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Farming and Gardening as Spiritual Practices:
2010 North American Region Yoko Farm Training
In his New Year's teaching for 2010, Oshienushisama encouraged us to focus on yoko farming with the words: "The goal of yoko farming is to help create a world where God and human beings are united in joy, and where human beings and nature are united in harmony. Helping people experience closeness to the soil and to nature is an important part of the process of nurturing God-centered people for the coming spiritual civilization."
 
The Washington DC Center hosted the 2010 North American Region Yoko Farm Training at the family farm of two members in Martinsburg, West Virginia, from September 4- 6, 2010, to help achieve Oshienushisama's goal in our region. Forty-three members attended from the Chicago, Miami, Detroit, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Washington, DC Centers, including 11 young people ranging in age from 8 to 21. In addition, one family of four guests participated.
 
Participants agreed that the weekend was a great success, worth taking the time to experience, eye-opening, and spiritually uplifting in many ways. Some of the things participants said are:
   •  The experience of waking up in a big farm and seeing all the trees around and the color of the sky change as the sun is rising is unforgettable. I think all of us felt very peaceful and at home.
   •  I could see how our vibrations really affect our surroundings and how evident that truly is when working with nature.
   •  We watched a movie called Dirt, which made me realize how extraordinary and humble the soil is towards us. If the soil did not provide us with food, how on earth would the human race survive? That was the biggest realization I had, to learn that I have been taking this blessing for granted for so many years. Nothing is really ours, but God's.
   •  Thanks to this training, I feel committed to practice yoko farming, even in one pot. I think that with this practice I will be able to contribute little by little to the restoration of our beautiful planet.
   •  The Yoko Farm Training was a life-changing experience that awakened me to the reality of the hard work that nature has been doing and keeps on doing for our sake, for humanity. This training also allowed me to have realizations about what I can do to help restore the land to its spiritual condition and the responsibility of each and every one of us to help start this change.
Staff and members of the Washington DC center worked with the Florida center director, who was the regional staff representative, to plan the event. As our hosts, the four members of the family that hosted the training participated in all of the activities and helped in so many ways from supplying needed kitchen utensils, to guiding us on working in the soil and feeding the farm animals. The nine-year-old daughter decorated our name badges upon
 
request. Both she and her eleven-year-old sister conducted farm tours on the first day as part of the orientation for the attendees.

Most participants camped in tents on the farm for the weekend, others slept in sleeping bags in the house, while a few stayed in a local motel. All meals were cooked, served, and consumed, with great relish, outdoors. Every attendee was assigned to a group, each of
 
which helped to either set up and serve meals or clean up after the meal. We rotated participating in the activities, and we all did everything with love and respect. We felt at home, truly.

This year, the mid-Atlantic region of the country, including Martinsburg, experienced a summer-long drought as well as more days of temperatures exceeding 90 degrees than normal for the area. The temperature was still in the upper 90s just the day before the event began. However, on the first day of the event and for all three days, the weather was clear and in the 70s, an arrangement everyone gratefully recognized.

While the drought had limited the yoko crops available to harvest, participants were able to plant, harvest, and tend to squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and garlic as well as to provide overall care for the fields and animals.
 

The activities for the event were scheduled in three tracks, two for adults and one for the youth. The adult tracks were divided between those who were active gardeners or wanting to learn more and those who wanted to focus on experiencing nature. The two groups merged for the farming activities, study classes on the importance of harmonizing with nature and understanding the source of our food, for Light exchanging, and of course to share the
 
delicious meals prepared by the food team. To have the youth also participating in most of the same activities as the adults, in ways designed for their best learning, added a wonderful quality for everyone.

We began each day with an opening ceremony and a hearty breakfast. We gave Light to the farm and to the fields in the mornings, and upon completion of the day's activities, we held a closing ceremony before the evening meal each day.

The farm provided many opportunities to experience all aspects of nature. Much of the farm is open meadow, with stands of hardwood trees surrounding the area as well as a small forest on the property. We planted and harvested crops and cared for the fields. We went on dawn walks to observe the beautiful natural surroundings. We had learning sessions on composting, fermenting,
 
and pickling and survival skills in nature such as fire-making. Participants spotted deer and wild turkey, watched birds and butterflies, heard a pack of coyotes establishing their territory each morning, and talked about the bobcat spotted by the farm's owner just before we arrived. We also saw an excellent DVD called Dirt on the importance of soil
One of the greatest experiences was to see the difference of how we found the soil the first day and after giving Light, and after apologizing and thanking her for the natural products that she provides. It was a very big difference! The second day it was easier to work in the soil and even a yellow flower bloomed, beautiful, the day after we arrived, no doubt showing us gratitude, and responding to what we were giving her.
When it was time to go into the forest to listen to nature's vibration and to respect the habitat, the members were sent individually to find their own space and moment to talk to nature and connect with her. It was a wonderful experience!
The youth track activities included helping to feed the farm animals; hiking the trail across the farm; learning to identify trees while marking their location on a map of the farm; building and decorating a birdhouse; identifying the type of soil on the farm based on its texture; and learning to identify animal tracks along the trail and around the pond. The children were fascinated with their experiences. They learned the importance of taking care of animals and plants. They made new friends from other centers, and had their own special connections with nature.
American elms are becoming more and more rare due to the presence of Dutch elm disease, but we found one on the farm. We found many deer tracks and coyote scat and spent time identifying the butterflies and birds we sighted as well as wildflowers such as Queen Anne's lace. There are several apple trees along the trail that became a regular stopping point for the children. We harvested snacks and extra apples that were used in our dinner that evening. Youth and adults were introduced to several identification guidebooks and learned to use them.
Most of the Sukyo Mahikari centers for spiritual development in the NA have a Yoko Farm Coordinator. If you would like information and help in getting started with a yoko gardening activity, please contact the coordinator at your center. We invite all NAR members to attend future Yoko Farm Trainings!


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