My Permaculture Journey at Tierra Drala*
*Tierra: Spanish; land or earth
Drala: Tibetan; non-dual energy beings or forces usually pertaining to the natural world.
Literally: “beyond or above aggression”
While I have always had an organic garden of some kind or another wherever I’ve lived, in the late spring of 1996 my daughter Esme and I took a two week Permaculture Design Course with Bill Mollison and Scott Pittman at Fossil Rim, Texas.
In 2009 I began implementing Tierra Drala on two and a half acres and went all in. I had a greenhouse built, had the fields plowed, the soil amended. I grew several kinds of chilis and tomatoes and many pounds of basil in the 1000 square foot hoop house. I planted Asian greens, lettuces, corn, beans, peas, cucumbers and zucchini on half an acre for a CSA, the local Farmers’ Markets, a couple of caterers and restaurants as well as for friends and family. I grew 2500 pounds of three different types of gorgeous winter squash.
As time progressed I got a couple Maremmas, big white livestock guardian dogs. I got two goats. And then a couple more and some chickens. Then some bees. I studied with Les Crowder who is the treatment-free, topbar beekeeping maestro. He taught some classes here and I thought I had a rudimentary handle on how to care for bees. A year ago, wild swings in weather temperatures--climate chaos—disrupted their pattern and I lost nine out of 11 hives. Thanks to catching swarms, I’ve built back up to six hives this season.
Over the years I’ve scaled way back and now I’m focused on developing lavish bee forage, growing medicinals and experimenting with French cantaloupe and artichokes in the greenhouse. I’ve planted dozens of fruit trees and hundreds of raspberry canes. I have a small tree nursery of choke cherries, service berries and Austrian pines that are about a foot tall; in one or two years they’ll get big enough to transplant into a windbreak.
A few years ago Scott’s Northern New Mexico Permaculture Institute started bringing his Permaculture Design Course participants to Tierra Drala for a couple of days of hands-on training so his students could see how one person attempts, however haltingly, to manifest the principles and tenets of permaculture. They get to milk a goat, make cheese, handle a honeycomb full of hundreds of bees and plant a tree. And be out of the classroom and get their hands in the dirt. They love it, say that time spent here makes the permaculture concepts come alive for them. It’s a high point of the year for me and I love having them visit. I get to give back and hopefully inspire another round of new permaculturists to go for it.
In the beginning, embarking upon this permaculture experiment seemed like an appropriate response to the troubled times we’re living in. I tried to do what Gary Snyder long ago advocated in Four Changes: “Find your place on the planet and dig in.” I picked up a shovel and attempted to create as sustainable a life as possible. But make no mistake: it’s not cheap, easy or fast. The permaculture rule is that you can have only two of those at the same time but never all three at once. It can be easy but it will cost you. It can be cheap but will take a long time and be a lot of work. And they say the best time to plant a windbreak is 30 years ago. The second best time is today.
Although my teacher, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said, “The Kingdom that you are ruling is your own life; it is a householder’s life…the pattern of your life can be a joyous one, a celebration…”. farming seems to be on a relentless continuum vacillating between sublime ecstasy (the song of a meadow lark at dawn, the corn is up!) to brutal heartbreak (a 30 minute hailstorm set all the crops back three weeks, a chicken dies inexplicably). I often feel conflicting emotions (a male goat I’ve lovingly raised is now in the freezer in wrapped parcels at my behest…). Despite or perhaps because of all this, sustainable permaculture farming—plant and humane animal stewardship—turns out to be an outstanding way to connect with the Buddhist teachings, especially impermanence and Ordinary Magic or drala principle.
My approach to farming is now more a cultivation of Eros than simply growing food or “prepping” for a catastrophe. My senses marvel at the flight of crows against a coral sunrise, startles me, fills my heart with delight. Simple displays of natural phenomena happen throughout the day; their direct, sensate presence renews me, nourishes my intention to “let go yet stay engaged”. All the while I remain embedded in the web of enabling constraints as the mystery of the Tao of Farming unfolds. I feel profoundly grateful to be able to live so large, with such intimacy, moment to moment, season to season, within the cycles of the natural world.
All work protected by copyright © 2017 by Brigid Meier