Review by John S. Hall
The vegetarian restaurant at
Ocean Lotus Farm
A few months ago, my wife and I (both lawyers,
but don’t hold
that against us) found ourselves able to take a vacation. We were especially
interested in visiting a bed and breakfast. I’m vegan, my wife
Yuriko is vegetarian, and I wasn’t sure I would find one that
could accommodate us on such short notice, fell into our price range
(I said we were lawyers—I didn’t say we were rich), and
was less than a four hour drive from our home in New York City. After
bopping around on the web for a while, I came across a vegetarian bed
and breakfast charmingly named “Ocean Lotus Farm.”
On the website I saw pictures of goats, chickens and some lovely farm
land. There were also pictures of the proprietors, two Taiwanese immigrants
(“Ocean”) and Hui-Lien (“Lotus”), hence “Ocean
Lotus Farm.” The place looked idyllic, charming and inviting. Plus, it
was only two and a half hours from the George Washington Bridge, in a rural town
in northeastern Pennsylvania called Dallas.
Each of the rooms are arranged based on Feng Shui and Chinese medicinal principles
and has a different theme: the Bamboo Room, for example, is wood-themed, which
(according to Chinese tradition) is associated with spring, vigor, youth, and
the smooth flow of Qi. In addition to the Bamboo Room, Ocean Lotus Farm offers
the Flamingo Room (fire-themed), the Room of Rice Field (earth), and the River
Room (water). The Room of Rice Field was $90 a night; all the others were $70.
Although they all looked lovely on the website, we decided we would prefer the
Room of Rice Field. This was a Japanese-style room with a tatami platform, a
gas fireplace, and a private bathroom with a separate bath and shower.
We had told Yuh-Hai and Hui-Lien that we would like to have dinner there our
first night, which is an additional $10 charge per night. We expected to be there
by six o’clock, but we arrived three hours late—well past the suggested
check-in time. Yet, our hosts didn’t seem to mind (we apologized profusely,
of course). They were both welcoming and warm, and they had dinner ready for
us in a matter of minutes.
They served several courses, including a mushroom miso soup, two main courses
(one with tofu, one with wheat gluten), a variety of fresh vegetables, and pudding
for dessert. If we had visited later in the year, the vegetables would have come
straight from the Ocean Lotus garden. The meals were arranged beautifully, and
our hosts explained each course as they brought them out.
The next morning, we heard roosters crowing, and when we got to the dining room
for breakfast we were asked if we’d like a tour of the farm. After eating
another multi-course meal, this time featuring delicious vegan omelets, we met
the chickens, who were very happy and friendly. The two goats followed us around
like puppies as we toured the grounds; they were sweet and playful.
Although the farm is not certified organic, it is chemical-free. Yuh-Hai explained
that he and Hui-Lien follow most organic guidelines, and also “emphasize
making harmony, and making friends with plants (including weeds) and animals
(including deer and pests), which is not required in organic farming.” We
also learned that our hosts both have advanced degrees: Hui-Lien got her MBA
from Duquesne, and Yuh-Hai has a Ph.D. in biological sciences from Carnegie Mellon.
Though they had no farming experience, they decided to start the farm/bed and
breakfast after realizing that they didn’t want to spend their lives working
in offices and laboratories.
Our hosts gave us some ideas about things to do while we were there. The first
day, for example, we went to a nearby state park (Ricketts Glen State Park, which
is known for its many waterfalls) and hiked. When we got back, I pulled into
the driveway, and the chickens rushed toward the car to greet us. When I opened
the door they crowded around, looking at me, as if to say, “Welcome back!” These
chickens seemed so happy and well treated that I could have felt comfortable
eating eggs for the first time in several years. Our hosts, like Yuriko, are
vegetarians, but they completely understand and accommodate the vegan lifestyle.
The bed and breakfast itself is spacious and beautifully decorated with lots
of Asian artifacts (including a very impressive sculpture of Kuan Yin). Ocean
Lotus Farm offers its space for group or individual spiritual retreats. Yuh-Hai
and Hui-Lien have practiced Buddhist meditation in several forms, including Tibetan,
Thai, Chinese Ch’an (Zen), Pure-Land chanting, and Vipassana (insight meditation).
Although they do not teach, they have invited masters to lead workshops there.
They also see farming as a meditative activity: as Yuh-Hai explained, “cultivating
the field itself is one of the most efficient methods in cultivating our mind.” Yuh-Hai
and Hui-Lien would like to lead farming workshops in the near future; they
also plan to convert an old barn on the property into a meeting room.
The morning we left, we had another fine breakfast. All our breakfasts consisted
of fresh vegetables; fresh fruit, beautifully cut and presented; a main course
of pancakes or vegan omelets; freshly baked banana bread; fresh-squeezed juice
blends (either carrot-beet-apple juice or wheatgrass-apple); and coffee, green
tea, or a delicious tea that we had never heard of before called Jiaogulan. The
farm has a little gift shop that sells this tea (we bought some) as well as CDs,
necklaces, charms, and other gift items.
After breakfast, I mentioned that I had a headache and Hui-Lien offered to treat
me with Gua Sha, which is done by scraping a round edged tool on the back of
the neck. It doesn’t sound pleasant, but it made my headache go away.
I should mention that my wife and I tend to be private people. If we hadn’t
been so welcomed by our hosts, and if we had preferred to keep to ourselves,
I’m sure that Yuh-Hai and Hui-Lien would have given us our space. But instead,
as we left Ocean Lotus Farm, we felt as if we were saying goodbye to new friends.
We promised to return soon, and we are very much looking forward to our next
John S. Hall is a vegan Buddhist living in New York. He is the
lyricist and vocalist for the band King Missile III, and is currently a partner
in the entertainment
law firm Heraty Hall. For more information on Ocean Lotus Farm visit www.oceanlotusfarm.com or
call (570) 639-4947.