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Giver, Receiver and Gift: Offerings from Green Gulch Farm

During these days of imposed restriction, it is easy and natural to lament the loss of the easy freedoms that, just a few months ago, we took as given: the ability to meet with friends, to go to a restaurant or bookstore, to pick up an item or two at the grocery store without having to wait in line to enter. And, perhaps most importantly, to walk down a street without a mask and not instinctively shy away from our neighbors. But in the midst of these very real losses, it is good to recall that there are others who face an even more challenging loss: the loss of food due to unemployment, illness, or poverty.

While there are many heroic organizations in the Bay Area committed to making sure that everyone is fed, we are all called, as individuals or as a community, to do our part.

Sara Tashker, the farm manager at Green Gulch Farm, reports on the efforts undertaken there:

Seven students arrived from Tassajara recently and many of them will be working on the farm this season, bringing our crew up to full size. We also have an active social justice group whose members are focusing on augmenting the farm’s labor to harvest and distribute extra produce.

I have been sowing and planting with an eye toward having a regular supply of extra food to donate to those who need it. For many years now we have been working with the SF-Marin Food Bank. The great thing about the Food Bank is that they do pick-ups, so all we have to do is call and they will send a truck. It is a wonderful partnership and we are looking forward to working with them again this season, knowing there is so much need everywhere.

We have long standing relationships with HaMotzi, a food distribution program at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco and with The Cultural Conservancy’s Native Foodways program, a Native-led nonprofit which distributes fresh, organic food to Native community members in the Bay Area. Every week, we send cooked food to Poor Magazine for distribution.

What a gift it is to be able to produce good food and get it to those who need it.

This is how dana paramita (the perfection of giving) moves through our lives.

The Gift—a leaf of chard, an apple, a potatoâ—is called into being by innumerable causes and conditions

The Givers—the farmers, cooks, truck drivers, volunteers—nurture the gift and deliver it to

The Receivers—those who come with empty hands to bless the gift with their acceptance.

San Francisco Zen Center has opened the gates of teaching and practice to all who come to us. But most of those who receive food from the Green Gulch fields may never have heard of SFZC, may never sit in meditation, may have no interest in or ability to hear a talk, or attend a class. For many of these people, the Dharma is food.


Shadows and Pandemic Practice

By Brenda Proudfoot

The day we learned we would no longer practice zazen together in the zendo but instead would each practice in our individual rooms using Zoom, the tears came. My heart broke a little that day. Practicing zazen in the beautiful zendo here was central to my decision to come to San Francisco Zen Center.

I love the morning noble silence residents keep as they enter the zendo and find their seats. I love walking to the Buddha Hall for service and the forms for entering and leaving the tatami. I had just begun to learn the role of kokyo and other doan ryo roles. Suddenly, it all changed and I grieved that change deeply. I suddenly understood in a new way how very precious these aspects of ceremonial life are to me.

Several weeks into the new ways of living here, I began performing service in my room. Zoom zazen and service in my room is not what I would wish for. It is not the same. It has, however, begun to take on its own beauty, a beauty different from the beauty of service in the Buddha Hall with the community. It is not a replacement but it is a way of sustaining my practice through the pandemic practice period, a practice period with no definite end.

During our first month of pandemic practice, Mary Stares, the City Center Tanto, suggested a photographic scavenger hunt for the Work Practice Apprentice group and gave us a list of things to photograph when we went out on walks. I got stuck on one kind of photograph – shadows – and never went on to the others. Photographing shadows has been a portal to a whole new world of seeing.

One might wake up, see the sun shining, and think, “oh, what a pretty day.” Recently when I wake up and see the sun shining, I think,”oh, a good day for shadows.”

It can be a little tricky to photograph shadows. One has to figure out how to get out of the way so that one’s own shadow is not in the way of shadow image one is trying to photograph. My own shadow could become part of the larger photograph but I have been more interested in shadows of other things. I have requested my shadow to stay out of it.

Shadows change constantly. One moment it is there, the next it may not be, or it may have moved, or changed in intensity and form, as the source of light changes. In my search for shadows to photograph, I see differently. I notice things I never might have seen while walking the same street or living in the same building.

I am intrigued, like a good Buddhist student, by form and emptiness. Shadows seem to be form but they are not. They are light that has been blocked by form. When the light goes away, they cease to exist. They are empty. They move in the wind. They change depending on the surface behind them.

