A Time Of Transition by Joanna
This was the title of the lead article in SFF’s fall 2001 newsletter, when Lorraine, Zach and I were just settling in at St. Francis Farm while the people who had lived and worked here before us moved on. I remember the uncertainty, the exhaustion, and the sense of possibility. I remember how the work and life here changed, reflecting our gifts and limits, and how the underlying attempt to be good stewards of the farm’s land and of the human community around us continued. Now we are entering another time of transition. In the next two years Zach and Lorraine will move to the Adirondacks, where Zach will give his full time to the instrument-making business he started during evenings and weekends here (see his article), and Lorraine will get some rest from the responsibilities she’s carried for the last nineteen years (see her Winter Reflection article). I hope to stay here and find new Core Members to carry on the farm’s mission.
I know that the details of our work will continue to change, as they have done ever since Father Ray McVey bought the land in 1976. Before my family was here, St. Francis Farm hosted a shelter for women, a medical clinic, a knitting cooperative, service-learning groups repairing homes, and many other forms of community outreach shaped by the needs of neighbors and the abilities of core members. There were usually hayfields and a garden. When my family arrived in 2001 we began raising more food, shared produce with neighbors, and helped people learn to grow their own. This felt more urgent as we hosted migrant workers injured on commercial farms. The land has provided food, meaningful work, and beautiful spaces to share with kids coming for mentoring, elders coming for visits, and volunteers coming to work, learn, and live an alternative to the consumer culture.
Through all the changes some basic things have persisted. I hope that these will continue, though the exact forms they will take will not be clear until the new community members are known. I’m grateful to Hope Wallis, Jill Hurst-Wahl, and SarahVanNorstrand, who have helped me reach clearness about the essentials and about how to invite new people in. Jill is also joining the Board of Directors (see her introduction), and we’re looking forward to working with and learning from her.
St. Francis Farm’s roots are in the Catholic Worker movement. It is grounded in faithfulness to the Spirit which unites all living creatures, and also open to the different ways in which people name that Spirit. I am Christian and Quaker. I’ve worked, prayed, and learned with people of different faiths, and with people who did not claim a religious affiliation but who did share two basic convictions. The first is that every living being has an intrinsic value which is not dependent on its being useful or pleasing to us. The second is that, however dissimilar our identities, backgrounds and opinions may be, we are all connected at the root.
St. Francis Farm has sought to care for the land and use it sustainably. We are one, not only in the Spirit, but also in our dependence on the living world. We try to protect the health of the soil, the water, and the climate. Our land is a valuable resource in this money-poor area, and we try to use that resource in a way that enables both generosity and subsistence. I can keep growing vegetables to share, and I can do many of the tasks of livestock raising; I hope for a new community member who can drive cantankerous old tractors and make hay. Zach has harvested firewood for our own use and lumber to sell at affordable prices to local builders and crafters. I hope someone who has these skills, or who has good spatial/mechanical capabilities and would be interested in learning those skills from Zach, will come to join me.
St. Francis Farm has offered help and hospitality to people regardless of their ability to pay. This is possible because of the generosity of people who freely give their time, labor, useful items, and money to support the farm’s work. It’s more possible when we’re able to provide more of what we need by our own labor rather than having to buy it. Zach’s skill in constructing and repairing buildings and equipment have allowed us to live on a low budget. I hope we’ll find new community members who have or can learn repair/maintenance skills. The nature of our outreach changes as the abilities of Core Members and the needs around us change. People with skills in repairs, advocacy, mentoring, counseling, organizing, and many other areas could find good use for their gifts here.
Visitors to the farm often speak of valuing the ways in which the different parts of our work fit together. Sometimes this is specifically about the farming, about how the rabbits eat tops and scraps from the garden and their manure enriches the soil, how the goats eat some of our annoyingly persistent weeds and the whey left over from making goat cheese feeds the pig and… so that we can waste less and buy less. Sometimes it’s about how subsistence work, outreach, and prayer deepen and strengthen each other rather than occupying separate compartments in an overfull life.
