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.
Precarity by Joanna
When I wrote for the June newsletter, as we were starting to adjust to COVID, I hoped that by this time life might have gone back to ‘normal’ and our plans might be clearer. That has not happened. We keep working and keep trying to be good neighbors despite the pandemic and the deepening divisions, though we don’t know what comes next. I think of what Dorothy Day wrote about the importance of precarity, faith, and solidarity with the many people whose lives don’t afford even the illusion of security and predictability.
I still don’t know whether or how St. Francis Farm may continue after Lorraine and Zach move out. Several people wrote to express interest in joining the community. Some decided this place is not what they’re looking for. Some were unable to travel here due to COVID restrictions and found other places to settle. Two came for trial visits during which we all realized that this was not a good fit. Now NYS quarantine requirements stop most out-of-state visitors coming, and this may continue for the rest of the growing season. I’ll continue to spread the word this winter and hope to schedule visits with potential community members for the next growing season—perhaps by then it will be safer to travel. If I can’t find people to join me here, the Board and I will look for other organizations with similar missions which might use this place.
For the time being, we’re welcoming visitors, with some distancing precautions. Lonny and Liam came for weeklong visits. Selena and Julie visit weekly; we spend most of our time together outside, but eat indoors in the same dining room at separate tables. (Articles from all of them appear later in this newsletter.) We’ve had encouraging distanced day visits from numerous friends. We’re thankful for the help and company. Many neighbors have come to pick up – and sometimes to pick – fresh vegetables and herbs. Some stay to walk or pick wild berries. We’re glad for these connections. We’re grateful to those who voluntarily wear masks and/or keep a safe distance, and we try to be neighborly to those who tell us that the pandemic is a hoax and masks are a sign of mindless compliance or lack of faith. I think that faithfulness includes reaching out to people, avoiding actions that are likely to make them sick, and respecting the sincere goodwill of people whose words and actions disturb me.
I’m trying to do that in this time of long-overdue calls for racial justice following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Our work with migrants and refugees showed me how our country’s actions devastate other countries, and then deny refuge to people forced to flee. I am still coming to understand what my country has done, and is doing, to Black Americans.
I knew pieces of it. I’d never heard a friend report being stopped and questioned by police because they supposedly resembled a White suspect who looked very different in other ways, but I’d heard several friends describe being stopped and questioned because they supposedly resembled Black suspects of rather different ages, weights, heights, and genders. I’d seen ‘random security checks” pull out only Black and Brown people from a mostly White line. I knew that Black Americans are more likely to be stopped and searched, also to be injured and killed, by police. I knew there is a deep, and deepening, racial wealth gap, that Black Americans are more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth, to have toxic waste dumps sited in their communities, to die of COVID-19. I see that racial prejudice and hate are still with us; I also am coming to see that our laws and structures create these deadly injustices and that we sustain them by our participation, whether or not we feel hateful or intend harm. (Isabel Wilkerson’s writing helped me see this.)When migrant workers ill-treated and injured on commercial farms came to recuperate with us and we bought commercially grown produce to feed them, I knew we were paying employers who mistreated migrant workers. I saw we needed to change what Dorothy Day called “this filthy rotten system.” I begin to see racism works in the same way. I’m glad to see people of different races coming together through Black Lives Matter, the Poor People’s Campaign, etc. to dismantle unjust structures and work toward a society where, as Peter Maurin said, it is easier for people to be good.
Some fellow White Christians, including friends, neighbors, and supporters of the farm, see something very different. They say the Black Lives Matter protests are demonically inspired violent riots which threaten America, democracy, liberty, civility, and Christianity. Some add that they’ve been incited by a conspiracy of pedophiles, Marxists, prominent Democrats, liberal Jews, and Pope Francis. This story strikes me as false and damaging. I’m tempted to tell myself disparaging stories about the people who believe these things. Yet many of ‘those people” whom I actually know are notably kind to relatives and neighbors in need. I can’t agree with them. Nor can I dismiss or disparage them. I wish I knew how to reach them.
