Buddhism teaching

Mix agriculture, education and zen

Mike Barreda hosts the Zen Delaplane group on Saturday mornings in the old Blue Ridge Farm pigsty.

He runs a cattle farm near Upperville, teaches at a local private school, and mediates weekly with a handful of Zen practitioners.

In constant search of “meaning” through work and personal activities, Mike Barreda remains committed.

“I’ve always been a seeker, and it might have to do with not knowing what I would do with or after college,” said Barreda, 56.

In 1988, he earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he met his future wife Leslie Grayson, whose family owns Blue Ridge Farm near Upperville.

That year Mr. Barreda moved to the 517-acre farm to join Mrs. Grayson and started Blue Ridge Beef, where he raises 70 Angus cattle on 120 acres of pasture.

“If I had been smart, I would have helped develop Alexa and Siri and all that voice recognition stuff,” he laughed. “But I wasn’t smart enough.”

The couple married in 1996 and have two children, who attended The Hill School, a private kindergarten to eighth grade school whose 120-acre campus straddles the town of Middleburg, Loudoun and Fauquier.

Fourteen years ago, Mr. Barreda volunteered to coach the school’s fourth and fifth grade soccer teams. In 2006, he coached his daughter Mia’s fourth-grade team.

“They asked me to do more and more,” he recalls. “And finally, I said hey, ‘If I spend that much time here, I have to pay to get the work done on the farm. So I have to get paid. I started volunteering, and that’ became a full-time job.

Today, Mr. Barreda leads the school’s Dornin Lab program, which helps students appreciate and feel “comfortable” in the natural world.

“They learn to identify plants,” he said. “Little kids go out and chase bugs, catch them, watch them and really get to know them. Older kids build shelters, like they’re going to spend the night in bad weather. It’s kind of being there where we are right now and really deeply appreciate it.

Before The Hill School hired him, Mr Barreda had given up his career as a technical writer to raise the couple’s two children.

In those early years, he began to meditate.

“Something was always required of me,” Mr Barreda said of his stay-at-home parenting experience. “And (the meditation) was a place where it was just for me. And there were no demands, and there was a lot of silence.

Four years ago, Barreda took meditation to the next level, when he started sitting with the Zen Delaplane group.

Next spring, he also hopes to take a vow to become a Buddhist.

“It’s like confirmation for Buddhists,” Barreda said of the year-long process. “You will not kill, you will not take intoxicants. You can think of them as the ten commandments.

How does he reconcile the slaughter of cows with Buddhism?

“It’s definitely something I have to struggle with,” he admitted. “I don’t have a good answer. And all I can say is that farm life is very clear no matter what you do. Going out and monopolizing a field, there’s just countless things I slaughter, by the way.

Farming fulfills him – physically, intellectually and, ultimately, he produces high-quality beef that benefits others, Barreda said.

But, it lacks the “social” aspects of working with and serving people directly, he said.

“Teaching is about finding meaning in helping others. Someone who is a good teacher tries to give to others.

He speaks of Zen in similar terms.

“You try to work on yourself in the context of trying to help others.”

• Age

• House
Near Upperville.

• To work
Owner/Breeder, Blue Ridge Beef, near Upperville, 1988-present; teacher/coach, The Hill School, 2006-present; technical writer, National Recycling Association, other organizations and various federal government agencies, 1992-97.

• Why are you doing the work?
I teach because of the relationship with children and because it sometimes reminds me of being a child myself.

I love being with a community of people who consider caring for others to be very important.

• Family
Leslie Grayson, 61; children, Mia Barreda, 23, and Xavier Barreda, 19.

• Education
BA, linguistics, University of California, Santa Cruz, 1988;
Montgomery Blair High School, Maryland, 1981.

• How long have you lived in Le Fauquier?
About 32 years old.

• Why do you live here?
I met my wife in California, and we had the opportunity to come to the farm (her family) and really be part of the land and people of a rural area. So we tried to take full advantage of it.

• How do you describe this county?
Fauquier has a funny way of connecting deeply rural people with an affluent urban lifestyle. Both things co-exist here in this part of the county.

It is the quintessence of the bucolic landscape that people of the 19th century tried to capture in pastoral portraits. It’s incredibly beautiful. With my interest in the natural world, it’s a deeply rewarding place to be grounded.

• What would you change at Fauquier?
I would like to see agriculture be more active. What makes our landscape beautiful are the open fields. And I’m afraid they are not used for agriculture. They go back to the forest and we won’t see the view because of the trees.

I would like to see a tax policy change that if you weren’t using the land for farming, you were paying a different scale than the people who were.

• What do you do for fun?
Cultivate. The fun of farming is that I can be a veterinarian, a mechanic, a plumber, a carpenter, an agronomist, a botanist—all of those things, depending on what I do every day.

All of these skills are in demand and you are constantly solving problems.

• What is your favorite place in Fauquier?
Coming out of Rectortown to the north, at a farm called Edge Cliff, there is a curve and the view is amazing. It’s like a calendar view with silos and the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Big and Little Cobbler Mountains in the distance.

It’s a special place to get off the road with respect and enjoy it all.

• What will Fauquier look like in 10 years?
That’s a hard question to answer, because my view of Fauquier is so skewed towards the north end.

I think there will be less agriculture. I think we are going to put more emphasis on environmental or agricultural tourism.

• Favorite TV show?

• Favorite movie?
“Blade Runner”

• Favourite book?
“The Karamazov Brothers” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

• Favorite vacation spot?
Costa Rica.

• Favorite food?

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
It was from a retired engineer who was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Write down everything you’re doing right now – while you’re young – because it will all become a blur later.

• Who is your hero and why?
My current hero is Syd Bowers. She was the athletic director of the Hill School. Her mindset at work was always to ask herself and her staff: what is the best thing we can do for the children? And going through life with that kind of mindset toward your peers, the people you work with, the people you help — just makes the world a better place.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
At my stage in life, I’m looking at the end of responsible livestock handling. And I wish I had a little bird’s nest house somewhere nestled against the woods where I wouldn’t have to do any maintenance.

Do you have a suggestion?
Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County that you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? Email Don Del Rosso at [email protected] or Lou Emerson at [email protected]