We don’t have a fixed schedule for the transition. Zachary and Lorraine might move out in 2021 or in 2022 depending on when/whether new community members come here and when Zachary finds a place to buy in Tupper Lake. For now we carry on with the work we’ve been doing, and also make room for what may come next. If you think you might be called to this way of life, please get in touch. If you know someone else who might be called to this way of life, please let them know we’re open. More information for prospective new community members is online at our Volunteers page or upon request from us. Please pray for us in this uncertain time. And please know that we are grateful for your volunteer help and your gifts, your visits and letters, your thoughts and prayers, that have kept this place open so long and made it a place of peace, learning, and growth for us and for so many others.
Winter Reflection by Lorraine
During our winter pause to look back and look ahead, we’ve often observed that the only constant at the farm is change, but for nearly two decades I’ve continued to see myself as part of whatever changes were coming. Now I realize with a mixture of regret and relief that my time at the farm is coming to an end. I’m grateful for my years here and for ways they’ve challenged me and lessons they’ve taught, but now I am feeling over-stretched and ready for rest and work I can still do. So I’ll step down from being a Director, having been on the Board since it was formed in 2003, but will continue as a Core Member until I leave the farm in the next year or two.
This year I’ll still be doing what I can of daily work and to ease the transition for whoever may come to carry on the mission in their own ways. I’ll savor the blessings I’ve enjoyed through these years—sunrise by the pond, wildflowers in the spring woods, the brooksong audible from my bedroom window, fresh produce from the garden, walks along our field and woods trails, goat kids and rabbit kits. I look forward to a garden small enough for me to keep up with it, a window from which I can watch birds, and time to watch and listen without needing to hurry to do the next thing and the next thing without end.
Meet the New Director by Jill Hurst-Wahl
My name is Jill Hurst-Wahl. I’m at a transition point in my life, as I move towards retirement from my full-time position as faculty at Syracuse University and into more volunteer work and consulting. My volunteer work currently includes the Poor People’s Campaign, Alden Street Foundation, Onondaga County Public Library Board of Trustees, and now St. Francis Farm. I learned about the farm soon after moving to Syracuse in 2001 and have enjoyed interacting with the Hoyts over the years, including sharing gardening tips. Joanna, Lorraine, and Zach’s work intersects with the work of the Poor People’s Campaign and St. Lucy’s Church in Syracuse, where I worship. They believe in respecting the divine in each person; changing the narrative around poverty; honoring the land beneath our feet; and confronting militarism. They recognize that small steps forward can be important and that is a lesson I need to remember. Changes can take time and persistence. Like others on the St. Francis Farm board, I am excited to be more involved in the farm, even though I do not live there. I hope my new ‘free time” will allow me to visit more and soak in its tranquility.
This winter the weather has been a bit odd and unpredictable, but in some ways that has made my work easier as there has been less snow to move and I’ve been able to get to the woods with the tractor more of the time. In November and December I brought out a lot of logs to the sawmill and ended up using all of the stickers that I have in the loft to stack lumber. I didn’t cut any logs in January, but as I write this in February I am planning to get started again now that there is room in the loft. I brought 200 board feet of ash boards over to the barn we live in and put them in through the second floor door with Joanna’s help. In the heated building they will dry more quickly, so we will have some ready to use for future projects. We are also planning to sell about 3000 board feet (Doyle) of ash logs to a local log broker, since the ash trees are dying faster than I can sell their lumber. The broker will only buy higher-quality logs and the price is a bit less than what I can get at the sawmill, but a lot of time and effort will be saved over having to saw them into boards, and we will have enough ash to keep the loft stocked in the future even after this sale.
