Sustainable Agriculture: The Consciousness of Farming
combine to make this food.
Numberless beings gave their lives
and labors that we may eat.
May we be nourished
that we may nourish life.
A Buddhist Blessing
Life on this planet is totally dependent on an interpenetrating web of natural systems. There is no part of the natural world that is independent of all the others. Seeds need soil. Soil needs ground water. Ground water needs rain. Rain needs clouds. Clouds need moisture. Symbiosis is the governing principle of nature. This is the key principle of Sustainable Agriculture.
Sustainable Agriculture begins with a farm’s awareness of its responsibilities to every link in the long chain from soil, to seed, to sustenance. It acknowledges that no farm is an island unto itself. Instead, each is linked physically and philosophically to every other. All of us reap what the other sows. Therefore, how each farm manages its land, water, environment – how it uses amendments, fertilizers, pest management and weed control – all have vital, far-reaching impact on us all.
In such a system, protection and conservation is valued along with production, stability along with growth, and quality along with quantity. In this type of farming system, the interaction of water, temperature, soil and the underlying geology, all come together to create both the microclimates and the overall patterns that contribute to the whole system.
And this awareness extends to the living and working conditions of the farm workers and their families, the needs of the farming community we are part of, and the need to be good neighbors. In this atmosphere of love and respect, growth takes place on every level.
When I purchased the 250-acres Stinson Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico in 1991, it was a prime example of unsustained agriculture. Overgrazed and infertile, it lay fallow until we brought it back to life through prudent holistic means including the principals of organics, permaculture and Biodynamic farming, a method conceived by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolph Steiner.
Biodynamics is a comprehensive and holistic form of agriculture that goes beyond organic farming to include the health of the entire ecosystem, the rhythms of the universe, the influence of the sun, stars, moon and planets and how each contributes to growth. By understanding these rhythms, farmers time their ground preparation, sowing, cultivation and harvesting to the advantage of the crops they are raising.
From the Ground Up
My farm, Resting in the River Organic Farm, began from the consciousness that the soil is a living, complex body and the primary wealth of our land.
To care for the health of the soil, we use cultural techniques that help to build soil such as minimal tillage, cover cropping, crop rotation, and biodynamic compost production. The farm uses both manual and mechanical methods for cultivation. Our tractor is small and can do many hours of field work on only a few gallons of diesel fuel. We are looking into biodiesel production on the farm in order to make our own fuel.
Our irrigation comes from a traditional acequia. We use several methods of irrigation tailored to individual plant needs to deliver water to our fields – from traditional flooding to drip irrigation to overhead sprinklers.
We have a greenhouse on the farm where we produce all of the seedlings for our medicinal herb production. We also grow much of our own seed. All of our medicinal herbs are harvested by hand to preserve the quality of the crops and conserve resources. Most of the herbs produced on the farm are sold fresh directly from the fields. We do some solar drying of herbs on the farm for customers who need the plants preserved this way.
To help with pest management and to increase wild biodiversity on the farmscape, we create insectiary belts for beneficial insects. We make Owl Nesting Boxes, Worm Boxes, Bat Houses, and perches for raptors. A neighboring beekeeper has Top Bar hives located near our production fields.
Resting in the River Organic Farm is located on the Rio Chama in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The farmland is contiguous with a native Bosque forest that is home to many species of wildlife. This wild land is also a source of plant species diversity and pest management on the farm. We share the vision of former President Bill Clinton in creating “a life sustaining earth for all its inhabitants, vegetable, animal and human in all our many varieties.”
The gradual development of our farm’s individuality is a process that is transforming the farm organism, it is also a process that is changing the way people on the farm think about the farm and farming. Through the work of the farm, we are developing our own relationship and understanding of life processes. In addition to growing medicinal herbs of the highest quality and vitality, our goal is to develop a farm that is holistic in nature and can provide the foundation for other living communities.
Therefore, we practice organic and biodynamic agriculture not only as a technique of farming but also as an art and spiritual practice to include what I call “Spiritual Agriculture.” This is a term we coined to try and describe the basic philosophy of the farm.
Everything we do is predicated on the idea that everything is interconnected. The earth, planets, wind, water, seeds, even rocks, and human beings and all the critters of the planet and therefore everything must be respected, prayed over and worked with reverence to the holy or holistic attitude of the Golden Rule. Treat everything the way you want to be treated because god, Divine Consciousness, Spirit, exists within everything and everyone.
The farmers who practice Spiritual Agriculture are connected to the land by recognizing spirit in themselves as well as in nature. We embrace the spiritual qualities and sacredness of growing medicinal plants for all our fellow human beings. This is celebrated through seasonal rituals and gatherings on our farm, some of which include “The Blessing of the Seeds” each spring, and solstice and Equinox ceremonies. Right now, we are building a Sweat Lodge on the farm to deepen our connection to the earth and share in the Native American traditions whose history is so richly imprinted on our land.
At Resting in the River Organic Farm, the stewardship of all our resources, both natural and human, is our prime consideration. We strive to balance our respect for the land and what it produces with our respect for those who work it. We do this by not only bringing a holistic approach to our growing methods but to the natural products we make which include a full line of natural wellness and skin care products of unquestionable quality and purity – all made with the organic medicinal herbs spiritually grown on our farm.
It is our mission not just to practice sustainable agriculture but to help sustain agriculture itself as a viable way of life, both now and into the future. We wholeheartedly believe that it is not about consuming the resources of the earth, but instead healing and protecting the very life forces that sustain our planet.
Note From Shirley:
Marsha Mason, founder of Resting in the River Organic Farm & Natural Products, is a four-time Oscar-nominated actress, two-time Golden Globe winning actress and star of the Broadway play “Steel Magnolias.”
Hands on in the fields
Resting on the River