A conversation with Amara Fiesterman, volunteer gardener at the Ananda Community
Amara volunteers as head gardener at the Ananda Community. In real life, she works at East West Bookshop in Mountain View.
Q: How did you get involved with the garden?
A: I had always wanted to garden. I’ve lived in apartments all my adult life, and when I moved to the community I was thrilled to see all that free space.
Q: Did you have flower boxes in your apartment?
A: Lots of indoor plants. One way I could tell if my life was going well was if my indoor plants where thriving. It was amazing. I could always tell when my life was going great because my plants were thriving and looking happy and beautiful. I knew there was an energy in me for gardening, and I was deeply attracted to it.
Q: What kind of shape was the garden in when you moved here?
A: It was winter, so the garden was dormant. I told the previous gardener I was interested, but she was too busy to walk me around the garden and tell me what to do. In spring we had a garden service day and it was lots of fun. Many people in the community got together to work the garden on a Saturday, and we learned what was needed. It was then that my regular garden work began. Still, it took a year before I could find the time to start gardening in earnest.
Q: How does the garden fit into your life?
A: I’m busy with other things, and now people are asking me how they can help. But even in times of intense involvement, I would garden three or four days a week for at least a half hour in the morning before leaving for work. Then I’d come home as early as possible and garden.
It was very general work, just watering, planting, and weeding. In my yoga practice, I’m a “japa” person,” and while I was weeding I’d sing or chant softly.
[“Japa” is repeating a short prayer, devotional thought, chant, or mantram as a way to keep the mind on an aspect of God.]
Q: Was gardening meditative for you?
A: It was always a great wonder to see things grow. There’s a peacefulness and a sweet, sweet energy. It calms me to get out to the garden. I would be very calm, watching the water come up into the air and fall. There’s magic in the garden.
Q: It sounds like a place that invites you in.
A: It does. In growing plants there’s a special kind of energy.
Q: What happens to the vegetables? Do the community members buy them? Are they used in the community kitchen?
A: Both. In the kitchen we use whatever matches the recipes, and what’s left we put in the kitchen for people to buy, like a mini-market with a scale and a box to pay. Or they can go pick vegetables and get the fresh energy right off the vine.
Q: Can people have their own little plot in the garden?
A: We avoid that, because it doesn’t promote the cooperative energy we like to generate in the garden. People can help as much as they like, and they can buy plants and put them in the garden, but the idea is that the garden is for the community. There are a few people who put tremendous energy into the garden, but it’s for the whole community, and it’s all volunteers. There’s no compensation, but if you love it, you can come out and help anytime
Q: How often do you have workdays where you invite the community to help?
A: At least once a year in the spring, though this year we had a second garden workday at the start of winter.
One thing I love about the garden is that it’s a place where I can see lots of people. It’s a community experience to be there, when everyone comes out to enjoy being where it’s beautiful, and they’ll stop working and talk. So it’s a place where you get to talk to lots of friends.
Q: Do you practice a particular style of gardening?
A: It’s a mix. I’ve learned from reading about French bio-intensive, but we don’t practice that method entirely. I take pieces that fit in with our schedule, where we’re only able to garden whenever we can. If someone were gardening full time, we could make the crops more nutritious and grow more, but we’re doing what we can.
I started out trying to be stricter, and someone with a lot of experience said, sort of quietly … “Well, you know, you can try that.” (laughs) I use the French intensive way to enrich the soil, and I take other things that folks might suggest, but it isn’t possible to do them all.
Q: Have you made connections between Yogananda’s teachings and the garden?
A: The first year I worked in the garden, I would meditate on how weeding is a lot like the spiritual practice of discrimination, which is an important aspect of yoga. You weed out everything that isn’t what you’re seeking, and as you keep pulling out the weeds, what’s left over is beautiful and fruitful.