Experientially, photographing—and therefore noticing and thinking about shadows—opens me to change with a lighter spirit. Sheltering in place is not an easy time. It is uncertain. It can feel isolating to live in a community while keeping social distance. Eating in silence during meals in the dining room and wearing a mask all the time is hard. Seeing each other and practicing together through Zoom helps ease the isolation but continues to be strange. Emotions of grief, sadness, resistance and fear can surface unexpectedly along with moments of laughter and delight in something someone does or says.

As so many of our teachers have articulated in so many different ways, this is the practice. I can think of no better place to be during this pandemic than San Francisco Zen Center.

About the Author: Brenda Proudfoot joined the City Center residential community in December 2019 as a Work Practice Apprentice. Prior to coming to San Francisco Zen Center, she spent three years as a resident and retreat manager at Tara Mandala, a Tibetan center in Colorado. Brenda was the founder and owner of Valley Yoga, a yoga studio in central California, for sixteen years. During that time, her way-seeking mind set her on the Buddhist path. She has had a daily meditation practice for twenty years.



Coda: What I Want You To Know…

The following poem was read by Senior Teacher Ryushin Paul Haller at the end of the first-ever live-streamed Dharma talk from Tassajara. It is a compilation of the prompt ‘What I want you know … ‘ which he had given to the Tassajara monks earlier, asking them to write their answers down on pieces of paper. That prompt also inspired a letter which has been published as parts I, II, III, and IV.

What I want you to know:
Six feet apart we’re closer than ever
Endowed by four billion years of evolution
This human body breathes and wonders
This is enough, you are enough, we are enough
Wherever you are right now,
Make it a temple filled with compassion
Listen to what wants to be known
Like you, it’s worthy of love
Keep flowing, the hiking trails have
Sprouted grass and wildflowers
Turning the zendo inside out
Constant and always changing
Now is all we have
Moment by moment
Appropriate response

Watch or Listen to the Dharma Talk given by Ryushin Paul Haller and live-streamed from Tassajara on April 18, 2020.


Perspectives from Tassajara: PART IV

The monks at Tassajara have written a letter to the boundless sangha: friends, supporters, guests, former residents, fellow practitioners, all sentient beings. The letter is published in four parts. See parts I, II, III, IV and Coda.

PART IV: What I Want You To Know Is…

Tassajara will be okay. In fact, the plants and animals seem to be enjoying this unusual spring with plenty of rain and without hundreds of visitors.

We are acutely aware, as individuals and as a sangha, how lucky we are to be here. To have these mountains ringing us, this creek flowing through, a long, deserted dirt road to walk on. These are incredible privileges while so many others are sheltering elsewhere.

We’re maintaining the facilities, ready to receive a work period and guest season as soon as they’re announced. We’re clearing rockfalls and leaves and six months of cobwebs. We’re doing fire prevention projects that usually can’t happen in the summer. We’re finishing and correcting hastily-done improvements from years past. We’re watching eagles catch updrafts over Flag Rock. We’re stopping, awe-struck, at Venus setting in the inky sky over the Birdhouse after evening zazen.

We’re maintaining a vibrant practice and open-hearted sangha, sheltering together like one big family, out in the wilderness. We wish you could be here, too. We’re taking good care of Tassajara until you come back.

What I want you to know is…
The energy of the universe is running through everything — columbines are tall in the waves of it, finches and ravens flit, soar and perch in the sky of it. Everything is free in the sheltering, in the dishes left by the kitchen sink, the thread of chores and peaceful moments. The animals’ world and our own are more invited together it seems, in the viral wake-up call. Loved ones far away can rest in the stillness of an open hand, reaching for bedroom slippers thousands of miles away, that pile of papers she didn’t quite get to, wishes falling like downy feathers in stronger wind, love in a whole new past, 60 years together.

