from our September 2019 newsletter
I first heard of St. Francis Farm from a former volunteer on a forum dedicated to progressive Christian thought, and was immediately intrigued by the life of prayer, quiet, and of course agricultural work that took place on the farm. For a week in July, I finally got the chance to visit St. Francis Farm and reflect on its message for my life and our times.
For someone starting graduate school this fall who grew up largely in the suburbs, St. Francis Farm embodied a radically different way of living and working. I had experience doing manual labor and even a little farm work, but the pace and quantity of the work here was challenging to me. Yet this challenge was not without its rewards: not only did I learn all sorts of practical skills, from milking goats to gardening to making cheese, but I found my work mentally rewarding and had little difficulty focusing on it or pushing through a given task. Lorraine, Joanna and Zach were incredibly helpful in showing me the ropes and were always patient with my mistakes as I learned.
For me, the change of pace that agricultural life represented was only a small part of a much larger challenge posed by St. Francis Farm: a challenge to think critically about what we consume, the consequences of our actions, and what really matters in life. As I negotiated the differences between life on St. Francis Farm and my life at home, I frequently found myself asking “do I really need that?” The Hoyt family provides a powerful example of a life built around conscientious consumption, economic charity and self-reliance, and attention to spiritual and communal needs over individual and material wants.
I do not see the challenge of St. Francis Farm negatively at all. My time here was a sign of the profound joy and peace a conscientious lifestyle can bring. I loved having blocks of time set aside for prayer and a clear balance between my work on the farm and my pursuit of other interests during my off time. While eating food that was largely grown locally was a new experience, the meals tasted delicious and it felt incredibly rewarding to contribute to all stages of the production of what I was eating. Even drinking a glass of cool spring water after a few hours’ work filled me with gratitude and reminded me of the value of my work. Perhaps most meaningfully to me, St. Francis Farm combined its productivity with community and hospitality. Not only were the Hoyts incredibly welcoming to me and brilliant conversation partners, but stories about past volunteers and my brief meetings with locals attested to an ongoing and expanding community and let me feel connected to past (and future) volunteers at the farm and those who benefited from it. This feeling was very humbling, to be sure, but also a chance to recognize the value of my contributions to a broader community.
I do not yet know if my life will lead me to embrace an agricultural lifestyle like the one I experienced during my time at St. Francis Farm, but I can say I hope to take the lessons I’ve learned with me no matter where I go. In this regard, I hope to answer the challenge that St. Francis Farm represents to our materialistic culture by letting the example of community, friendship, hard work and all of its rewards affect my relationships with others and my thinking about issues even if I live in the city – or the suburbs. Thank you.
from our September 2019 newsletter