Living in Harmony:
The Genesee Valley Daoist Hermitage

By Peg Kingery

Da-Jin (left) and Charlotte (right) in front of their garlic crop

Da-Jin (left) and Charlotte (right) in front of their garlic crop

Amidst the sloping Palouse hills lies the former Borgen family farm, original homesteaders of Genesee, Idaho. This century farm is now home to the Genesee Valley Daoist Hermitage, a fitting location for a healing center and organic farm that utilizes many ancient Chinese traditional practices. Gracious and welcoming, owners Da-Jin and Charlotte Sun bought the farm in 1992 and founded the hermitage in 1994.

Charlotte’s educational background is in Chinese Medical Nutrition. She spent 30 years studying and teaching Daoist healing practices in San Francisco at the Daoist Longevity Center and in China at the Qigong Science Research Institute, where she met Da-Jin. Deciding it was time to move out of California, the two came to Moscow, where Charlotte’s sister lived. At the encouragement of her teachers in China, Charlotte felt called to open a Daoist hermitage, choosing the Palouse for its location.

The old farm needed some work — it didn’t have a septic system and the well was over 100 years old. The Suns made the necessary improvements and renovated the building using recycled and “gently-used” materials, relying on feng shui as their guiding force.

Charlotte and Da-Jin wanted to grow their own organic and sustainably-farmed food. They first made sure that the soil and water were clean. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, children were sent to farms to reconnect with the land, Da-Jin included. He used the skills he learned overseeing the gardens of a 30,000 person commune to design the gardens at the hermitage.

Their gardens don’t have insect problems, except when the neighboring farms spray their fields. Thankfully, their neighbors let them know when they will be spraying, and also hand-spray the edges of their fields to minimize any pesticide drift. The Suns don’t use any pesticides on their crops, not even “acceptable” organic sprays.

Da-Jin discusses his garlic scapes.

Da-Jin discusses his garlic scapes.

Their first crop was one acre of soybeans planted and harvested completely by hand. They are still eating them today!

Da-Jin and Charlotte’s farm has been registered organic since 2002. They grow close to 30 different vegetables, as well as 40 medicinal herbs for healing teas.

“We work with the land, not against it [when choosing what to grow],” Charlotte said.

They sold their produce at Moscow’s Farmer’s Market for 20 years and have been selling produce, eggs, and seeds to the Co-op for nearly 30. They also provide produce to the Black Cypress, a local restaurant in Pullman, Wash. They use strict food safety practices when harvesting and cleaning their produce.

“If it’s not good enough for us to eat, it’s not good enough for the community,” Da-Jin said.

Growing organic vegetables and herbs isn’t all that occupies Da-Jin’s and Charlotte’s time. They raise chickens and ducks and grow the flax straw used for the bedding in their coop. Their kitchen is a certified commercial kitchen where Da-Jin holds cooking classes. A large sun-room space off the kitchen is used for plant starts and for drying the medicinal herbs Da-Jin uses in his Chinese medicine clinical practice. On Wednesday evenings they host a Qigong open practice session.

Space in the farm is available to rent for meetings, day or weekend retreats, and sometimes houses students studying Daoism.

The Suns also host a vegetarian Chinese community meal on Sundays using farm-fresh produce in season. Proceeds from this meal go to the Genesee Mountain Village Foundation, an organization that provides for the education of orphaned and disadvantaged children in China. Charlotte serves on the foundation’s Board of Directors.

The warmth of spring brings much-anticipated garlic scapes from Da-Jin and Charlotte’s garden to the Co-op.  Even though they could bring in more income selling heads of garlic instead, they believe in the benefit of eating the whole plant. Their focus is on nutrition, not money.

“Food is medicine. [It’s important to learn] how to cook it,” Da-Jin believes.

Da-Jin and Charlotte’s commitment to organic and sustainable farming practices, the health benefits of organic whole foods and herbs, and Daoist healing practices create a peaceful and nurturing environment at their hermitage.

And about the garlic scapes the Suns grow? They are most nutritious when picked when the stem has two curls and one leaf, and the seed head is soft and slightly yellow.

Da-Jin demonstrates how to find a perfect garlic scape

Da-Jin demonstrates how to find a perfect garlic scape