November 22, 2011
Food Awareness Month

A report from Green Gulch Farm
by Nicole Zahm & Qayyum Johnson, residents of Green Gulch Farm

Innumerable labors brought us this food.
A gift from Earth, Sea, Sky and countless living beings.
May we practice awareness, filled with gratitude
And appreciate what we have before us.
Eating together in peace we create conditions for peace.
As this food supports our life
May we support and serve the world in joy.

-Abbess Eijun Linda Cutts

At the risk of running old news through the sangha pipeline, here is a report from Green Gulch Farm about our collective attempts to apply the Bodhisattva precepts to bear on some of the seminal components of our modern lifestyle.

Photo by Emma Goodman

The ecological awareness group known as the Ecosattvas were supported by the Green Dragon Temple community to host our annual “Food Awareness Month” (FAM) in September. A new addition to the liturgical calendar at Green Gulch, the second go round this year included many celebratory events in honor of the food that nourishes us, the labors that make it possible, and mindfulness of food scarcity in the world.

FAM activities included weekly gleaning of vegetables on the farm, which became food donations to Marin County schools and food pantries, as well as Martin de Porres soup kitchen in SF; an evening of conversation with Tree, who runs a free farmstand in San Francisco (; Fancy Dinner Fridays, where special effort was made to arrive together dressed up for convivial, wholeheartedly appreciative dining and recite a special FAM meal verse composed by Abbess Eijun Linda Cutts (which appears at the top of this article); the annual great potato dig on the farm and the annual apple tasting; special movie nights with food relevant films, and a harvest dinner and square dance in which the farm and garden crews took over the kitchen and prepared a spectacular meal made primarily of GGF-grown fruits, herbs and veggies, and then everyone got down and sweaty on the dance floor pool deck, turning and laughing to live music by the Squirrelly Stringband.

It has been refreshing to take the month of September to examine with wide eyes, and appreciate with a full heart, food in all its miraculous glory. At Green Gulch, meal times are a central aspect of our communal life. In the morning, after leaving the zendo (meditation hall) and completing our morning temple-cleaning chores, we collect in the dining area for breakfast and join our voices in reciting this meal verse:

We reflect on the effort that brought us this food and consider how it comes to us.
We reflect on our virtue and practice and whether we are worthy of this offering.
We regard it as essential to keep the mind free from excesses such as greed.
We regard this food as good medicine to sustain our life.
For the sake of enlightenment we now receive this food.

First, this is for the three treasures.
Next, for the four benefactors.
Finally, for the beings in the six realms.
May all be equally nourished.

The first portion is to end all evil.
The second is to cultivate all good.
The third is to free all beings.
May we all realize the Buddha way.

Three times a day we come together and share food, passing the first ten minutes of our meal in silence. Then, the wooden clackers sound and we converse and laugh and share the news of our day. Many of us build strong friendships over many years of sitting at the table together.

By marking September as a period of exceptional focus upon the “gift of good land” and the abundant fruits thereof, we have the opportunity to recommit ourselves to seeing the big picture of food. Among the topics that are generally in the air during the month are deepening investigations into national and local agricultural policy, food miles, the use of petro-chemicals, and the disparity in access to healthy food. Questions like, What makes for a sustainable foodshed? Why does Green Gulch sell produce to others instead of eating it all ourselves? When having to choose between locally produced goods and organic ones from further away, which makes more sense environmentally?

Some participants focus on the health benefits of particular diets, some on the loss of biodiversity and shrinking of the collective inheritance of seeds and native varieties. The spectrum of relationships to food is wide, all of which serve to underscore founder Dogen Zenji’s injunction to treat each grain of rice as if it were our own eyes.

One of the creative offerings this year was to write “50 Words About Food.” We’ve found this exercise a compellingly difficult/easy project that can be adapted to any subject and often manages to invite people to participate. We shrink something down to its essence without getting caught in a lot of wrapping paper language—just the essence, please! What follows are some of the (mostly) anonymous offerings. Be on the lookout for the “50 Words” folder on one of the dining room bulletin boards next time you’re at GGF. You are all invited to contribute 50 words about whatever is UP for you at some moment.

The Ecosattvas also recently held a GMO Learn-In at Green Gulch and are planning on continuing two other corollary offerings in 2012: Energy Awareness Month and Waste Awareness Month. We are always looking for new ideas and ways of developing sangha relations beyond the residents of the SFZC practice places. Feel free to contact Qayyum Johnson for more information or with suggestions and feedback.

Enjoy the bounty of autumn!

50 Words About Food: A Sampler

Beets like blood. Lettuce inverted stars & that wind plays music through sunlit trees. Scallions, Potatoes, fog & mist & downpour. Universe in a microbial universe chomping the wheel of life. Topsoil, Forest, Asparagus, Sweetpeas, Strawberry-nuts. Kale, Chard, Cilantro, Green Beans… Intimate self is all that I see.


First Impression
Green Gulch, Green Valley. A journey of one hundred days. The wait, the anticipation. A ride through mist and fog to clear the mind. Sit, work , walk—all the same in meditation. Special gardens, special residents. A symphony of melodic service. Green Gulch, Green Valley. An abundant harvest.


Can we even write an ode to something that disappears in the space of a smile, a series of breaths? Pans of grains meet the resistance of tender flesh. Sensory feast rests in cavernous oven of our jaws, like a budding cavity to chew and chew and chew again—begin.


Wishing for perfection.
I’ll never have.
I dance and laugh
through zazen.
Back to breath.
Back to sigh.
What is the fear that abides in me?
My three catastrophes lie still.
Together in the snow coffin,
they wait for spring.
Is perfection
my path
to safety?


The stomach undoes time
as life needs food
& no time later you are there
on the edge
hoping the soil will yield
& the clouds rain
& dream the meat from the landscape
& now it’s hunger time again.
Where will the next food come from?
as I hunger.


Rapid Eye Movement Munchies
50 words about food. In it I say something lovely. Or ugly. In colonial dialect.
A funny word play like cucumber & ukulele. Or an ode in brogue or a mule farmer song.
I could say I woke to my father like acorn squash, mom in a housecoat of kale.