Mixing agriculture with art

Gaden Shartse Tibetan Monks perform at the Unbroken Chain Festival at the Vital Zuman Organic Farm in Malibu on Saturday. The festival benefited NextAid, the monks and the organic farm. Photos by Laila Kearney

The first Unbroken Chain Festival is held as “a brand new expression” for the Vital Zuman Organic Farm, incorporating the arts and nonprofit foundations with agriculture.

By Laila Kearney / Special to The Malibu Times

The Vital Zuman Organic Farm in Malibu hosted a benefit concert, the “Unbroken Chain Festival,” that featured a diverse lineup of artists and nonprofit organizations on Saturday. The benefit was intended to raise awareness and funds for the groups and for the 50-year-old farm.

The festival was an all-day celebration, slated as “a brand new expression” for the farm by incorporating the arts and nonprofit foundations with agriculture, said Alan Cunningham, farm owner.

“The festival allows people to get acquainted with the farm and gain visibility for agriculture,” Cunningham said. “It gives nonprofit organizations a venue for whatever cause they have and lets people talk to them.”

Artists such as the Shartse Gaden Tibetan Monks and organizations like NextAid and Harpseals, nonprofit foundations, took part in the event.

The Tibetan monks traveled from India a year ago to tour the United States to raise money for their school of Buddhist teachings said Lama Phuntshe.

“We are busier than a rock and roll band,” said Phuntshe, adding that the group performs chants, prayers and stories. “We want to bring awareness and try to deliver a message of humanity.”

The Xipetotec Aztec Dance Company also performed at the festival, incorporating dance, song and drumming.

“We represent old style and energy,” dancer Virginia Ramirez said. “This is what we carry alive and pass down through our culture.”

NextAid, a local nonprofit group that helps orphans in Africa affected by the AIDS virus, set up an information booth at the event.

“We are empowering an underrepresented population,” said Gabriel Avenna, NextAid volunteer, who met Rich Olson, event coordinator, while volunteering at Venice Beach. “Lots of people want to help but don’t know how.”

Alongside NextAid’s booth was husband and wife team, Susan and Sam Hirsch, volunteers for Harpseals.org. The charity is dedicated to putting an end to Canadian seal slaughtering for fur, said Susan Hirsch.

Hirsch said that “they are trying to reach the masses and boycott Canadian seafood.”

“This was my calling,” she said. “I can’t fathom these poor babies suffering this kind of death.”

Their table was covered with violent images of young seals being massacred.

On the upper part of the farm a set of three Mongolian yurts were set up by Vishai Yurts.

The company is co-owned by William Kim and Laura Burkhalter and is nonprofit, helping the Mongolese to “have a means of income other than livestock herding,” said Burkhalter, who is intent on keeping the culture alive through importing the authentic Yurts directly from Mongolia.

Burkhalter explained the construction of the yurts as being “a microcosm of the universe,” with a sun-like ceiling opening that represents the “wheel of life.”

Across from the yurts and behind the main stage are six acres of the chemical-free produce with more than two acres planted, Cunningham said.

The family-owned farm is the longest continually running organic farm in California, Cunningham said, and until a decade ago, when Cunningham decided to plant fruit and vegetables, grew mostly figs.

Turnout for the event was modest, but Vital Zuman Organic Farm plans to have similar festivities in the future,Cunningham said. He said the celebrations would probably be held on the solstices and equinoxes.