I have been able to cut and haul more firewood this winter than ever before in our time here. At the time of this writing I have a bit more than half of the wood that will be needed to fill the main woodshed dumped on the ground right outside it, waiting to be put in when the shed is empty. We’ve burned a bit less wood this winter than we often do, since the weather has not been very cold most of the time, and we’ve been able to keep it warmer inside the building. In January I got some heavy sheet steel brought inside. I bought it at an auction a few years ago since it looked handy and was very cheap. One piece was about 9 feet by 5 and the other 5×5. I cut, folded, and welded them to make them fit the walls in the part of the boiler room where I stack firewood for immediate use. That area had been covered with drywall originally, and when that got frayed I had covered it with old pegboard, but that was falling apart too so I figured the metal would be a much more durable solution. It was all that Joanna and I could do working together to drag the larger piece into the boiler room and get it in place against the walls, but now that it’s there it should last forever, or as near as makes no difference.
I’ve been working on little jobs around the barn where we live, painting and minor repairs and such, and by the time this goes out I hope to have replaced the floor tiles in one of the downstairs bathrooms. I did the other bathroom a few years ago. 12 years ago or so I went to an auction and got around 150 tiles for $1, the long-lasting ones that are used in stores sometimes.
We haven’t been making toys for refugees since the current restrictions on refugee numbers came into effect, but this winter I’ve begun making parts for toys again in a smaller way while I am less busy in the winter and we’ve been using them with local people recently.
As you will already know from the rest of this newsletter, I am planning to move away from the farm sometime in the next couple of years. The timing will depend on when or whether other people come to join Joanna to keep the farm open. I am very grateful for the many things I have gotten to do and learn during the past 18 years, and there are many aspects of the farm that I will regret leaving. I have been slowly growing a business building musical instruments in the evenings over the past 15 years or so, and it is getting to the point where I think I can do that work full time and make a living from it. I am hoping to move to Tupper Lake in the Adirondacks if everything goes according to plan. We don’t know yet if someone else will come to the farm who is interested in pursuing the forestry and sawmill work that I’ve been doing over the last 12 years. I’ll be happy to show anyone who comes anything they’d like to know about it, or if that part of the farm’s work comes to a closeI will help to sell the machinery. The future is always uncertain but at times like this we’re more aware of that. I’ll be interested to see what the next chapter of the farm’s history will hold.
Community Outreach Activities by Lorraine
This winter we’ve built on our relationship with Springbrook, an apartment building in Pulaski for elders. Late last summer we began dropping off vegetables there, but we had limited time then for conversations with the residents we met. On December 10 we visited with toys we had left over from when we built them for refugees and materials for residents to make some toys themselves. For two hours we helped elders make toys and answered some of their questions about the farm. Back at the farm we decided that next visit we’d take some things that were easier to do and that we wanted to take more pictures and to find out more about the residents’ needs and interests. Joanna invited Martha Dodd, president of the Springbrook Tenants Association, to join the community task force she facilitates. Martha attended the January meeting, where she spoke of the enthusiasm of the residents for the toy-making session and where she connected with other agencies that could respond to needs of the tenants which she described.
We scheduled another Springbrook visit for February 7 and made it in spite of the worst weather of the winter and our car being still at the garage for repairs that took much longer than expected. Unity Acres loaned us a Prius, and Zach scraped off the ice build-up from the freezing rain that fell in the evening and drove carefully through heavy snow. Residents were waiting for us when we arrived early, and Joanna had papers with questions for them to fill out and a sign-up sheet for any who would like to visit the farm. Zach set up a table for making wooden toys, ‘acrobats’ and ‘buzz saws’. I put out various games and puzzles—letters for anagrams of names, Set, Krypto, RushHour, and UpWords. More elders came to this session although we were all too busy to count. And because schools were closed due to the weather, two children who were spending the day with relatives also came. Joanna was ready to play the Ungame, and after the first flurry when she was able to take pictures, a boy and two elders joined her there for a game that encourages thoughtful conversation, memories, and story-telling.
We came home with more photos and with some better idea of what to do next. Several people were interested in visiting the farm, at least one of whom can drive and is willing to bring others. A general interest in ‘making things’ persists. We found some interest in my perennial plant divisions, and I’m still figuring out which games challenge enough to be interesting without being too hard.