What I want you to know is…
Yesterday, mom wrote to say the universe bumps every Friday at 6, when she blesses her children. At 7 her cityside alights with the pots and pans, yelps of cathartic joys the closest sugar-asking neighbors meet. At 9, my brother calls to say he’s still standing and at 10, I feel the rounded slope of my stomach that I’m not quite resigned yet to never holding a child though how could I hold so tight to a feeling, so out of line with what’s happening before me.
What I want you to know is I ache for that child I’ve already let pass as a dream.
What I want you to know is I fear the greed deep in my belly that craves the exhilaration of catastrophe. How does this meet my never-bourne child? When I stare at the river I feel the water that is me move, great movement of inside and outside, and I am nauseous.
What I want you to know is the name of the plants your feet cover, the ways they meet the bones of our bodies to knit ourselves together.
What I want you to know is that I love you, that wide big breath of love so that there is dissolving and reforming. I do not always want this love.
I want you to know that I fear the death of everyone I love, as though the fear itself was the same as living.
I want you to know that I believe this world can be otherwise.
I want you to know the feel of the waves over your body once you’re no longer in the water. I want you to know earth that rises to meet your feet. I want you to know to take off your shoes on holy ground. I want you to know that (I believe) we consecrate each other.
I want you to know, I want you to know, I want you to know.

I’d Like You To Hear
History says don’t hope
On this side of the grove
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up
and hope and history rhyme.
So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge
Believe that further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.
Call miracles self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And god speaks from the sky
That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth cry
Of new life at its term.

What I want you to know is…
Death is certain. How do you want to live/practice getting there?

While other faith communities have been meeting and supporting each other online in virtual zendos and live-streamed services, we here at Tassajara wanted to share our practice and experience in our way. Practice is still being enacted and embodied here, for the benefit of all beings. You might be surprised at some of the changes, but you would still recognize the heart of this practice.

This is an expression of Tassajara practice.

We would like you to know that we love you. We miss you. We hope you are safe.

Words submitted by Gurmeen Aneja, John Anklow, K., Tim Ream, Jordan Gardner, Eilis Ward, Krista De Castella, Nobuko Hori, Bapu Vaitla, Dan Gudgel, Zuzu Myers, S. H., Brent Haas and other Tassajara sangha members who wish to remain anonymous.

See parts I, II, III, IV and Coda.


A Livestream Call with Abbot Ed

Have you donated to our Emergency Fund or are thinking about it but have questions about SFZC’s financial picture?

Many people have asked for more information on how finances work at SFZC and how their donations will help. Central Abott Ed Sattizahn will address SFZC financial questions on a live video call on Monday May 18, 7 – 7:30 pm PT.


Perspectives from Tassajara, PART III

The monks at Tassajara have written a letter to the boundless sangha: friends, supporters, guests, former residents, fellow practitioners, all sentient beings. The letter will be published here in four parts over the next several days. See parts I, II, IV, Coda.

PART III: What I Want You To Know Is…

Perspectives from Tassajara

Of course we didn’t want to change the forms at Tassajara. For 50 years this training temple has been imparting Suzuki Roshi’s vision of Soto Zen practice. But as we’ve deconstructed these 1000-year-old forms that express a 2500-year-old tradition, the lively, beating heart of our practice has emerged.

Half the community sits zazen in the zendo, and half in the retreat hall to maintain distance — and so two people a day get to support the community by being doan. The hot springs plunges are drained and the steam rooms are off to reduce possible transmission vectors, and we have to count the shoes outside the bathhouse to make sure we don’t go over capacity. But we continue to offer incense at the bathhouse altar before entering.

We chant the meal verse outside together in the courtyard, before filing slowly into the dining room to be served, cafeteria style, by masked-and-gloved serving crews. We eat at opposite ends of 8-foot tables and yet, when the clackers end the start-of-meal silence, we still speak from the heart, listen completely and give ourselves to the moment.

After a few weeks with no services at all, we created a simplified morning service that we can do outside in the work circle, appropriately spaced, chanting the Loving Kindness Meditation so we don’t need chant books. We have to chant loudly to be heard over the sunrise birdsong and some days the wind blows out the candle, but it’s a joy to have the mountains join our ceremony.

What I want you to know is…


One beautiful planet, full of mountains and forests and rivers, to call home amidst the vast darkness of the cosmos;

One human body, endowed by four billion years of evolution with a host of skills, including self-consciousness, breath and wonder;

One long life, one natural death, and general freedom from the hunger, disease, and violence suffered by your ancestors*;

Unlimited stories, music, and laughter time-tested over a thousand generations of humanity;

Infinite opportunities, redeemable in any moment, to love and be loved.

*Restrictions (i.e., poverty) apply.


What I want you to know is…

Tassajara creek keeps flowing.


