We have been having a wonderful time at North Farm lately, despite having so much weather! We hope you got through one of the hottest, wettest summers on record all ok.

We had a great start to the year when our dear friend Lisa Seigel from Bellingen EYE, John Seed of Deep Ecology fame, and local Tallowwood Sangha Buddhist teacher Will James, along with almost 30 participants spent 3 days here at North Farm last month. They were attending an Engaged Buddhism retreat to explore the place where the dharma and ecology meet. From the point of view of North Farm, this is what it was like ….

Standing Stones - North Farm Loving Nature Retreat Space, Bellingen

It was a dark moon in February 2013, on the eve of the Chinese Year of the Snake. We had seen a tiny green tree snake with a bright yellow head in the morning and a baby red-bellied black snake in the pool a bit later in the day. The day began in silence. Retreat participants went about the business of breakfast in harmony with the birds and the critters and spirits of this land. Later some folk chopped vegies for the day’s meals while others mindfully removed weeds and put their focus and good intent into this place.

We were thrilled when John suggested to us that we plant a tree here which might later be ordained. It seemed such a beautiful and exotic idea.

He explained that since the early 1990s, a Buddhist-inspired ritual known as “buad paa” or tree ordination has become prevalent in Thailand. Environmentalist organisations and monk activists have worked together to develop a ritual in which saffron-coloured monks’ robes are wrapped around the trunks of ancient trees. Strictly speaking the trees are not ordained. Rather, they are sanctified in order to protect them from logging and to symbolically remind people that nature is not separate from human existence.

We learned that deforestation is responsible for 20% of the global emissions that are contributing to climate change. And it destroys local communities as well as forests. The Thai monks’ action has spread to several other countries in Africa and Asia, including Cambodia where the tree is recognised as a symbol of life, and sacred to Buddhists. “Buddha was born under the tree, attained enlightenment under the tree, and died under the tree,” say the Samrong monks, who are setting a powerful example for the 90% of Cambodians who are Buddhist. In response, villagers have stepped forward to help patrol the forests and support the monks’ conservation efforts. These daily forest patrols, in addition to tree ordination ceremonies, have substantially curtailed illegal activities in some areas.

John suggested that we plant a tree in solidarity with the tree ordination movement here in Australia at the Engaged Buddhism retreat. A tree was being ordained at the same time in Cambodia, it was the Chinese New Year of the Snake and there were many willing souls to provide the energy and intent to create a meaningful tree planting ceremony. In other words, it was an irresistible project and  together we made it happen.

Our beautiful friend, Kathryn, sprang into action when I asked her if she had any trees we might use. She didn’t have anything suitable but found a Michaelia Champaka ‘Alba’ at a local nursery: it is a gorgeous, fragrant tree whose flowers are used as temple offerings throughout Asia. She managed to get it into her car (it’s a big tree!) and bring it over to North Farm where we planted it at a delightful ceremony. One of the participants sang a moving song about being touched by a tree and another, Eco Pastor, Jason John, spontaneously ordained the tree in the Eco-faith.

John suggested that when some suitably qualified monks are in the area, we should ask them to come and ordain the Champaka tree, Buddhist-style, in our own Bellingen “buad paa” or tree ordination ceremony – the first of its kind in Australia. We will let you know when this happens. I think it will be something pretty special.

What a blessed tree we have living with us here at North Farm now, and what a perfect ending to the Engaged Buddhism retreat. The energy left behind by this group will be felt here for a long time to come. North Farm thanks you, one and all. And the Cambodian forests thank you too. Together, we raised over $2,000 for more tree ordinations in Cambodia.

…. and then came our Cheesemaking workshop. Jen and I facilitated it together. It was a really fun day – lots of learning, lots of laughter and lots of tasty cheesy things to eat.

After seeing the goats being milked, participants learned how to make yoghurt, labneh, quarg, halloumi and two different types of ricotta.

Haloumi Cheese - Norh Farm Loving Nature Retreat Space, BellingenThe menu included labneh with herbs and roasted olives, pan-fried haloumi with lemon and black pepper, three cheese spinach frittata and accompaniments, and then finally, a baked vanilla cheesecake with vanilla and honey quarg.

There is another workshop on 6 April, so please let us know if you would like to come. You can email [email protected] or call 6655 1948. It’s $150 (or $120 concession) and it goes from 8.30 to 2.30. If you decide to come, don’t eat too much beforehand!

We are offering one free spot in exchange for helping with food and washing up on the day. Just let me know if you would like to claim it.

Last week about 45 people from Tourism Coffs Coast gathered at North Farm for a really fun, really informative event. We are lucky to be living in a community where collaboration is a given and working together increases the benefit for all of us. We love the connectedness of life at North Farm. There is an old African proverb which Transition Bellingen have adopted and so have we. It says: “if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together”. We agree with that sentiment. None of it would mean anything if we didn’t have each other.

Click here for a fridge-door-friendly page with details of all our regular weekly classes plus our Autumn events. Jen’s ‘Good Life’ fortnightly discussion group starts on Monday 11 March, see here, reprinted from the Bellingen News, thank you, Elisabeth.

People who come to North Farm, in whatever capacity, bring such a positive aspect to our life here. It’s a web of loveliness that grows and grows and fills us with delight.

To top off all this loveliness, the 30-something year-old daughter of an old friend of ours recently came to stay for a couple of nights with her husband. We were so happy to see her and to share memories of our earlier days in Bellingen back in the 80s. It was great to note too, that in respect both to our young friends and ourselves, the present wasn’t bad either. It is always a wonderful thing when people we knew as children come back into our lives as adults and we can see more of who they have become. Special. And a visceral reminder of our continued and ongoing capacity for connection throughout our time here on the planet.

Our young visitors reckoned North Farm was “a pretty cool place”. We do too. We feel blessed and privileged to live here and nourished and energised by so many wonderful creatures and people who come to this special piece of paradise on earth.

The latest being to arrive has come in the form of a very special man, our wonderful friend, John Hodgkinson. He has come to join us here and we welcome him with open arms. He shares our vision for this place so, together, we are building the future of North Farm, with our feet very firmly placed on the ground, right here right now. It is, after all, the only place to be!


**ps Special thanks to Jak and Aunty Val for the photos




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