Earth Initiative

Sustainable Monastery, Locally Grown

· Earth Initiative, From The Mountain, Sangha News ·

By Eve Romm

The A-frame meadow offers a spectacular view of the gentle twin peaks of Mt. Tremper. Beneath them, deer wander through the meadow, cicadas and crickets buzz, even an occasional pack of wild turkeys passes. In the midst of all this the Monastery orchard and dye garden has flourished. Sunflowers tower over the indigo and coreopsis that eventually become our natural dye pigments; raspberries and blackberries ripen, and fruit trees promise an abundant harvest. 

Five years ago we broke ground on the orchard and dye garden as part of a widespread shift in residency and monastic life towards sustainability and self-sufficiency. The store now carries some of the fruits of this labor—naturally dyed and hand-sewn aprons, napkins, scarves, altar cloths and more; honey and beeswax candles harvested from our own hives; dried hot peppers and herbs from the garden; statues designed, cast and painted in the art room; and so on. Not only do these new initiatives produce beautiful and delicious things, they also allow the residents and monastics to spend more work time outside, doing the simple but profound work of harnessing the power of the four elements to cultivate a life-supporting bounty. 

Like practice itself, the orchard will grow more fruitful and better established over years, even decades. Gokan, the resident orchardist, focused on improving the soil, putting up fences, getting a water system in place, cultivating and waiting for the young trees to bear fruit. Although raccoons and crows still pillage many of the ripening peaches, pears and plums before they can be picked, the raspberries, blackberries and elderberries are less attractive to those pests—but ardently appreciated by the resident sangha. It’s clear how much Gokan loves this work.  When I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted people to know about the orchard, he answered in a dreamy tone I’ve rarely heard—“It’s beautiful”.  

This past spring, the kitchen shifted it’s purchasing practices to align more closely with the values of sustainability and stewardship which guide the orchard, garden, and dye garden endeavors. Instead of ordering produce sourced from all over the country, we now get our ingredients through a produce distributing company called Farms2Tables, which allows wholesale buyers to order directly from local farms. Tangy apples and cider, for example, come to us from Samascott Orchard in Kinderhook, rich and creamy whole milk in an impressive 5-gallon bag from Ronnybrook Farms in Pine Plains, and finely ground whole grain bread flour from the Wild Hive Community Grain Project in Clinton Corners. 

Much of the impetus for this shift came from concern about our carbon footprint, and the hidden transportation and cooling costs of imported produce. But for Paul, our cook, it goes deeper than that. To him, cooking with local, seasonal foods is a way of maintaining a spiritual connection to the place and time that we are actually in the midst of. As he sees it, kitchen work is a profound dharma gate, a way of directly encountering the physical realities, needs, and joys of human life. Eating what is offered by the very place in which we find ourselves, Paul says after a moment of careful reflection, is a way of coming home. It helps us to cultivate gratitude and reverence for the generosity of the land and the miracle that is life-giving food.  

In the height of the late summer harvest season, the ingredients available locally are pretty extraordinary. In addition to the avalanche of heirloom tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, eggplant, runner beans, kale, swis chard and more coming from Yukon’s acre-and-a-half vegetable garden, the local produce offerings are bountiful, varied, and incredibly delicious. When we first made the shift to only local products, though, it was early spring, before the harvest season had really gotten underway. Undeterred, the kitchen supplemented the parsnips, squashes, potatoes, radishes and beets which keep through the winter with dry and canned goods like beans and sundried tomatoes. This summer, we’re preparing for the sparser season by freezing pesto, pickling cucumbers, and otherwise doing our best to preserve some of the summer flavors for the colder season coming up.  

Turning towards a simpler, more ancient way of choosing ingredients has been complemented by an increased interest in timeless foodways like pickling, canning, and fermentation. We’ve been making our own yogurt and kombucha for some time, but these days we also have homemade sauerkraut, kimchi, fresh tomato sauce, dill pickles, mayonnaise, jam, and sourdough bread. The time and space to experiment is one of the small silver linings of the monastery closure: with fewer mouths to feed, the kitchen has more space to explore and experiment with ways to manifest our values more fully.  

