Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association
Jean English
Editor, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener

Thought becomes character. That’s a short version of a Buddhist saying that includes a few more steps: “Thought” becomes manifested as deed, deed as habit, and finally habit as character – so let your thoughts “spring from love born out of concern for all beings.” (Awakening to the Buddha Within, by Lama Surya Das)

This thought was with me as I drove to a garden tour in July while Sandra Ingerman was on New Dimensions on WERU. “As within, so without,” said Ingerman, discussing overcoming “toxic thoughts.” Host Michael Toms responded, “As above, so below.” (

At the Baneberry Farm garden tour (to support the George’s River Land Trust), Karen Aveni stood on her Searsmont soil, beside logs inoculated with reishi, shiitake and other mushroom spawn, and asked: Do you realize that the soil I’m standing on probably has mycorrhizal fungi that may be connected to a tree way over there? And that tree is doing something to this soil under my feet?  

As above, so below. Could trees and fungi have inspired the ancient religion/philosophy of Hermeticism, credited with originating the “as above, so below” idea of the universe?

Recently the University of  Michigan found 293 examples of research supporting the idea that organic farming can be more productive than industrial-chemical agriculture, and can feed the world. For so long, we were told that only industrial-chemical agriculture could feed the world, and that thought was ingrained into the character of generations of farmers and academics, to the point where some state universities forbade use of the term “organic.” So the thought of industrial-chemical agriculture was manifested as deed, habit, and finally the character of a problematic worldwide system. As within, so without. That industrial-chemical agriculture killed soil life, and crops became less nutritious.  As above, so below.

A new thought is manifesting, however, as the character of worldwide organic agriculture. Granted, some of the growth in organic comes from companies that want to make a fast buck, but organic, at its root, its radical, was “born out of concern for all beings,” and keeping that thought in mind will help maintain the true character of organic (as will efforts of such watchdog groups as the Cornucopia Institute –  Not only can state universities now use the word “organic,” many offer degrees in the subject.

Concern for all was manifested at an agroforestry conference in Quebec in June.  After the numerous known benefits of planting “trees and other stuff together” were described, one speaker talked about “the invisible present”:  the stuff we don’t know about, but that is, nevertheless, going on in ecosystems. What we do know about agroforestry could, if supported (by the Farm Bill, for instance), help overcome the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico; add to farmers’ income (through harvesting economic crops from agroforestry farms); supply energy; sequester carbon; and more. The intellectual and practical understanding of “as above, so below; as within, so without” at the agroforestry conference was impressive.

Another thought that has become character relates to the sometimes-horrendous U.S. prison system.  A few years ago, MOFGA’s executive director Russell Libby noted that the United States had more prisoners than farmers. The flawed character of our prison (and legal) system wastes lives (a few probably innocent) and money. Prison as rehabilitation seems a joke. So Nancy Oden’s proposal to the Washington County Development Authority this May, for a “Rehabilitation and Community Service Farm” in Washington County, Maine, is a refreshing thought that should become character.  

An organic “Clean Earth Farms” could indeed start new lives for numerous prisoners (many of whom are incarcerated for drug or alcohol addiction) by teaching them how to grow crops, start small businesses, “live lightly on the earth,” build raised garden beds for others in the community, raise bees to pollinate organic blueberry crops, turn discarded clothing into rugs and other goods, and much more. Oden, never short on good ideas, received a $2,000 planning grant from the Development Authority to further formulate “Clean Earth Farms” plans. This should be just the first tiny germinating seedling of an idea that deserves to blossom abundantly. (See

Green chemistry is yet another good thought that is destined to change the character of an industry, while mitigating toxic chemicals entering environments and bodies. A Public Policy Teach-In at the Common Ground Fair will highlight this new field.

Toxic thoughts, toxic pesticides, toxic industrial chemicals – all foes of a healthy, visible and invisible past, present and future – can be replaced by creative, positive thoughts that will manifest as a better world. And isn’t the Common Ground Fair a great manifestation of just such a positive thought?