Recently I read Thomas Merton’s 1964 book “Seeds of Destruction,” which dealt with some of the same quandaries. These quotes stuck with me:
“The one aspect of the Negro demonstrations that is being taken most seriously… is that they hurt business. As long as there was talk only of “rights,” and of “freedom” (concepts which imply persons) the Negro movement was taken seriously chiefly by crackpots, idealists, and members of suspicious organizations thought to be under direct control of Moscow, like CORE and the NAACP. …It was only when money became involved that the Negro demonstrations finally impressed themselves upon the American mind as being real.” [Emphasis his]
“…. whites may have to accept that their prosperity is rooted to some extent in injustice and in sin… this might lead to a complete re-examination of the political motives behind all our current policies, domestic and foreign, with the possible admission that we are wrong…” [Emphasis his]
“..true hope is that which finds motives for confidence precisely in the “crisis” which seems to threaten that which is dearest to us: for it is here above all that the power of God will break through the meaningless impasse of prejudices and cruelties in which we always tend to become entrapped.”
“We have to remember the terrible danger of projecting onto others all the evil we find in ourselves, so that we justify our own hatred and destructiveness by directing them against a projected evil.”
I try to live in a way that does less harm, to keep loving people whose ideas dismay me, to remember the evil in my own heart, to seek hope amidst crisis. I’m praying for us all. I’d be grateful for your prayers.
My father, my son, and I first came to St. Francis Farm when they were giving away perennials. We immediately fell in love! It is truly a gem in the middle of the countryside. It seems as though the generosity and beauty know no bounds. From the perennials (which are growing fabulously in our own gardens now) to their offering of vegetables and berries to the beautiful lands to walk. This summer has been scary and bizarre for all of us, and finding St. Francis Farm has offered us a sense of calming peace in an otherwise scary world.
Wednesdays at the Farm
Over the past few weeks, I’ve experienced again how it feels to sit, just sit and talk and snap beans and shell peas, and share stories and hopes. On Wednesdays, I’ve had a standing invitation to visit my friends at St. Francis Farm. The visits have become one of the highlights of my week and have helped to make the necessity of social distancing tolerable. I feel welcome there. I always have, and I regret that I so often let my life take over and forgot to take the time to rub the rosemary then smell the fragrance on my hand, as Lorraine reminded me. I meet with Lorraine on Wednesdays, and while she and I visit and try to resolve the issues that come up in life, we will often snap beans or shell peas while sitting at the pond’s edge, under a canopy of various tree limbs, while Joanna and Zachary are busy about their labors with Joanna in her garden, an ethereal garden angel, and Zachary, always in motion and deep in thought.
I’ve seen hummingbirds come to feed from the flowers growing near the water. They look like perfect little gentlemen with red tuxes as they balance in mid-air, bobbing in and out of the bee balm. Wrens have taken over a bluebird house, and I’ve seen their hatchlings grow into birds. And for such a tiny animal a bullfrog makes a good deal of noise. Also, I’ve seen a couple of snakes, one a giant black snake that I nearly stepped on while attempting to pick clover.
My Wednesdays have included lunch, with rosemary bread, homemade hummus, fresh goat cream cheese with basil, and a salad fresh from the garden with peppers, cucumbers, different types of tomatoes and lettuces. I get take-alongs too. I haven’t bought lettuce or tomatoes yet this summer. It feels good eating from the garden, and I was even inspired to plant a couple of things myself.
My time at St. Francis Farm has helped me feel centered and reminded me that the beauty in nature and in things as simple as snapping beans is as close as my own backyard. I look forward to what the other seasons here have to offer and continued visits.
This summer has been dry, which made it very easy to get the hay in but has meant much more time spent watering gardens. We got the hay in during June this year, which is earlier than the weather will sometimes allow, and while it was a little short the quality was good. Lonny was here for part of the week when I was getting the hay in and was kind enough to come back up specially to help me with baling the hay on two different days. He drove the tractor for the baling, which enabled me to ride on the wagon behind the baler and stack the bales as they were made. This is a lot easier than what I normally do where I drop the bales on the ground and then make a separate trip around the field to pick them up and put them on the wagon. He also helped carry the hay from the biggest load up into the loft and stack it. I was very grateful for the help and he did very well with the driving, even though he had never baled before. Last fall I rented a pole saw to trim tree branches around the fields and this summer when I was mowing all of the fields it was much easier, since there weren’t all those branches to push through.
I cut down some ash and maple trees that had issues in late spring and sawed them into boards in June, but in early July the sawmill began to have problems which I eventually traced to the main driveshaft, which had to be replaced due to wear where one of the bearings rides. We were eventually able to order a new driveshaft and bearings from the man who makes these mills, and now the mill is running well again These were somewhat expensive parts, but the mill has brought in enough money each year to make it more than worth repairing, and even if it ends up being sold at some point in the future if there is no one to operate it, having it in working order will make it easier to sell.
