SLOWING DOWN by Lorraine Hoyt
Last time we wrote a newsletter we were just finishing up the last fall tasks we could squeeze in before the weather broke and looking ahead to the slow time. Now it is March with the geese calling in the morning and always headed north and pruning underway in the orchard and seedlings started under grow lights. The slow time is over and it is time to send out another letter with whatever we learned during those snowy months we spent hibernating in the barn.
We learned that we’ll have to go slowly and that trying to hurry doesn’t accomplish much. We wanted to invite people in, to let them know that in spite of the changes, the work goes on. We called and invited and drove to the homes that had no phone and invited and still so few came to the coffee house in October and the gathering for crafts and carols in December. Over and over we invited people and the invitations were accepted and people didn’t show up. I had to slow down. I had to find time to talk to one person at a time, when they stopped by for whatever reason and whatever else I was doing. Not just for a few minutes but for a few hours. I needed to hear the losses—Fr. Ray’s death with changes that brought to Unity Acres and the closing of the Richland Family Center and then the departure of Joan and John, of Tom and then of the folks who immediately preceded us. We read the book about Fr. Ray McVey and we listened and we began to understand.
Dan and I started to tutor two children, thinking that they needed a little brushing up of their math skills before entering another grade. But it wasn’t that simple. They were so discouraged by school and so were their parents. Nobody really expected them to succeed. Just the sight of the books made them hunch their shoulders and lower their eyes and give up any hope of understanding. We stopped trying to tutor, stopped asking about homework and brought them to the farm. We drew and played chess and went sledding and laughed and made wooden toys and figured out tangram puzzles and played Set. They opened out a little and sometimes asked for help with an assignment. The parents were frustrated when the progress reports showed no improvement and wanted us to go back to tutoring. But at least now there is some connection, some trust. I’ve made contact with the teachers and can start again with some understanding of the school’s point of view and some comfort on the part of the children. And the knowledge that it will go slowly and the patience to live with that.
Last fall we looked with some satisfaction at the newly painted farmhouse and at the tarring done to the barn roof. Then the rains came and the snow and the skylights still leaked and in one storm in February a chunk of the roll roofing blew right off and had to be replaced in a snowstorm. And the farmhouse paint is beginning to peel as the snow melts and the mud thickens. Zach had tried to tell us that we needed to scrape not just the loose paint but all the built-up layers last summer but he was only 15 and the job looked so big anyway and the new paint looked so good and fresh. Some of it will hold and some large sections will need to be done over. We will have to start again and be patient with the time it takes. We feel daunted at the thought of getting up on the barn roof again and having more major work to do. But someone will be willing to help and to teach us and we will keep learning and working.
We thought that many of the questions we face here were ours alone and we wondered where to look for answers. Then we received a copy of a new book on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement and realized that there are other farms and houses across the country and around the world grappling with the same issues. Only the details are different. It is not just that there have been so many changes right here in this place. The changes are everywhere and we are in the middle of the questions about the viability of Peter Maurin’s vision of farming communities, about the connection between CW and the Catholic Church and other people of faith, about the balance between personalism and organization. And others who have been in this work in other places and for much longer than us have been generous with their time, calling and writing their perspectives on the questions. And again we must be patient enough to sit with the questions and not hurry the answers.
We have had to be patient waiting for the groups who have been so much a part of the identity and purpose of the farm for the past 8 years. The groups scheduled for fall didn’t come and the response to our mailing for groups for another year was discouraging. Schools and parishes were struggling with their own problems in the changing world and we began to wonder what we were doing wrong. Here we were in this barn renovated for the housing of groups and it was empty. The neighbors kept asking when groups would come again and we kept wondering ourselves. But on March 1st the Spanish Apostolate arrived for the weekend of their usual Lenten retreat. The barn was filled with their music and the delicious smells of their cooking. In spite of our lack of Spanish they welcomed us at their meals and worship. Sunday, just hours after they left, twelve students from Boston College arrived after months of uncertainty due to changes in the Appalachia program there. We had a wonderful week with them, getting lots of work done, not much sleep and much laughter and conversation. We have plenty of confirmation retreats lined up for weekends and another longer group in April, new to the farm, and summer groups scheduling who have come in past years.
We want to grow more of our own food, want goats for milk and hens for eggs and bees for honey. But it takes many calls to track down milking goats that we can buy and it is nearly impossible to buy laying hens in a world where small farms are disappearing and we can’t use the hives that are here at the farm because of the disease that killed off the bees a few years ago. We have to be patient and try again and again. We think of planting blueberries and adding to the asparagus patch and inoculating logs with mushroom spore and wonder if we’ll have the time and energy for all these projects and whether we’ll stay here long enough to make them worthwhile. They take time, require patience.
We begin each day in the chapel, waiting in the silence for our hearts to center and our minds to clear. Sometimes it is hard to be still with all the things that need to be done circling through my mind. Some days everyone seems irritable and all the little things go wrong and we need to slow down and make time for the relationships between the four of us living here. Community life isn’t built once and for all and then done and we can get on to other things. It must be tended like a garden or it goes to weeds, withers up in a drought. We have to slow down and notice each other and not be too hurried to be grateful. Ever so slowly I am learning to be patient and as I learn this simplest lesson, the work is accomplished through me or in spite of me, and however small it seems, it is enough.
LIMITS by Dan Wilckens
Living at the farm for six months and taking on new responsibilities has made me aware of the connection between limits and freedom. I am learning that freedom is found not by breaking all records, doing the impossible, but by respecting the limits of things, things that cannot be changed; otherwise, we waste our freedom trying to change the unchangeable. Since our time is limited, we must make decisions about what to do with the time we do have. Since our energy is limited, we must make decisions about what to expend it on. Since our attention is limited, we have to decide what to pay attention to. Limits aren’t bad; they are there to guide us: making these little decisions allows us to see what is important to us.
Our culture, however, seems to tell us that limits are bad, that they must be constantly fought and broken. Certainly, this attitude was a part of me, manifested in competitiveness and perpetual dissatisfaction with what I had achieved. I lacked gratitude for the gifts (esp., talents) which I possess, and I was reluctant to see my gifts as anything more than things which I won by my own hard work. Break your limits by pushing yourself harder! is the message of much of contemporary culture. Society seems to teach us that all of what we have was won by our hard work, and those who have not, have not because they are simply lazy. This justifies keeping the homeless homeless, etc. The fact is that many people, no matter how hard they may work, don’t have an opportunity to “succeed”.
It is so easy in this society to forget that there are real limits. In an automobile all you need to do is move your foot and presto, you’re going seventy miles an hour. It wasn’t until I began to ride a bike again here at the farm that I realized how much energy it takes to go up hills and maintain a fairly moderate speed on even a slight incline. It wasn’t until I biked into town that I realized how far away it actually was—the miles go by so quickly in a car that I hardly notice the distance. It wasn’t until I came to the farm that I realized how much time it takes for simple things like keeping the floors and bathrooms clean or preparing a meal.
Only when we are aware of our limits do we realize that we need to decide what to do with what we’re given, that we have choices. It’s very easy to not make any decisions when you feel like time bends to accommodate your momentary whims.
Although it is possible to grow and transcend our personal limitations, this is done not by denying our limits, but by first seeing them clearly and then respecting them. I’ve made myself frantic too many times trying to deny that time is limited, i.e. procrastinating—doing whatever I want to at the moment and then being surprised when I come right up against deadlines.
When we begin to see our limitations, we begin to see our gifts as what they are. Accepting our limits means accepting our gifts also. The result is gratitude.
The mission of St. Francis Farm is to live an alternative to the consumer culture, to model a way of life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles. We seek to help others live in this way by our example, by providing material and practical assistance, and by offering prayerful presence and a place for reflection.
The mission is expressed in the core community by integrating worship, work, service, subsistence and recreation, by sharing prayers, meals, and mental and physical labor, by encouraging community members to take responsibility for areas of work that match their gifts, by preserving time to pray and share our spiritual journeys, and by caring for the health of the land and growing what we can of our own food.
We practice our mission with our neighbors by inviting children and families in to learn, play and build confidence, by inviting them to garden and care for animals with us, by providing physical help (repairs, yard work, handicapped ramps) for those who need them, by listening to elders, trailer families, parents and kids, men from Unity Acres and by modeling a satisfying way of life that is not based on consumption.
We practice our mission with groups by exposing them to poverty (voluntary and otherwise), to silence, to necessary communal work, to a slower pace and a different perspective and by taking time to listen to them.
Our way of life itself is a witness to our resistance and other actions will grow out of the community life as it develops.
LIVING OUT THE MISSION by Joanna Hoyt
During the last month I have been blessed with the chance to spend time every week with “Amy” and “Michelle.” Amy is in elementary school and Michelle in junior high. Both came from a rather difficult birth family. A nearby charitable organization introduced us to their foster parents, who were looking for someone to spend time with the girls and give them some time to rest. They were concerned about Michelle, who is having trouble with her schoolwork. The mother explained that she didn’t have Motivation. I was rather alarmed when I was given the lists of diagnoses for the girls but have found them simply delightful.
Amy is energetic and curious about everything. She loves to sing–hymns, patriotic songs, love songs, anything with a good tune. She’s eager to run, climb, explore, go as high as she possibly can on the long-roped swing we put up by the pond, collect more rocks than she is able to carry out of the pasture (“But they’re all prettyful!”), throw sticks in the brook and run down past the bridge to fish them out again. She is also afraid of loud noises and dimly lit spaces, and it took her a while to get up her courage to approach the cows. When we have goats and chickens she’ll be happier.
Michelle is quieter, more wary. But when she picks up a musical instrument or a paintbrush she becomes intensely focused, and it is plain that she has a gift. She painted an island in the river, and it looked like a real island glimpsed from a distance, with lights and shadows playing in the trees. When I was looking down at my red dragon on a blue sky and feeling not quite satisfied she said, “Try a little green in the sky over here.” And she was right; the red stood out sharply against the new color, and the dragon looked much more alive. Unfortunately, she always says that her pictures are ugly. She doesn’t read music. She improvises beautifully on our little harp, and the music is emotionally charged. She does not like to be looked at while she plays. At school she is not allowed to be in the band or chorus because some of her grades are low. I can’t imagine that this helps her to be more confident or motivated.
