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Center for ‘contemplative ecology’ focuses on food

GILLIAN AND RUSSELL COMSTOCK have been the “guides” for Metta Earth, A Center for Contemplative Ecology, for 14 years.

This is a refuge for plants and animals and people.
— Gillian Comstock

LINCOLN — In 2005, Russell and Gillian Comstock began crafting a letter to their friends detailing what they were looking for. A piece of land with wild space and the capacity to farm. Community, quiet, beauty.

They never sent the letter.

Instead, 158 acres in the mountains east of Lincoln village found them through word of mouth. And it felt like precisely the place where all their intentions could take shape.

Fourteen years after they moved to the land in 2007, Metta Earth Institute is a multi-faceted center for what the Comstocks’ call “contemplative ecology.” Metta Earth integrates education, regenerative farming, yoga practice and deep ecology in cultivating consciousness and deep reconnection with nature.

“Our expertise is in weaving together,” Gillian said.

The couple, who met at a contradance in 1983, consider themselves Renaissance people.

Gillian brings her life experience as a holistic psychotherapist and permaculture designer to the work of farming, educating and creating resilient community. Growing up in Maine with an artist-theologian-poet for a mother, Gillian said being original and creative was nourished. She herself dove into the back-to-the-land and homesteading movements of the ’70s.

“I loved that it was a little renegade,” she said.

She quickly became interested in service, a thread that underlies much of what Metta Earth does.

Russell, born in Atlanta, brings a robust background in green yoga teaching, contemplative practice and wilderness education and leadership.

For many years, Metta Earth hosted yoga retreats and interdisciplinary workshops in addition to being a full community farm.

“This is a refuge for plants and animals and people,” Gillian said.

In 2019, the idea for a project called “Earth Responders” was born at a board meeting.

“We were taking in world conditions and realizing ‘we need to shift what we’re doing, we’re not on yoga retreat anymore,’” Gillian said.

“Earth Responders is really about being with what’s happening, being in the difficulty and grief and building courage,” she said. Gillian added that “it’s clear that basics and practical know-how are needed.”

So when COVID hit and all Metta Earth’s visitor-taught programs were cancelled, the Comstocks adapted their project vision to create a 10-week live-in experience centered around growing and donating food.

“You start with food and everything grows out from there,” Gillian said, adding that the project donates food to HOPE and The Giving Fridge, among others. Earth Responders also involves immersive learning in the preparation of herbal remedies, wilderness awareness skills and regenerative community living.

“It’s simple and wholesome work — knowing how to harvest and can veggies or how to really be able to tune into a plant,” Gillian said.

The Metta Earth community also gets to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

Gillian said 80% of the food she and Russell eat comes from their garden or the animals they care for.

It’s not easy to do it all.

“It’s hard, physical work all the time — 24 hours, 365 days,” Gillian said.

The land keeps them going.

“We live in such a beautiful, healthful place — that sustains us,” she said.

But Gillian is 69, and she and Russell are ready to have a succession plan. They’re looking to develop an affordable model for a farming cooperative that prioritizes land access for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) and young farmers.

“We’ve been the guides for this place, now we’re looking for partners,” Gillian said.

She recognized that their vision is a departure from Vermont’s standard of private, one-family-owned farms. But at Metta Earth, community has a precedent.

“We’ve had so much help … so many hands and hearts are part of this place,” Gillian said.

Gillian’s favorite moments at Metta Earth often include a group of people working outside in the garden and then sharing a meal.

“It’s hard, it’s delightful and it always makes my heart sing,” she said.

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