In early July I cut down a largish willow tree in the wet area behind the causeway across the road and collected and bundled the leaves and small branches to hang up and dry in the loft. They are pretty well dry now and before winter I will need to strip the leaves off the branches and put them in the bin to be eventually fed to the rabbits.
After consulting with our mail carrier we found it would be handier for her as well as for us if the mailbox was moved from its time-honored location across the road from the house to a spot across from the barn. It took less than an hour to move and now it is only about half as far from the front door of the barn where we live as it used to be, and the mail carrier doesn’t have to do as much maneuvering to come into the driveway when she has packages to pick up and drop off.
Our current pig has not worked out as well as they have in recent years for a couple of reasons. Due to the pandemic all of the processing businesses in the area got booked up very early, so when I called in early June I was not able to get an October appointment anywhere. We were offered September 4th, but the pig will not be big enough in time. This year’s pig arrived a little later than usual and seems to have been a runt, as it has been growing much more slowly than the other pigs we’ve had from the same source. I’ve been given reason to hope that one of our Amish neighbors might be willing to do the job for us later in the year, though I haven’t been able to talk to him directly about it yet, and as a fallback plan I can do my best to process it myself. I am a little doubtful as I have never tried to cut up an animal that big, but I’ve done hundreds of rabbits and am hoping to be able to do it well enough with the help of books and online information.
I am experimenting with growing potatoes in barrels again this year since we had some extra seed potatoes in the spring and an extra plastic barrel that had been sitting around since I got it at an auction years ago. I cut the barrel in half so that it’s not as deep, and planted in both halves, using compost from where the chick coop used to be parked in the back yard. The plants look good but I don’t know if they’ll make any actual potatoes. Joanna grows all we need in the garden, but if I can make the barrel method work it will be helpful after I’ve moved away, when I’ll have less space.
There are a lot of apples this year and I look forward to making cider, as well as freezing and drying apple slices and canning applesauce. I had been afraid that it might be too dry for the apples to size up, but we have had enough rain from time to time so that they seem to have done all right.
I came to St. Francis Farm after listening to a story about Dorothy Day, the social activist, on NPR. She started a work farm program all throughout the United States in the 1920’s and 30’s. Farms like these are based on sustainable living in a Christian context, just what I was looking for. Also this farm strives for unity while this country is heading in the opposite direction. I needed rest for my soul.
Lorraine, Zach, and Joanna proved to be excellent hosts, always making me feel comfortable and answering all my questions with patience. I did not stay in the guest house but pitched my tent beside their pond, letting the birds, peepers, bullfrogs, and other sounds of nature lull me to sleep.
Zach let me drive their tractors to cut and bale hay, something I always
wanted to do. He also let me cut wood in their sawmill, another dream of mine. He showed me their cider press, the sugar shack, and the canoe he made from wood on the farm. On my second visit he started to teach me about meat processing, and soon I’ll be back to learn to weld.
Joanna taught me different aspects of gardening and the amount of work that goes into tending one. While we worked together I had a great time talking to her about shared interests. She also tried teaching me how to milk a goat by hand, at which I failed miserably.
Lorraine showed me how to make a tincture out of plants and grain alcohol. She showed me the different bird nests around the yard, naming the birds for me. Lorraine taught me how to make cream cheese and soft cheese from goats’ milk. They tasted very good, changing my view on goat cheese. But best of all is eating all this farm-raised food for lunch and dinner cooked up by her.
After the the fun work with Zach, Lorraine, and especially with Joanna I had the opportunity to clean up in an outdoor solar shower Zach made. Taking a shower under a sunny blue sky with a slate floor under my feet with home cooked food for every meal, I felt like I was in a resort. At sunset sitting by the pond I witnessed a kingfisher diving into the water for its meal – what a treat before climbing into my tent for a restful, quiet night.
My decision to go to St. Francis Farm proved to be one of my best. I encourage anyone interested in this field to go check them out—you won’t be disappointed.
In June I spent one week volunteering at St. Francis Farm. What led me to the farm was an initial interest in the Catholic Worker Movement which, in turn, led me to explore the farm’s website. The opportunity to work and reflect in a beautiful setting, acquire practical skills, and learn how to live sustainably attracted me. My experience far exceeded expectations.