Mostly the girls just need what all children—all people—need; time and space to explore the things that interest them, and someone to listen to them. At first they were surprised by all the things we didn’t have. (“Don’t you have any candy?…..soda…?instead of just fruit and crackers and juice? Don’t you even have a TV?”) And when I looked at the list of activities that the charity through which I met them suggested and saw trips to movies, arcade games, amusement parks, I wondered if I had grown up too far from this culture to be able to connect well with these girls. But they gladly accept the things that matter to me, the things that I really want to share; the beauty of the full brook, the exhilaration of sledding in the hayfield in a high wind, music, painting, time to talk and sing together. And I am enriched by Amy’s exuberance and Michelle’s acute perceptions, and heartened by having more friends to share the things I love.
On Thursday, January 24, we attended the interfaith Pilgrimage of Prayer for Peace in Syracuse, a timely and much needed gathering. Representatives from the Buddhist, Sikh, and Reformed Jewish communities as well as various Christian groups led prayers and reminded the gathering of our common hungers, loves, and hopes. Many stressed the need to begin by creating peace within one’s own soul, then one’s family and then one’s community. This was encouraging to us since in this time of global upheaval, our work has been to make peace on a much smaller scale.
One of the speakers was a woman from the Sikh community of Gobind Sadan, which had put a great deal of energy into bringing people of faith from all traditions together to pray and work for peace. Their temple was burned down in the early fall by someone who thought their sign read “Go bin Laden”. The woman with whom we spoke after the ceremony was very gracious and gentle in spite of what had been done to her. She smiled when we said we were Quaker, and said that just after their temple burned the American Friends Service Committee called to offer help. We had a very pleasant conversation with her, and left our address with her; when they are ready to rebuild this spring, we may be able to help them. In any case, we hope to come to know them better.
After the service we stayed the night at Slocum House, and in the morning Zachary and I got on a bus for Maine, where we had been invited to speak at a regional gathering of Quakers. The theme of the afternoon program was “How I live out the Peace Testimony.” There were two other speakers. An older Friend spoke about his experiences as a draft resister during World War II. He spent time in prison, where he advocated for his fellow prisoners. A younger Friend spoke about his attempts to reconcile his spiritual beliefs and his way of interacting with his family and Friends with his life at school, surrounded by a culture that did not encourage gentleness or care for one’s neighbor. And Zachary and I spoke of our attempts to live at peace with each other in community, to be present to our neighbors and seek to reconcile opposing groups among them, and to model a way of life that is centered on love of neighbor and that does not support the culture of war.
We have started to prune the apple orchard. The pruning guides all have pictures of young trees that have been carefully pruned from the beginning, and some recommend replacing fruit trees every few years; but last year some of the trees bore richly, and we want to preserve and care for them. We are slowly developing a sense of which branches are healthy and well-placed, and which need to go.
We’ve drawn up a plan for the garden. One end of it will be planted with cover crops and green manures to suppress weeds and increase fertility, and we’ll put in some rock-picking over the summer. Our vegetables will be grown in the end which has been under cultivation longer, and which has some established beds in it. Terry Thurston, one of our tenants, will have one of the beds. We’re looking forward to working with her. We also have a small area designated as a children’s garden. Gardening is fun work, and maybe kids who help us with it will be more likely to eat some of the vegetables.
We have prepared housing for dairy goats, which I hope to bring here in a month or so. We have been told that their grazing will help our hayfields, which are still somewhat brushy. Certainly their manure will help us enrich the soil. We are having a harder time finding sources of laying hens. We hoped to have hens for eggs, and also because they are useful in orchards and unused areas in the garden, where they eat harmful bugs, fertilize the soil and loosen it by scratching. I am told that poultry farming is dying out and nobody has hens for sale. The woman who runs the local co-op says that more than half of the farms in her town and the neighboring one have closed in the last ten years. It seems all the more urgent to me to become a farmer now, to help preserve the skills that are being lost and to make it easier for the next person who comes to work on the land.
We were somewhat apprehensive about hosting our first weeklong group on our own. We wanted to integrate the group into the rhythm of work, prayer, discussion, meals and recreation that we lived normally, and we wondered if the students would experience this as a letdown from their fast-paced lives. But the students from Boston College were very willing to live at our pace for a while, experience silent prayer in the Quaker tradition, help us in slow manual work, and have unstructured time to explore the woods and visit the cows and read books in the chapel.
We also managed to get some good work done and have a lot of fun. With the group we helped a mother to clean and paint the house that she would be moving into with her husband and 9 children, worked with Rural and Migrant Ministries in a variety of ways, built a pen for our milk goats, started seeds indoors and hosted an evening of games, crafts and music for local families with kids. As usual, we invited many people and a fairly small number came, so we and the group were really able to spend one-on-one time with our neighbors. We got to know some new people and had a wonderful time. It would have been much harder without the energy and ideas of the students.
We also talked with the group about some of the more complicated parts of our work, people we didn’t know how to help, choices we didn’t know how to make. I think we pushed their comfort level, but I think they learned from it, and I know we benefited from the fresh perspectives they brought. And they talked to us about the questions and challenges they faced in the path they had chosen, which is very different from ours. One young woman said that college was difficult because she was always working hard to finish the project so she could get a good grade in the course so she could get into the program next year so she could…..and she never had time just to stop and enjoy the present moment. A young man said that he was thinking about some difficult decisions about the next few years of his life, and he needed time and space to think about them.
Yes, we have gotten back into distributing donations. We hope that our time off has helped us to set some clear limits so that we will not end up overwhelmed with stuff again. Some of our neighbors to whom we pass things on have said that we were wise to stop for a while, that the situation was getting out of control and now the place is cleaner and the distribution saner.
At the farm we could use old bathtubs (for holding water on the hilltop by the garden and for soaking logs on which we will grow mushrooms), pruning saws and manual (NOT gas or electric) weed whackers, garden hoses, wheelbarrows, a garden cart, axes, sledgehammers, mauls, wedges, shovels, picks, a chainsaw and chaps, fasteners (no wood screws, please—only drywall), hinges, a utility trailer and a hydraulic splitter (for firewood), and bicycles in any condition (Zach can repair old ones or get parts from them.) Our neighbors could use children’s clothing (we have received lovely clothes for infants and toddlers; older kids’ clothes would be especially helpful now), art materials, and good games and books for children, as well as furniture of all kinds (Zachary can repair wooden furniture, but we cannot use stuffed furniture that is in poor condition). Since the needs around us and the supplies we have are constantly changing, and our storage space is limited, we ask our friends to call before bringing donations.
JOE (prodded by Jen!) VISITS THE FARM
It’s Spring vacation, so—as I have done more than once—I went to the farmer’s market in Baltimore (only fair to bring some edibles for the folks who will feed you) and then zipped north through the lovely hills of central Pennsylvania and New York on the seven-hour drive to St. Francis Farm. Turning the corner onto Wart Road, I felt very much at home, though for the first time in years I had met noneof the current resi-dents. Even before a couple of friendly phone conversations with Lorraine, I felt quite sure that I would be cordially welcomed—as indeed I was. And then it was a special treat for us all to have Christy and Mike join us for several hours on Sunday afternoon (would you be surprised to learn that they left with a large and very fresh steelhead?).
It’s an understatement to say that a lot has changed here. Most important, the four stewards are all in their first year (actually in residence barely six months)—and some of the physical arrangements have changed as well: the farmhouse is unoccupied, undergoing major overhaul, long overdue. Preparations are underway to welcome goats. And so on.
But some fundamental things don’t change, though the details vary: the never-ending requests for assistance from sources familiar and unfamiliar, for services and items predictable and those almost unimaginable, often dropped on the “staff” at unexpected and inconvenient times (and sometimes demands for immediate satisfaction!).
Well, Lorraine and Joanna and Zachary and Dan certainly would not be here if they did not expect and desire to provide (almost without limit or conditions) know-how, advice, consolation, information, food, furniture, rides, and … (fill in!). So this most important element of St. Francis Farm has not changed: that the folks here are ready, willing, and well-prepared by their perceptive listening, compassion, imagination, lack of ego, and seemingly inexhaustible patience and good will to minister to the residents of the area (as well as those who come from afar), seven days a week and almost around the clock.
So: this wonderful community—following in the footsteps of Dorothy and Francis, John and Joan, Tom and C.J. and Phil and … — is in good hands. May they and their work prosper! –Joe Morton, Baltimore, MD—occasional visitor
MAINTENANCE & CONSTRUCTION by Zachary Hoyt
During the winter we closed up the farmhouse, because there are only four of us living here and it saves a lot of money not to try to heat it. Dave McWilliams came and drained the pipes for us in December, and turned the water and the furnace back on for us in the end of February, in time for the Apostolate’s arrival on March 1. We have begun restoring one of the small bedrooms on the first floor. We intended to paint it, but when we began washing the walls bits of them began tearing off. It turns out that there are three layers of wallpaper with paint in between, and two borders around the top. Some of the plaster is water damaged, and will need to be replaced with drywall. The farmhouse has considerable problems with moisture. We are not sure if this is due to poor drainage, water in the basement, or problems with the roof leaking. We are going to have to take a close look at these problems and try to counteract them if the farmhouse is going to be livable for many more years. In the living room the ceiling was raised about two feet last year, and that exposed several different layers of wall, which do not all reach the ceiling. From the outside in there is: paneling, barn board, and wallpapered (and very crumbly) plaster. We are considering taking it all out down to the studs and drywalling. In the laundry room the floor is very wavy, and soft in places, and we will need to replace at least the subflooring. The porch is sagging at least a foot in one corner, and we are investigating the possibility of jacking it up and putting blocks underneath. The painting of the house exterior which was done last fall is already flaking off, but we are not sure if the reason is “alligatoring” which occurs if there are too many layers already on the wall, or a problem stemming from the general dampness of the house.
In February, two pieces of roll roofing blew off the back side of the barn roof, and we are going to have to replace that side of the roof before next winter. We expect this to be a difficult job, due to the curve of the roof. We are also not sure whether to shingle it, or look into putting metal roofing up. During the winter we painted the walls of both dorms, the living/ dining rooms, and the stairwells. We also put up trim boards where there were exposed edges of drywall, so that they wouldn’t chip, and around the interior doorways.
In the trailers we have gotten a good bit of work done, but there is still a lot more to do. We have pumped three septic tanks, replaced an exterior door in the oldest trailer, repaired a water heater, replaced a set of shower fixtures, and patched some of the skirting. This year we need to do something about the roofs of the two oldest trailers, and replace a lot of windows which are falling apart. We are hoping to be able to build peaked roofs over the trailers with leaky roofs, and make the window openings fit the spare windows we have around.