On February 18 during school vacation week we offered family activities at the Pulaski Public Library. The parents and children made toys, learned new games, and identified feathers and skulls. They took information about the farm and expressed interest in coming for nature walks and taking perennial plant divisions in spring.
Agriculture Note by Joanna:
The garden and the fields are still under snow, but the work of the growing season is starting again. By the time this reaches you Zach will have tapped the maple trees, I’ll have pruned the young trees in the apple orchard, and we’ll have started breeding rabbits.
Even before the weather turns pleasant there are projects day visitors can help with. Early in March we’ll inoculate oak logs with shiitake spawn; these will start bearing mushrooms this fall or next spring. Zach will be collecting sap and boiling down syrup for at least part of the month, and I’ll be starting seedlings in the greenhouse. As soon as the snow comes off I’ll plant peas and spinach out in the garden and lettuce in the cold frames—some years this happens in late March, some years not until late April. In April and May I’ll be busy planting, transplanting, and weeding, and help would be welcome. We expect rabbit kits in early April and a goat kid mid-April.
In May Lorraine will divide perennial herbs and flowers and will have extras to share. Let us know if you’re interested in coming to visit, get plants, or help and learn.
Nature Note by Lorraine
In late December a customer at the sawmill noticed bald eagles flying in the back part of the field and pointed them out to Zach. We started watching for them and for five days saw several perched or flying for some part of each day. When the snow was reduced enough to make walking easy, we walked out to see if we could find what was attracting them and found a deer carcass stripped down to skeleton and scraps of skin, and that was the last day we saw eagles. Then in late January we found a deer that had been killed by a vehicle overnight lying on the shoulder of the road. Zach used the tractor to move it out to a distant but visible part of the field to see if we could attract eagles again. It took a week, and we saw and heard ravens first, but then the eagles came too. For another 10 days we enjoyed observing them, sometimes called to the windows by the mingled cries of eagles and ravens as they skirmished for feeding rights. I was surprised at the variations in the plumage of the immature eagles of different ages. And it was the first time we’ve been actually pleased to find roadkill on our walks—another aspect of the farm economy where everything has its use.
Various local organizations will celebrate Screen-Free Week with free family activities during the school’s spring vacation, April 6-11. From 4/7 to 4/11 we’ll offer guided sunset nature walks at the farm at 6:30 pm, and from 2 pm to 4 pm on April 10 we invite people to tour the farm and volunteer. The full schedule of community events is at www.stfrancisfarm.org/screen-free-week-2020/
On April 23, from 7 pm to 9 pm, we’ll hold our third annual free all-ages community barn dance at the Half-Shire Historical Society on County Route 48 in Richland. Sarah VanNorstrand from our board will offer friendly dance instruction. Fidder Eileen Kalfass and others will play live music. Dancers of all ages and experience levels are welcome. Come with or without a partner. In 2018 twelve people came to dance. In 2019 more than 50 attended.
This is our fourth year of collecting general pricelists from all the funeral homes in Oswego County (plus one in Onondaga County which offers lower-cost direct cremations.) People from the Funeral Consumers Alliance walked us through the process of collecting information in Oswego County, which is not covered by an FCA affiliate. Local responses to this work have improved. Some area service providers say they’re sharing this information with families. Funeral homes are becoming more cooperative when we request information, and some have lowered their prices. The price chart is on our website at www.stfrancisfarm.org/funeral-prices.
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Season of Change by Lorraine
Pandemic and shutdowns added more change and uncertainty to this time of transition while early spring and the farm provided beauty, continuity, and rewarding work. On Facebook and our website we’ve offered alternatives for learning and invitations to visit the farm at this time when so many activities are curtailed. Even though we haven’t been able to visit Springbrook again, we’ve continued to make connections there.
When local schools closed, I realized that many families were now involuntarily ‘homeschooling’ and suggested to Joanna that we share some of the activities we had enjoyed when she and Zach were children learning at home. She set up a Live & Learn page on our website and I wrote about things we’d done and ways we’d coped with just being at home together most of the time. Joanna posted the ideas on FB groups and added photos and more pieces about things she remembered doing.