Upon arriving at the farm, I was cheerfully greeted by Joanna, one of the 3 members of the Hoyt family who live there. After getting settled in, I joined Joanna in the garden. Immediately, I was delighted by the work and our conversation. As we weeded, we discussed family ancestry as well as the importance of confronting white privilege, especially given the recent killing of George Floyd. One may ask, “Do these topics have a place on a farm? Isn’t it about getting away from it all?” Well, yes and no. Living on a farm provides space to quiet one’s mind and avoid the hurried pace that many Americans are accustomed to. However, doing so doesn’t give one the right to remain ignorant, uninvolved in the struggles of the human family. The Hoyts clearly understand this. They stay informed by following the news on the radio and internet and are actively engaged in the community. For example, the farm has hosted a retreat for migrant workers who are usually poorly treated. The farm also shares food with those in need locally. I share all this not only to applaud St. Francis Farm, but to express my gratitude for how the Hoyts’ example has challenged me to be more informed and not a silent observer in society.
As far as practical skills go, I learned how to milk a goat (after many attempts at trying to grasp the teats correctly haha!), operate a sawmill to cut lumber into planks with the help of Zachary, and make mozzarella cheese. Lorraine taught me how to create greeting cards by imprinting flower petals onto paper. Although I was familiar with the basics of weeding, spreading mulch, and watering, Joanna taught me the reasons and science behind it. For example, clover doesn’t need to be weeded out if it’s next to a crop that likes nitrogen (clover is a nitrogen fixer).
In my free time, I read enriching books which were recommended and lent to me by the Hoyt family, went for walks on the trails nearby, journaled, and prayed. Every morning, I was grateful that we started with prayer either sitting in the chapel or walking outside. Throughout the day, I found every task to be contemplative. While working in the garden, I enjoyed looking up at the surrounding landscape and reflecting quietly. I also enjoyed having meaningful conversations with Joanna on a wide range of topics. Speaking with every member of the Hoyt family was wonderful. During each meal, we would sit together and talk. I found this to be special. We were focused on each other and there was no technology nearby to distract. The food was excellent. Many of the ingredients were picked fresh from the garden or sourced from the goats and rabbits. I especially liked the fresh-picked lettuce with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes.
As I stated at the beginning, one of the reasons I came to St. Francis Farm was to learn to be more sustainable. I definitely learned a lot from the Hoyts. Some of the practices that they follow include: driving a car only when necessary (ride a bike instead), composting, using a wood-burning furnace instead of oil or gas, shutting off lights when there is enough sunlight, and reusing plastic containers to store water. About ninety percent of their electricity comes from a renewable source. In addition, they produce minimal waste by reusing and repurposing material. For example, sawdust from the sawmill is mixed with compost to create a rich mulch for use in the garden.
My experience at St. Francis Farm was holistic, life-giving, and educational. I am so thankful for the Hoyt family’s gracious hospitality, kindness, and desire for me to get the most out of the time spent there. I left inspired to be more civically engaged, sustainable, and cognizant of how my purchases impact other people and the environment. Knowing that an alternative exists to the consumer-driven culture in America is comforting and I seek to grow closer to that alternative in different ways each day. God bless St. Francis Farm and the Hoyt family.
Farming Update by Joanna — written August 4)
During this growing season of surprises I’ve often thought of a kindergartener who used to visit the farm. When he was on the edge of losing his temper, he would clench his fists and repeat, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”
Our unusually wet, cold spring gave way to an unusually warm, dry summer. The sad yellowish onion seedlings greened and grew. The short slow peas shot up and began to bear in good time. Then the drought wore on, the lawn turned brown and crunched, the stream ran slow and shallow, the drip irrigation ran 24/7, I watered early and late, and the chipmunks put more pressure on the garden. They ate a quarter of the strawberries, though we still had an abundance to eat and to freeze. They ate almost half of the peas. My homemade cayenne pepper spray slowed them down until they learned to shell the peas out. We’d hoped to freeze 20 quarts for winter; we got 16.
We’ve finished canning beans and started freezing pesto and canning and drying tomatoes. The garlic (big and disease-free this year) is harvested and cleaned. Eggplants are starting to come in. We’ve had basil, chard, cucumbers, dill, garlic, kale, lettuce, peppers, radishes, summer squash, and small tomatoes to give away. Early in the season we sent extra produce to Springbrook. Then we learned that COVID, which is causing food shortages in some places, was inspiring extra donations around here: Springbrook’s residents were getting more donations than they could use, and so was the local food pantry. We still take some vegetables to Marge along with books. On the local Neighbors Helping Neighbors Facebook group I found other people willing to come and get fresh vegetables. Some had time to pick their own.
