The Happy Farm Experience Week – A week of mindful farming at Plum Village, Lower Hamlet

Happy Farms in Plum Village are an experiment in organic farming, community living and mindfulness in action. There are a total of three Happy Farms in Plum Village, one in Upper Hamlet, one in Lower Hamlet and one in New Hamlet. The lay practitioners who volunteer for one year to work on a Happy Farm are called “Happy Farmers”.

On Friday 20th of September, five Happy farmers and the sisters of Lower Hamlet Plum Village were cleaning and preparing the hamlet to welcome 25 new friends from all over the world. They came inspired by the opportunity to learn about Buddhist teachings, as well as organic farming. The daily schedule for the week was made in order for these elements to come together. This was the third time that Lower Hamlet has hosted a Happy Farm Experience week.

Our friends arrived throughout the day. For many of them, it was their first time in Plum Village and learning about the mindfulness practice. On the evening of their arrival, they experienced a guided deep relaxation meditation with the sweet voice of Sister Chanh Niem. This was to help them to truly arrive and feel at home. The following day, after an orientation on the basic practices of Plum Village, presented by our abbess Sister Hoi Nghiem, we all gathered at the Happy Farm for the first session of mindful farming.

We started the first session on the farm with some games, lead by Katrien, in order to build personal connections with each other whilst playing. During our service meditation, Ayla was the bell master and she invited the bell from time to time to allow everyone to stop and come back to themselves. At the sound of the bell, we all put down our tools, stopped what we are doing and took time for a few conscious breaths, enjoying the scenery. The Happy Farms are what we call ‘protected working environments’, where we practice, and take care of ourselves and each other, which is as important to us as what is produced. We grow vegetables for the community and at the same time we grow our relationships in the community, our connection to the earth, our joy, happiness and healing.

We were in 5 teams, each team guided by one Happy farmer. Dorothée’s team was happy to sow the first spinach of the season. One by one, with mindfulness and concentration, we put the seeds into the earth, knowing that they would transform in a few weeks into delicious leaves. At the Happy farm, we try to let go of our expectations, go with the natural flow of Nature, and practice aimlessness.

As our teacher Thay says, “There is no way to harvesting. Harvesting is the way.” What is important is the energy of mindfulness we put in our action, without thinking of achieving a result.

On Sunday, it was the traditional Day of Mindfulness. It was also the second Dharma talk of the Rains’ Retreat. Sister Chan Duc (Sister Annabel) gave a deep and inspiring teaching, emphasising our relationship with Mother Earth. Outside it was raining and we could feel autumn arriving. She started her talk by singing a beautiful song:

The rain is falling, oh so softly,
washing every leaf of every tree…

She reminded us that Mother Earth and ourselves are not separate entities. Whatever happens to earth happens to us, and each time we take care of ourselves, we also take care of the earth.

In the afternoon, during the Dharma sharing, we had the chance to share our first impressions of working on the farm. In English or in French, facilitated by the Happy farmers and supported by the monks and nuns, everyone could express how they felt, their joys or fears, their happiness or sorrows.

While listening to them, we connected to the worries that many share about climate change and the destruction of our environment. We also witnessed a deep desire to take action to protect Mother Earth.

After a much appreciated lazy day, we were back on the farm. It had been raining all morning, stopped just in time for the beginning of the session. Usually we like to start by singing a few songs. Heike taught us the song « I’m gonna let life move me ». Some of us enjoyed harvesting the fruits of the season : pumpkins, bell peppers, courgettes, chilis. 

While working, we try to work in silence, in order to maintain mindfulness, doing and enjoying one thing at a time more easily and keep this spirit alive in all of us. It also allows us to connect with the earth in a deep way and even allows us to have a conversation with her.

At the end of the session, we come together to share our experiences and Amy – a friend from Taiwan – shared how she was amazed by the size and the bright colour of the pumpkin she had just picked.

During the week, the Happy Farm retreatants also had the opportunity to watch a movie about the Happy Farm, to have a session of questions and answers with the farmers, and also to learn more about the Plum Village mindfulness practices, such as the Five Mindfulness Trainings, Beginning Anew, or the practice of Touching the Earth.

Then came the last evening before our friends went back home spreading out in the ten directions. We were very happy and excited to organise a huge bonfire at the Happy Farm in Upper Hamlet for them. We discovered that our friends were not only good farmers but also excellent musicians and singers!

We sang wholeheartedly together, lead joyfully by Simone, who knows all the best Plum Village tunes. Then it was time to go back to Lower Hamlet, under the stars, with our hearts full of gratitude.

Thank you everyone for a wonderful week and see you again soon.

Read more about our Happy Farms.

Article by Dorothée Palayan

The Mind of Love and Our Relationship with the Earth a Dharma Talk by Sr Chan Duc

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