Farming & Faith: Sufi vision inspires southern Illinois farm

Dayempur Farm strives for economic, agricultural, social and energy sustainability
Inspired by a holistic agricultural project in Bangladesh that combines farming and care for the poor, this community and its farm want to show what’s possible when God is the center of everything.

By Wayne Weiseman, farm director

In reverence and hope, New Farm introduces “Farming & Faith”

Spiritual values persist within farmers and farming communities, despite all the forces that discount or ignore them. Our new section will highlight farmers who own their faith and live out their spirituality in how they manage their land, relate to people and see themselves in the really big picture.

In traditional farming communities – even in North America – faith in God, gods or other deities was a natural part of life. The utter dependence on the right working of soil and season, plow and plant, humans and heavens tied mortals to beliefs of their Immortal Force.

In farming as in all sectors, modern and now post-modern thinking challenges the role of faith as a foundational element. Technology that pretends to give humans “control” over nature, production-focused thinking that discounts ecological and social costs, dependence on economic return, and market forces that confound the link between abundance and prosperity have all contributed to this demise.

Yet as the limitations of the Green Revolution – and now the Gene Revolution – to fundamentally shift the true capacity of the land become apparent, farmers are left seeking a spiritual and values-orienting “center” in the post-scientific age.

Centuries-old farming systems provide inspiration from more than their biological fit in their ecological niche. Even as they are threatened by globalization, many spiritually grounded communities are gathering strength – and providing vision to the many streams of a global New Agriculture movement.

Eternal principles – and the convictions that arise in farmers tied to them – take a long-term view of caring for land, water, people and other species. These values are often in conflict with demands for short-term profit and efficiency, setting up a tension which gives these values-based outlooks both a winsome vitality and a continuing challenge.

NewFarm.org’s “Farming & Faith” section will feature farmers and groups that consciously work out of spiritual values to practice regenerative farming. Common to their vision of agriculture is a depth of caring for the land and for their responsibility to farm for more than economic profit.

The series will include individual farmers in harsh locations (think the West Bank of Israel/Palestine), urban farmers dedicated to providing food for the poor, farmer co-ops with a distinct vision in developing or developed nations, and change-oriented communities in conventional rural settings – the best description for our initial offering in southern Illinois.

We welcome suggestions for farms and groups to profile. Our stories will capture their essence and their orientation to explain what powers their approach and lightens their work.

Send contact information, brief descriptions and regenerative aspects of the efforts to greg.bowman@
rodaleinst.org

-- Greg Bowman, on-line editor

Farm-at-a-Glance
Dayempur Farm

Location: Anna, Ill., in extreme southern Illinois, about 10 miles east the Mississippi River and about 24 miles north of the southernmost tip of the state.
Key people: Wayne Weiseman, farm director, six full-time workers from the Carbondale region’s 60-member Dayemi Tariqat (spiritual path) community, and volunteers from this group and elsewhere.
Years farming: 8 years, this location
Total acreage: 60 acres
Tillable acres: about 30, of which only 2.5 are in production, increasing with cover cropping at about one-quarter acre per year.
Crops: vegetables, honey, medicinal herbs, eggs, renewable energy
Marketing:  About 30 per cent to restaurants operated by the group; balance split between local food co-op and members of Dayemi Tariqat.

Illinois farm has spiritual roots in Bangladesh & India

The word Dayem also arises from the name of the Sufi Master Dayemullah.
He created a land-based project in rural Bangladesh at Ibrahimpur, which includes agricultural projects, a school and orphanage, a fish hatchery, and several businesses.

Baba Dayemullah showed disciples and villagers how to meet their physical needs and develop local economies, while simultaneously caring for the poorest of the poor in a country riddled with poverty. We continue to support them through fund-raising projects here in America and by frequent visits to Bangladesh where we offer consultation to the various projects.

P.R. Sarkar (Baba Anandamurti), another one our influences, was a great Indian saint and Tantric master. He died in 1990. Sarkar proposed the Master Unit, a complete model for self-reliant living which provides sustainably for the basic necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, education and an environment free from fear.

The theory of Progressive Development, which calls for a complete renewal of society based on care of our natural systems and social institutions, has been developed by Sheikh Din Mohammed al Dayemi, our teacher and leader. Progressive Development teaches that all of our work must begin within a spiritual context. Political, economic, social and educational systems sit on a wheel with God as the hub around which everything else revolves. – w.w.

Nestled amongst the hills of the Shawnee National Forest, Dayempur Farm reflects the natural diversity found in southern Illinois. Here, five distinct ecosystems create a spectacular backdrop consisting of rich geological history and countless botanical and animal life forms. It is near the town of Anna, about 10 miles east of the Mississippi River and two dozen miles from the state’s southern tip.