What I want you to know is…

How resilient this practice is. The hiking trails have sprouted grass and wildflowers, and every morning we turn the zendo inside out.


What I want you to know is…

While stacking firewood in the sun today, I started laughing so hard that I had to take a break.


What I want you to know is…

The whole earth, all life itself, is watching.


Words submitted by Gurmeen Aneja, John Anklow, K., Tim Ream, Jordan Gardner, Eilis Ward, Krista De Castella, Nobuko Hori, Bapu Vaitla, Dan Gudgel, Zuzu Myers, S. H., Brent Haas and other Tassajara sangha members who wish to remain anonymous.

See parts I, II, IV, Coda.


Perspectives from Tassajara, Part II

The monks at Tassajara have written a letter to the boundless sangha: friends, supporters, guests, former residents, fellow practitioners, all sentient beings. The letter will be published in four parts over the next several days. (See Part I, III, IV, CODA)

PART II: What I Want You To Know Is…

Most of us had other plans for after April 5. Returning to the marketplace, international travel, moving to Green Gulch or City Center. But this global example of impermanence upended so many plans that many of the practice period participants are still at Tassajara. 

Two months of regular practice period had already wiped away any cliques, assumptions about each other or insularity we’d brought with us. Adapting and reacting to a physically separated, completely unpredictable new reality has supersized our tenderness, gentleness and love for each other.

Now, many of us have taken on new roles and tasks as we keep Tassajara primed for a guest season that is indefinitely in the future. We’re crawling under the kitchen to rework Tassajara’s sewage system, braving tangles of poison oak to clear dead brush, delivering meals and encouraging notes to those in full quarantine, nurturing the plants and discouraging the rodents.

Volunteer groups stepped forward to synthesize CDC recommendations, state and county mandates and sort out how we could implement safe physical distancing within the intensely communal space of Tassajara. Five people are sewing rakusus for jukkai and two are sewing okesas for ordination.

And when we meet on the path we bow deeply, giving ourselves completely to each other, despite six feet of separation

What I want you to know is…
“The world is not here to make you happy. It is here to awaken you.” – Eckhart Tolle

What I want you to know is…
Together we can meet fear with equanimity, scarcity with generosity, division with awareness of our interbeing.
Together we can embody skillful and courageous action, creativity and compassion in how we meet the challenging circumstances facing us — facing this planet .
It’s time for us to be inspired and inspire others.

What I want you to know is…
That everyone now knows we can radically transform society practically overnight.

What I want you to know is…
To quote a pastor from his sermon: “An acorn looks nothing like a mighty oak tree but it is only when we cherish the acorn that it can become great.”
The acorn is “This is difficult.” “This is impossible.” I think when we practice in the face of impossibility, adversity, pain, discomfort, we shed all the superficial coverings, motivations, desires and we really know our true spirit and our true desire for living, which may be humble but it is unbowed and it is real.

What I want you to know is…
Watching Netflix and watching the mind are not that different. Both are mesmerizing. There are more possibilities within mind watching.

What I want you to know is…

If dependent co-arising, then what happens to us when the ‘co’ is replaced by corona consequences?

What I want you to know is…
That every cloud has a silver lining. As the dark clouds of Covid-19 hover over the entire planet, like the silver in mother of pearl, the corona virus turns into “dharma virus.” No wars, no bombs, no rushing, no pushing — slowly, slowly the sky is clear. The stars are shining bright. The dharma virus is an “anti virus” to all of humankind.

What I want you to know about is the generosity and sincerity of sangha.
Students here who care deeply about the suffering in the world.
Students sewing masks to donate to local hospitals.
Students offering to donate their stipends, savings, healthcare and resources for food and building supplies.
Students willing to work hard to take care of these temples.
Students dedicating their lives to the practice of buddha dharma.

What I want you to know is…
There is something constant, something that’s always changing, directing or indirectly affecting all things for all time. It’s called now.
When will shelter in place be over? I can’t wait til it’s over? Then things will be better. But now is all we really have. Even when this is over and I can go see my family I will still be left wanting something in the future.
Maybe I’ll be bored, thinking of surfing. But what if I could be at ease and happy with this moment? What if I wasn’t so willing to trade this moment, this “now” for something else. Might all my “nows” — the only thing we ever have — be all the better for it?

