Tag Archives: masonry heater

Can You Help Us Now?

8 Oct

Dear Friends,

If you are willing and able to donate any money to Mountains and Waters, I ask you to do it now. Small amounts are fine. Large amounts, from those who can, help us get out of fundraising mode faster.

If the vow speaks to you, you are already part of it. How would it feel to make that more real – to put a little of your actual life energy into protecting the planet for your children/grandchildren/all beings? Does your personal spending include $5 a month (or a day) that you would like to switch to supporting this large vision? (You can skip reading and jump down to donating if you like – the next heading. Even $5 helps.)

Here’s what’s happening, why I’m asking right now. There’s an intention to get the farm completely off-grid – fossil fuels and electricity – as well as to grow food to share, supporting local food security against climate change effects.2015-09-24 17.56.04Siding Sept 25 2015

We have completed half the house insulation, installed a very efficient masonry heater, its chimney almost finished, and have a wood cookstove ready to install. The orchard and berry patch are started, and the vegetable garden is producing like mad. We’re connected with others in the local food system. I’m leading a small Zen group in Northfield, occasional retreats at the farm, and other Zen activities. The second resident, Roy Guisinger, an Advaita teacher, has arrived. He will be both working on the farm and offering teaching.

The blog now has a list of volunteer opportunities including several that you can do from where you are. If you want to do a working visit to the farm, or to come to a retreat, let me know – here.2015-09-15 17.54.13

We applied for Minnesota’s help for installing photovoltaic panels, and won their lottery system. This means that we pay to install the panels, and then they pay us for every watt of electricity we produce in addition to buying back our surplus. We’re approved for a 9.840 kW system which will cost about $27,500 to install.

Plans are to do the installation next spring. To get approved for that delay, we have to purchase the panels now. So I need to decide whether to proceed or not – within the next two weeks. If I put down $6700, I can get a 4.25% loan for the rest; if not, the interest rate is higher. I’m taking that $6700 as the minimum for going forward with the solar panels.


Donations to https://www.youcaring.com/mountains-and-waters-alliance-362647 are tax deductible. So far we’ve raised $1051 there from 12 people, mostly people who saw it online, including Facebook friends I’ve never met in person.

Loans at no interest would be very helpful. Call or email me.

Donations without the tax deduction save us 5%. You can mail a check here, saving another 2.9% on the WePay fees. (No complaint about the fees. Sending 5% to Alliance for Sustainability is a small amount in exchange for all they give us and do for the community.)

The iGive campaign is still going on, with the special deal ending October 9. Costs nothing – click and see.

Shouldn’t we be getting grants? I’ve been looking. There is a foundation that is likely to fund Mountains and Waters Alliance in a few years – after we’ve shown some stability. A volunteer will be helping with fundraising in a few months, if all goes as planned. The USDA grants for farms are mostly not working now (maybe later) but we have a small conservation grant, if we pull up a lot of buckthorn (invasive shrub).

Get a job? I’ve been in conversation about it and plan to be working about one day a week, which should take care of my personal expenses but won’t support the Farm or the Alliance. The Alliance, by definition, involves many people: Until those people are here, I work elsewhere.

IT MIGHT SEEM STRANGE for this organization with lofty purposes to be raising money for something so mundane. The reality is: We need to eat. We need to stay warm in the winter. And if we are to participate in this society, to organize, to communicate widely, we need electricity. The panels change electricity from an expense to an income source. Although I love when I can be away from Internet and phone and machines, loved living without a car, at this time those things are needed to do the work.

The last blog post raised the question of whether I should be here at the farm. That question isn’t coming up now.

Fall is here. There have been light frosts, and we’re going to take down the garden soon. It’s still outrageously beautiful outside, and colors are barely beginning. I gave a River Sept, 2015tour yesterday to Roy (showing progress since his last visit) and to Toby, an intern with Savannah Institute (which encourages and promotes the kind of mixed farming that we’re doing here). Both dug, Toby sharpened the scythe and cut some grass, and left this morning. The sun is shining and workers are coming today.

Mycelium - mushrooms

Mycelium – mushrooms

People tell me the orchard and berry patch look great. I’m pleased and surprised. Leo has mushrooms getting ready in a trash can, Chris is getting ready to plant hazelnuts here for his vision of protein for all, and Andrea brought rescued honeybees that we hope will survive the winter. Andrea also cleaned the chicken house, but the chickens are going to wait until spring. Saturday’s volunteers will pull up buckthorn and Berry patch Oct 2015plant ostrich ferns that Jayne gave me yesterday at the Zen group. (Most of my plants have come from Jenny…not mentioned here I think. Also mention Allison has given food, produce and canned food, and cooked a lunch for us. I’m trying to keep track of the gifts, but it’s hard.)