We welcome donations of time and knowledge to help us figure out what would be the best course to follow in dealing with some of these problems, and building materials, especially lumber, roofing and drywall would be very much appreciated.
NETWORKS by Lorraine
Coming to live and work at St. Francis Farm felt at first very much like an uprooting, and I reacted as a plant might when transplanted. I didn’t know the places and I didn’t know the people and it seemed I would never learn all the names and put them to faces. When I answered the phone, I could almost never picture the person at the other end of the line. When someone gave us directions, I had to ask them to slow down and start from somewhere I actually knew. I didn’t know who to ask for help or where to find the things we needed. But slowly my roots are taking hold in this new place and it begins to feel familiar, to be home. As I recover from the shock of my transplanting, I become aware of the network of people and organizations working on the same things we work on at the farm and realize that we are not alone.
Our first connections are with Fr. Ray’s other places, with Unity Acres and with Rural & Migrant Ministry which has grown up in the old Richland Family Center building, still owned by UA. Men from the Acres plow us out when the snow comes, whether the total fall is in feet or inches. Groups that visit the Acres come for a tour of the farm and groups who spend a day or a week at the farm go for a tour of the Acres, sometimes for a meal and a chance to talk with the men, sometimes to do some work, always to learn about the mission there. We wrapped presents for the men when snow prevented the folks who had planned to come from Syracuse, and on Christmas morning we found baskets in the entry to the barn with warm wool sweaters and hats and gloves—from Unity Acres.
Sr. Louise still comes faithfully each week to listen to me as I find my way in this work, and we go often to her or Sr. Sharon for advice when we are working with people they have known longer than we have. Rural & Migrant Ministry was a worksite for the Boston College group on their alternative spring break and an educational opportunity. The sisters came and had supper with us one night and Sr. Louise was able to stay for a discussion with the students of their week here. Sr. Sharon took 8 of the students with her on Friday to help unload a truck and distribute food at a church in Williamstown. And we are still looking forward to working with them at the after school program that is long-delayed but soon to start.
The Friendship Shop in Sandy Creek has become the place where we take the donations we can’t handle here. Run cooperatively by several area churches, it takes clothing and household items and sells them at minimal cost or provides them free when necessary. We go and help unload the truck that supplies the food pantry behind the Friendship Shop, and when Unity Acres gave us 31 fifty-pound bags of potatoes and we had distributed all we could ourselves, we took the remainder to the pantry. A couple weeks later when Jo and Zach were there to help with the spring transfer of clothing in and out of storage, they heard the story of the potatoes. Peg Manchester, mayor of Sandy Creek and overseer of the thrift store and food pantry had recently celebrated her 50th birthday. Her sisters, as a joke, put an ad in the local paper saying that in observance of this milestone Peg had 50 bags of potatoes, 50 pounds each to give to the first 50 people who called her. Peg at that point had no bags of potatoes and as the calls came in and people were disappointed, she wasn’t much amused by the joke. Then came our call and the bags of potatoes which were quickly distributed and occasioned much laughter.
We wrote to other Catholic Worker farms and houses over the winter as we had time to read more about the movement and see the questions with which we struggle in a broader context. They responded with practical suggestions and warm welcome. We discovered in an exchange of Christmas letters that old family friends knew a 92 year old Catholic worker who was at the first of the farms Peter Maurin started. These friends passed along their copy of our newsletter to this friend, Cyril Echele, who sent us a letter with old photographs and stories, memories and encouragement. We heard from a young man in New Zealand who is interested in starting a CW farm there and will visit us when he is in the US this summer. We may be few but we are not alone.
Other connections are just beginning but show much promise. We have known since the summer that the farm is actually owned or held in trust by Time of Jubilee, but for a while we had no idea what that was. We had even been told by some that it was a mere paper entity, invented by Fr. Ray to get around individual ownership of the land. But as we had more time to look about us we learned that Time of Jubilee is actually a land trust very active in Syracuse providing affordable housing and building community in the inner city. We have only begun learning about their work and sharing our work at the farm with them and look forward to working together as we get to know each other better. Similarly we had heard of the Spanish Apostolate and knew that it was a group which came to the farm each year. But when they came for their Lenten retreat and we heard their stories, we realized that here was a connection with the social justice education that we offer to the groups who come to work and worship with us. Here are others who work the land to provide food, folks who share our work and from whom we can learn.
As we are able to attend Quaker meeting in Syracuse more regularly, we find new Friends there, and with the journey back to speak at our home Meeting in Portland, we realized that the connections there remain. Tom McNamara still writes to us faithfully and reminds us to go slowly, tells us that our presence here is what matters most. Fr. Ted Sizing came for lunch and told us stories and offered helpful advice. Alain Verley who designed the renovated barn came to talk with us about his work with Habitat and our concerns about affordable housing. Terry, who lives in one of our trailers, came and told us stories about Fr. Ray and about living at Unity Acres with her family when she was a girl. Bit by bit we get to know the folks who were only names at first, people who loved and supported the farm through the early years. We get letters from some of you and begin to know more about you and your connections to this place. And we see more clearly what was always true—that we do not do this work alone.
Our efforts at conservation and your generosity have brought the farm through the winter in good financial shape. We are grateful for all the ways we have been supported in this work and depend on your continuing prayers and contributions as we move into the more active seasons. We look forward to meeting those of you who will visit the farm in the greener months and encourage you to call ahead. Please note our email address on the next page—that is a good way to contact us. Let us know if you would like to have your next newsletter e-mailed or if you’d like to be removed from the mailing list.
Quotes from our reading that helped us on the journey:
As we try to clarify our mission and understand how the farm is changing and how it fits into the Catholic Worker movement:
“We should always be attentive to disagreements and give people time to express them in the greatest possible clarity and peace, without feeling guilty or that they are being disloyal to the group or to the leader. It is so important in a community for each person to feel free to speak according to the truth of his or her own conscience. It is sad when the individual conscience is stifled and dulled by the fear of disloyalty, or, even worse, of religious disobedience. Community is not the stifling of the individual conscience but rather the enhancing of it, in truth. Communities must learn to accept and cherish differences.” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth)
And when we try to live and model an alternative and know we do it imperfectly, and when we are told that this world of the farm is not the “real” world:
“The spirituality of the circle, which implies littleness, love of little things, and humility, is not easy in our world. We are schooled from an early age to go up the ladder of human promotion, to be outstanding, to succeed and to win prizes; we are taught to fend for ourselves and to be independent. We are taught how important it is to possess knowledge, success, power, and reputation. We are taught to put external values over and above internal ones. However, the Gospels call us to love and live the Beatitudes; to die to ourselves.” (Jean Vanier, Community and Growth)
And when the phone keeps ringing and there are too many demands for us to respond and needs beyond our capacity to meet and we feel like failures and lose our focus:
“It is not easy to enter into the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: ‘You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests.’ The movement of God’s Spirit is very gentle, very soft and hidden. It does not seek attention. But that movement is also very persistent, strong, and deep. It changes our hearts radically. The faithful discipline of prayer reveals to you that you are the blessed one and gives you the power to bless others.” (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved)
Quakers have no creeds, but they use Queries, questions to be reflected upon in silence: “Have I any religious experience and immediate relation to God, and hence that certainty which will keep me, as an individual, from dissolving into the crowd?” (Carl Jung, The Undiscovered Self)
PEACE TO ALL WHO ENTER HERE by Lorraine
Our first two newsletters were written in what we refer to as “the slow time” but I realize that it will be a long wait for this one if we wait for that. Spring is beautiful and busy here at the farm and at the same time that our own work becomes more demanding, requests from our neighbors pour in and the pace of visiting groups picks up. Since our March letter we have been very involved with the after-school program at Rural & Migrant Ministry, have had an initial meeting with the board of Time of Jubilee, have planted most of the garden, have acquired laying hens and failed to acquire milking goats, have repaired the septic systems for two of the trailers and have done various repairs to our farmhouse. We have been blessed by the help of some weekend groups and by the presence of Miguel who can fix a wide range of things, works faster than any of us in the garden and whistles or sings about the place whenever he thinks no one is listening. Slowly it comes clear that our real work here is making peace, or more accurately, being channels of God’s peace to those in need of it. Many times each day I pass through our front door, past the blessing painted on an interesting piece of wood, but I have just begun to recognize it as central to this place. I don’t know who the artist was who made it but the message is, “Peace to all who enter here”. And ultimately that is what we have to offer, nothing of our own, but that peace which flows from the heart of God and has sprung up for years in this place.
The children with whom we spend time, here or at the after-school program, need a place of peace. So we play games with them where cooperation is as necessary as competition, where winning and losing aren’t really relevant and the young and old, fast and slow, coordinated and clumsy can laugh and play together. We spend time with just a few children and don’t count it wasted, try to disentangle ourselves from the numbers game in which how many are in the program or activity determine its worth. Over and over we see that it is in the one-on-one encounters, on the slow days, that the deepest connections occur.
When we met with folks from Time of Jubilee, we found that our missions overlap although we work in very different places and our work is on a much smaller scale. Time of Jubilee has been working to provide affordable housing and to build community in the Southwest section of Syracuse since its formation in 1984. Fr. McVey transferred title of the farm to the trust in its very beginning and in this time of so many transitions at the farm, the holding of the land in trust offers stability and safeguards the continuity of the mission of the farm. We hope to be able to cooperate and help each other in various ways. Because Jubilee Homes is involved with the building of many homes in Syracuse, they have leftover material that they have offered us for the smaller projects we encounter here. They have experience and organization which we lack and can help us with legal and financial advice as we try to sort out our different roles here. And we have the space and the quiet that are missing in the city and hope through some of the board members to connect with groups from the city who might come and experience the peace of St. Francis Farm.
The gardens this spring have been places of much strenuous work and also places of peace. We decided to leave the tractor for hauling hay and firewood and to work the garden by hand, continuing the process of building beds and pathways so that in the future the growing areas will not be walked on and we will not be wasting compost and manure by putting it down on the paths. Working by hand has meant more quiet, more opportunity to talk as we work, more empathy with those who toil long hours with bent backs, more awareness of the toads and worms and cocoons hiding in the soil. We can hear the birds and sing ourselves and pray in peace.
