Finding the Sacred in Farming through Art

This blog is all about reclaiming the sacred in farming, and so I could not resist re-posting this article from Massachusetts, and hope this is permissible, as reported in the Recorder, Greenfield, MA Wednesday, February 08, 2017. You will have to imagine it as you read it, because photos are copyrighted.

In lieu of not being able to post a photo from the article, I promote the tables of David Martin, available at his farm next door to the Bruce-Huron Produce Auction near Lucknow, ON

Rows of vegetables, surrounding trees, greenhouses and other places around the land are enhanced by portraits of inspiring figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Thich Nhat Hanh, Wally and Juanita Nelson, Wendell Berry, Rachel Carson, and Angela Davis along with quotations from their teachings.

The deep connection between growing food and growing sensibility that farmers Ricky Baruc and Deb Habib embrace becomes clearer a few miles away through a new exhibit at the Augusta Savage Gallery.

“Seeking Sacred on the Farm,” featuring works by Baruc, Habib and their son, Levi Baruch, will be on exhibit at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus from Feb. 9 through March 10, and includes Baruc’s woodwork — primarily meditation benches — as well as pottery and photographs by Habib and mandalas by Baruch. An interactive mandala centerpiece, which visitors can embellish with objects, demonstrates that like their organic farm, this artistic display is a family affair.

Woven into the exhibit, in fact, along with photographs capturing views of the 30-acre farm, will be excerpts from a book the couple is writing, “Making Love While Farming: A Field Guide to a Life of Passion and Purpose.”

“It’s honoring the land, honoring those who inspire us who live this life and do this work,” says Habib, whose work is primarily for the nonprofit Seeds of Solidarity Foundation. With a mission “to awaken the power among youth, schools and families to grow food everywhere to transform hunger to health and create resilient lives and communities,” the foundation brings area teens together each summer as interns to learn about growing food, work in the community building greenhouses, raise bed gardens and teach people how to grow healthful produce themselves.

“Art becomes a way of being more attentive to these things and represent those relationships, those ways of being in the world in creative and ceremonial ways.”

She points to the iconic personalities honored by images and writings around the farm as activists who “unite the activism, simplicity and spirited way of being in the world.” It may seem hard to imagine that any farmer would have time or energy left to create works of art, but Habib — who has a doctorate from UMass in cultural and curriculum reform — says, “We have to keep doing things to re-nourish ourselves if we’re in it for the long haul. Art and being creative definitely feeds the soul, which you need to keep doing other kinds of work. It’s a challenge, but that kind of balance is essential if you’re going to be in it for it for a long time and live life along the way. You have to make the time. I don’t know that it’s a choice.”

Habib — whose role is in preparing and serving the food for the family, for SOL (Seeds of Leadership) Garden interns — contributes her pottery to the exhibit, which add meaning to the connection with food. She began working with clay as a child, and says, “I always felt that was the place I was drawn.”

Baruc’s pieces in the exhibit include meditation benches, altars, candle holders and chairs crafted from laurel and birch around the Orange farm and cedar from Montague. His woodwork, using native wood, features inlaid symbols of ground native corn and plants as an expression of his multi-dimensional spiritual practices.

Baruc dropped out of studying marine-biology in college when he had an epiphany — he didn’t know how to work with his hands — and turned his focus for the next 30 years to working as a carpenter, woodworker and farmer. “In the forest, I cut cedar trees by hand and then mill them into boards. In the fields, I grow ancient heirloom corn, wheat, sage and tobacco and use these to inlay sacred symbols on meditation benches, altars and furniture. I work with the natural curves that the forest creates to make furniture and art,” Baruc said.

The farmer-artist added, “I inlay all my work with crops from the land — the sacred corns we grow, sacred tobacco, sacred sage. They’re all really powerful pieces of the farm, mixed with an epoxy.”

His benches are designed with various sacred designs such as the Hundu “om” and the lotus along with the use of hot peppers, sage and ancient heirloom Naragansett, Massasoit, Hopi blue or Glass Gem corn kernals ground with tobacco, peppers and more. The merging of these elements combine the two worlds of farm and forest.

Baruc, who meditates regularly, just as Habib practices yoga, notes that the physical work of farming is in itself a form of meditation and creativity. He notes that while he didn’t grow up doing woodworking or other crafts, “it’s really important for my sanity. It balances things out. I love the ‘physicalness’ of farming, and I love the art process — creating in the head — so the mind has some creativity going on.”

