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!

Amma’s Vrindavan Tulasi Field… tulasi and so much more

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On January 8th, I visited one of the oldest gardens in Amritapuri. While it is known as Amma’s Vrindavan Tulasi Field, it has become so much more.

In the early years, growing tulasi was the main focus. Then, the volunteers who worked at the farm discovered that Rudraksha trees were scattered around the property. Rudraksha seeds are considered sacred in India so they started harvesting the seeds and planting more of the trees. They also began growing vegetables and other plants.

Farming on that property has been such a struggle over the years. Among the problems they faced were lack of water, poor soil, and bugs. When I visited the farm last year, what I saw took my breath away. It had turned into paradise. (To see photos of last year’s visit, click here.)

When I went there this year, I was amazed by all the new projects that were underway. The first thing I noticed was an irrigation system that was under construction. I thought about all the years they have watered using small hoses. What a difference the irrigation system will make.

Then I noticed all of the raised beds. I was told that when there are heavy rains, the farm floods. With raised beds, the plants will be higher than the water. Several swales have been constructed to drain off the flood waters, but the photos I took of those ended up looking like flat ground, so I didn’t use them.

There is a big pond on the property. The plants that are growing in the pond are used for mulching. I saw, and talked to, volunteers who were constructing stairs that will go into the pond to make harvesting those plants easier.

There are rudraksha trees on several parts of the property. They are easy to spot because their trunks have all been painted white. Next year I will ask why they do that!

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The numerous tulasi fields are thriving.

Many fruits and vegetables grow on the property.

I was surprised by the many varieties of eggplant. Later, I saw a bright yellow eggplant at Saraswati Garden but it was on the phone I lost on my last day at the ashram so you will have to use your imagination to see that one. I was particularly fascinated by the eggplant that looked like an egg!

The plant below is called Lakshmi Taru, The Paradise Tree, The Tree of Heaven, Simarouba or Simaroubaceae. It is a medicinal tree that has been used to treat dysentery, malaria, cardiac palpitations, asthma and epilepsy. It may have a role in cancer treatment.

I was intrigued by this flower.

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Later, I learned it is a Sita Ashoka flower. Ashoka means “without sorrow”. Hindus believe that Sita, wife of Lord Rama, sat in a grove of Ashoka trees after she was abducted by the evil Ravana. Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha was born under an Ashoka tree.

I found this photo of an Ashoka tree on Wikimedia.

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I will leave you with some final images of Amma’s wonderful Vrindavan Tulasi Field.

 

My Morning Adventure

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It has only been three days since I visited Kuzhitura Farm but it feels like it has been much longer than that. I decided I’d better write about the trip while it is still fresh in my mind.

I left the ashram soon after breakfast on Tuesday morning. I’ve been to the farm before but wasn’t sure where to turn off the main road, so I decided to take a rickshaw there and walk back to the ashram after my visit.

The Amritapuri farms and gardens have been through so much in the years of their existence. The close proximity to salt water, lack of fresh water, poor soil, and disease have all caused problems. When I visited this farm last year though, it was obvious that a major change had taken place. I remember feeling as if I had entered paradise.

One of the first things I noticed this year was the extensive network of paths. Any path I followed led me to beauty. I found an altar on one path.

After years of trial and error, and the gardeners persistent effort, the tulasi plants are now thriving. Tulasi is also known as holy basil. It is a component of many Ayurvedic medicines.

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I saw one garden bed that looked like it had been recently planted.

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One of my goals for the trip was to go by myself and sit quietly. I wanted to take photos of birds, butterflies and bugs.

I saw beautiful birds, butterflies and the biggest bumblebee I’ve ever seen, but they all moved so fast I couldn’t catch them with the camera. One insect seemed like it was playing with me. Every time I got close to snapping the picture it flew a few inches away.

I only took one photo of a bird and, even if it was in focus, you wouldn’t be able to see its beautiful colors.

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I did take a picture of one bug!

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Part of the problem was that I didn’t have the patience to sit. And I was so hot. The kind of experience I had originally envisioned will have to wait for the future. This time, I was content to immerse myself in the flowers and other sights. (See Flowers at Kuzhitura Farm.)

Adjacent to the farm are the ashram’s food composting and vermi-composting facilities. West of those buildings were other gardens.  Amma is committed to serving as many organic vegetables at the ashram as possible. I had no doubt that some of those vegetables come from this garden.

After taking the photos above, I started my walk back to the ashram. I noticed numerous houses that Amma had built for the villagers after the 2004 tsunami. Seeing them brought back memories of my own experience during that disaster. The tsunami occurred on December 26, so it is always on my mind at this time of year.

I also saw a cow scratching its head on a tree, some pretty flowers and friendly people.

Before long, I was back at the ashram, feeling happy about my morning adventure.

To see all of the posts in this Amritapuri series, click here.