I think we’re going to make it. All summer I wondered. There’s still the question of how much damage the pocket gophers will do (or how we can stop them – raptor perches haven’t yet worked, snakes are not interested) and whether the deer will IMG_2847[1]get past the tree tubes or the field mice girdle the trees. And how much watering we’ll need to do if next summer is dry. Still plenty of work to do, and I have promised an article for a Soto Zen women’s anthology, have my teacher’s book to edit, have writing of my own that doesn’t happen. But the hardest is past.

Next year we’ll be selling strawberry plants, raspberry plants, strawberries. Later, mushrooms, Chris’s IMG_2636hazelnut seedlings, lots of nursery trees of various kinds. And we got $40 at the farmers’ market a couple weeks ago. Probably will get a little more, when we have time to go. It’s a way to take care of the produce we don’t have time to put up for winter. And I get to take a walk in the woods. Soon. Maybe tomorrow. Harvest Sept 15 2015

Nothing today about news of the world. Another time.

Love and blessings.


Sap, visitors, work

19 Mar

At last writing I had tapped some trees, walnut and box elder. The maples are really far away and I was hurt.  Last week Maddie and I collected sap a few times. We made a quarter cup of walnut syrup, which was incredibly delicious. We found a

Sap boiler from old water heater

Sap boiler from old water heater

welder who turned the old water heater into an evaporator (firebox) for boiling sap. Monday I spent 7 hours feeding wood to the fire, then poured concentrated sap into my biggest pot and finished it Tuesday indoors. (I also cracked black walnuts and started some seedlings.) Today (Thursday) I’m just boiling it indoors, and will be getting ready for a big outdoor boil Saturday. So I’m contacting volunteers and apprentices to clarify who will be here Saturday and for the whole series of work weekends.

There are some other things, like pocket gophers really like fruit trees. I hear I could have two years before they actually eat them, but it’s one problem. The other problem is that the neighbors think the mud in the driveway is from my construction, not their driveways, and they insist I pay for the rock to cover it.

Money is flying out the door, and I don’t have the energy to organize even a YouCaring campaign. It’s nice to have hot water again, and I think I made the best choice energy-wise – but it cost. I’m hiring a couple of people to help with farm work, and there will be visitors to help as well. You could go to Paypal, to VairochanaFarm@riseup.net, and give money. You could join iGive.com and list Vairochana Farm as your site – and then do any online shopping there. You could send me a check. You could even organize a campaign for me – but I do understand that won’t happen until somebody else is as committed as I am. Everybody is doing something worthwhile, and my current task is to find the people for whom this will be their dream.

Maddie and Shodo

Maddie and Shodo

Probably the biggest excitement is that Maddie came for several days and will be coming back for the summer; it looks like a good fit to both of us. Anne came and didn’t stay, not a fit, which is a disappointment but it’s good to be clear.2015-03-19 insulation progress, Joe

The insulation on the house is progressing nicely, and probably within a month I won’t be surrounded by heaps of dirt. I’ll be borrowing a tractor instead of buying one, which saves money and also feels good in building relationships. There’s a connection with Organic Compound, three miles away, which is four years old and already has a strong community. And other local friends, mostly in farming but also in environment and social justice.

Meanwhile, the people who hear about this project – that I talk with or send information to – think it’s amazing and sure to be a winner. I just have to see it through. So I’m trying to cut back, taking care of my body for full recovery from the car accident, and looking forward to a little more space when the plants are in the ground.

Schedule coming up – farming:

Sugaring weekend: March 21-22

Land conservation (pull buckthorn, plant native plants in damaged wooded area): April 11-12

Prep for tree planting with professionals: April 25-26

Actual tree planting with professionals: Mon-Wed May 4-6

Follow-up: May 7-10 (includes my birthday)

and there’s always something to help with, if you just want to come down.

Schedule – Zen:

Sesshin (retreat): March 23-27 (orientation 7 pm March 22)

Talk at Northfield Unitarians: Sunday April 12, 10 am.

Sesshin: April 20-24

Sesshin: May 25-29

Sesshin includes sitting or walking meditation most of the day, plus a few hours every afternoon of farm/garden meditative work. Partial participation is welcome. You need to register in advance because of meals and work plans. Most people make a donation, based on what they can afford.

2015-03-05 bluff 2Please hold this land, vision, and people in your hearts.



