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.
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083