Spring started early, and as I worked in my perennial herb and flower gardens I wondered what to do with the plants that needed dividing since people weren’t just coming by as they often do in spring. Again Joanna posted in a couple local FB groups that we had perennials to give away, and the response took us by surprise. We had planned to dig plants before people arrived, and to have them set out separated enough so people could keep 6 feet away from each other. But the first car arrived well ahead of the 10 o’clock time we’d posted and we’d just begun digging and hadn’t put on our masks. Soon there were cars in the parking area and up and down the road. I kept getting newcomers to make a widely spaced circle so I could talk to them about which plants they wanted and to answer questions about plant care. Soon the plants we’d started with were gone and Jo was digging up more. Some people were experienced gardeners and some knew nothing at all but ‘wanted to plant something’ with their children. Joanna went in and updated her posts, saying the plants were gone and canceling the afternoon hours. People still came in the afternoon, but not as many, and we gave some of them plants and asked others to come back the next good-weather day.
Several people who live just a few miles away had never heard of the farm before and seemed pleased to have found it and said they’d be back to walk or birdwatch. I’d been nagging Zach to mark the woods trails and that seemed more important this year when our walking with people is more awkward. Joanna has posted photos of the trails and told what is blooming at different times and invited people to come and walk. Several families have done so at different times, but not nearly as many as came to pick up plants. Those who have come have told us they had no trouble following the trails. A woman who came with a 3-year-old and a younger child in a jogging stroller said it worked well on the pasture loop. Although spring started early, it hasn’t warmed up much from March into May and I wonder if some have been waiting for warmer weather to come and walk.
Early in March, just before things shut down, Peg from Springbrook came to lunch and helped Joanna start tomatoes in the greenhouse. We made plans with her about our next trip to Springbrook and she meant to come back for walks and to help more, but all those plans had to be canceled. In March we realized we had more potatoes in the root cellar/well house than we would be able to use before they began sprouting. The soup kitchen had closed but we knew Peg and a few others had been planning how to feed residents in case of a shutdown. We ended up taking more than 50 pounds of potatoes as well as some onions and garlic. When eggs started piling up and we had more milk than we could use, we took eggs and cheese, calling ahead to say when we’d come and then just leaving whatever we brought in the entry. One time we took art materials and games because people were feeling bored without visitors or being able to get out. Several times we’ve taken books since the library across the street has been closed. Soon we’ll also have herbs and vegetables from the garden to take.
News about the benefits of getting outside and the increased interest in gardening remind us of what the farm has to offer. Our work and our walks help us keep our balance in this time of uncertainty, and Joanna continues to post on FB encouraging people to walk our trails, offering to answer garden questions, and inviting people to learn by helping with our work. Local volunteers would be especially helpful while we are unable to host live-in visitors. When visitors come to help or walk, we have more time to hear their stories and answer their questions, and it is easier to maintain appropriate distance. Even though I am slowing down and doing less I am thankful to be at the farm and glad to have plants and the place to share.
Transition and Uncertainty by Joanna
In our last newsletter I wrote about the time of transition coming up, about Zach and Lorraine’s plans to move on from the farm in the next couple of years, and about my hope to find new community members to join the farm and carry on the work. I came into this season with a sense of uncertainty, and now the pandemic has added new uncertainties for everyone. Lorraine has written about how our day-to-day connections with neighbors have changed and continued. Other parts of our work and transition also continue in altered forms.
The Board is helping us to find our way through these uncertain times. We held our annual Board meeting by teleconference in late April. Jill (introduced in our March newsletter) and Zach joined the Board. Lorraine and Margaret retired from the Board, though Lorraine is still a Core Member here and taking part in the daily decisions and work as she always has. Andy, Sarah, and I stayed on. Sarah and Jill offered suggestions about how to reach out to neighbors who are becoming interested in gardening/farming. Outside the Board meeting Jill has also given me helpful advice about conflict resolution in various contexts. I am very grateful for the Board’s help and support, and I look forward to the time when we can meet again in person.
