In this article, we meet farmer in residence at Bonnevaux and expert in permaculture and agro-ecology Thomas Litzler interviewed by Kailas Moorthy, architect, part of the DP Architects. DP Architects became involved in Bonnevaux primarily via a shared commitment to meditation.
Transcripts from the interview
Kailas: Today, I’d like to welcome Thomas Litzler to join me to discuss his work as the farmer in residence at Bonnevaux.
Thomas is an expert in permaculture and agro-ecology. He arrived at Bonnevaux Meditation Retreat Center in 2017 with a vision to produce crops within their 65 hectare grounds using sustainable and environmentally friendly techniques allowing Bonnevaux to come a little closer to fulfilling its ambition of becoming a self sustaining, resilient community whilst limiting its burden on the wider world.
Kailas: Welcome Thomas! First of all, I’d just like to start with asking you before I get into those questions to just talk about briefly what you do at Bonnevaux, maybe touching upon the methods you use, which is permaculture and why it’s so important to you and the surrounding environment.
Thomas: So what I do here in Bonnevaux and growing vegetables. So I started two years ago, I’m starting the third year growing vegetables using the permaculture principles. That means that my idea is not really to make profits off of that. It’s a way of life more than a business to me. And I’m developing this project in collaboration and the support of the Abbey of Bonnevaux, really to slow down, because this way of life that I used to have and that most of us have is too quick I believe and too fast. We were running too much. I was missing taking the time to appreciate the beauty of the things that were around me. One of the purposes of my farm is really to go down to what really matters. And so farming is a great way to do that because it’s in contact with the wider world, with the natural world which is full of beauty and full of life.
And it really helps me to connect more with the movement of life. In life there is holiness and purity, I believe, so that’s my project. And also, of course, then it’s providing vegetables for the local community, the Abbey and my neighbors and providing healthy food also for me and my family. And I think it matters now even more get good food, to be healthier. So, you know, then we can maybe resist viruses and all of that.
Kailas: But yeah, exactly. So that kind of brings me on to my next point, I suppose about how your work feeds into what the community is doing and their contemplative approach. So I know that I know that you meditate. You join the community when you can when code is not around to meditate. So it’s just wondering how that practice of meditation might key and key back into the process of farming.
Thomas: My meditation helps me to be more quiet, more relaxed, more confident in the work I do. It helps me to appreciate also what I’m doing, to reduce the fear and anxiety that goes with building a big project for me. So there is still stress and responsibilities and you know goals. Meditation helps me to be focused on what really matters, what is really important in this project because it’s easy to get lost in ideas and things that fail or things that I’m not really comfortable at doing. So then when I go back to my meditation practice, I can just breathe and relax and connect again to the strengths of life and what is good in the world.
So that’s how my meditation is feeding my work. On the opposite doing this work helps my meditation practice because I am more grounded. And that really is a part of my project, of my goals is to be grounded, not to be flying, like trying to reach the Nirvana, that’s quite far away from me, but it’s really about being in the now and growing vegetables and being with animals on helps me a lot to be in the now.
Kailas: And now I think you haven’t got the stress of being in a city, so you’ve got the calm and the sharp angles and the concrete cities. You don’t have back to effect you.
Thomas: Nature is very nourishing for the soul. So I felt bad when I was living in cities because my soul was not nourished by nature.
I mean what surrounded me wasn’t helping me to feel good. So yeah, that’s part of my choice.
Kailas: You lived in the suburbs of Paris. Yes. And then you realize you want to change in your life. So your journey to Bonnevaux, I suppose joining before Bonnevaux didn’t include meditation, but you’re still striving for that slowdown in pace, did you experiment meditation before you arrived in Bonnevaux?
Thomas: Yeah. Yes, absolutely, Absolutely. Because my, my parents were already meditating in the Buddhist tradition mainly but quite open to all spirituality is on them. So I always, I’ve always seen my parents meditating and when I left home I started to have my own practice But it was more mindfulness, without any link to any religion or any faith. And it’s really in New Zealand that I developed this aspect, meditation linked to faith, really to something deeper.
Kailas: And then I suppose with maybe this is too much detail, but with the meditation it’s it’s partly about and mindfulness is about understanding the moment and kind of enjoying the moment and I suppose the farming practice that you practice is partially about that. It’s about enjoying the fact that the plants are growing, you’re being life to the world. And it’s not stressing about the plants to build the next nursery which fails or the crop which fails, it’s just understanding that crop might fail, but another will grow and in the wider spectrum of our nourishment, well the earth will provide.
So permaculture, just in terms of broad statement is constructed in the words ‘permanent’ ‘agriculture’ or just culture. and it’s about being resilient, sustainable and permanent. So this includes I suppose financial sustainability, you mentioned previously that it’s not just about earning loads of money, but you still have to be financially sustainable, you have your business.
So I just wanted to ask you what’s the biggest challenge in practicing permaculture to being financially sustainable. And then on the reverse side, what surprised you, what one thing about your practices makes it easier to earn enough money.
Thomas: So indeed, I’m not aiming for an important wage, an important income. I’m aiming for balancing my cost. So not losing money, that’s the first step, and then of course getting enough for my needs. But part of my approach is to reduce my needs: instead of earning more money to fulfill more and more of my desires, the idea is to withdraw from some of the main desires that we can have in this society because that are fed by, you know, advertisement and all of that, we have a lot of things that we dream of. They don’t really come from us, they come from what we see around us.
So the first step is really to to see that more clearly, what do I really need. What is unnecessary, So I really don’t need a lot of money to feel happy, and that’s what I understood when I quit my previous job. I was earning a good wage. I understand that having this wage didn’t make me happy, but what made me happy was friends, nature, working in the woods, listening to good music, reading good books, meditation. So all things that you don’t need to pay for. That’s how I understood that I could quit this job and have another way of life which is less dependent on earning money and so I still need to earn some money but it’s a few €100 a month really, so I’m still not achieving this at the moment because it’s still a start and developing your farm is a long process and I need to gain more experience and to develop the infrastructures for the farm and all of that. And permaculture makes it easier.
So first of all it’s part of the permaculture movement to reduce our needs and to fulfill your needs just with what is around us and with sharing with friends instead of buying from shops. So that’s permaculture and then permaculture is also in the field about using what nature gives us, what is easy for nature to give us. Not growing corn for example. It’s a very heavy feeder crop, it needs a lot of water, and if it doesn’t have all of that, it just dies or it produces nothing. So permaculture aims to grow what is able to grow in the field that we have. So we adjust to the the land we have and not the opposite. We don’t try to change the land to to get what we want…
Continue listening the podcast here.
DP Architects became involved in Bonnevaux primarily via the shared commitment to meditation. While visiting Singapore in 2016, Father Laurence Freeman approached his friend Angelene Chan, the then CEO (now Chairman) of DP Architects for advice on a site the Community were considering in France. The place was Bonnevaux, and it was hoped it could be their new permanent home.