It’s just like this today…

4 Feb

It’s just like this today…

The water heater is indeed broken, and at 20+ years old it makes no sense to spend $400 fixing it. I had planned to install a solar hot water system anyway. But I was going to do that when it was convenient. So it looks like I’ll be taking sponge baths for a while. In principle this is fine with me; hot water is one of our biggest luxuries. In reality it’s a bit uncomfortable and inconvenient. I’ll be bumming showers and laundry when I can.

The questions are: Will the Weatherization Program be willing to help me with solar hot water instead of propane? (They’re supposed to be about sustainability.) If not, will I give in and let them install the evil fossil fuel appliance? And, either way, how long will it take them to get around to it?

And the other questions are: Where did I put that solar camp shower? Will my visitors get upset if I don’t have conventional hot water by the time they arrive?

A string of visitors are coming this spring, for visits of a day, a week, a month or more. I’m excited about that, and about them. Plenty of room for more. Also, I’m talking with various government people about conservation programs and other things, and happy to have help making plans. (There WILL be a group weekend of replacing buckthorn with friendly plants – stay tuned. Maybe April.)

I won’t bore with organizational discussions – seems to me I said enough about that last week. Or climate change information, even though it keeps coming. There’s a quote from Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.” I try to keep that in mind.

I cleaned the counters, and the mice seem to actually be gone. But I hesitate to trust it.

It’s snowing again. As it should, at this time of year. I went outside a little, but am too much indoors. And I’m noticing craving – I want a bath – this will be interesting. I did find the camp shower and have put it in the window.

Sometime in the past, I used to write. Now I just catch things that float by, that give life. Here is one from Rumi:

November 13

Sit, be still, and listen,

because you’re drunk and we’re at

the edge of the roof.

I did write recently, though, about thoughts: https://compassionateearth.wordpress.com/

Peace to you all.


Reflections: Moving forward, in context

24 Jan
The Cannon River

The Cannon River

It’s been a quiet period: information coming in, little going out, gestating. It’s included consulting with experts on development, organization, marketing – and waiting for construction of the chimney for the masonry stove.

The brief report is that we are going to restructure, so the farm and land activities are formally separated from the residential spiritual community. The farm has a new mission/vision statement, here. And although we need major fundraising to create the off-grid house and buildings, that will be postponed while we strengthen our people base. And we’re thinking about names, now that there are two entities. Could be Compassionate Earth Farm, or Vairochana Farm, or I don’t know what else.

Visitors (recent and near future) include possible apprentices, residents, and supporters. We have not yet settled on a farm manager.

We do have a nonprofit sponsor for the farm, so donations can be received here. We’ll be applying for conservation and farming grants, and will do the first plantings this spring.

And the water heater is not working. I had wanted to get a solar water heater working before this happened. I’m away, visiting grandchildren, and will decide what to do (repair, replacement, or transition) when I get back.

This is the season for planning. That includes conferences. Yesterday by phone I attended a gathering of the Savanna Institute, a research project on woody perennial polyculture agriculture. At the end of February is MOSES in La Crosse, the big organic farming conference; I’ll be there to learn and network.

You can help by:

  • Sharing information with your communities and networks. This could include inviting me to talk with a group.
  • Come help us with the maple syrup (probably March), with minor remodeling (any time), tree planting (later spring), or perhaps (locals) become an farm apprentice and help us regularly for a year.
  • Help build the new websites.
  • Donate money, food, or equipment. (Paypal account is VairochanaFarm@riseup.net. There will be a list later for equipment.) Or sign up to support us at iGive.com.
  • Help think of names.
  • Join for sesshin (meditation retreat) which happen once a month. (Next two: February 22-25 and March 22-25, with orientation Friday evening. Partial participation is okay.) Or give support – cooking, bringing food, whatever – during a sesshin.
  • Send energy and support.

There’s also the outside world: intensifying climate change, mass extinctions, and business as usual: The KXL pipeline, the many tar sands sites, fracking for gas and oil, disappearing indigenous women, Black men killed by police, Palestine…. if you pay attention instead of seeking blame, the heart just breaks. What are we becoming?

I think that climate change is making the violence and everything else worse. Every animal, including humans, becomes more violent and less rational under stress. Here is a glaciologist explaining that it’s too late to stop the loss of the West Antarctic ice shelf. There’s sea level rise. This talk, by scientist Jim White, spells out the severity of the situation, including the fact that changes can be very abrupt, and that we are already in a time of rapid climate change. A crisis denied still has an effect on everyone.

Joanna Macy identifies three basic responses to the environmental crisis: holding actions (marches, protests, civil disobedience, and more), creating alternatives (Transition movement etc), and consciousness change. We find our places, each of us.

Love to you all.


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!



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.

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