I’ve had good help. Liam and Lonny lent a hand on their visits, Julie and Micah help in the garden every week, Selena often pitches in on food processing, and Sarah, Kailyn, and Emily have come for day visits and helped out. I’m grateful for the assistance and the company.
I’ve kept being able to cut enough green stuff for the rabbits, and they’re eating and growing well, though the litters are small. The goats are giving more milk than we know what to do with. Robin gave us a brief scare when she ran a high fever and stopped eating in June; the vet thought she might have a tick-borne disease. Antibiotics cleared it up quickly and she’s thriving again.
This year the berry brambles bloomed luxuriantly, and we’ve gotten enough rain to keep the fruits plump. We’ve frozen all the berries we need and now are eating them fresh and inviting neighbors to pick their own. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” comes to my mind often in the berry patch. I get what I get, and I mostly don’t throw a fit, and sometimes I give thanks.
In the late 70s I lived on East First Street in Manhattan, on the border of the East Village and the Lower East Side. It was a gritty, scrappy neighborhood. Young artists and musicians flocked there for the low rents. CBGB’s (the foremost venue for punk bands) might have been around the corner, but the Catholic Worker St. Joseph House was across the street. I didn’t know much about it, but every time I walked by, I was reminded that Catholics sometimes choose to be on the side of the poor and oppressed.
Flash forward four decades to the pandemic. One morning in early June, quarantined at home in the Bronx at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, I was watching the news and saw a Buffalo police officer shove an older man to the ground. When the man’s identity was released, I was curious to know more about him, so I did a little research. His name is Martin Gugino, and he is a longtime peace activist who is associated with the Catholic Workers.
A week or so later, I came to stay at the home of a close relative here in the Tug Hill region of New York State. Having volunteered as a WWOOFer on a farm in Italy half a dozen summers, and unable to plan a trip there this year, I wanted to find a farm where I could volunteer, if such a place existed. Remembering the St. Joseph House, and Martin Gugino, it occurred to me that maybe there were Catholic Worker farms. Voilà! St. Francis Farm popped up. Miraculously, amazingly, it is in Lacona, only half an hour’s drive away. After some emailing back and forth, my family member and I went to visit one Saturday. Joanna, on her afternoon off, generously showed us around the huge garden, the henhouse, the mushroom log inoculation operation, the pond and stream, the hayfield, the pig, the wood workshop, and the trails. We met Lorraine and Zach. Lorraine gave us lavender to take home.
We made a date for me to come back. That was about four visits ago. There may be other tasks needing doing, but I love to weed, so Joanna humors me, and we weed. When we are within at least shouting distance of each other on a row of kale or carrots, we have wide-ranging conversations: about homeschooling, Black Lives Matter, fiction and nonfiction books, our respective religions (was I surprised to find out they are Quakers!) and growing up rural (her) and urban (me).
Joanna, Lorraine, and Zach have showed themselves to be just as generous and openhearted as they were that first day. The family invites me to stay for lunch (as we observe social distancing), and I happily accept. A couple of days after lunch I picked berries in the quiet hayfield, with just the birds for company, before I drove off. Lorraine gives me fresh produce, so at home we are dining on wonderful salads and greens. Bags of kale and jars of pesto wait in the freezer for fall eating.
As long as I’m here in Tug Hill, I hope to keep going back to work and to spend time with these exceptional people who model a simple, non-consumerist way of living that seems, during this pandemic, more essential than ever.
Hello. My name is Micah Charsky and I will be a senior at Pulaski High School this fall. I was awarded the John Ben Snow Community Service scholarship, and as a requirement to receive the money I have to do community service at different places in or around Pulaski. This year due to COVID-19 I had to find places in which I could practice socially distancing. One of the places I found was St. Francis Farm.
At St. Francis Farm I have done a number of things and also learned a lot of information about farming. I have helped clean garlic, move tree branches that had been cut down, helped spray Nitrogen on plants that needed extra Nitrogen, and helped spray a fungus deterrent on plants of the same family. I have learned what different things look like in the ground. I have also learned the general growing season for most of the plants. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at St. Francis Farm and I am looking forward to working there throughout the summer.
The Light Shines in Darkness by Joanna
We’re coming into the shortest days and longest nights of a year that has felt dark in many ways, as disease spreads, divisions deepen, and longstanding injustices become painfully apparent. I’m grateful for the year-end festivals: Thanksgiving when we celebrate the goodness that abides through the hardest times, and Advent when we light candles in the night and remember the Light that shines in darkness and is not extinguished.
