If you’ve visited SMC in the past 6 months, you may have noticed a new structure on the land — a geometric dome behind Rigden Lodge, near Lake Shunyata and the garden. What looks like an alien spaceship is a fully functioning geodesic greenhouse, constructed in September 2015, and inaugurated with a staff dance party. The greenhouse is currently home to a range of greens (arugula, kale, mustard greens, bok choy, cabbage), herbs, radishes, turnips, a lemon tree, a fresh batch of ladybugs, and two Koi fish lovingly named Patrick and Schwayze. Its implementation was led by our Land Steward Sophia DeMaio, and Garden Manager Kevin Korb, who I spoke with to learn more about how this plant oasis came to be.
Sophie comes from a background of conservation and land preservation, having worked with a land trust, along with experience in environmental studies and forestry. Coming to SMC in August 2014 as Land Steward was an opportunity to combine her interests in Shambhala and meditation with her passion for nature. These are two areas of her life that she considers to be deeply interconnected, saying that her “first spiritual practice was definitely nature based.” Kevin became interested in farming after spending time traveling abroad through the World Organization of Farming (WOOF). However, he arrived at SMC to work in the kitchen, having struggled “working 60 hours a week [at a farm job] and still trying to find time to practice and be in a community of people that share those interests. At times it’s felt like my spiritual life and my interest in farming have been at odds.”
The two of them got to talking and decided to start up the garden as a team project, which hadn’t been in operation for several years. They now work together on various land-related projects, Kevin focusing primarily on the gardening and composting systems, and Sophie on land conservation and forestry. On his transition to becoming garden manager Kevin says, “It’s been wonderful to find that I can have that balance of work and practice and see how they can come together.”
Coinciding with the revival of the garden was a renewed community interest in having a greenhouse. “When I first came to SMC, there was a little group of volunteers and staff that was really interested in sustainability and having a greenhouse…having fresh produce, and having a chance to connect with where their food was coming from,” says Sophie.
This would not be the first time this interest was brought to light. A greenhouse was originally built around 2001, to complement the original garden, but collapsed several times due to heavy snowfall.
It didn’t look like it could happen again anytime soon because of a lack of funding, but an opportunity arose to apply for a generous grant from a family foundation, who was interested in supporting a building project on the land. The idea swung into motion. Kevin says, “there was a moment when we were trying to come up with a bare-bones proposal for the garden — we can do this for a thousand dollars, we can get this going — and all the sudden it switched to 100,000.”
They connected with a company called Growing Spaces, from Pagosa Springs, CO, who had built a greenhouse for a neighbor down the road. “We know it works in our particular environment—it needs to withstand high winds, and 5 feet of snow. I visited our neighbor’s greenhouse and really liked the feeling of it, the space and the light. Geodesic domes have the most growing area because of the shape, the most even distribution of light, and the least heat loss, so there are practical benefits. Also, some of the original structures on this property were geodesic domes, so it goes along with our history and the hippie culture, the progressive urge, the self-sustaining urge,” says Sophie.
The greenhouse does bring a strong, mysterious presence to the land — whether it be the unusual shape and structure, or the life that it fosters inside — there’s a sense of something important happening. Since it was constructed, thanks to the help of Growing Spaces and a number of generous volunteers, the greenhouse and half-acre garden have collectively produced 2,000 pounds of food (currently 90% leafy greens). The produce goes directly to our meals, and from personal experience, really enriches the sense of quality and authenticity of eating here. The majority of our food is imported through a larger distribution company — which makes it even more refreshing and exciting to see “Mixed Greens from the SMC Garden” in the salad bar. In knowing exactly where our food is coming from, there’s a renewed sense of connection to this land, to our bodies, and the culture we’re trying to foster here.
Sophie and Kevin don’t foresee being able to produce everything that the community and participants eat, but Kevin says that’s not the goal — “the goal is to create the community that we want to live in, and part of that is consciousness about where our food comes from. We’re not a farm here — we’re a spiritual community and education center. The way that we grow food, the agriculture and the sustainability here should complement that.”
As members of a contemplative community, but more importantly as human beings, we have a responsibility to care for each other and for our environment. Part of what makes being at SMC so unique and powerful is the wild, diverse land that it exists within in. But even living here in the heart of the mountains, we can fall into a habit of disengaging with the land. Through their work, Sophie & Kevin hope to change that.
In their own words:
Sophie: “I would love to create a bigger picture of sustainability for the community, and give voice to people’s interests. I really see a possibility of increasing people’s quality of life by incorporating real lifestyle initiatives. I also think that’s one thing that’s important about keeping the garden and greenhouse going, is just people even thinking about the land and where our food comes from. And to inspire participants and staff as they’re leaving to bring some of these values into their lives, into the world. At SMC we’re giving people this skill of meditation, but also recognition of the power of connecting with nature.”
Kevin: “I definitely agree, I think the more we’re able to draw people towards nature, the better. It’s one of the most amazing parts of living here. I think that feels like a lot of what we do with the community, point out the food that we grow here, invite people to come look at the garden and the greenhouse, and in the same way having the trails that Sophie maintains, just so that people can be outside and appreciate it. The more we can inspire people the better.”
Though not without its challenges, the greenhouse is living proof that the inspiration of a few people can become a physical reality. As someone relatively new to the Shambhala community myself, the aspect of the vision that resonates the most with me is that of cultivating an Enlightened Society: “not a utopia, but a culture in which life’s challenges are met with kindness, generosity and courage.” I think it’s a beautiful concept, but what does it mean at the ground level, in our daily lives? How do we, at SMC, relate to very real global issues such as violence, systematic racism and sexism, poverty, and ultimately the destruction of our Earth and ecosystems? And how do we face those challenges in tangible, physical ways?
It can be daunting, but our positioning as a small group of humans living together in a somewhat isolated environment gives us a unique opportunity to build our community on the values that matter to us. To me that means having a collective awareness of our impact on each other and our immediate environment. With that awareness we can treat our fellow human beings with respect and empathy, turn off lights when we don’t need them, recycle and compost effectively, produce as much of our own food as our resources allow, and source as much as we can from local farms and businesses. We can serve and eat less meat, walk or bike instead of driving our cars around the land, reuse various items and materials instead of consuming more. There are many ways we can cultivate an Enlightened Society on this micro level, which consequentially influences our societies at large, and the values that fuel them.
When I look out across the land and see the greenhouse, and visit the plants flourishing inside, there’s a sense of joy, progress, and commitment to these ideals. In a way, it’s a physical manifestation of the love and appreciation that we feel for this natural environment — a love that’s growing every day.
If you’re interested in supporting the greenhouse & garden projects, here are some options:
SMC is currently in the running to receive a grant from the generous folks at Seeds of Change to expand the community garden and greenhouse initiative. Your vote can help make this happen! Simply click the following link, click vote, and help us in our mission to be a healthy, sustainable community. The voting period is open now untilApril 18. Each day you can cast a single vote. Click here to vote now.
- Stay updated on Sophie and Kevin’s work on the Shambhala Mountain – Friends of the Land Facebook Page.
- Volunteer with the Garden and Land Crew this summer! Learn more here.
About the Author
Rachel Zetah Becker is an artist, designer, occasional poet,
& aspiring astronaut. Her interests include adventure, human spirituality, fried egg sandwiches, and saving Planet Earth.
See more of her work here: www.rachelzbecker.com