Walking Through the MA Center: Chicago Farmlands (July 2019)

This was the fourth year I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago. Once again, I spent time walking through the farmlands. This year my friend Gopika also came to Chicago; she explored the farm with me.

There were a lot of changes this year. The echinacea field is gone and new MA Center: Chicago plants are growing there. We were told part of the Center’s property is being leased out to a vegetable farmer. Another part is still being leased to a farmer who produces hay. The new focus for the MA Center: Chicago fields seems to be growing dye plants and tulasi.

Last year, there were tomato plants growing in the greenhouse. This year there were indigo, tulasi, and a few marigold plants.

The field that used to hold echinacea plants now consists of indigo and Hopi Black Dye Sunflower plants. The indigo plants will be used to make indigo colored dye and the Sunflower seeds will be used to make black dye. Yellow and orange dyes can be made from marigold flowers.

Beyond the indigo and sunflower field, there was a field of madder plants. The roots from those plants will produce a red dye.

I don’t remember what the field below contains. When I enlarge the photo, part of it looks like tulasi but there seems to be another kind of plant in the foreground. Tulasi is often called holy basil and is a sacred plant to Hindus. Tulasi is said to open the heart, cultivate devotion, boost immunity, and heal disease. 

On the far side of the above field, there was a field where both tulasi and marigold plants were growing.

Click on the photo galleries to enlarge the photos.

At the end of my visit to the fields that contained tulasi and dye plants, I walked to the orchard. There are many more fruit trees than there were the first year I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago. The trees have grown considerably since that time.

Early in our walk, Gopika and I were able to get help in plant identification from a volunteer who was working in the fields. I have many more questions though. Some year I will ask a resident to go with me!

Walking Through the MA Center: Chicago Farmlands (June 2018)

For the third year in a row, I attended Amma’s programs in Chicago during the last week in June. Like previous years, I spent part of my time there walking the fields. The first place I visited was the hoop house. This year they were growing tomatoes in that structure.

(Click on any of the galleries to enlarge the photos.)

Next, I headed towards the echinacea field. The MA Center volunteers had done a lot of work in that area since I was there last. The rows were neat and weeded and it was no longer mixed with other plants. When I visited the field in 2017, only three flowers had fully bloomed. This year there were many of the pinkish-purple flowers.

As I investigated the echinacea field this year, I remembered the video I had seen prior to my 2016 visit. That video had been taken much later in the summer so the field was full of flowers. I was inspired by the video and resolved to someday see it in person.

When I returned to Seattle after my 2016 visit, I planted echinacea in my own garden. At some point I want to learn how to harvest the echinacea for medicinal use. Right now, I am just enjoying seeing the flowers in their various stages of development.

As I was writing this post, I remembered the microscopic photos I’ve taken of the echinacea flowers from my garden. Seeing them again heightened my already existing fascination with the plant.

Back to my visit to Amma’s Chicago Center this year. After I left the echinacea field, I walked to the orchard.

Then I headed for the fields where vegetables are grown. I have found it interesting to see how the farmlands change from year to year.

In 2016, an alfalfa farmer rented part of the property.

MA Center: Chicago grew both vegetables and flowers in nearby fields.

The photos below show what some of the MA Center farmlands looked like in 2017:

This year, 2018, even more of the property is being farmed or being prepared for future farming. I was amazed by the size of the fields and by the changes that had been made in irrigation and mulching… or perhaps “mulching substitutes” would be a more accurate way to describe it. Maybe next year I will ask for someone to show me around the fields so I can ask questions about the changes I see. Right now, all I’m doing is guessing.

I feel so grateful to be able to witness the development of these fields. I wonder how they will change between now and the summer of 2019!

My Dream is Realized- Part 2 (June 2016)

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MA Center Chicago is located outside of the city on 145 acres of land. On my second day there I walked to some of the places that had been pointed out on a tour of the property I took the first day. (Click here to read Part 1 of this post.)

I headed first towards a gigantic greenhouse. Between the greenhouse and me was an area that a local farmer uses to grow alfalfa. Part of the alfalfa had already been rolled into cylindrical bales.

(Click on any gallery to see the photos as a slide show.)

As I walked, I spotted a bird’s house and two bee hives.

I finally made it to the big greenhouse.  I believe it is a special kind of greenhouse, it may even have a different name. Maybe some of you will recognize what kind of farming this is… and tell me!

When I left that area, I saw all of the big fields.  They were filled with so many different plants. I remembered that we had been told that 34 different medicinal herbs were being grown on the property. There were many other types of plants as well.

I was most eager to see the Echinacea field.  Previously, I had seen a video of the fields when they were in full bloom last year. At this time of year, I could see Echinacea flowers at all stages of their growth cycle.

Milkweed, nettles and other beneficial plants are allowed to grow throughout the Echinacea field. Br. Shantamrita had told us whenever they see milkweed on the property they mow around it.

Here is the video of the Echinacea field when it was in full bloom last year.

After leaving the Echinacea field, I discovered there were more fields; many more.

 

I even saw the new orchard

I didn’t visit all of the fields, but I believe I will have more opportunities to do that in the future. As I walked back to the program hall, tired but happy, these were some of the views I saw.

I was so happy to be at MA Center Chicago that numerous people asked if I was planning to move there. While I don’t know what my future holds, I do not expect that I would do that. I can’t imagine living through the Chicago winters and besides, I love the Pacific Northwest. If and when I decide to leave my house, I would be more likely to move to the Amritapuri ashram in India where my adult children live or to the Center we will soon have in the Seattle area.

I know that part of my excitement is because of my interest in nature and in gardening but I believe it is also because I marvel that a community like this one in Chicago exists.  I have been a devotee of Amma’s since 1989. I visited her ashram in India soon after she started her first humanitarian project. Since then, the number and scope of her Embracing the World projects has grown at a phenomenal and mind-boggling rate. This center is one small part of that network. I feel very blessed to be a part of Amma’s world.