Written by Lu Tzu Li and Chien Chun Li
Translated by H.B. Qin
Edited by Maggie Morgan
The Tzu Chi Education Campus’ Life Science Farm in Walnut, California is usually a quiet, serene setting where visitors can take in the beauty of nature. But on the morning of October 16, 2021, the farm was alive with the hustle and bustle of a charity market; joyous chatter filled the air and an abundance of gratitude moved like electricity from person to person.
The Tzu Chi Education Foundation volunteers organized the health-centric event. Our team educated those in attendance about the benefits of committing to a vegetarian lifestyle and how to incorporate more vegetables into their every day diets. The wellness theme did not stop there, as funds were raised to purchase vaccines for people in Taiwan. Students and parents came together with volunteers to create an environment of learning, love, and prosperity.
Volunteers introduced the fruits and vegetables on the farm to parents and students. Photo/ Yung Chung Tseng
Blue Tzu Chi tents popped up proudly around the farm, holding little pieces of edible treasure underneath them. Farm-fresh vegetables and fruits were waiting to be picked by a hungry, health-conscious customer. Huge white gourds, spongy luffa, plump plantains and buckets of juicy pomegranates offered themselves to visitors; these exotic and unordinary foods aren’t readily available on an average grocery store trip. Volunteers joined the plant party by donating home-grown succulents to sell. These quirky cacti are currently trending, and customers could not wait to bring home a spiky companion of their own.
The Life Science Farm has a special lineup for autumn’s harvest: a variety of vegetable seedlings. The collection includes chrysanthemum, Chinese cabbage, radish, and other unique greeneries. The farm produces fruit tree saplings from passion fruit, guava, and pomegranate. Farm shoppers can transplant their picks into their own garden, bringing a piece of the Life Science Farm into their homes. A lesson in mindfulness itself, careful cultivation will give aspiring green-thumbs the ability to harvest their very own vegetables and in a small way, grow closer to the forces of nature.
Compassion Through Conscious Consumption
True to the mission of “education that balances developing the mind and opening the heart”, our volunteers sought to teach guests about vegetarianism and its physical and spiritual benefits. In alignment with The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation’s quest to end suffering, vegetarianism allows those who practice it to eat delicious, wholesome food without harming another being. Connecting your mind to your body and your heart’s intentions to your habits is essential in establishing a balanced, enlightened lifestyle.
A growing number of people are making the conscious shift to vegetarianism, a lifestyle and more so a philosophy that Tzu Chi has consistently promoted over the years. The previous UN Climate Change Conferences have called for reducing the consumption of meat products and lowering carbon emissions through vegetarianism in order to better protect the planet.
“The United Nations has called for a vegetarian diet to protect the environment, and Tzu Chi provides a vegetarian meal once a day so that children can at least experience the lifestyle” said a parent Chun Chu Chang.
Our team also saw the event as an opportunity to increase awareness of Tzu Chi’s Bamboo Bank Initiative. Volunteers hand out Bamboo Banks to beneficiaries at several kinds of Tzu Chi distribution events. The banks are to be used the same way as a traditional piggy bank, except once it is filled the bank is returned to the foundation and the proceeds are given to another human being in need.
This program provides a direct way for those who have once suffered to one day offer the same solace that they received. “Paying it forward” is a lesson that can never be learned too early, and the sooner we can embody the human movement, the better.
Tiny Teachers, Large Lessons
Ten children from Tzu Chi DaAi Elementary School and DaAi Nursery School were the teachers of the day, informing those in attendance about the Bamboo Banks and how the simple act gives back in big ways. The students’ little faces lit up as they earnestly recommended vegetarian food and eagerly raised donations. Their tiny fingers gripped pens and paper as they handed over sign-up sheets to those listening to their lesson. The students helped encourage hundreds of customers to enthusiastically participate in the event.
The days’ final numbers were big and beautiful; 100 people claimed a total of 12,900 vegetarian meals. The teachers gave the credit to their students whose magic was unmistakable.
When you are taught to do the right thing, and understand the intention behind it, it is almost impossible not to excitedly spread that knowledge on to anyone who will listen.
Students eat at least one vegetarian meal a day at Tzu Chi schools where the food is prepared by volunteers. In many cases, the ingredients even come from the Walnut Farm.
Teachers empower children with the hard work of growing food and the rewards that come from it. An out-of-the-box lesson like this is part of the curriculum for extracurricular activities. Protecting the environment and eating vegetarian food have become fluid, natural parts of the lives of our students. They are instilled with an appreciation and wonder of what nature provides for us.
The students were beaming with pride as they watched people signing up, claiming vegetarian meals, and taking home bamboo banks. The life lessons they had grown to love were now growing inside the hearts of complete strangers, becoming important seeds of knowledge that they can plant, harvest, and pass on to the next person in need.