Zach O'Brien
Zach O'Brien
India 2013-2014
Namaste! I am a native Californian with a love for new experiences, meditation, and asking questions. I'm traveling to an Indian ashram called Amritapuri to join an environmental conservation project and study Sanskrit and yoga. Read More About Zach →

This is it!

Well, this is it!  I leave in a few hours from Amritapuri to Cochin Airport to fly back home to California.

I’ll admit I’m excited to be back home in San Diego and looking for a job back in the “real world”.  It will be good to be home. But right now I’m also sad, because these past six months in India have been some of the most beautiful, peaceful, adventurous, and interesting of my life.


Stunning sunrise I woke up to recently. India is so saturated with beauty.

Reflecting back, it was awesome getting to know all three “branches” of the ecovillage:  composting, recycling, and farming.  I spent my first two months working in the composting unit, seen below.


I learned a ton about the different kinds of compost, how to make it, and the science behind it.  As I mentioned in my post Composting Presentation, I got good enough at the process that I was able to lecture to a class about the art of composting.

After working in the composting unit, I applied my composting knowledge, working in several farms: a tea farm, a food forest, and a vegetable farm used for feeding the residents at the ashram in a sustainable manner.




These experiences was so wonderful for the IMMENSE amount of information I learned about gardening  from both college-educated farmers as well as native Indian farmers.  It was interesting to see different styles of farming, to learn the theory and application of it, and to just get to know the land itself in a way a textbook could never teach. Working with these individuals, we were able to pioneer various techniques, sometimes with success, other times with not so much success.  Many of our endeavors are still being observed, and the outcome of projects like the food forest will take years to be known.  Nonetheless, all of the data from these farms is being collected to be used in the 101 villages that Amritapuri is sponsoring to become sustainable and waste free.  It felt good knowing what we were doing was going to be used all over India, and was going to help out so many families.

Driving back home after a dung run with my fellow gardeners.  From left to right: Cittanand, Suprya, Mangela, Amritarotina, and me!

I met many wonderful people and formed several lasting friendships with my fellow farmers.  They won’t soon be forgotten by me.

I also worked in the recycling unit, mainly gathering trash and cleaning up waste that had been improperly disposed of.  We’d then take this waste back to the processing facility, seen below.


Besides working in the ecovillage, I was also able to achieve some of my other goals. I recently submitted an economics article to several economics magazines/publications like Dollars and Sense.  No word back yet, but fingers crossed I get published.  The article was about altruism and incentives, and addresses my volunteer work here at Amritapuri.  These themes might sound familiar, as they should, because I based my blog post “Economic Dynamics in Small Communities” on my article.

On top of all this, these six months in India facilitated getting to know the culture and learn some of the south Indian Malayalam language.


I and my friend Solomon, who I wrote about in "Trip to Bangalore".

I and my friend Solomon, who I wrote about in “Trip to Bangalore”.


I also got to practice plenty of yoga and meditation at the ashram itself (no pictures because they’re VERY strict about prohibiting photography 🙂 ).  This seemed to give a certain continuity and ease to everything I was doing throughout my time in India, even at times when I’d spend six or eight hours in a day toiling on a farm in the hot sun.

I hope to use much of what I’ve learned back in the US.  I’ve already promised my mom I’ll rework out backyard garden using some of the cool techniques I’ve learned, like hugelculture (hugelculture planting beds store water because they’re built on rotting wood, and right now California’s in a 500 year drought, so water conservation is of the essence).  I’m also strongly attempting to get involved with farming at our local Zen center–they already have an avocado orchard, and dozens of fertile, unused acres of land.  I’d like to get volunteers set up planting this land with traditional oolong teas and vegetables that can be sold at the local farmers market to raise money for the center. Fingers crossed this works out!

To conclude, words cannot express the gratitude I have for the Lumos Foundation and the provisions they’ve made to allow me to travel to India!  It’s been an amazing six months, and I can’t wait to present on my experiences at Belmont in a few months.

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