What I want you to know is…
In this moment in time, under circumstances we’ve never before seen, how do we meet this moment?
How does practice meet this moment?
How do we let the practice that has been cultivating in our minds and hearts come alive in the face of global crisis?
Can we be open to letting it take a form we’ve never seen before?
Can we let ourselves and our forms be shaped by practice as it arises spontaneously and truthfully through us to meet this moment?
Can we be creative? Can we let the silent child in ourselves speak? Sing? Can we be deeply discerning and actually let go of what we think we know and truly enter the unknown — even as it’s sometimes uncomfortable or inconvenient?
Can we be open to voices we hadn’t heard before, ideas we hadn’t before considered, ways of doing things we haven’t yet tried?
If our systems collapse, what is truly most important?
What would be worth standing up for, fighting for, following our heart for?
What would it look like to move about the world and not have to see or feel the impacts of our actions on ourselves, other beings and this planet?
What is it to choose, to commit to opening our eyes, minds and hearts to the impacts of our actions on ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighborhood, as well as all of the humans, animals, plants and beings whose lives we don’t see but are touched by us? Can we love life so much as to be alive to all of this?
How is practice calling us to wake up?
What is at stake if we don’t wake up?
How are we meeting this moment?

Words submitted by Gurmeen Aneja, John Anklow, K., Tim Ream, Jordan Gardner, Eilis Ward, Krista De Castella, Nobuko Hori, Bapu Vaitla, Dan Gudgel, Zuzu Myers, S. H., Brent Haas and other Tassajara sangha members who wish to remain anonymous. Photo by Erin Scott.

Read Part I, Part III


Perspectives from Tassajara, PART I

The monks at Tassajara have written a letter to the boundless sangha: friends, supporters, guests, former residents, fellow practitioners, all sentient beings. The letter will be published in four parts over the next several days. It is inspired by the prompt “What I Want You to Know” which was given to the sangha by Ryushin Paul Haller, who led the Winter Practice Period and is remaining at Tassajara while the community shelters in place.

Read Part II, III, IV, Coda

PART I: What I Want You To Know Is…

What I want you to know is…
We are here, living together, taking care of this land, taking care of this temple, taking care of each other while practicing the Buddha Way. The spirits of the place are happy to have ceremony performed with them and for them. And, best of all, wherever you are right now, you can also make it a temple, filled with compassion for all beings!

We were two-thirds of the way into the winter practice period at Tassajara when Covid-19 went from something outside that we were getting reports about to something we needed to have our own response to. News had been filtering in — more and stronger recommendations about hand washing, overseas news, and, finally, cancelations and closures in the U.S. But most of us hadn’t been online or read a newspaper in two months. We were deeply enveloped in the 105th Tassajara ango, gearing up for our third seven-day sesshin and beginning to think about the summer guest season.

Instead, the forms of practice and rhythms of life in the valley changed overnight. We stopped eating oryoki meals, the schedule shifted to give us more immune-boosting sleep, we were given expanded communication access and time to check in with family and friends. Through community meetings and conversations after meals we heard each other’s concerns and ideas and learned about and helped shape the community response.

Should I stay at Tassajara? Should I go back into the world to help somehow? But most of the world isn’t even out in the world right now. Is practicing in seclusion enough? How can I activate this practice and share it with the wider world? Should I make some masks? Well, it can’t hurt to make some masks.

Two weeks before April 5, the official end date of the practice period, we had a council-style ceremony to mark suspension of traditional forms and embrace the unpredictable future. We gathered in the retreat hall, spaced six feet apart like nodes in a web, and each spoke from the heart about our time at Tassajara and with this sangha. Eight weeks of practice period had already knit us closely together, but we were all surprised by the beautiful, melancholy sweetness that poured out of us that night.

And so, knowing what treasures we held in our hearts as he was preparing to give the first dharma talk ever broadcast from Tassajara, Ryushin Paul Haller asked the sangha to contribute their voices. Slips of paper were set out in the dining room and we had a few hours to complete, in our own ways, the sentence “What I want you to know is…”

What I want you to know is…
This is enough. You are enough. You’re more than I ever deserved.

What I want you to know is…
That you have everything.

What I want you to know is…
Somewhere, at some point in time, I have loved you, and still do.

What I want you to know is…
We will all be O.K.

What I want you to know is…
Just like you, my life is precious and worthy of love. May we love each other exactly as we are.

What I want you to know is…
I am listening to what wants to be known.