The chickens live in a rolling coop with a yard beneath it so that they are on fresh grass every few days. When I am fretted in the office and can’t decide what to do, I sometimes walk to the orchard and check for eggs. The family in the trailer next to the orchard says that yes they are sometimes waked by the rooster crowing but that it is more pleasant than waking to an alarm buzzing. All winter I have pictured the job of goatherd as one of peace. We will tether the goats to graze if ever we can find goats to buy, and we’ve been told that it would be best if the goats were under observation while tethered for protection from dogs and to provide help in case of tangling. So for a couple hours in the early part of the day and again toward evening someone will go with goats and a journal or book to read or a harmonica or flute to play or just a yearning for some time apart and sit with the goats as they graze.
We have sometimes become anxious about all the needed repairs. Zachary has carried more responsibility than was fair to put on a boy his age simply because he knew more than any of the rest of us.
But this spring Dave McWilliams has helped us find energy efficient windows to replace ones that no longer work in the trailers and has fixed and taught Zach to fix some of the other problems. And Miguel has been able to look at some of the rooms in the farmhouse which Zach felt were beyond his ability and to work with Zach to make needed repairs. They jacked up the porch and repaired the roof leak where it joined the house, tore out water-damaged walls in a couple rooms and repaired them, mostly with materials previously donated. Over and over I have asked what was needed and discovered that Miguel can work wonders with “little bit compound, little bit paint”. And it is good to hear them both whistling at their work instead of seeing Zach with that worried look. Miguel keeps telling us he has found peace at St. Francis Farm and we try to tell him that he has brought peace as well.
LIVING BY GIFT by Lorraine
Over and over the question comes up of how we actually live here. Sometimes the curiosity is about the shape of our days, but often it is an economic question. Visitors here for a retreat ask it hesitantly, afraid it is intrusive. The board of Time of Jubilee asked it matter-of-factly as part of getting to know who we are and what we do. Friends and relatives ask it with concern, wanting to know that we are warm and fed and safe. And it is hard to answer to the satisfaction of the ones who ask. I assure them that the question is legitimate and that I don’t mean to evade it, that I wondered about it quite often myself in the beginning. But somehow it no longer troubles me and the nearest I can come to answering is to say we live by gift.
The very place itself is gift—the beauty of the woods and fields and water, the generosity of those who gave to Fr. McVey years ago to pay off the mortgage, the skill and sweat of those who gutted a barn and built into it dorms and kitchen and chapel, the hours of prayer spent in that chapel in the past decade so that it has become a place of and for prayer. All of these have made this a place into which we may welcome children from the surrounding community, young people from near or distant schools or churches, any who need the shelter of peace and prayer and beauty.
Our presence here is gift. We offer our time and our caring to those in need. Often they offer to pay for the yard work or the shelter or whatever they have needed and we have been able to give. We tell them then that we serve for love and that the farm is supported by gifts of love and we do not charge for the service we offer. The simple fact of our taking, making, finding time to help surprises them in a world where everyone is so busy.
And it is your gifts that make our presence here possible. I am still surprised and humbled by the people whom I have never met who send checks to St. Francis Farm so faithfully. Your financial support allows us to pay for the upkeep of the place so that it continues as gift to those in need. And groups of young people come and work harder than they have worked before, getting dirty and sometimes getting blisters to help us in the work. Sometimes they get to go and build a handicap access ramp or paint a house themselves and sometimes they haul wood and weed gardens here, helping us catch up on the chores we left to go and meet a need that wouldn’t wait until we had a group to help with it. But all the work is gift. All of it allows us to be present and to serve. We grow our food and use wood when we can instead of oil or propane and when folks help us with those simple tasks, they make our presence and service here possible. Unity Acres shares pork and beef they raise and bread and produce donated to them, gifts to supplement what we grow ourselves. The beds we sleep in and the chairs we sit in and the sofa that really fits all of us tall people are all gifts. The newly graveled driveways that make access to the trailers smoother is a gift as is the help with our roofing projects this summer. Your prayers are gifts, providing strength and wisdom on hard days when we are weary or discouraged or confused. Those who lived here before us and still take time from the busyness of their lives in other places offer gifts of advice and encouragement. Without all of this, the work could not go on.
We live by these gifts, by the grace of God, and still I have not answered the question fully. I cannot make a budget, cannot project either the need for the coming months or year or the resources which will meet it. I can only say we live by gift and that in this place I have come to know more fully than ever before that that there is no security as I used to think of it–and that we are absolutely, securely, safely held in God’s hands.
LIVING WITH THE CONTRADICTIONS by Joanna
Living at St Francis Farm has been an exercise in humility, among other things. I am more able than ever before to do the work that seems right and necessary to me, and to move toward a less destructive life. I am also more aware than ever before of the ways in which my lifestyle continues to undermine what I seek to do here. I came here seeking a simple life, and I find myself entangled in painful contradictions.
Miguel came from a farm where he worked as a migrant and was damaged in body and in spirit. We have welcomed him, enjoyed his company and been grateful for his work, and he has found work that is necessary and enjoyable and within his scope as he recovers from surgery, and a place of peace for healing of the spirit. He enjoys the sharing of meals. But when I go to the store for vegetables (because our gardens aren’t producing much that we can harvest now and we’ve gone through last year’s stores) I am uncomfortably aware that the food I am buying was probably grown by people working in inhuman conditions, and that the money I spend on it helps someone to go recruit others like Miguel.
We see our work as being channels of God’s peace; and we see many lives where this peace is needed; and we get worried about particular individuals who we don’t know how to reach, conflicts that we don’t know how to resolve, and the sheer amount of need balanced against our time and energy; and sometimes we become anxious and even resentful, and lose touch with the place where God breathes peace into us, so that all we have to share is our own discord.
I came here wishing to give freely as I had received freely, and over and over I find myself saying No; No, we don’t have any more, we gave the last one to someone else last week; No, someone else needs some of my time and energy now; No, I know you want those, but they make you sick; No, we can’t do enough to make this situation livable, and I don’t want to do enough to soothe you into staying in it longer. It is discouraging to say No so often. And yet, to always say Yes for the sake of my own comfort or to gain someone’s approval is not really generosity; it is the withholding of the love, care and restraint that we all need from other people, and most of all from God.
Which leads me to the final contradiction, or perhaps paradox, the one that brings hope. In this place I must face my own complicity, my own disharmony, my own lack of generosity or of firmness, my brokenness. This can be very painful. But as I face these things in God’s presence, even my lacks bear fruit; compassion for my fellow broken ones, and the final peace that comes from knowing that all the gifts we may give come, not from us, but from God.
MAINTENANCE AND CONSTRUCTION ON THE FARM PREMISES SINCE MARCH by Zachary
Since March we have completed our goat complex and our rolling chicken coop. The chickens have moved in, and seem reasonably content with their new home. The goat area has an exercise yard, a roofed over shed, and a milk room. We are hoping to get goats at some time in the summer.
One of our trailers has been having recurring problems with its septic system. An attempt was made last year to fix it, which cost a lot and didn’t correct the problem. We asked Dave McWilliams to fix it, and he has done an excellent job, so that we think it will not be a problem for quite some time to come.
We have also been working, under the supervision of Miguel, in the farmhouse. The living room had multiple layers of wall covering, most of which did not quite reach the ceiling, and now they have all been torn down, and the walls have been patched as needed and painted white. It makes the room much more pleasant to sit in. One of the small bedrooms opening off the living room had been dubbed the “mildew room” because it was so damp and musty, but now Miguel has fixed where the water was leaking through into its walls and patched them. The laundry room floor had been almost entirely rotted through, but now it is much better, with new plywood, and all the leaks fixed.
We also built a handicapped ramp in the town of Altmar, in June. We built it for a man who had just come back from the hospital, and is going to be in a wheelchair. Thanks to the group from St. Therese parish in Syracuse and the Lands from New Zealand for helping the farm staff.
MIGRANTS by Lorraine
For several years St. Francis Farm has welcomed the Spanish Apostolate for retreats, and the farm has from time to time offered hospitality to migrant workers who were in need of temporary hospitality. Our first encounter with the Hispanic community was in March when they came for their Lenten retreat. That was when we first met Deacon David Sweenie and began to think about including his ministry in the social justice education we offer the young people who come to us for a week or a weekend.
In May we had an opportunity to get more involved when David asked us to provide a place for Miguel to stay while he finished recovering from surgery and waited for his workmen’s compensation payments. We were a little worried about our lack of a Spanish speaker here but welcomed Miguel to the farm on May 20th. I wasn’t sure what to expect, how much English he would have and whether he could get up stairs to a second floor room. The first hours were a little awkward as he was hesitant to try his English and I was fretful about whether our food would suit him. He soon surprised us by his eagerness to work and we had to keep checking that he wasn’t doing too much, urging him to stop and rest. For someone “unable to work” he was amazing weeding or planting in the garden, repairing our vehicles, noticing the repairs needed for the farmhouse which we hadn’t known how to go about. We found that tears and laughter are the same in all languages, that injuries are to spirit as well as body, that this place of peace can be a place of healing.
Sr. Sharon brought materials she uses with Hispanic workers at area farms to help him with his English. Miguel is helping Joanna learn Spanish, an undertaking she began in March but that has gone slowly without a tutor. We sorted out the difference between too much and very much and figured out that Miguel enjoyed the lilacs on our table and wasn’t asking to have them removed when he exclaimed that “those flowers smell too much”. We are all more comfortable saying when we don’t understand and trying again until we do. Miguel still tends to “talk to my God” when he wants something instead of asking us directly. I tell him that he should just tell me what he needs because some days I am listening more carefully to God than others, but he is convinced after a couple experiences of praying that we would meet some need and then having us ask him if we could help that when he asks God, then God tells us.
June 22 when a group from St. Therese Church in Syracuse was with us, Deacon Sweenie came with several men from the farm where Miguel had been working. David spoke to us of his ministry and the men (the youngest only 17, the age of some of the retreatants) told us their stories. We all tossed frisbees in the parking lot and discovered amid much laughter that play also is universal and needs no interpreter. Miguel showed the visitors around the farm and the visitors from Syracuse made connections and received information useful to them in their teaching and serving there.
Miguel will be with us a couple more weeks. He will have time before he leaves to help us hang sheetrock for a neighbor who has moved into a new home and has children in rooms with only plastic over the insulation. He has already worked wonders in the farmhouse and has opened our eyes and taught us much. We will miss him and pray that he may carry with him the peace he has found in this place.