Dayempur Farm is the spiritually-centered, land-based project of Dayemi Tariqat (in Arabic, “spiritual path”). This community is part of the Sufi tradition, which reflects the mystical side of Islam. Dayempur arises from two words: the word Dayem, from Arabic, means ancient of ancients, and pur, from Sanskrit, means place.

We draw from a 1,400 year-old lineage that passes through Bangladesh and the late Sufi Master Sheikh Sufi Sayyed Dayemullah. The lineage was brought to the West in 1990 by Sheikh Din Muhammed Abdullah. Our community settled in southern Illinois in 1995, where we now operate the farm and several businesses and service projects. (For more on the spiritual heritage of Dayempur Farm, see box, "Illinois farm has spiritual roots".)

Our foremost intention is for Dayempur to become a working educational model in which spiritual, environmental, social, economic and political realms are addressed in order to awaken spiritual consciousness in all areas of our lives. The vision of Dayempur is to develop self-reliance, build community and teach of sustainability.

Borrowing from many traditions to farm on chemical-free land

The farm produces 35 kinds of vegetables on 2.5 acres currently under cultivation of a total of 60 acres. Harvest goes to two restaurants operated by community members, a local food pantry, and to the Dayemi Tariqat families. Other farm enterprises include medicinal herbs, honey, laying hens, and grapes.

We are expanding the farmed area by about a half-acre per year, using cover crops to transition the rolling land into horticultural use. The farm’s two previous owner-families never used chemicals in their farming operations.

We apply many other approaches to land care here. Our most important methodology, however, is trial and error, as well as the courage to forge ahead by putting ideas into practice.

Through the methodologies of permaculture we are developing what its founder Bill Mollison called “a sustainable land-base, an agriculturally productive ecosystem with the same diversity, stability and resilience as our natural ecosystems.”

Permaculture-inspired features at this time include:

  • A large forest garden which contains a hundred species of medicinal and culinary herbs, food, fruit and utility plants.
  • Use of the zone system, which starts at zone zero with the home and radiates out in concentric circles from the most visited farm area to the least (this is the basis for what and where we place specific elements in the landscape).
  • Alley cropping, where every sixth row of our larger crop areas contain perennials such as fruit trees and herbs.
  • Attention to water flow and collection.
  • Developing microclimates for growing- season extension.
  • Utilizing recycled and local resources.
  • Clean and efficient power generation.
  • Many uses of appropriate technology.

Grow Bio-intensive® gardening is a combination of Biodynamics and the French intensive method, brought to this country by master gardener Alan Chadwick in the 1960s and continued by John Jeavons in California. This the system that we utilize in our winter greenhouse, where we plant our crops in 4- by 20-foot raised beds with plants in hexagonal patterns packed closely together so that they act as a living mulch. The crops we plant here are considered the most nutritious foods that we can plant in the smallest area.

The natural farming practice of Japanese field biologist Masanobu Fukuoka, who uses a no-till, cover-crop rotation throughout the year, is a concept that we are determined to implement exclusively on our farm fields. We have been experimenting over the past four years with cover crops specific to our climate and soil conditions.

The clay soil of Southern Illinois requires an abundant amount of compost and organic material to keep it fertile. Through Fukuoka’s methods we will be able to relinquish the use of compost and soil amendments. The cover crops add organic matter and nutrients to the soil as they die back and slough off material in the root zone.

From Biodynamics, a system of agriculture developed by Austrian philosopher and scientist Rudolf Steiner in the early twentieth century, we utilize the field sprays and compost preparations which enliven soil micro-organisms.

Farm supplies two restaurants, base for education outreach

We believe that local economies and self-sufficiency inspire people to be more personally responsible in the way that we spend money, and in what we purchase. During the six-year history of Dayempur we have been developing an organized, systematic foundation that will serve us for years to come.

Our fledgling businesses include weekly farmer’s market sales, medicinal and culinary herbs, honey production, value-added products such as canned goods and educational workshops. We offer three workshops a year which include the arts of primitive living skills, agricultural training and the many uses of appropriate technology.

Our community owns and operates two restaurants that we supply with fresh produce and herbs throughout the year. We also offer free produce to community members who put in many hours of volunteer service work at Dayempur.

Many visitors come to Dayempur throughout the year, including those from the annual National Solar Tour every October. Agricultural extension educators have come for field-walks and demonstrations. I lecture and consult extensively in the U.S., which generates lots of interest in our work.

Sustainable energy at Dayempur

In 1954 Bell Laboratories developed the first silicon solar cell which was originally used to power satellite communications. The element silicon acts as a semiconductor, a substance which is able to pass electricity partially through itself. In its functional design, a semiconductor is part conductor, which passes electricity freely, and part insulator, which blocks the flow.

