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Bringing Kitchen Wisdom to Work

Ellen Kahler talking to Governor Peter Shumlin (whom the Sakyong met in June) and Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets Chuck Ross – photo taken at the Annual Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering in October, 2014

Ellen Kahler talking to Governor Peter Shumlin (whom the Sakyong met in June) and Secretary of Agriculture, Food & Markets Chuck Ross – photo taken at the Annual Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering in October, 2014

COLUMN: Kitchen Wisdom

Interview with Ellen Kahler of Montpelier, Vermont

by Lisa Harris, Kitchen Wisdom Column Co-Host

“Our daily livelihood can be completely integrated with a personal and social vision.”
~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, The Shambhala Principle

It is a privilege to know someone who incorporates their core beliefs into their work to benefit the quality of life on the planet. Ellen Kahler is one of those people.

I recently spoke with Ellen about her view of kitchen wisdom. She is the Executive Director of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF), which was created by the state legislature to accelerate the development of Vermont’s green economy. Personally and professionally, she considers the importance of food in society, the relationships involved, where it comes from, and the health aspects of what is grown and consumed – for people and the planet.

“At the VSJF we work with businesses, nonprofits and state government agencies around the development of sustainable agriculture and food systems, forest products, and renewable energy industries.”

Ellen began to explore Buddhism in 1997 on her own after visiting Ladakh, and became a Shambhala practitioner in 2009 following a Simplicity weekend at Karme Choling with Bill Brauer and Ella Reznikova. She also attended the Sakyong’s Sangha Retreat later that same year. As she has gone deeper into her practice and study, she has become more inspired by the Shambhala teachings and their relevance to her sustainable development work.

People talking during a “Table Talk” session at the Annual Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering in October, 2014. photo courtesy of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, 2014

People talking during a “Table Talk” session at the Annual Vermont Farm to Plate Network Gathering in October, 2014. photo courtesy of Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, 2014

“In my work, I try to bring Shambhala principles to our economic re-localization efforts here in Vermont. If we were to truly apply the notion of ‘care’ – and all that this would entail – to how we grow, raise, catch, and produce food in this country, I believe it would have the ability to not only transform our food system, but could also help us to re-orient and reshape our entire economic system.”

“More and more I find that I am using the chapters on “Economy” and “Unconditional Healthinesss” in The Shambhala Principle as my guide. Because Vermont is a small place, you can really experience your work making a difference. There are days when I can glimpse that enlightened society is, in fact, possible here.”

“What if the very foundation of our economy was based on care, the interconnectivity of our relationships, the quality of life and happiness of humanity, and living within the carrying capacity of Earth? We humans created, and re-create the economy every day by our purchasing habits. What if the economy was in service to humanity rather than humanity being chained to the economy? These are the questions I love to wrestle with.”

The popularity of cooking shows, farmers markets, farm-to-school programs, the ‘Slow Food’ movement and Farm-to-Table restaurant experiences shows a growing interest in rediscovering real food.

Ellen points out that, “through our increased exposure to fresh, seasonal, and local foods, we can discover our palate anew and really taste the food we’re eating. Once you taste a vine-ripened, sun soaked tomato from your backyard or the farmers market, picked at its peak of flavor, it’s really hard to be satisfied with anything else! Before long, we get curious about why there is such a difference in taste and we start learning about where our food comes from and how it is produced and by whom.” She also believes that growing our own food and cooking are key to an improved relationship with our food and it’s also a great way to connect with family, friends and neighbors.

farm to plateEllen hopes that Shambhala practitioners will care about the food offerings they contribute at sangha gatherings. “The Sakyong has spoken about the hearth principle at our centers – Food, Conversation, and Meditation. I think it’s interesting that he listed ‘food’ first. There’s nothing like a good potluck where everyone brings something they made themselves – perhaps from one of their favorite recipes. You really can demonstrate care in this way and everyone just oohs and aahs over how good everything tastes.”

“Because we all have to eat to live, food is absolutely the perfect vehicle for having conversations around the economics of what we eat, the purchasing choices we make, and the message we send to the marketplace by making different choices.”

“When my father encouraged me to contemplate the relationship between economics and basic goodness, I realized that he was trying to get me to see how basic goodness flows dynamically through society – and how the economy is a tangible and direct experience of this.”
~ Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, The Shambhala Principle

To find out more about Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, and what Ellen is up to, check out their website at http://www.vsjf.org and www.vtfarmtoplate.com.

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3 responses to “ Bringing Kitchen Wisdom to Work ”
  1. Petra Mudie
    Jan 30, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks for the great article and its important messages. It is an inspiration to us here at the Halifax Shambhala Center where we are trying to create our own gardens to sustain our Wednesday night kitchen event

  2. Ellen Kahler
    Jan 23, 2015
    Reply

    Thanks for putting this article together Lisa!

  3. How very beautiful your work there in Vermont with bringing up the caring in our food growing and enjoyment with friends and families. Here in CA, many of us are able to support/buy directly from our local farmers and even grow some fruits and veggies in our tiny backyards and decks. May these practices be adopted by all, for the benefit of all. Warmly, Marie


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