CHILDREN by Joanna
Since the last newsletter went out my relationship with ‘Amy’ and ‘Michelle’, the girls in foster care who spend time with me on a regular basis, has had time to grow and deepen. I introduced both girls to the local public library. Amy hurries from shelf to shelf in the children’s section and waves wildly at me whenever she finds something interesting, and tries very hard not to yell in the library. She reads snatches of many storybooks and seems to choose the ones she takes out rather randomly, but she’s plainly delighted. Michelle is beginning to have a clearer idea of what she wants and to understand the mysteries of the card catalog. She looks for books about animals; the more factual information and pictures there are, the better she likes them. She has enjoyed the variety of fish in the pond (which we catch with crackers and a dip net, then release), the snakes on its banks (she has a good eye for tiny ones, although she leaves it to me to catch them) and the bird’s nests. She has seen too many people be cruel to wild animals, and is very careful not to hurt or unduly alarm them.
We are coming to trust one another. Amy is less fearful, both of the dark spaces in the barn and of my disapproval; she begins to tease me and seem at her ease. She sings more freely and spends less time giggling nervously. Michelle is still quiet, but she begins to voice fears, hopes, frustrations, hard questions. Last week she came alone. In the middle of doll-making she asked “So do you ever fight with your mom, or do you just always like each other?” I talked about how it was when I was eleven, confused and resentful about my mother and grateful to her and wanting to be closer to her all at once. It seemed to reassure Michelle. She has talked about the difficulty of standing up to her friends, of knowing who she is and what she wants.
I see myself in Amy’s exuberance and fear, in Michelle’s trust and wariness. I hope that I can give them some of the loving attention, respect, appreciation and challenge that I have been blessed with as I struggle to grow up.
VISITORS PERSPECTIVE by Abraham and Kate Land
We have spent a most enjoyable two weeks here at St Francis Farm and Lorraine has asked us to add our bit to their June newsletter before we leave today. We have come from far away New Zealand and are traveling the U.S., visiting Catholic Worker Farms in view of starting a C.W. on our family farm back home.
Having recovered from our bus trip we got into the swing of things happening on the farm. There was gardening to do, the orchard to scythe and the Farmhouse living room to paint.
We started each day with 30 minutes of restful silence that was really good for getting through the days. The meal times and evenings were filled with very constructive conversations(or talking about the differences between N.Z. English and U.S. English), we have learnt a lot and found the balance of work, prayer and discussion very good here at St Francis Farm.
It was nice to be in a more family oriented place, after being away from home for quite some time, and we spent many happy hours with Joanna, Zachary and Dan as they are similar in age to us. We also got to see a bit of the surrounding countryside including a beautiful waterfall and the beautiful but sadly polluted Lake Ontario. The quarter hour stroll though the woods to Unity Acres for Sunday Mass was lovely as were all the places that we walked, on or around the farm.
We were lucky enough to be here during a weekend retreat for a group from Syracuse and have a sample of what this C.W. does for Groups. It was especially interesting to us as we are thinking of offering hospitality to University Groups if we start a Catholic Worker Farm in New Zealand.
The community here does a lot for the local people and one of the ways we could join in with that was to help them build a handicapped access ramp and to help hang drywall in a nearby house.
It was refreshing to do a good hard day’s work again.
St. Francis Farm is similar to what we would like to be doing in N.Z., even though this community is new and the C.W. Farm is old, unlike home where we have lived for 20 years, but a Catholic Worker Farm would be a new idea.
In conclusion, we would recommend St. Francis Farm to anyone who is seeking a way of life that is an alternative to the consumer culture as a place to stay for a while and to be encouraged to live differently and to be informed as to the joys and hardships of such a life. There is also plenty to do to help other people in a way that the Gospel asks us to. Many thanks to Lorraine, Joanna, Zachary, Dan and Miguel for making our stay so awesome and worthwhile.
Quotes from our reading:
All genuine instruction ends in a kind of silence, for when I live it, it is no longer necessary for my speaking to be audible. –Kierkegaard
In our world of degrees, exams and training programs, it is easy to forget that ministry is not primarily a task; it is a way of being in the world. Ministry is being able to listen to the Word of God and thereby have a word of life to share with others. –Sandra Cronk Dark Night Journey
The most fundamental thing anyone can do is to bring a person into the presence of God, and leave him there. –Thomas Kelly The Eternal Promise
What we lose on the cross is the burden of falsehood and illusion. What lives beyond the cross is the uplifting power of love. . . The paradox of our own crossing points is that pain kills illusion so that truth can bring joy. –Parker J. Palmer The Promise of Paradox
When we treat the world not as gift but as plunder, we destroy the gift we have been given, a gift which will sustain us if we receive it in gratitude and humility. –Ibid.
Our current needs and wishes include:One or two milking goats. The breed doesn’t matter but the less fractious the goats are the better for us as novices. We have thought we had lined up goats several times, but either the owners changed their minds about selling or told us that the reason the goats were for sale was that they were too hard for them to milk.
Roofing help. We need to shingle the back half of the barn and repair the roofs of two of the trailers. We are grateful for the professional advice we have received and the donation of rubber roofing to put on the trailers. We would be glad of anyone with experience with either rubber roofing or working on barn roofs (the continuous curve seems difficult to us) coming to work with us even briefly to advise and correct us. Also we could use donated shingles and roofing nails.
Binoculars. This may seem an odd request but we find that many of our visitors are inspired and delighted by the natural beauty of the farm and our binoculars get passed around to look at frogs and birds. Also books on pond life or native freshwater fish would be helpful. (We have good bird and wildflower books we found here or brought with us)
Twin beds. We could still use a few more here at the farm in the dorms or rooms. And we always seem to have more requests from the wider community for these than we can fill.
Someone who has experience with chain saws. We have the woodshed half full. We have a pile of large logs left by a neighbor who did a timber sale in late winter and left what wasn’t salable as saw logs for us for firewood. We can split them once they are cut and we have chain saws but Lorraine is reluctant to have Dan and Zach use them without guidance and instruction in the beginning.
Someone with knowledge of plumbing and electrical supplies to tell us what of our donated parts should be kept, and what should be thrown out.
Haying help and advice. We have equipment (old and prone to breakdown) and are able to drive tractors. We have willing laborers to load and unload and stack bales. We have no one with experience mowing, raking and baling so would like a teacher first time around.
We always have a need of building materials—plywood, drywall, insulation—and we could not continue this work without financial support and prayers.
SUMMER LESSONS by Lorraine Hoyt
The lesson I keep learning here at SFF is to let go of my expectations and plans and to be open to whatever God sends. The summer was very dry and we had to let go of some of our plans for the gardens. We had fewer groups than we expected or than had come in the past. Our mission statement said nothing about migrant workers and yet Miguel’s three months with us shaped the summer and enriched our lives and the experience of the groups that did come. Some of the local children we had expected to spend time with this summer were unable to come to the farm, but we have come to know other children for whom the farm has been a place of peace and blessing.
Each day at morning prayers in the chapel I pray for those we are expecting at the farm that day and pray that those who need this place will find their way and that we will be open to them. Whatever else is confusing, it is clear that for the past decade the farm has been meant to welcome groups who come for retreat or for a service experience. This year because of events in the world and changes at the farm, fewer groups have come. We have seen from ones who have what a difference these visitors make in the community and what an impact the farm can have on young lives. We would like to bring more city kids to the farm, children who have had fewer opportunities to experience the richness of creation . But mostly we are trying to be patient, to wait to see whom God will bring here and how He will prepare us for them.
Over and over I notice the different responses folks have to this place. Often the kids we fear might be bored or difficult are delighted with the farm from the start. A boy who came to do court ordered community service came in looking nervous. After introductions Joanna took him out with her to milk goats. He came into the kitchen grinning a short time later and announced that he sure could get used to living in a place like this. Some kids come and don’t want to work and dislike the food, avoid conversation with those of us who live here, and make it clear they would rather be at the mall. Another group comes and delights in learning to do unfamiliar work and enjoys preparing and eating fresh food. They explore the pond and try the swings and sit by a fire and sing with us. The farm is the same, but the response is different.
It was the same with the migrant workers who stayed with us this summer. We were a little nervous when Miguel first came because none of us knew Spanish. (Now everyone speaks a little except me.) I didn’t know if he would like our food and worried that he would be lonely with no one to speak to in his own language. From the first he joined us at meals and work and soon was also coming to prayers. He laughed with us and cried with us and sang with us. So when we were asked to welcome another man in July, we readily agreed. He was as comfortable with English as with Spanish and having him here looked easy. But he didn’t find the peace that Miguel found here. He didn’t work or pray with us and often came in to eat after we were finished. He wasn’t ready to stop drinking and we all agreed it was time for him to move on. He went to a dairy farm out west of us last week. Miguel was offered work and a place to stay by a friend of the farm who visited in early August and saw how he had fixed up the farmhouse. He learned much and taught us much, and he left a piece of himself here and took the spirit of peace and the farm with him when he left for Baltimore last week.
The lesson repeated itself in so many ways. We expected to repair the barn roof and didn’t know what to do about the repairs needed in the house. But the house is now looking so much better and the roof work is still ahead of us. I began to get anxious in the middle of the summer when our sources of donated food were drying up and the garden was slow because of the drought and I was trying to prepare meals for our expanded community. But the garden picked up and we found an unexpected source of donated food and I felt foolish for my fretting. The goats we wanted only came when we had given up and decided we might have to put them off until next spring. Sometimes when I am tired I see only what isn’t done, the disappointments, the unmet need, but when I stop hurrying and really look, I see such gift and blessing. I am not exactly patient yet, but I am learning patience a day at a time.
FARM UPDATE by Joanna
This summer I’ve had a chance to put my ideas and daydreams about farming into practice. The challenges and rewards have been great, and very few things have gone exactly as I planned them.
After a long and frustrating search we have found two excellent dairy goats. The owners were happy to find a home for Nancy and Norma; they weren’t considered show-quality goats, and we’re told that few people actually keep goats for milking now. They are just right for our purposes. They’re adjusting well to their new home and keeping us amply supplied with milk and cheese. Their company seems to be healing for some of the children from troubled families who spend time with us. We have to take them out to graze on lead lines, since it’s hard to build a fence that goats can’t get out of and loose dogs can’t get into. They do an excellent job of keeping weeds out of the pasture and edges of the hayfield (they seem to prefer brambles to grass), and goat-grazing provides a space for quiet conversations.
This hasn’t been a great year for hay, but men from Unity Acres have been coming over to cut hay in the farm fields. Since we haven’t yet learned haying they have provided the know-how and we’ve shared the labor so that they have hay for their cattle and we have hay for our goats.
