from our September 2020 newsletter
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.