In fact, he — like Habib — sees the necessity of fostering that balance between physical work and artwork as a release if farming is going to endure.

“If we talk about the need for more people to be growing food, which is critical. How do we farm in balance, in a way that we’re not killing ourselves?” he asks. “In this country, we have a way taking something we love and turning it into a business. In other cultures, in Bali, in Vietnam, there are altars in the fields. It’s all artistic. If we’re not having time to meditate or time to make art, we’ll end up in same place conventional agriculture has taken us.”

A 17-year-old Mahar Regional School student, Baruch — whose name has an added H, partially to reclaim the original family spelling and partially to honor his mother’s name — will have several of his pen-and-ink mandalas on display in the exhibit.

One particularly striking wheel, suggested by his father, has a corn theme depicting kernels, leaves and native symbols.

“All the mandalas take on their own form,” said Baruch, who has been creating them for the past couple of years. “It’s like a meditative process,” he says of the both laboring in the fields and creating the intricate spiritual, ritual symbols.

“A lot of shapes I work with, the shapes used in mandalas, are obviously inspired by nature.” Baruch says. “It’s a pretty organic process. I rarely have any preconceived concept about what a piece is going to look like.”

The organic nature of the work forms another intricate connection with sustainable farming practices.

“I see my work as a connection with what Ricky and Debbie are doing. It all kind of intertwines,” he said. His interactive exhibit centerpiece combined with the rest will allow their “pieces (to) radiate out.”

Baruch, who visited native reservations in Arizona with his parents and has studied various cultures, says he took an interest in Indian rituals surrounding mandala creation and destruction. “The women take corn meal and white stone, creating pretty intricate designs in front of their home, and throughout the day, it will be destroyed: People step on them, birds pick at cornmeal, so by the end of day, it’s destroyed. They sweep them away, and the next day, they create more. Creating something and allowing it to be destroyed is definitely interesting to me, and I will try to bring that to the show,” Baruch said.

Habib and Baruc see the exhibit as a way of sharing their way of combining sustainable farming and self-nourishing art with rituals that also provide sustenance for the soul.

“It became a great thing to do together,” says Habib of sharing the fullness of their lives like the ritual of sharing a meal. The mandala at the center of the exhibit will itself be symbolic of the kind of open circles they use in opening and closing rituals with its SOL Garden interns, and symbolic of the balance they feel is central in life.

“It’s reflective of our way of being,” Habib adds. “That’s part of why we do art, bringing the elements of daily ceremony into our daily lives, and into our work.”

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Get Into Relationship

How do I know good can overcome ignorance, spite and hate?  Because I’ve seen it.

A tweet moves Rob Hopkins to share a personal experience from his family’s life, from a blog by Rob Hopkins, Transition Network, 26th January 2017 Knowledge & learning

I want to share a story with you today that I’ve not shared before on this blog.  I was moved by something I saw on Twitter to the effect that the future will not remember Trump, but the future will remember the remarkable things done by those mobilising to oppose him.  It really resonated with me.  I wanted to share a very personal story from my own life which, for me, illustrates that this is possible.

I lived in Ireland from 1996 until 2004. It was wonderful. From 2002 onwards, Emma and I built a home for our family, what was the first new cob house built in Ireland for over 100 years.  Building this house was the culmination of a 10 year plan, something Emma and I had dreamt of for many years.  The process of construction involved the input of many people.


It was a beautiful house, not a right angle in it, beautiful soft light, wood, stone, clay and hemp.  A roof like an upturned boat.  I loved it.  I was so proud of it. We told the story in an online diary. It was in the papers, on the TV.  We were at the stage of fitting doors and windows, the gorgeous, curvaceous clay plasters nearly complete.  Although we weren’t living in it yet, it was starting to feel like home.  Then, one clear, cold night in October 2004, someone set it on fire. We never found out who.  Or why.


It was deeply traumatic.  It felt like the end of everything.  It felt as though the violent, deluded, criminal act of one or two people had torn up our family’s future and thrown it back in our face.  Our future, which had seemed to be laid out enticingly in front of us, was now an unknown blur.  It was horrible.