The garden has been a place of good work, frustration and satisfaction. I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes this year: I won’t try again to grow tomatoes on trellises on a windy hill, or soak corn seed before planting, and I’ll put eggplants in an isolated spot that the potato beetles don’t know about. But we’ll have a lot stored for winter from this garden. We brought in an overwhelming garlic harvest and have been sending friends and guests away with bundles of garlic. Thanks to Paul and Mary who planted them with us last year, and to the Brennan family and others who donated garlic for planting. We’ve canned a lot of green beans, and the tomatoes are starting to come in in earnest. It’s fun to watch kids who swear that they don’t like vegetables or any healthy food trying the cherry tomatoes. So far they’ve always decided that they like them. The edible-pod peas, which bore profusely well into July, produced a similar reaction. We were able to freeze several gallons of shell-out peas for the winter; these and the greens throve until the severely hot, dry weather set in. The fall peas came up sparely because of the drought, but we’ve just begun to have rain again and they are picking up. We’re freezing pesto and digging potatoes to store, and the paint room is full of onions curing. The beets are growing thickly. We’ve been eating a lot of them fresh—Miguel discovered that he liked them very well after he got over his first reaction, “this color is no for eat”—and we’ll have plenty more to put up after the frost when the tomatoes are done. We have plenty of squash, broccoli, cauliflower and leeks for fresh eating, and may need to start freezing soon. The orchard is just starting to bear
Since Miguel’s coming and talking about his experience as a migrant farmworker I have felt a special urgency about growing our own food, and it is satisfying to eat so much from our own land and store up for the cold season. Miguel enjoyed working in a garden whose produce he actually ate, and says he will plant a garden when he goes back to his family in Puerto Rico.
Thanks and praise and praise and thanks for the bounty of the earth, for the generosity of our friends and guests who have helped us, and to God from whom all these gifts come.
NOTE FROM MIGUEL
My name is Miguel A. Garcia. I came to Saint Francis Farm with Deacon David Sweenie because of an operation I needed because of my work, and because I couldn’t keep living at the farm where I was.. I have been here for 3 months, and I will not forget the experience that I shared with this family, who helped me to recover mentally and spiritually. I didn’t speak much English, but we understood each other. I thank God because I found the peace I needed in this place. God bless.
2002 ST FRANCIS FARM BIKE TOUR by Tom McNamara OFM cap
They brought their bikes, helmets, bibles, tents, sleeping bags, and enthusiasm for the 7th annual Bike and Service Tour. 35 youth and 20 adults traveled and camped their way from Homer through Fayetteville, North Bay, on to St. Francis Farm where they served in a number of ways: Two groups of youth helped elderly residents with gardening and other outdoor chores that would have been impossible for them to do otherwise. The youth enjoyed the conversations they shared with the local residents. Another group worked with a local congregation that needed some painting done and brush cleared. Two groups of youth stayed at the Farm, one helping in the garden with harvesting and readying beans for canning, turning soil in beds, and another group cut and hung peppermint to dry, cleaned and organized the greenhouse, tool trailer, pole barn, and wood shed. Some hardy souls cut burdock from the area, and others even had the opportunity to help milk the dairy goats that provide fresh milk and cheese daily at the farm. All were impressed with the sustained energy with which the bikers worked. Community service is the keystone and destination of this event, helping the bikers to understand their responsibility to give something back in gratitude for all the blessings received.
This writer joined this year’s event at the farm, helped out there, and then continued on the route as the bikers made their way from the farm to their reflection stop at St. Mary’s in Mexico.
Midway through each morning’s ride, bikers stop, take their bibles out and are encouraged to ask some difficult questions of themselves, perhaps journaling on their thoughts. There is time for discussion, as well as snacks and a little rest before returning to their bicycle journey that parallels the rest of their lives. The group made it to lunch at the canal lock in Phoenix, where one group even stopped to say some prayers at one of the biker’s grandfather’s grave.
Bikers are encouraged to travel in groups at a pace that is both realistic and challenging as they encourage each other during the ups and downs of the week. Later that afternoon, we pumped up the hill to the campground near Lysander.
Upon arrival each evening at the campsite, tents go up, and bikers usually enjoy a swim when available. After enjoying a hearty Mexican meal prepared by the cook crew, a campfire ensued with skits, singing, faith sharing, and discussion. It has been a personal joy for me to catch up on developments in peoples’ lives as we share in this yearly event. The next day, friendships renewed, we pedaled through Skaneateles, and on home to St. Margaret’s in Homer where we were greeted by families and friends awaiting our arrival.
I know that the memory of the breeze on my face along with the fragrance of a field of alfalfa, or the cool embrace from a wooded hillside will get me through yet another winter!
MAINTENANCE by Zach
Over the course of the summer we have put a fair amount of time and money into improving the trailers. In the two oldest ones we have put new windows in the kitchen/dining rooms, because the old ones didn’t open. We have also put in new siding on the back of one to replace some particle board which was rotting. Late in the summer we’ve built two new screen doors for one of our trailers, and three for the farm buildings. We still need to replace one bathroom floor and repair 2 roofs before winter. Mr. Roger Finley is going to donate some used rubber roofing as soon as he gets it, sometime this fall, which we are going to put over the existing roofs. This fall we need to put shingles on the back half of the barn roof, which is a rather huge project. We would appreciate it if anyone could help with that, probably in September or October. We have made what was the “Donation Room” into a furnished room again after hearing from some people that it was that years ago. We intend to put games and things in that room for the use of the kids we work with. We have also pulled a camper trailer out of our woods that was put there 2 or 3 years ago, which we are planning to repair and sell next May at an auction in Sandy Creek. We are also looking for help working on our combine harvester so that it can be sold next year.
THE REWARDS OF WORK by Dan Wilckens
As I write this, it is mid-August, I’m nearing the end of my initial commitment to staying at St. Francis Farm, and I need to decide what further commitment I will make. So, I am trying to answer the most obvious but also most baffling question relevant to such a decision:why am I here? I came here not knowing fully why; though I felt sure there was a reason, I couldn’t articulate it. Attempts at doing so which I gave to inquiring relatives and friends often confused them (and me). Over the time I’ve been here I have grown tremendously in many ways and have had a rich variety of experiences, glimpses of what I sought when I came, but I still don’t quite know why I came. I’ve begun to ask instead the more concrete question: what can I learn here? And it becomes clear to me that one thing I can learn and am learning from being at St. Francis Farm is to work and to see its real meaning, unclouded by promises of some sort of external reward.
My experiences of work prior to coming to the farm were varied: during college I worked part-time in a repair center dealing with customers and stock parts, and during the summers as a teaching assistant at a summer math program; there’s all the work involved in going through public school, college, chores around the house. While school was sometimes interesting, the grade I got on a test very often mattered more than whether or not I really cared about the material and had absorbed it; an A earned approval from parents and teachers and a feeling of specialness. At the repair center the work was devoid of meaning to me but the paycheck compensated enough so that I stayed with it. Working with young students at the math program was the closest I’ve come to doing work because it was worth doing; still sometimes it got to be more about me having a good time than engaging the students in learning and exploring. In these work experiences some sort of external reward obscured the question of the meaning of the work itself.
So when I look at what I do here, sometimes I’m frustrated. Some tasks, like weeding, don’t bring the immediate satisfaction I’m used to: an A on a test, a paycheck, parental approval. You spend hours pulling up weeds by the bucketful, only to have more grow up seemingly overnight in the spot you just worked!! I’m frustrated and ask myself: Why am I doing this? Where is my immediate reward? But I see now that that is a limited way of looking at work, not only because it is self-centered, but also that it sees work only as a means of getting an external reward. At times here I’ve experienced the rewards of work itself; it stands in marked contrast to my previous understandings of what working is all about. Harvesting tomatoes or beans or picking raspberries and then eating them, with the feeling of “I contributed to this” brings a satisfaction deeper than those external rewards. It feels great! The reward of the work is the work itself, the contribution to something which is worth doing. More immediate rewards which are external to the work itself are superficial.
I believe that there is a distortion in the way work is viewed in contemporary culture. Work is seen as a means to getting a paycheck, a good GPA, credentials so that you’ll have better opportunities for more work later in life, or other things external to the work itself. The notion that the work itself is intrinsically valuable and worth doing for its own sake is missing—the work and its rewards are separated; the work is meaningful only insofar as it is a means to getting something else unrelated to the work. I have seen how this distortion puts a heavy burden on migrant farmworkers. Since most people do not do work directly related to food production, those who do must work tremendously hard and are robbed of the fruits of their labor in return for scarcely enough money to live on. There is no promise of promotion, little stability and little safety. The average supermarket shopper on the other hand is robbed of the opportunity to see the fecundity of the earth and to contribute to it; instead everything appears “by magic” at the store, and can be bought with money earned at a job which has no connection to the earth. This distortion also has a powerfully negative effect on those who seem to benefit from the system it sustains. Those to whom wealth and power are the meaning of their lives are always chasing after the next “reward”. For me this distortion makes it difficult to see the point of work done for its own sake; but when I do look and am able to see the value of it, it gives a sense of meaning and energy far greater than that given by work whose rewards are separated from the labor.
And so I am beginning to learn a new understanding of work along with new habits. This much is clear: I have much to learn in this area and the farm provides an ideal environment for doing so.
WANTS AND NEEDS by Lorraine
When we first visited SFF the first room one saw when entering the barn was called the donation room and it was filled with used furniture, bags of clothes, books and games and lamps and radios and toasters. We’ve been living here for a year now and have been trying to make sense of that part of work, the receiving and redistribution of all sorts of things. But it was only in the last month that we learned that the room in question had once been a sitting room.
We first heard it from Patty Jane, a youth minister who brought a van full of kids from Wilmette, Illinois to spend a week with us before they went on to World Youth Day in Toronto. She has been coming to the farm since it first started hosting groups and could tell us much about how it used to be. She regretted the clutter in that room and spoke of how it used to be. Then Tom McNamara came in August and he also spoke of the frustration of accumulating donations and of how that room used to be. Since it had a couch standing on end, several stuffed chairs, a table and some lamps, it wasn’t that hard to take some things to the Friendship Shop and arrange the rest into a sitting room. The garden and canning have taken most of our attention, so it is not yet how I would like it to be. I think it could be a good place to keep some of the games and books for children, a place to spend time with the kids who come to the farm. Zachary has been looking at the torn wallpaper and thinking of cleaning and painting the walls this winter. But already it is a more inviting way into the barn.