What I want you to know is…
I am committing my life to awakening.

What I want you to know is…
The raft that takes me to the other shore isn’t a raft — it’s a ship. Friendship.

What I want you to know is…
Spiritual friendship is the whole of the holy life.

What I want you to know is…
That I always need your help.

What I want you to know is…
All the things that are in my heart and body that I don’t have words for.

What I want you to know is…
We are all in this together. Six feet apart and closer than ever.

What I want you to know:
We will miss this
If we do not love each other
We will remember this
Through the care of other
We will forget this
If we do not reach out and help each other.

Words submitted by Gurmeen Aneja, John Anklow, K., Tim Ream, Jordan Gardner, Eilis Ward, Krista De Castella, Nobuko Hori, Bapu Vaitla, Dan Gudgel, Zuzu Myers, S. H., Brent Haas and other Tassajara sangha members who wish to remain anonymous. Photo by Erin Scott.

See Part II>>


A Lattice Onto Which I Could Grow: An Interview with Former GGF Apprentice Jack Thomas

Last week, former Green Gulch Farm apprentice Jack Thomas stopped by City Center to pick up potato chits and lettuce and collard starts gifted by Green Gulch Farm to San Francisco’s Alemany Farm. The hand-off was distinctive to the current circumstances: not entering the building, wearing masks and gloves, and maintaining six feet of distance. Nevertheless, the starts made it to Alemany Farm where they were planted this week and where they will be harvested and delivered free of charge to low-income residents of San Francisco.

Jack lived at Green Gulch Farm over four farming seasons, 2015 – 2019. He was an apprentice, then regular farm staff, and then Assistant Farm Manager. Jack arrived at Green Gulch with no farming experience. He had recently graduated from college and briefly worked in what he described as a soul-crushing sales job.

Green Gulch Farm Manager Sara Tashker with Jack Thomas

What he brought to Green Gulch was his own immense suffering, the realization that meditation was one of the only things that seemed to help, a desire to engage in physical work in the company of a team, and a desire to find a community and a livelihood that allowed him to be in alignment with his aspiration to contribute to the healing and well-being of the world.

Asked what he took away from his time at Green Gulch, he laughed and exclaimed, “There is so much!” Among the gifts is a growing ability and readiness to turn towards whatever is arising as opposed to ignoring, minimizing, or numbing himself from present circumstances.

He also points to an ability to take himself more lightly, to laugh at himself. Asked to elaborate, he tells this story:

“I was in the fields cutting lettuce with [Green Gulch Farm Elder] Emila Heller and cut too many of the precious Little Gem lettuces. I instinctually hid my mistake by tucking the extras in a box that was already packed. And Emila, being a hawk, of course found me out! But her only remark to me was, “Jack, you don’t have to hide here.” She essentially told me that I could make mistakes and still be part of the family. That was huge for me. It catalyzed the possibility of accepting my imperfections and mistakes, which opened the door to being in relationship with who I actually am. And that, in turn, gave me more agency in regard to my perceived flaws as to whether to enact them or not. And I watched as some lifelong patterns began to fall away as I could acknowledge them and relate to them.”

Jack further points to having grown in the awareness that we only ever live our lives together and that relationship—as opposed to a feeling of isolation, independence, or the idea that we ever accomplish anything alone—is the whole project. And in the process, he says, ‘I found family, friends and teachers that I will always stay in relationship with.”

“My time at Green Gulch gave me practice. It gave me a language through which to express spiritual longing through forms and sutras. It gave me a lattice onto which I could grow and learn as a young man. And it gave me the precepts.”

Jukai Ceremony

In November 2018, Jack received the precepts from Eijun Linda Ruth Cutts who gave him the name Myojun Yasho, which means Wonderous Pure Heart, Midnight Song.

Last year, Jack left Green Gulch with the dual aim of taking his practice outside of the refuge offered by San Francisco Zen Center and engaging more actively in social justice. He lives in San Francisco, a stone’s throw from City Center. Jack continues to farm and is currently the Alemany Farm Assistant Manager and Operations Lead.

Alemany Farm is a 15-year-old non-profit urban agricultural project in Bernal Heights, a historically low income community. The mission of the farm is to grow fresh, local, organic fruits and vegetables with and for marginalized communities with the broader goal of sowing the seeds of economic, social, and food justice. To those ends, the farm gives away 100% of the produce grown on site, approximately 25,000 pounds annually.