But then, in the days and weeks following the fire, something remarkable happened.  Dozens of people, some of whom we didn’t even know, turned up to help clear the site up and make it safe. Neighbours came together to offer whatever support they could.  Some friends started to organise a fundraiser in our name. People sent in cards containing cheques, or cash, often people we’d never met, or even heard of.

I want to tell you that you are surrounded by oceans of goodness, oceans of caring people – networks of people who are connected that just need to be activated.  Get off Facebook, get off media that pours out trolls and hateful poison, and strengthen your connections to real, actual people.

The Women’s March last weekend was a beautiful, and deeply moving example that we are here, and we are here for each other.  As was the ‘Resist’ banner unfurled just behind the White House. They reaffirm that values of care, kindness, connection and reciprocity haven’t gone away.  They may sometimes need a disturbance to form around, an infection around which that immune system can kick in.

When people ask me why I don’t feel that Trump represents the beginning of the end – some inevitable slide away from connection and human values; it’s because rather than some kind of new normal, his approach represents the aberration to the norm.

Never forget that.

Comment: I am reminded of a presentation I did this week on Indigenous Spiritual Traditions – the white path (peacemaker) and the red path (warrior) co-exist. The malevolent and the good come from the same place, except that the one is the misuse of power. Malevolent action is the opposite of being in relationship. It’s anti-social and it’s isolating. And it’s choice. As Rob suggests, “get off Facebook, get off media that pours out trolls and hateful poison, and strengthen your connections to real, actual people.” I have classmates who believe this is ignorance. I call it being in relationship!

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Upcoming Meet and Greet, Guelph ON


This event is being hosted at the Guelph Organic Conference, upstairs from the trade show at the University Centre, University of Guelph, this weekend.

Posted in Events for Convening the Conversation, Farming For A Future Network, Regenerative Farming | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More darkness? or Can we be the change?

I borrow this from the conclusion of a blog at In this blog, John Michael Greer reviews the predictions he made for 2016, also alerting us to the fact that air temperatures over the Arctic ice cap are 50°F warmer than usual for this time of year (December 2016). I worry about my friends, the polar bears (I was born in the polar bear capital of the world).

A destabilized jet stream is sucking masses of warm air north into the Arctic skies, while pushing masses of Arctic air down into the temperate zone…. The climatologists who’ve been trying to model the diabolically complex series of cascading feedback loops we call “global climate” have no clue.

polar-bear_getty-imagesBelow, the emphasis is mine.

As 2017 dawns, in a great many ways, modern industrial civilization has flung itself forward into a darkness where no stars offer guidance and no echoes tell what lies ahead. I suspect that when we look back at the end of this year, the predictable unfolding of ongoing trends will have to be weighed against sudden discontinuities that nobody anywhere saw coming.  We’re not discussing the end of the world, of course; we’re talking events like those that can be found repeated many times in the histories of other failing civilizations.  That said, my guess is that some of those discontinuities are going to be harsh ones.  Those who brace themselves for serious trouble and reduce their vulnerabilities to a brittle and dysfunctional system will be more likely to come through in one piece.

What can agriculture do?

Here are some solutions offered by my favourite blog, Landscapes for People, Food and Nature:
1: Trees on agricultural land could sink four times more carbon.
2: Carbon can be absorbed back into the soil that is covered by cover crops and pasture.
3: Protecting wetland and peat ecosystems offers huge opportunities to mitigate climate change.
4: Improving grasslands – yes, this means more livestock! See or even better, read Sheldon Frith’s book ( for more details.

What can you do?

Re-establish your relationship with Nature. Maybe I can expand on that in a future blog.

Posted in Agriculture and Climate Change, Call for Change in Agriculture, Consumer Action, Felt Experience, Spiritual Care Relationship, The Miracle of Life, Thoughts from the Road of Life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Maybe Earth is Paradise

The below is a re-post from Genesis Farm, but first I want to share a 1 minute youtube that came out the day I did a presentation about how we need to apply the principles of therapeutic relationship and spiritual care to allow for the emergence of a new paradigm for agriculture (or a new paradigm of any kind!), as the third space (Agriculture 3.0). Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16 year old Earth Guardian, said it better than I could!