We had been slowly coming to a realization which was confirmed by Tom, that the real needs around us aren’t for more stuff. Our society is overburdened with stuff, and even the poor find their living spaces overcrowded with things they’ve accumulated. There is still some call for warm and sturdy winter clothing, especially for children. But most of the need is for peace and quiet, for someone with time and patience to listen.
This summer I’ve noticed how much we use the bicycles that have been donated or that Zach has been able to put together from pieces. Our visiting migrant workersdidn’t have driver’s licenses but they really enjoyed being able to bicycle, just for exercise or to get to town. All last summer my place of retreat was over between the stream and the pond and I began to wish for a hammock or a comfortable chair when I was tired. Zach made a lovely Adirondack chair this summer for my birthday and I enjoy it very much. The pond is a place where people stop to visit. The kids sit on the grass or the rocks, but sometimes elders stop to enjoy the shade and the birdsong and a bench for them would be welcome. Also some picnic tables would be very useful there or on this side of the road. Just a few days ago two women stopped with a group of children from the Brady Faith Center in Syracuse and asked if they could picnic by the pond. They had visited Unity Acres and were on their way to take a boat trip and wanted to see the farm. They visited the goats and tried the swings and I took out a pile of army blankets and spread them on the grass. But picnic tables would be quite helpful at times like that or when the bike tour came through.
I’ve also noticed how much folks, young and old enjoy the swings we hung, one by the pond and one by the orchard. Somewhere I heard that there had been a plan at some time to build a playground, and we could use help figuring out what to add to invite people to play and relax here. We also use the games we brought from home with kids here and at the after-school program and would welcome additions. Simple games seem to work best and keep their appeal week after week. Also we have found good use for the musical instruments we found in the chapel or brought with us. Zach learned to play Tom’s old guitar this winter and the children who come regularly enjoy playing it and our harp and recorders and the keyboard.
We also have some more utilitarian needs. The older and larger of our two freezers quit just when I was starting to put in the harvest from this year’s garden. Our washing machine has done hard duty this summer and is showing signs of wear. We will be shingling the back side of the barn roof this fall and would be grateful for donated material and physical help with that project.
As always we are most grateful for your prayers and for your suggestions and expertise. How were we to know the donation room could be a sitting room if no one told us what they remembered? And the fresh clean rooms in the farmhouse and the bountiful garlic crop hanging in the pole barn and the hay for our goats are all there to use and enjoy because someone who knew more about it than us gave us a hand.
Quotes from our reading:
A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens—as when a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper—that is the preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted!
That is the church’s authentic preaching. Naturally such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is miscalled prestige, must disturb, must be persecuted. It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin.
–Oscar Romero The Violence of Love
The church seeks adorers of God in Spirit and in truth, and that can be done under a tree, on a mountain, by the sea. Wherever there is a sincere heart that seeks God sincerely, there is true religion. This, my friend, scandalizes many because many have wanted to tie the church to material things. They call this prestige, they call it faithfulness to their traditions. But it can be a betrayal of the church’s truth. God is Spirit and does not need the powers and things of earth. He seeks sincerity in the heart.–Ibid.
Religion is not our concern; it is God’s concern. The sooner we stop thinking we are the energetic operators of religion and discover God is at work, as the Aggressor, the Invader, the Initiator, so much the sooner do we discover that our task is to call men to be still and know, listen, hearken in quiet invitation to the subtle promptings of the Divine. Our task is to encourage others first to let go….–Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
We’d like to hear what you’re reading — we’re looking for recommendations to read in the slow time.
In March I wrote about coming to feel at home in this place and about the network of other people and organizations with whom we work and are connected. This is an update on that process. When we went to a Quaker gathering in Massachusetts in August, it only felt a little strange to head west for home instead of east. And when Joe Morton and Miguel came to visit at the end of September, for the first time we welcomed friends whom we had met during our stay here back to this place that has truly become our home. And the hopes we had for working more closely with the Spanish Apostolate and with Time of Jubilee are being realized. Still it is with Father Ray McVey’s other places, Unity Acres and Rural and Migrant Ministries, that we live and work most closely.
Father Ray McVey bought St. Francis Farm a few years after he started living at Unity Acres with the men he brought up from Syracuse. He spent various bits of the remaining years of his life at the farm although the Acres was the work of his life. The past 25 years has seen much coming and going between the two places and in recent years the path, then road through the woods only made it easier. Volunteers have started at one place and gone on to spend some time at the other. Equipment is often donated and used in both places without being clearly owned by either. Hay and livestock and tractors move back and forth as needed. Surplus from one place is offered first to the other. When winter hit early and Diego needed boots and mittens and a warmer jacket, Dan took him to the clothing room at Unity Acres to get outfitted. Groups that come here for retreat for more than a day spend some time at the Acres—for Mass or a meal or to do some work. And visitors to Unity Acres often come for a tour of the farm as well. We are neighbors and whatever changes in either place, that doesn’t change.
We work with Rural & Migrant Ministries because our missions seem to complement each other and so do our staffs. The sisters sometimes need young legs and strong backs to carry computers and air conditioners up and down stairs. When they didn’t get much response to their call for volunteers for the after-school program, we had time to help. Unlike us the group that formed their not-for-profit took time to research needs in the county and unlike us they have a professional staff. So they have a structure and we wanted to do more work with children. Sr. Louise still comes as a friend and with her professional experience and training when I need someone to listen to me. Zachary helps with the maintenance needs at the lovely old brick building that used to be the family center and still belongs to Unity Acres. We take groups of college students to do yard work or cleaning and the sisters come here to talk to the groups about their work. Sr. Sharon comes to tutor Diego who came to us speaking very little English, and Diego ended up helping her do her ESL class at a farm one night when her translator was unable to accompany her. Hardly a day goes by that some of us aren’t down there or some of them out here and it is hard to imagine our work without the sisters.
I had no idea when I wrote in March about looking forward to working more with Deacon David Sweenie and the Spanish Apostolate how quickly and richly that would happen. From May to August David was at the farm frequently to take Miguel and then Juan to medical or legal appointments or to events for migrant workers. October 12th he came again to bring Diego and to talk to the LeMoyne College group about his work. In the weeks since then he has come often to take Diego to appointments and to translate for him. The first weekend in December the Spanish Apostolate will be at the farm for an Advent retreat. Miguel spent three months living and working with our friend Joe Morton in Baltimore and has just returned to his home and family in Puerto Rico. Because of his teaching Joanna was able to translate some for Diego and to answer the phone when his friends and relations called speaking only Spanish. And from Diego we’ve all learned at least enough Spanish to greet and thank and apologize so that we will be less awkward this time around when the barn is full of Spanish speakers and we are the minority. The connection with the Spanish Apostolate has enriched our lives and provided unique opportunities for the groups that come to work and learn here.
The executive board of Time of Jubilee came to the farm early in November and three of us went to Syracuse the following week for their annual dinner. Even though they have decided that the farm is outside their area of work and expertise and we are looking for other ways to hold the title to the land, the relationship is supportive. Some board members would like to come to the farm for personal retreats in the spring and we will be looking at ways we can support their inner city farm stands. They have offered leftover building supplies from their large projects for our smaller ones. And we still hope that the space created here for group visits might be used to welcome more youth from the city in future years. Our work may lie in different places but the spirit is much the same and it is encouraging to spend time with others who share our concerns for the children and the communities in which they live.
GROUPS by Joanna
This year we had fewer retreat groups than we had expected at the farm. The turnover here and the tumults in the Church and the outside world disrupted some plans. We did have some very rich and rewarding experiences of working and learning together with groups, as well as a few mutual disappointments. But most of the groups who came to share our lives said that they didn’t find what they had been expecting here—that even in the somewhat odd community of service retreats we were unusual. We are becoming clearer and clearer about what we have to offer to groups, and over the winter we need to work on explaining this better ahead of time.
On Columbus Day weekend a group came from LeMoyne College to work and pray and learn with us. They helped us to harvest vegetables from our garden before the frost, winterize the house of an elderly neighbor, make meals and clean up, tend livestock, and welcome Diego who had just arrived and didn’t understand English very well. We had time to discuss the paths we had chosen and how we understood our work in the world. Their evaluations helped us to see how our life might look from the outside.
We invite groups to join in our community life which includes prayer, work on the farm and at the homes of neighbors, and discussion of justice issues. We don’t run the group weeks as camps, providing entertainment and work that is sure to satisfy. The discussion tends to be somewhat informal and arise from our day-to-day work, and the work we do is often very unspectacular and sometimes takes place at the farm in a context where we are not obviously Helping The Poor. I have never found it easy (or particularly appealing) to draw sharp lines between worship, service, education, recreation and basic self-care; in our life here they are naturally interwoven. Some find this off-putting; others find it freeing. We also don’t live in a degree of austerity or at a frantic pace that would make this life seem impossible. One of the students wrote “It’s a comfortable atmosphere, but not so comfortable that comfort’s distracting.”
We also invite groups to join our prayers, although they are welcome to organize their own if they need something different. When we told people that we sat in silence in the morning, sometimes reading or journaling, and free to speak or sing if we felt moved, we were told “Well, maybe you could do that once each week with college groups…..high school kids couldn’t do it at all…….you’d probably lose the kids.” But over and over we have found that our visitors settle deeply into the silence, and sometimes write to tell us that their lives now feel incomplete without time for quiet prayer and waiting. A student in the last group wrote “OK I’ll admit it was hard to meditate at 7 AM! But my experience here offered the sort of healing I needed. It has been a long time since I have felt so at peace with myself.”
One of the leaders wrote ““At first when you told me we were going to be participating in your daily life I wasn’t too sure about this idea. At points during the weekend I thought the point was lost—we weren’t really serving anyone.…I finally got the point and I hope the others did too. It was a look into another way of living. Different than what we’re used to. And we were serving each other and each in turn being served. In many ways I think the way things went this weekend met our objectives better than most of the other trips we do. . . . Much discussion wasn’t needed because you live the values we’re trying to instill (Prayer, service, community, simplicity, and social justice). Living it is much more important than talking about it.”
I think that the students also realized that in doing the basic work on the farm they make it possible for us to be present to the varied people who come. One young woman wrote “The community here is amazing. People whom no one’s ever met before sit down to dinner. It was great to see the ideals of religion come together in real life. Seeing Diego just welcomed right in despite the language barrier and the fact that he’s a stranger. I wish I had that strength in my beliefs.”
