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Christians find peace at Doalnara
For residents, life on farm simpler, more fulfilling and closer to God

In modern middle-class America, the drive to acquire motivates many people's lives. Get a better job to get a bigger house. Work extra hours to buy a boat, a plasma television, a car nicer than the neighbor's. One of many problems with this lifestyle is the more a person works, the less time they have to enjoy the fruits of their labor, and the less time they have for family and spiritual life.

At Doalnara Restoration Society in Dover, 128 people decided to create simpler, spirit-focused lives for themselves. Katherine Choo left behind a life as a trauma nurse in California to live as a farmer at Doalnara.

"It's relaxing, much more peaceful," she says. "You don't have to think about anything. I think about my Lord."

Andy Yoo was raised a Christian but says he became a true Christian when he moved away from the city and adopted a rural life.

"For a Christian life, living in the country is the best way," says Yoo, 39.

A farmer at Doalnara, Yoo has followed the Doalnara principles since he was a 21-year-old student in Korea. He says "God" brought him to Doalnara.

"The lifetime purpose of my mother was for me to become a true, sincere Christian," Yoo says.

Since 1994 residents of Doalnara Restoration Society have lived on 125 acres of land donated by a church member. Although Doalnara has gone through some changes in name and leadership, the primary change has been the growth and prosperity of the commune's organic farming operation.

"At first, we were cultivating the land for our consumption. We never meant for this," says Yoo, gesturing at the half-dozen commercial greenhouses and cluster of community members packing organic vegetables to be shipped to retailers across the country.

For residents, the hard work of farming is a spiritual practice.

"Agriculture is our choice of religious life," he says. "We believe organic farming is the most noble thing man can do. We try to keep ourselves from the bad influences of the heart."

Literally translated, Doalnara means "stone country." The word refers to members having firm, unchanging hearts and consistency of morals.

As explained on the group's Web site, http://www.doalnara.com/, the goals of the society are environmental restoration, restoration of health and restoration of people's way of thinking.

"We learn a lot of things from nature, from labor. We also believe farming organically is the most noble thing humans can engage with in this world. We are able to find a lot of hidden treasure of heaven," Yoo says. "If God came down from heaven, if he were to do something on this Earth, we strongly believe it would be agriculture. There are two types of creation man can participate in. The first is having a baby. The second is agriculture."

The families who live at Doalnara Restoration Society have their own homes on the land. The community has a business department that sells organic rice noodles and other products in addition to the farm business. A church and school are central gathering places.

From sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, the residents observe the Sabbath.

"We stop working and we gather," Yoo says. "Whether we are together or separate, we pray, we search ourselves and we rest. The other six days of the week, we work very hard. We don't believe in laziness. On the Sabbath, we rest and recharge."

Some of the younger residents of the farm, such as Linda Nam and Soon Mi Choo, returned to Korea for a couple of years to complete bachelor's degrees in agricultural science. Choo will soon be certifying other organic farms' compliance with USDA organic farming practices.

"The standards are very strict with organic certification," Choo says.

Nam and Choo have their own greenhouse at Doalnara where they are experimenting with new lettuces and a variety of growing techniques, always with the goal of improving the quality and nutritional value of the farm's produce.

"Tennessee weather is very, very whimsical," Choo says.

A hot spell or cold spell can have enormous effect on the crops, as can the relative clay composition or sandiness of the soil.

Goodness, generosity

Catherine Smith, wife of the Rev. Patrick Smith of Clarksville's St. John's Episcopal Church, has developed a new partnership with Doalnara to provide organic produce to local members of a Community Supported Agriculture program. Catherine Smith is deeply impressed by the people she has met at Doalnara.

"Really, the first time I met them, without even knowing they were a Christian organization, I sensed their goodness and generosity," Smith says. "It really causes you to want to get to know them more. They live what they talk about. You sense how they care for one another, the respect they have for the elderly in their community."

Smith says the people's kindness and principles are so attractive, she doesn't want to leave Doalnara, and when she leaves, she wants to go back.

"I've seen Christ in their actions," she says. "I've seen God in how they treated me."

Stacy Smith Segovia can be reached at 245-0237 or by e-mail at stacysegovia@theleafchronicle.com.

Originally published June 24, 2006

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Alicia Archuleta/The Leaf-Chronicle

Soon Mi Choo, Linda Nam and J.C. Kim check plants for ripe cucumbers at Doalnara Restoration Society in Dover. The community finds spiritual peace through growing organic food.

Doalnara Restoration Society Goals:

1. Environmental restoration: One important facet is restoring our diseased farmlands. Lands polluted by various agricultural pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers are restored through natural and/or organic agricultural methods. We use available technology while developing our own through research and development.

2. Restore our health: When agricultural products are grown in natural and/or organic methods, the produce we consume is free from any harmful and/or toxic chemicals. A clean environment and the consumption of pollution-free produce are conducive to a healthy body.

3. Restore our way of thinking: Our style of agriculture is geared to place the environment and the safety and health of others first. Our final goal can be summed up in a Korean saying "Honor heaven and love mankind."

Source: Doalnara Restoration Society, http://www.doalnara.com/

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Alicia Archuleta/The Leaf-Chronicle

Lee Young Kuen, left, Grace Han and Misa Lim gather sesame leaves for organic vegetable boxes at Doalnara Restoration Society in nearby Dover. "Agriculture is our choice of religious life," farmer Andy Yoo says. "We believe organic farming is the most noble thing man can do. We try to keep ourselves from the bad influences of the heart."

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Alicia Archuleta/The Leaf-Chronicle

Linda Nam, left, and Soon Mi Choo show Shay Cupina how kale is grown at Doalnara Farms in Dover. The farm grows vegetables organically.

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Alicia Archuleta/The Leaf-Chronicle

All of these dishes were made with organic vegetables and no meat.

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