was not practicing Zen or not doing enough. She said – “Stop thinking you should be doing something else.” I am finding a way to live that will last; this is worth while. It’s okay that I’ve always wanted to live like this. And – “This time will never come again; be here for it.”

Because I’m living in paradise. Yet occasionally, reading posts from Doug Grandt with Moccasins on the Ground or wherever he is, I remember living on the road and walking under the sky, day after day, and being part of that community. Here, mostly alone, I am in a way underground, growing into the earth here, being led by the frogs and snakes and sounds of eagles and water and wind. It is a miracle. A little lonely, but that’s how it is sometimes. I think this is my retreat time, though it looks like work and busyness, and when it’s finished then people will begin to come and live here.

My friend told me to take four years to listen, to learn what the land has in mind. It’s hard to imagine that level of patience, when I’m thinking things could collapse at any moment and I want the food growing now. I need to be told again, again, and again.

Wendell Berry:

If we will have the wisdom to survive,

to stand like slow growing trees in a ruined place, renewing, enriching it,

If we will make our seasons welcome here, asking not too much of earth or heaven,

then a long time after we are dead, the lives our lives prepare will live here,

houses strongly placed upon the valley sides, fields and meadows rich in the windows. The river will run clear, as we will never know it, and over it bird song like a canopy. ……

This is no mere paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.

You can find the whole poem online. It encourages me, even though he wrote it long before climate change was in our awareness and thus it may not be possible any more. Every action we take is a ceremony, an act that influences the future of ourselves and the world. There is no waste, no time off; our play matters as much as our so-called work and maybe more. Beth tells me, what I write is full of life. I am surrounded by life here, and doing my best to allow it to re-create me.

Next week I go to the North American Permaculture Convergence; in October at the Soto Zen Buddhist Association conference I offer a session talking about the Compassionate Earth Walk as ceremony, and co-lead a session on Buddhist response to environmental crisis. And by November I hope to finish the editing of my teacher’s major commentary on Dogen’s Mountains and Waters fascicle – the core teaching about our relationship with all that lives.

Please hold me in your hearts. Come when you can. Conversation happens at http://www.wheedu.com/groups/vairochana-farm#/ And there is a place there for “supporters,” which is actually a kind of classified ad which is still free, and which will eventually generate some income for the farm.

Love to all,



Here’s most of the work crew for erosion control step 1:

2014-08-20 15.07.50

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