We post a big piece of paper on the chapel wall a week before Thanksgiving with words of praise from the Psalms at the top and bottom. Over the next few days we write down the things we’re grateful for. There’s the beauty of the natural world and the richness of the land, as Lorraine describes in her article. There are the people who have come to help us with the work and to savor the goodness of this place: all those who wrote for the last newsletter, and many more—Andy and Mary Anne bringing books and memories, Bear coming from Unity Acres with news, Hope making supper and sharing stories about the satisfying, heartbreaking, and funny parts of our work, Renee and Bob visiting after a long correspondence and bringing us a poster showing the Golden Rule as it appears in different religious traditions, Jan bringing children, grandchildren, and friends to fish and walk… There are all the daily kindnesses and mercies that don’t make the news but that do make a life. On Thanksgiving Day we’ll read our thanks and the Psalmist’s words like a liturgy. We’ll remember together and be glad.
On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Advent begins. I’ve always loved this time of looking for the light in the darkness. When I was a child my family used Advent calendars from Alternatives for Simple Living designed to help people detach from stuff-oriented and stressful celebrations, to enjoy simple delights, and also to focus on getting ready for God’s coming by practicing justice and kindness. (Calendars for earlier years, and other resources for simpler, more centered celebrations, are available in their online archives here.) We’ve stopped using those, but we still keep Advent. On the first night we’ll sit in the light of the Hope candle, by a bare banner embroidered with a dead stump with a green shoot growing out of it. We’ll read Isaiah 11: 1-9, the promises of new life coming out of death, of justice and of peace. As Advent goes on we’ll read more stories and prophecies and add symbols to the banner, and the candlelight will grow.
We came to St Francis Farm in a time that felt dark, both in my family and in the wider world—soon after the death of my mother’s parents (and of too many other relatives and friends), and just at the time of the 9/11 attacks and our nation’s deadly and destructive response. We grieved as fully and honestly as we knew how to, and we recognized how many terrible things we couldn’t change. We also kept our eyes open for the goodness that persisted, for the helpers and the peacemakers.
Now I am aware of the darkness again. COVID deaths are ramping up, and the nation is consumed by arguments over what’s fake news and who’s to blame and whether we need to follow safety guidelines. Protests over racism reveal the longstanding patterns of injustice in our society and economy, and the fury and denial which answer them show how hard it is to change these patterns. The election showed the bitterness of our divisions—the inability to agree on what’s right or what’s true, the deep distrust of people who don’t see what we see —and these continue in the election’s aftermath. We see this among our neighbors as well as in the news.
I also struggle with the darkness within myself. With my tendencies to irrational anxiety, which can show up as unhelpful fears about health or as desperation at our divisions. Also with uncertainty about what lies ahead. I’m not making much progress in finding new community members willing and able to help me carry on the work after Lorraine and Zach move on, though there are a couple of tentative conversations in progress.If I can’t find new members soon, then by the time the next newsletter goes out I will be talking with other organizations that do good work and that might have a use for this place and its assets, and I’ll seek other places where I can continue to work as I have here. All I know for certain at this point is that Lorraine and Zach and I will all be here into the beginning of the next growing season, and that Lorraine and Zach will move on in the growing season of either 2021 or 2022. I dislike not knowing, and I am not fond of changes. When I have found a good thing, I want it to go on just as it is, forever.
But that’s not how life works. Change, death, and renewal are what we’ve been given. I keep looking for the new shoots, for the light in the dark. People on the Pulaski Community Services Task Force keep finding ways to provide each other with food, help and comfort as the pandemic wears on. Some farm visitors say this pandemic has reminded them to slow down, enjoy the beauty of the created world, and savor time with the people they live with. Our nation’s painful reckoning with race has opened my eyes to things that I hadn’t fully understood and helped me glimpse a way forward; I hear others experiencing the same thing. Amidst political wrangling, I hear people listening to each other’s pains. Recently a heated exchange between two friends on my Facebook page shifted into a tender conversation about the difficulty of living with depression and the struggle to keep working and loving through that. I love this place and I’m grateful for the nineteen years I’ve spent here. I still hope St. Francis Farm Community may continue. I also remember Jacques Maritain’s words quoted in Thomas Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: “The Holy Spirit is at work not only in durable institutions which last through the centuries. He is at work also in ventures that have no future, which have always to be begun again.” And I remember Fra Giovanni’s words: “There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!” I hope that you will keep looking into the darkness and seeing the light.