The Pulaski Community Services Task Force, where people from different local helping groups meet monthly to talk about our work and find ways to support each other, is also sharing resources, updates, and questions by phone and email instead of meeting in person. As agencies work out the details of supporting people without endangering their health, and as we scramble to fill in the gaps and meet the new needs this crisis creates, there has been much sharing and updating of information. I am grateful for what the various groups who meet in the Task Force are doing for neighbors. I miss the mutual support and the informal conversations that happened much more readily when we could meet in person.
I’m still searching for new community members. I’ve listed St. Francis Farm in the directories of the Foundation for Intentional Community and the Global Ecovillage Network and posted information about our search for new community members on various Catholic Worker and intentional community sites. I’ve begun to correspond with several potential new community members who seek to integrate work and prayer, to serve the wider community, and to learn farming skills. The next steps are not yet clear, because we aren’t scheduling visits while New York State remains on pause. But I hear from some people that the present crisis is making them think about how short our lives are and about what they want to spend their time doing. In this time when our systems are visibly shaken, people may find the idea of an alternative way of living less impractical.
The last transition at St. Francis Farm also happened at a time of wider crisis. My family arrived in early July 2001, and by the end of August the people who lived and worked here before us had moved on as planned. Then the September 11 attacks happened.
Some people speak warmly of the solidarity they felt we experienced as a nation after 9/11. My memories of that time are more complicated. I remember the fear and the scapegoating. We heard from new friends and neighbors here about Muslims being harassed by hostile neighbors and also by law enforcement, about attacks on migrant workers, about a Sikh temple being burned down. I also remember people working for unity amidst the fear. We attended the interfaith peace service that followed the burning of the temple, and we heard that many people from different faith traditions were giving money and labor to the rebuilding. We went to the local Catholic church to hear an imam speak about the things our faiths hold in common and about how we can support each other in faithfulness to the God whom we follow through different traditions.
We looked for small ways in which we could support the work of peace-building. We welcomed migrant workers for religious retreats and hosted some who were injured on commercial farms. We tried to keep the farm a space where people from very different religious, economic, ethnic, and political backgrounds could meet and support each other as human beings. As people shared silent prayer, meals, and the basic uncontroversial work of growing food and helping neighbors with immediate needs, they could see the goodness in each other even as they acknowledged their differences.
In this time of crisis I see the same mixed response. I hear neighbors, friends, and public figures fixing the blame for the deaths, the suffering, and the ongoing uncertainty on some group of Others—immigrants, Communists, Democrats, Republicans… In arguments over whether and how this area is ready to reopen, I have heard people on both sides assert that their opponents must be stupid and malevolent. But I have also seen people coming together to make masks to give away, to deliver groceries to elders, to get farm produce into the hands of families who might otherwise go hungry, to help children stay active and connected while many things are shut down. I know people who have drastically different political views who still come together to help their neighbors.
I am grateful for this shared work, and I hope that St Francis Farm can continue to be a place where people can come together across their divides. One fine April morning my mother took a new visitor for a walk on one of our nature trails. I watched them setting out, enjoying each other’s company and the beauty of the day. I also noticed the visitor’s NRA shirt and thought how good it was to see people with quite different political views at ease together. (My mother said afterward that she hoped the visitor would return, and that she hadn’t noticed the shirt.)
The Catholic Worker movement began in a time of crisis, in the depths of the Great Depression, when the immediate unmet needs of neighbors were very evident and when our economic and political system was shaken. I think of what Peter Maurin wrote about building a new society within the shell of the old. I don’t know what will happen next to our nation or our economy. I am not altogether sure that I know what should happen on the large scale. But I think that the disciplines of tending the land, strengthening relationships with neighbors from different backgrounds, and listening to the still small voice will fit us to respond better to whatever may come.