The farm maintains an open harvest policy, meaning that the gates are always open and food is available to all for picking. In service of promoting food sovereignty, the farm offers gardening workshops at no or low cost and partners with City College to offer green jobs training.

Alemany Farm

The Alemany model has been that most of the farm work is done by volunteers. During this time of pandemic, in which the farm is not allowed to host volunteers, a skeleton farm crew does most of the work. However, because this experienced crew does not have to teach and host volunteers, production hasn’t diminished.

The crew hopes to be able to deliver approximately 40 pounds of greens per week to the housing project adjacent to the farm. Additionally, Alemany has a new local food partner who is supplementing these offerings with food that a grocery store would otherwise throw away. In response to an explosive interest in home gardening due to the coronavirus, the farm is also hosting online workshops, including one with long-time Green Gulch farmer and gardener Wendy Johnson.

Thanks to Jack’s relationship with Zen Center, Green Gulch Farm has contributed seeds, starts, and potato chits to Alemany. Sweet pea seeds have long since germinated and are now blooming at the property line between Alemany Farm and the adjacent Section 8 housing development. Kentucky Wonder and Scarlet Runner Bean seeds are in the ground. The lettuce and collards will be ready for harvest in under two months. Potatoes are in the ground and will be ready at the summer’s end.

Reflecting on the major threads that form the continuity of farming at Green Gulch and Alemany, Jack points not only to similarities in the operation of the farms and an openness to volunteers and school groups, but to an ethic of being in respectful relationship to the earth, regarding it as a mother who provides what we need to survive and whom we need to reciprocate with in some measure.

“We talk consciously about our relationship to the earth. And we talk openly about how we are in relationship with each other as regards the division of farm labor,” says Jack. Both of these things are reminiscent of farming and practicing at Green Gulch Farm.

Please note that several of these photos were taken pre-pandemic and therefore show people in close contact without protection. We feel it is important to continue to share these photos when they are appropriate to the story being told.


The Farm Season in the Time of Shelter in Place

The Green Gulch 2020 farm season is now well under way. Every Wednesday morning, the community walks down to the fields after zazen for communal hoeing. Last week, various work crews joined the farmers to get the third planting of the new season into the ground. Volunteers included Green Gulch Farm Abiding Abbess Fu Schroeder, who showed up wearing boots and the now ubiquitous face mask.

Green Gulch Farm Abiding Abbess Fu Schroeder

The farm crew is small this year, due to restrictions resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. Fortunately, two new farm apprentices arrived just before the order to shelter in place. They joined four other crew members, Farm Manager Sara Tashker and Farm Elder Emila Heller. Residents from Tassajara are also arriving to help.

The farm is supplying lettuce, arugula, and herbs to the Green Gulch Farm and City Center kitchens. Orders of baby lettuce, herbs, and rhubarb were sold to two Mill Valley restaurants, Watershed and Piatti, which are providing a pick-up and delivery service during the shelter in place. The last of the winter squash went to Jason McKinney, formerly with French Laundry, who cooked and delivered meals to essential workers at Marin General Hospital. 

Emila Heller

Collards, chards, kales, spinach and root vegetables should be ready for harvest in approximately one month. These will go to SFZC kitchens, to supermarkets in Mill Valley and Sausalito, and to the Marin Food Bank. Green Gulch Farm is not planning to sell at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market this year, but will continue to host a stand at the Mill Valley Farmers Market, provided the SFZC Health and Safety Committee does not deem this exposure too great a risk to the community.

Though GGF is committed to providing fresh vegetables to the Muir Beach community, it’s not clear whether the Muir Beach CSA will be happening, due to short staffing.

Baby lettuce packed for delivery.

The small number of apprentices is not the only change for the farm crew this year. Crew check-ins – an important feature of work practice in which apprentices share their personal and practice lives and work on being in right relationship with each other – are now being held on Zoom rather than around the wooden farm table. Morning zazen is no longer in the beautiful old barn-turned-zendo but also happening via Zoom, as are Dharma talks and classes.

In this time when most of our communications and interactions are moving online, practice offers a rich array of new challenges and working with the soil becomes an even greater refuge.

Photos taken by Green Gulch Farm Manager Sarah Tashker.

Farm Manager Sara Tashker and Farm Elder Emila Heller