As the sun’s rays fall on the silicon, or “photovoltaic cell,” the electrons are excited in the cell and an electrical reaction takes place. By connecting these small cells together with a series of thin wires a solar panel is created. Panels produce flowing current (rated in volts, amperes and watts) which is passed along to a battery storage bank, directly into special lights and appliances, or through an inverter -- a device that translates the direct current produced by solar panels, wind generators or hydroelectric generators into the alternating current that powers our homes.

We incorporate renewable energies like this as part of an integrated farm organism that views technologies, machines and whatever else we place in the landscape as part and parcel of the biological and physical make-up of the land-base.

Four years ago, our first step was to purchase a 33-kilowatt diesel generator -- enough to power an entire village -- to backup our photovoltaic (solar) system. After much inquiry and study, numerous phone conversations, and hours perusing catalogues, we selected and purchased a system through a local southern Illinois solar enthusiast.

We poured an insulated concrete pad as the base for our power station. We moved on the system’s power panel, which included two 110-volt inverters, safety devices and a charge controller which regulates the amount of energy coming into the system through the solar panels. The 350-pound unit came from Washington State.

Finally, we dragged our 1,500-pound generator into place with trailer, tractor, chains and muscle. Then we assembled the building around it, using recycled materials on the farmstead to create a simple pitched roof shed design. We used corrugated tin for its roof and siding that we recycled from other buildings on our property. The building is insulated well enough to maintain a fairly consistent temperature throughout the year for optimal battery performance. It is conveniently located west of our barn and shop.

Sixteen six-volt, deep-cycle batteries comprise the boxed-in bank that stores solar and wind energy supplied by the sun, solar panels and wind generator. Since our original purchase of four panels we have added eight more for a total of twelve. The panels are mounted on the roof of the barn and tilted at 43 degrees to match the latitude of Anna, Illinois.

Also included in our system is a 400-watt wind generator mounted through the roof of the barn on a 30-foot tall metal pipe. Our system powers two farm houses, a freezer and three large refrigerators (for the produce and food that we preserve from the fields), a well-pump, irrigation, shop and outbuildings.

On the average throughout the year, our farm operation uses approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours of power – twice as much as we produce. In the future we will double our number of panels and add a 900-watt wind generator mounted on a 60-foot tower, which will bring us closer to our goal of a stand- alone system. By constructing a central power station we are able to provide energy resources to all building sites, including our future community center, schoolhouse, cabins and more.

We also use passive solar-design (i.e. solar-absorbent materials situated to absorb the sun’s rays and the proper location of windows and walls to capture maximum direct energy solar gain), and hot water systems and radiant floor heat that use solar collectors for storage. These, too, are significant parts of the farm’s strategies for implementing ecologically sound, renewable energy resources. We are currently constructing a traditional timber-frame structure that will act as a community meeting hall and provide lodging. It will be solar heated.

Restaurant oil will power farm to produce more food

In recent years there has been an interest in creating safe and natural fuels for powering our automobile engines, generators and other petroleum-powered vehicles. Little do most people realize that the original diesel engine was designed to run on peanut oil.

This year we will build a bio-diesel brewing apparatus in our barn that recycles spent vegetable oil into highly efficient, clean fuel -- for a minimal cost and little equipment. We will brew the used oil from our two restaurants that, in turn, use more than a quarter of all the vegetables we produce. The system on our farm will produce fuel for our generator, tractor and the community vehicles that run on diesel. So the food-system spent oil will help to produce more food.

There is no end to renewable energy resources if we carefully design them to tap into the infinite supply of sun and wind in balanced, clean and efficient ways. The initial investment in renewables is somewhat costly at this point, but easily justifiable by looking ahead.

Spread out over a number of years, renewable systems will pay for themselves. Just as importantly, they provide a harvest of knowledge in our efforts to manifest our spiritual values in practical form: truth from the sun, the wind, the water; beauty in cleanliness and simplicity; and sound judgment in utilizing the God-given gifts of the natural world in healthy and harmonious ways.

Wayne Weiseman currently applies many skills as director of Dayempur Farm. He also directs the Permaculture Project, which offers lectures, workshops, curriculum development and on-site consultation for farmers, homeowners and enthusiasts in the arts of gardening and farming, sustainable building practices and the use of appropriate technology and renewable energy.

He can be reached at: Dayempur Farm, 35 Nubbin Ridge Lane, Anna, Illinois 62906, (618) 893-4822 or The Permaculture Project, Box 1242, Carbondale, Illinois 62903-1242, 618-713-0537 pcproject@earthlink.net; www.permacultureproject.com