[Crisis] can mean the instant of choice, that moment when people become aware of their self-imposed cages and of the possibility of a different life
–Ivan Illich, Toward A History Of Needs
This spring has been unusual in a number of ways, but so far my tasks are still mostly able to be done. After the CDC guidance changed to say people should wear masks when in public places I sewed a fitted mask for each of us out of 2 layers of cotton. I used strips of aluminum flashing to make the nose bridges fit tightly and be adjustable. Since the restrictions went into effect I have been the designated person who goes to town, and have been going in every week or two to run errands.
Our maple syrup season was somewhat short this year, and the sugar content in the sap was unusually low throughout the region, so although I boiled about the typical amount of sap that I would in a year we got less syrup from it. We made about 6 gallons instead of the 9 to 10 that I aim for. Because of the early snowmelt this spring I was able to get to the woods earlier and more easily than usual to cut small oak logs to grow shiitake mushrooms. We inoculated a smaller batch of logs than in recent years, so it only took a couple of mornings to get them done by ourselves.
In March I put all of the wood that I had cut in the winter into the woodshed, as soon as the snow melted off it. Then I cut enough firewood to fill the rest of the shed and had it done in the first few days of April. This is the earliest I’ve had the shed full in our years here. Some springs I have not been able to get out to the woods till mid-April because the snow lingered for so long. This year we did not burn any of the wood in the emergency backup woodpile out in the new building. We had an early start to spring, but then April was about as cold as March had been. I began burning wood from the summer woodshed in March, but it was mostly filled with ash and other high-BTU wood, so even though we’ve needed more heat than normal in April that shed is still half full and should be enough to last as usual.
We had good lumber sales at the sawmill in March, but toward the end of the month they tapered off and we only had one customer in April. This was good from a public health perspective but not as satisfactory in terms of income. I have decided to remain open if customers want to come, but to ask that they wear a mask, as I do. This seems like a reasonable compromise but I don’t know for sure. I have not been working much at the sawmill this spring as I have not been selling lumber, but I will continue to cut some as time allows when there is space to store it. I don’t know yet if we are going to go ahead with selling ash logs to a broker this year as planned. All of the markets are in flux and I don’t know whether the price will still be worthwhile once the ground dries out enough to make skidding a lot of logs convenient.
In April I tried again and after some online searching finally found a source of affordable plastic circles to use for marking the trails in our woods. We have been talking about doing this for years, but now that social distancing has come it seemed more urgent to make the trails easy to find for people to walk on their own. A few people have come and walked on them, and we hope that more people from the local area will take advantage of the relative seclusion of our woods and field paths compared to the state parks and other busier places.
I have gotten back to making the rustic nightstands I used to build years ago and we have sold 5 on Craigslist this spring. They are quite inexpensive to produce, and not a great deal of work. We have an almost infinite supply of small trees that are being shaded out and dying to use for the legs, and I can use boards that are too irregular to be wanted by most of the sawmill customers, since I am cutting them into short pieces anyway. I’ve got a lot of dry ash ready to work with now so they are something I can continue to make on rainy days, and I have been putting them on the porch of the farmhouse in the open air when a customer comes to pick them up.
The last two years I haven’t begun building ramps for ARISE till after I got done working on the roof, sometime in the summer, but this year I don’t have any big projects planned here at the farm so I have been able to get an earlier start. I have built one ramp in Orwell in late April and another in Altmar in early May. I will continue to be available for the rest of the season if ARISE has more ramps that they want built in this area.
There are a lot of small repairs around the premises that I need to make this summer, but nothing large or pressing. It looks like the haying may be a bit later starting this year, as the grass is growing quite slowly. Maybe once the weather warms up the grass will make up for lost time, I don’t know. We weren’t sure how the coronavirus situation would affect getting a piglet this year, but our usual suppliers were able to get one in late May. We’ll hope that the processing facility is still open by the time the fall comes.