Clarity and Grace by Lorraine
As we move through this time of transition, I find myself looking back, remembering the path that led us here and lessons of the early years, as well as looking ahead. We came to the farm in 2001 and 9/11 changed so many things just at the time we were figuring out how to carry on the work after the others moved on. Now stepping back, I remember how the time of stepping up stretched me. I remember doubts and disappointments as well as kindness and generosity. Under all the memories are the cycle of the seasons, the beauty and the bounty of the farm.
I remember again how we started on the path that brought us to the farm. The question ‘how much is enough?’ first led toward simplicity and recognizing the difference between wants and needs. Later it reminded us of the need to rest even though the work is never done. This growing season it helps me keep my balance during this transition time when I am stepping back but not yet gone. Reading John Woolman’s journals led us first to Quaker Meeting and eventually to the farm. Quaker testimonies and Catholic Worker principles had much in common. The practice of silence is common to many faith traditions and visitors could readily join us at prayer. Woolman’s humility and his persistence as he urged Friends to stand against slavery impressed me then, and I think of him now as the nation struggles with its history of racism. Reading John Lewis’ Walking with the Wind: a memoir of the movement and listening to the news this summer were stark reminders of how far we have to go.
Now, as when we were moving into this life at the farm, fear is growing and crises abound in the wider world. The uncertainties of the Covid pandemic make it hard to plan ahead. The bitter chaos of this election year emphasizes growing divisions within families, faith communities and the nation. In another season of record wildfires, droughts, floods and hurricanes, I’m grateful that our well isn’t dry and our woods aren’t burning, while we grapple with the smaller effects of climate change on our own growing season and know that none of us are adjusting quickly enough to address the problems. Too many refugees flee terror or starvation and find no safe haven, the gap between rich and poor grows into a chasm, trust in science and in religious and political leaders dwindles. I want to find common ground and do something constructive but feel discouraged. I get slower as the problems loom larger.
But even slowing down has its points. I can’t keep up with the care of my perennial herbs and flowers, but I still have plants to divide and share. I made my echinacea tincture and dried herbs for tea. I wove ribbon and lavender sachets in the summer. This fall I collected autumn leaves and preserved some with glycerine and sent them to Marge with a wooden bowl Zach had turned and a collection of cones, feathers, shells and stones. I made her a ‘winter woods garden’ in a jar with Christmas fern, partridgeberry, and sweet woodruff and hoped these would make up for the nature walks she has missed this year. I had time to think of things Sr. Louise could enjoy without the vision she is losing and so sent her dried lavender and balsam fir in a small branch box Zach had made. Taking more breaks has given me time to savor the things I’ll miss when I leave. I hope that just as I tried to teach my children the value of working well when we all were younger, I can set an example to them now of how to rest and when to stop.
I remember things that helped me through the early days here and find them still helpful. Starting each day with a half hour of prayer. Working with my hands. Walking at dawn or at dusk, noticing the light as it changes. Noticing the small beauties near at hand—ripples on the water, the song of the brook, the succession of blossoms through the season, fragrance of herbs, calls of owls and coyotes. Sharing the work and the wonder with whoever is willing to take the time. Lighting Advent candles in this darkest time—first hope, then peace, then joy and love.
This fall started unusually dry, as the summer was, but in late October we finally got enough rain to fill the streams up again. I took advantage of the dry ground conditions to cut a number of large dead ash and maple trees and skid them out with the log arch. I’ve been gradually cutting them up and the lumber stacks in the loft are growing. I’ll be getting some hickory and oak cut before the end of November.
Once the summer woodshed got emptied out I mostly refilled it, leaving some room for slabs to be put in as they are produced at the sawmill. The firewood stack in the sugar house is also filled up with slabs now, ready for next spring. Soon I’ll start cutting firewood and dumping it outside the main woodshed to be put in next spring when it’s empty. Last winter that worked out well and saved time last spring.
I am very grateful that I didn’t have to try to process the pig myself after all. Our hauler called in October and said they were coming our way to get some other pigs and could get our pig too, and that they thought since it was just one they could get it squeezed onto the schedule at the butcher shop. Everything went according to their plan, and by the time the pig left it had reached a quite respectable size. For some reason this year’s pig grew slowly through the early part of the season and then grew very fast for the last 6 weeks or so.
The potato barrel experiment worked out pretty well. I got 13 pounds from one half barrel and 9 from the other. I don’t know why one did so much better since they were located side by side and had compost and seed potatoes from the same sources. I maybe didn’t water them as much as I should have given how dry of a year it was.