STORIES—TOLD OR SOLD? by Joanna
A few weeks ago we asked the children at the after-school program to write stories and offered our help. They were cooperative but unenthusiastic, and wanted to know if they had to write in cursive, if they had to write a sloppy copy and then a neat draft, &c. Assured that they could write in whatever way was most comfortable for them, they began to write stories they got from movies, from TV programs, from Radio Disney……We took a step back and began again. They could write however they wanted to, or tell stories, or act them out with puppets or with their friends. But we wanted them to form and share their own stories—stories that came from their lives, from their relatives, from their dreams and imaginations. Many of them looked discouraged. They didn’t think they had any of those.
Some people are concerned about racism, sexism or casual violence in the stories of our popular culture What can we expect of stories which are told to grab the attention of children, to hold it until the next commercial break, to persuade them to buy stuff? It is hardly surprising that they teach that some people are better than others, and that what you have is who you are. Children learn this all too readily. Already our students at the after-school brag and sometimes lie about the latest gadget they’ve acquired, and quiz their friends about what they have.
But through most of history, and in most of the world today, this is not how stories are told to the young. We have been reading folk tales to the children at the after-school. These stories were first told—as they still are sometimes—by adults to children they knew and loved. They explained to these children how the world came to be as it was, and how they were to live in it. Each story is steeped in a particular time and place, but they share many messages that, if we took them seriously, would change the way we live. They teach that the rich gifts of the world are depleted when people take them greedily, and multiply when they are shared and respected. They teach that wisdom and help often come from the weak, the poor, the very young, the very old, the strangers and the outcasts when the rich, the rulers and the respected people fail.
In our daily life here at the farm we witness the power of story. Diego came to us injured, homesick and speaking little English. After listening to him struggling to read other peoples’ stories in his ESL book, Lorraine offered to help him write his own story. Our limited Spanish and his limited English slowed things down, but he told of his journey here, of his frustrating search for work, of the time of his injury, when he was ordered to put his hand into a jammed machine which the supervisor would not turn off, told he was stupid when his hand was caught in a belt and mangled, made to wait and wait and wait at the hospital, told that he had to pay for everything, and finally helped by the Spanish Apostolate to get medical help and some compensation and a safe place to stay. It’s a disturbing story and thousands like it go untold while we continue to depend on cheap food and an economic system that uses people. But the telling mattered to Diego. After it was finished in English he carefully put it into Spanish.
“Judith” spends time with me regularly through a respite program for childen. She has a keen mind and a strong spirit, but she has been hurt as no child should be hurt. For several weeks she didn’t talk much, played nonverbal games, kept her head down, avoided questions. Now she has started to play-act with what we have at hand: dolls from India, carved animals from Africa, wool and pipe cleaner sheep that I taught her to make. I haven’t gotten to play like this since my brother outgrew it a few years back. She creates interesting fantasy stories, and poses very serious and urgent questions about how to respond to abusive authority, who God is, who can be trusted, what is really safe. I play a variety of answers, some of which she may not have thought of, along with questions of my own. And she plays out hope—unexpected conversions and reconciliations. She is learning, growing, healing.
Last week when the children arrived for the after-school program several asked “Can I work on my story today?” Cassie’s memory of getting lost on her bike, breaking her arm and being helped and brought home by a stranger whom she was afraid of at first, Joey’s sorrow for his dog who died and anger at the person who accidentally killed her, Derrick’s vividly imagined adventures in the forest where nothing is what it seems to be, are taking shape and life. We hope that the children will remember that they have the power to make sense of their lives with words, to tell things as they see them, and that other people will want to listen.
THANKSGIVING AND ADVENT by Lorraine
I am not naturally thankful in November, the time designated for the giving of thanks. Of course it is the harvest time and the idea is that the bounty of garden and orchard and barn is stored for the winter. But I am tired out from the hurry to be ready for the coming cold and weighed down by the growing darkness. That has always been my feeling about November and now I have added to that the memory of my mother’s dying two years ago. When I am called to be thankful in a time of loss, I think of these words from the prophet Habakkuk:
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
And even when I have no appetite for the feast, I write the words of thanks from a psalm on a large sheet of paper and write with them the things for which I am grateful even or especially in dark times. I invite my family and friends to add their thanks to this scroll which becomes a litany of blessing to celebrate on the day of Thanksgiving.
This year in this place has contained many blessings and we remember them at this time in spite of the darkness of the barn and the darkness of the world in which we live. The flower gardens planted by farmers before us were a continuing gift and surprise. Weeding was difficult because so much I just didn’t recognize and waited to see what it would become. So many mornings I went out and found some new color blooming from a plant carefully chosen or sprung from seeds blown in on the wind. Songs were blessings—Zachary singing in his newly deep voice as he gained confidence playing Tom’s old guitar, Miguel singing with longing of his home as we sat around a campfire the last night he was with us, the owls who joined our singing that night just before we headed back to our beds, the groups who came and the songs they taught us. I am very thankful for the help and gifts of those who were strangers to us—the corn from the gardens of Mennonite neighbors which they prepared for our freezer when our corn crop failed, the offer from the Resigs to come and saw our mountain of logs into stove length so we could finish filling the woodshed, encouraging notes in the mail or calls on the phone when we were tired or discouraged, the generosity that keeps the farm open month after month. I am especially grateful for the natural beauty of this place—the bright yellow splash of the marsh marigolds with their rich green leaves in early spring, the calling of the frogs from April through August, the vireo that built a delicate nest at the end of a slender forked twig that hung by the edge of the woods road to Unity Acres, the deer that I met morning after morning on my walks before prayers, the songs of the brooks, the fields by moonlight . . . And far as we are here from our kin, we will gather gratefully with Friends at the Meetinghouse in Syracuse for a potluck feast and sharing of blessings.
From there, with the light still fading, it is only three days to the beginning of Advent and the lighting of the first flickering candle. Whatever is happening in my small world, lighting one candle for hope and hanging our Advent banner, on which years ago I embroidered a stump with a green shoot springing from it, gives me some comfort, some courage. In spite of injustices, hurting children, exploited earth—in spite of all evidence that tempts us toward despair, we look for the fulfillment of the promised coming. One week later, with the world war-torn and families fragmented and misunderstandings unresolved even between those who seek to live the Gospel, we light another candle for peace. The third candle is lit for joy and the candlelight grows while the days shorten and darken toward the solstice. In the midst of whatever grief we carry, the joy is remembered and anticipated and realized without the sorrow being forgotten. Finally with the voices of hatred and fear loud around us, we light the fourth candle for love that we sometimes doubt and always long for and that surprises us with hope and peace and joy and flows through us when we open to it.
May you be blessed with longing for the Light and may you be open to the birth of the Child and may you recognize the gifts with gratitude.
MAINTENANCE AND CONSTRUCTION by Zachary
Since our last newsletter went out the largest project we undertook was shingling the back half of the barn roof. On that side there was only roll roofing. This occupied us for about a month, working on every day when the weather was not too bad. We used white shingles to match the front side. One corner was rotten, and we had to cut out part of the sheathing there and replace it. On the whole, I would imagine it was easier than the front side , which was done a few years ago, because it only had one skylight, instead of eleven.
In the trailers the only major work that was done was replacing more windows in the oldest trailer to make it more weathertight. In the winter months we plan to replace one kitchen floor and one bathroom floor. Mr. Finley from Gouverneur Roofing brought us a truckload of used rubber roofing, and we have not installed it yet, but next year we will use it on two of the trailers, and also a small piece to cover the roof of the chicken coop. We are also hoping to move the better half of the old stationary coop over near the garden to use for storing gardening tools, which are currently kept at some distance away in the boxcar. This winter we are planning to move the workshop into the room behind the double doors, and put the gardening things that are in that room in the room that is currently the shop.
We have also been doing some off the farm work. We have fixed a porch, replaced the sheathing of an exterior wall, and put up storm windows at various local residences. We also are doing a bit of work at the Rural and Migrant Ministries building in Richland
AGRICULTURE by Joanna
The winter came down earlier this year, and the garden beds are snowed under. We just ate the last of the tomatoes that we picked green before the frost with the LeMoyne College students and ripened in bags inside. There are bags of leeks in the freezer and buckets of beets and carrots in the basement of the farmhouse, joining the garlic, onions, peas, pesto, tomatoes and green beans that we put up earlier. They’ll provide some rich flavor and color in the cold gray days.
The chicken coop has been winterized with solid door and insulated floor. We’re still getting enough eggs for our own consumption, although not enough to use with groups. The goat milk is slowing down but still coming. Norma should be giving birth in May and providing us with an abundance again. Thanks to Steve Shirley for hospitality, help and good advice on goat breeding.
We’re starting to plan for next year. We at the farm hope to cut hay by hand for our goats (scythes and experienced scythers welcomed!), and Unity Acres will continue to hay the rest of the fields with the current machinery, which is aging. Machine repair help or donations of newer equipment would also be greatly welcomed. We need to start fertilizing the fields again and are looking for a manure spreader.
THINGS WE COULD USE:
Mittens, gloves and boots in small sizes for visiting kids and migrant workers
Basic art and craft materials—drawing paper, watercolor paints, felt, scissors, interesting fabric scraps, pipe cleaners, wool or roving, thread or embroidery floss.
Children’s books which are not TV/movie spinoffs—see Stories above
Help repairing tractors and other farm equipment
Manure spreader, haying equipment, lawn mower, snowblower
Stepladder (for painting)
Building materials(insulation, drywall, lumber, etc.)
Tools for workshop
Quotes from our reading:
Prayer is an alternative to working hard to get what you want. One discovers eventually that what you want is almost always what you don’t need.—Thomas Merton, Meditations
Let us not develop an education that creates in the mind of the student a hope of becoming rich and having the power to dominate. Let us form in the heart of the child and the youth the lofty ideal of loving, of preparing oneself to serve and give oneself to others. Anything else would be an education for selfishness, and we want to escape the selfishness that is precisely the cause of our great social malaise.—Oscar Romero, The Violence Of Love
In the struggle for the voice of the voiceless to be heard, Christians find their place at the very front line. And at the same time Christians…sense an underlying truth: this struggle for and with others finds its source in another struggle that is more and more etched in our deepest self, at that point where no two people are quite alike. There we touch the gates of contemplation.
Struggle, contemplation; two poles between which we are somehow to situate our whole existence?—Brother Roger of Taize,Awakened from Within
Ho, everyone who is thirsty, come to the water! And you who have no money, come buy and eat! Why spend your labor on what is not bread, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.—Isaiah
We’d like to hear what you’re reading — we’re looking for recommendations to read in the slow time.