Farming Update by Joanna written May 15
The spring opened early and then turned very cold. In the last few days the weather’s been milder again. I planted peas late in March, but they’re still only a couple of inches high (shorter than they were at this time last year, when I’d planted them in mid-April), though they look healthy and should grow apace as the weather warms. The first asparagus spears poked through the soil just before the polar vortex dropped the temperatures into the twenties and I re-mulched them. I’ve just unmulched them after a week of suspended animation, and I hope we’ll start harvesting soon. Zach’s begun to harvest rhubarb. I’m cutting lettuce from the cold frames as well as the pots we started in the greenhouse. On the coldest nights in early May I had to pull that lettuce back into the greenhouse along with all the seedlings; there wasn’t space to spare. Yesterday I set out kale as well as one bed of tomatoes (all that we’re well equipped to cover if the nights dip below freezing again). I’ve set the other seedlings outside on many cold windy days, so they’re staying fairly compact, and I hope they’re also hardening off. I’ve planted potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, and parsnips out in the garden. We’ve had abundant harvests of wild leeks, and a few shiitake mushrooms from stumps out in the woods though none yet from the logs closer in to our buildings.
Our goat Amada gave birth to a doeling on April 21, on a cold, windy, sleety evening. I helped a little, as the kid was rather large. Amada stopped pushing and settled down to cleaning her kid, so after about an hour I decided she was done, cleaned the stall, and went to bed. In the morning I found the doeling up and looking lively, and another kid, male, dead. The doeling, Star, continues to thrive. Someone who wants to start a home dairy herd has already agreed to buy her once she’s old enough to wean. In the meantime we’re enjoying watching Star learn what she can do with her four fine new legs. Amada is producing plenty of milk for Star and also for us, so we’ve had extra cheese to send to Springbrook.
Our rabbits got off to a slow start this year. Limerick didn’t give birth the first time we bred her. Our two younger does had their first litters without trouble, but they were small: one had three kits, and the other had seven, of whom two died from unknown causes early on, though the others are growing well. Limerick did conceive on the second try and had seven kits, all fat and flourishing. Everyone’s enjoying the abundance of fresh grass, dandelions, etc.
I’m grateful for this grounding work, and also for the ability to provide some of the food that we and our neighbors need. Ever since we first began hosting injured migrant workers I’ve had a sense of how people are harmed in the usual course of commercial food production. During the pandemic the danger is even greater and clearer. I’m glad that people seem inclined to try growing their own food on a small scale, or buying from local small farmers, now as the commercial food supply chain is disrupted. I’ve read news stories about CSA membership rising. The local Agway has been rapidly selling out of seed starter, and we’ve had visitors who want to learn more about raising gardens or animals. We’re always glad to pass on what we’ve learned, and I hope that after this crisis has subsided people will still be interested in growing fresh food.
“A home landscape enables personal subsistence but also generosity. It enables community to exist and function”–Wendell Berry, What Matters
Nature Notes by Lorraine
Spring started early and proceeded slowly this year so spring flowers in gardens and in the woods had long bloom time. Now in the first week of May trillium, trout lilies, marsh marigolds, violets, and dicentra have recently blossomed while spring beauty is still in flower.
I haven’t found a woodcock nest this year, but the males have been displaying at dusk since March. Most evenings they can be heard (and sometimes seen) on the hilltop above the parking area, in the long field up the road, and near the orchard. We hear owls (barred and great horned) and heard migrating loons calling overhead, a first for us here. So far bluebirds are nesting in at least 4 houses. Tree swallows were late arriving, but have claimed a couple houses. I found one robin nest over a shed door, Zach found one in the sawmill barn and one on his logging arch, and Jo found one on the outdoor table where she keeps seedlings. Mourning doves are nesting near the peak of the garden shed where robins had nests for the past few years. We’ve seen herons, great blue and green, along the little stream—I’m still watching and waiting for the kingfishers.
Now a couple weeks later the robin eggs have hatched, orioles and warblers are back, and I’ve found a couple more nests. Phoebes are building under the eaves of the winter chicken shed and yellow warblers in the rugosa roses.
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083