From Genesis Farm, December 2, 2016

jane-goodallPerhaps Paradise was never lost.
Earth can’t be lost.
She can be desecrated and abused.
She can be diminished severely in her beauty, health and creativity, yet still endure.

Prophets, poets and wise people from earlier times also mourned the loss of people, lands and things they loved.
They did their best to explain the mystery of change.
Especially difficult change that brought a sense of loss.

Maybe they told stories about loss that helped them to cope.
Maybe some of them thought Earth was originally a magical Paradise where there was no loss.
Then, a serious event happened which caused Earth’s very self to be degraded causing everything and everyone with it to undergo the same fate.

A sense of Paradise was lost.

Maybe there was a sense that Earth needed to be redesigned and re-engineered to create a better Paradise.

Hence, hard work and perseverance gave birth to industrialization, eugenics, war, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, torture, and bullying.

Maybe at some depth of soul, the eight billion of us in this human generation knows better.

Maybe Earth is Paradise.  Maybe humans are sensing that the older stories need to be re-examined. Maybe the prospects of leaving Earth to go to Mars are producing some hesitation. And anxiety.


Maybe the indigenous wisdom arising at Standing Rock is an uprising of common sense, sanity and compassion for the planet.

Maybe the clear vision, love and courage in the people realistically facing the loss of their water is stirring something deep in all of us.

Perhaps we are looking into the severe differences being played out over the implications of some of those older stories.

Maybe that is why so many countless people at Standing Rock, day after freezing day, are
aligning with the common sense and love for life still enduring at the depths of our collective soul.
Perhaps we are remembering our own indigenous wisdom.
Maybe it has just been forgotten and neglected, but never lost.
Anymore than Paradise.

Perhaps it has taken the awful brutality done to those crying out to protect the waters of our planet, for the rest of us to gaze into the shadow of our nations’ soul, our collective self, and say:

Thank you to for this image

Thank you to for this image

No more. No more.

We all live close to the waters that we drink.  Water is life.
Every water basin is a “shed” holding water.  A watershed.
No people in their right mind would poison or contaminate it.

Common sense knows better.

The call:
Come home to a sense of place,
to the bioregional possibilities of the place where you live.
Think small, think local but carry the whole planet in your soul.
We can help to restore it, one watershed at a time.
Here is an article about that.

Explore in every way possible the insights of a new evolutionary story of the origin of the Universe, Earth, life and human life with all its racial, religious, gender and cultural diversities. Access the course here.

Posted in Consumer Action, Soul and Society, Spiritual Care Relationship, Spiritual Ecology | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brokenness: “That’s How the Light Gets In”

With the passing of Leonard Cohen and the surge of discussions on-line about the brokenness of humanity, I remind myself and thank Leonard, that “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” from Anthem (click to listen to youtube video).

In an older blog by Christopher Page at In A Spacious Place, he summarizes this stage we are in with the best of words:

In the voice of the Divine, Cohen encourages his audience “to gather up the brokenness/ Bring it to me now / The fragrance of those promises / You never dared to vow…” Cohen “wants to write a love song/ An anthem of forgiving / A manual for living with defeat.”

Most of all, Cohen seems buoyed by his vision of the enduring power of love. In his beautiful prayer “Amen” he pleads, “Tell me again when I’ve seen through the horror / Tell me again tell me over and over / Tell me that you’ll love me then / Amen.”

In front of 6,000 people an old man sings for three and a half hours about his trust in a love that can never be defeated. He pledges his trust in an unseen power that never dies, never goes away, and can never fail.

Perhaps art, song and poetry can invite us into a deeper spiritual experience, where we can sense the “the possibility of light reborn in the darkness… the human community perhaps capable of a little more tenderness,” Christopher continues. “These are the times when I can bring the broken shards of my being, and be pointed towards a healing presence that transcends the twisted pain of so much of life.”

There must be light in the darkness, “life-giving ways for ‘living with defeat.’”

This below, helps visualize what this can look like and how to appreciate the brokenness. There are many ways that beauty can enter, and acceptance of ‘broken’ is one powerful way.


Posted in Sacred Voices, Spiritual Transformation, The Miracle of Life, Transformation and Healing, True Transformation for Agriculture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wordless Wednesday: Ag2.0 – How big?

A truth-telling set of photos in a New York Times photo essay on big ag.
These below are just a few of the 10,000 calf hutches on one farm.

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