The apples this year were more plentiful and lasted longer than any year I can recall. I pressed a batch of 5-10 gallons of cider about once a week from late August through mid-November, and we gave away a lot to people who came by. Some folks also gave us containers to put cider in, which was a big help. As usual we also made applesauce and canned it, and froze apple slices.
Back in the summer we heard on the radio that because of COVID-19 some boards of elections around the country were short on election inspectors for the fall election. I went to a training in Oswego in September and then was assigned to be a poll worker in Sandy Creek. I had never done this before and it was a good experience, though a long day, since I had to be there from 5 AM to nearly 10 PM.
During the transition period here at the farm I have been spending more days in the shop building musical instruments, and paying the farm for each day. This way I am able to keep up with increasing orders to my business, and the farm has another source of income. During the fall I have been averaging a day per week in the shop, mostly on wet days, and as winter comes on I hope to move toward two days a week.
Farming Update (written 11-9-2020) by Joanna
The growing season has been changeable and unpredictable as the rest of the year. The summer and early fall were very dry. Then the weather turned cold early—we had our first patchy frost in mid-September, two weeks before I’d have expected it. Then the rain began and just kept falling: the streams filled, the salmon ran, and the ground turned squashy. One cold damp day I hurried to get the root crops in. Coming down the muddy walk with a garden cart full of bread trays of cleaned and sorted carrots, I fell and lost control of the cart, which ran one wheel into the gate, stopped abruptly, and tipped over, dumping all my trays into the mud. Now, well into November, we’re having balmy sunny days in the 50s and 60s. I’m enjoying these days as I clear and mulch beds and get ready for winter.
The harvests have been as mixed as the weather. The onions and potatoes were small, and gnawed, respectively, by onion maggots and chipmunks; we have all we need and had a little to give away, but not as much as usual. Still, I enjoyed digging potatoes along with Courtney and her four-year-old son, who seemed to enjoy the widely varied sizes and shapes of the spuds as well as the praying mantis we found in one bed.
The carrots, which I put on the drip system this year, grew huge. I packed 11 5-gallon pails for our winter use, sent 120 pounds to a trailer community for low-income seniors, and still had a fair bit to send with others who could use them. Parsnips and turnips also throve. We’ve had our best year yet for broccoli and brussels sprouts–we haven’t been preserving these but had plenty to eat fresh. We canned 110 quarts of tomatoes, dried 16, and had plenty to give away. The peppers also throve. We enjoyed the eggplant we had, though we would have been happy with more. We’re still getting plenty of kale and lettuce from the garden, and the greenhouse kale and lettuce are also ready to harvest.
The goats and rabbits are doing well. Our hens are still laying copiously, though they’re getting elderly. We’re not sure whether or not we’ll start new chicks next spring—that depends on how the transition goes. I don’t know what comes next, but I’m grateful for the year we’ve had, surprises and all.
A home landscape enables personal subsistence but also generosity. It enables community to exist and function. –Wendell Berry
Wounded Warrior Deer Hunt by Tim
For a number of years the Oswego County Wild Turkey Federation has hosted a Wounded Warrior deer hunt on opening day of the Northern Zone muzzleloader season. The veterans meet their volunteer “guides” early in the morning at the Lacona fire station. After the morning’s hunt, they meet for lunch at the Albion Fish and Game Club, and then end the day regathering at the fire station. The event is intended not only to provide a day of hunting, but to also provide an opportunity for the guides to thank the warriors for their service in a tangible way and to provide opportunities for the building of friendships. This year the event, which was attended by 8 wounded warriors, was held on October 17. Zach’s friend Tim served as the guide for Matt, a wounded veteran who lives near Rochester, NY. Tim and Matt were grateful for the opportunity to hunt on St Francis Farm. Even though they didn’t see any deer, they enjoyed being able to spend a few hours sitting quietly and taking in the natural sights and sounds of the farm.
Pandemic and winter open up space for reading. We’ve enjoyed borrowing, lending, and discussing books with friends. Here are a few that we’ve found eye-opening. We’d like to hear your recommendations.
Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton (wide-ranging journal from the 1960s)
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson (examining systems of inequality in the US, in India, and in Nazi Germany)
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman (arguing that there is more goodness in us than we usually admit, and considering how this knowledge might help us bring out the best in each other)
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (a thoughtful novel about religion, science, race, immigration, addiction, and freedom)
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083