These shifts towards more direct connection with the land we live on feel very connected to our dharma practice and training. What better arena in which to study and marvel at the profound truth of interdependence, and to directly see the ways in which our own lives depend on the busy work of bees and butterflies, the rain and sunlight, insects and birds, on the work of the sangha and the efforts of the larger human community. “Thus,” as the meal gatha so beautifully declares, “we eat this food with everyone,” receiving that offering with gratitude, and striving to repay it by working to be of benefit to the land and it’s many inhabitants.  

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Ecodharma and Environmental Justice

· Earth Initiative, Retreats, Sangha News

By Dojaku Niccolino

If you’ve wondered how to respond to human-created ecological devastation and climate breakdown, so has author David Loy. “What does Buddhism have to offer?” is the question he posed for a discussion at Fire Lotus Temple last November, and the major theme of his upcoming Ecodharma retreat via zoom on Thursday, October 3rd.

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New Bees In Town

· Earth Initiative, Essays, Sangha News

By Joel Sansho Benton

Last Saturday a group of new residents entered the monastery for the first time—about thirty thousand of them to be more precise. On Saturday I picked up three new packages of bees from Hudson Valley Bee Supply to replace the hives we lost over the winter. Each package holds approximately ten thousand bees, each with its own queen.

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Zen on the Trail

· Earth Initiative, Reviews

Book review by Hokyu JL Aronson

Many years ago, still in college, I hitchhiked north from Berkeley to the uppermost reaches of California, my last ride dropping me off at the foot of Mt. Shasta in the southern Cascade Range. I didn’t yet know of the Zen monastery there but I’d come on a quasi-spiritual quest all the same. A friend had recently committed suicide and, in his honor, I wanted to test the fragile membrane of my own existence, going deep into solitude amidst the quiet embrace of a mountain landscape.

Zen on the Trail: Hiking as Pilgrimage by Christopher Ives (Wisdom Publications, 2018)
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Earth Initiative Winter Update

· Earth Initiative, Sangha News

Upstate sangha traveled to Albany on Monday, January 28, to join forces in urging New York state legislators to fully fund the CLCPA (Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act) so it can fulfill its far reaching mandate to bring NYS’s carbon production and usage down to zero. Ten sangha members joined with hundreds from all over the state organized by NY Renews to visit with legislators and to rally at the legislative hearing on funding the CLCPA.

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Earth Initiative at the Global Climate Strike

· Earth Initiative, Sangha News · , ,

Sangha members joined with over six million people in a Global Climate Strike on September 20, 2019, attending rallies upstate and in NYC and other locations. Led by young people and their supporters inspired by Greta Thunberg’s leadership, the strike was an urgent call to wake up and address the causes of our climate crisis and to ask that governments take the lead.

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Taking Care of Our Hemlocks

· Earth Initiative · , ,

Hemlock trees native to the Monastery region of the northeast have been greatly threatened by an invasive insect known as HWA (Hemlock Wooly Adelgid). Sangha members in the MRO Earth Initiative’s “citizen science” project have been assessing and monitoring HWA on the Monastery property this past year and offer this update on protecting our trees.

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Book Review: Not Hearing the Wood Thrush

· Creative Expression, Earth Initiative, Reviews · , ,

Oh my gosh! How did the high privilege ever come to me to review this book? I am lost in it and continually astonished. Margaret Gibson’s newest book of poems, Not Hearing the Wood Thrush, is ripe and full and endlessly transcendent. Not hearing the wood thrush is a fine art that we would all do well to learn

She makes her way and takes us with her through the dozen doors and windows of her poems into the woods, the river, and the star fields. 

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There’s No App For That

· Earth Initiative, Essays · , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss

by Richard Heinberg

Technology has grown with us, side by side, since the dawn of human society. Each time that we’ve turned to technology to solve a problem or make us more comfortable, we’ve been granted a solution. But it turns out that all of the gifts technology has bestowed on us have come with costs. And now we are facing some of our biggest challenges: climate change, overpopulation, and biodiversity loss. Naturally, we’ve turned to our longtime friend and ally—technology—to get us out of this mess. But are we asking too much this time?

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Dharma Action Initiative – June 2018 Update

· Beyond Fear of Differences, Earth Initiative, Sangha News · , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

This is a brief update on the MRO’s Dharma Action initiative – progress to date, ongoing work, and events and meetings that have been planned.

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