quiet valley at Muir Beach, outside San Francisco, volunteer farmers till the
soil, plant seedlings, and irrigate crops. They work alongside Zen monks and
nuns, Western converts to an ancient Asian faith.
This is where organic farmer and gardener Wendy Johnson has spent the past
has gardened all her life. She became interested in Zen while doing graduate
studies in comparative religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The two
interests met here, at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.
says she is inspired by the simple lifestyle and traditional farming methods,
growing crops without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers. "People have
been farming this way for generations," she observes, "deriving good
food from good land."
Organic gardening has roots in the past
The organic gardening movement flowered in the 1960s and '70s, as people like
Johnson took part in a modern revival of traditional farming methods. She has
recounted her experiences in a book called Gardening at the Dragon's Gate. The dragon of the
title refers to the temple at Green Gulch.
says the ancient teaching of Zen, with its emphasis on simplicity and
appreciation of nature, inspires this farm and meditation center in the green
rolling hills north of San Francisco. People come to seek inner peace as they
work in the fields, coaxing crops such as leek, kale, lettuce and cabbage from
different sort of gardening
Johnson admits that there are those who enjoy gardening slowly, planting a
seedling, then leaning back and looking at the sky, she says that's not what
happens at Green Gulch. "[We are] working rhythmically and full-on, but
[have] a sense of well-being and relaxation that comes at the end of the day
from doing work you love and doing it well and being in connection with the
natural world." She says it's an honor and privilege to be able to do
There is also time for Zen meditation at Green Gulch,
sitting cross-legged in a traditional Japanese-style meditation hall. And there
is time to sit and reflect in the meditation garden, with its bamboo grove and
small shrines with Buddhist images, decorated with flowers.
site is open to visitors who come to learn of the center's philosophy and get
in touch with nature. Wendy Johnson has also taken her message around the
United States, talking about the ties between gardening and meditation. She
says listeners are responsive. "In some deep way, you are restored,"
she says. "Many people say what a sense of well-being and grounded-ness
the garden gives them."
She says the first step to creating a garden is cultivating the ground. The
next step is fertilization with traditional means such as compost, creating
natural fertilizer from manure, shredded leaves and kitchen scraps. Johnson
says gardeners must also learn how plants propagate, and then master the
mechanics of tending to a garden. "That includes pruning and weeding,
irrigating, keeping records of the garden, managing the pests." Or at the
very least — she corrects herself — learning to live with pests and respecting
out to the community
from the Green Gulch farms is served at a trendy San Francisco restaurant
called Greens, and sold at a popular farmers' market. It is also given to the
poor through a food bank and soup kitchens.
Today, Johnson works with teachers in the nearby city of Berkeley in a program
called The Edible Schoolyard. Nine hundred students grow organic crops, and
work together to prepare and eat the fruits and vegetables. Johnson says she
has a great job as a mentor of the young people who teach gardening in the
public schools. "[That] is appropriate when you're 60 years old and you've
been gardening as long as they've been alive. And then I also get to work with
very lively, disobedient and rambunctious middle school students!"
Johnson says a garden has a life of its own, and successful gardeners respect
and learn from it. "I never say I manage the garden," she confides.
"The garden really manages me."