ENERGY CRISIS by Lorraine
Last winter we found to be a welcome “slow time’ after the hurry of autumn preparation and the chaotic time of transition when we were trying to learn so many things at once. So many people had warned us that we would feel bored and isolated, but we found the time rich and satisfying in spite of the cold and dark of the barn. Looking forward to a similar time this winter, we were surprised by how early the winter settled in and how deep the snow and the cold became as it wore on. The world spun toward war and the folks who look to us for help found the winter cold and harsh as we did and we became discouraged and weary. Instead of settling into a slow time we found ourselves experiencing an energy shortage.
For us it wasn’t so much the spiking costs for fuel nor a lack of firewood. The woodshed was fuller this year when we started and there is enough there to last until the end of April where last year we ran out in early March. But our own energy often has seemed in short supply as day after day we faced the deepening cold, leaking roofs, frozen pipes, restless children too long cooped up inside because it was too cold to be out beyond necessity. I thought of it vaguely as I remembered our solar house back in Maine and longed for the snug warmth and light and manageable size of it. My thoughts took shape the day I read a book about the sun to the children at the after-school program. That night after supper and cleaning up we talked about energy—where ours came from and how we spend it and where it is wasted.
And of course we found that just as in the natural world energy comes from the sun and may be expressed as fossil fuel or firewood or wind or water power, so our energy comes from God. We may receive it directly as our passive solar house did back in Maine—and then it matters very much that we face the source and remove obstructions. Then for each of us energy also comes to us less directly, through the beauty of earth and sky, through the other members of this community and through many others to whom we are connected. So we found that each of us was both receiving energy and reflecting or conducting it to the others here and out into the network of folks we serve. And we found that some things required much energy but we saw it as well spent. Some of our work drew on our energy and then as we continued to do it, that same work replenished our energy. And we found drains where our energy leaked or seeped or poured out in ways that made no sense—fear and fretfulness and confusion.
Our “energy audit” didn’t suddenly cure our weariness but it helped us to see what needs attention. We already knew that morning and evening prayers were a foundation without which we couldn’t carry on the work of the farm. Joanna and Zach and I decided to make the effort to get to Quaker Meeting in Syracuse more often. We are more aware of each other—of how we drain energy from or give energy to each other. When the sun shines and the wind-chill isn’t too low, we all get outside to get some fresh air and exercise and to notice the winter’s beauty. On mornings when just getting up seems all that I can do, I read Isaiah 40 again. I long to rise up on wings like the eagles, but while I am waiting the grace is given to walk and not faint.
BOSTON COLLEGE STUDENTS’ ALMOST-SPRING BREAK
Eleven Boston College students spent a rather wintry alternative spring break with us the first week of March. In spite of the weather and the various things that went wrong they helped with a variety of work and, according to their evaluations, enjoyed their week at the farm. Several students have expressed an interest in returning during the warmer months to help out for a day or a week or longer, and we look forward to seeing them again and to the energy and new perspectives they bring.
The group went by bus to Scranton along with fellow students in the Appalachia program bound for other sites. From there they headed north in two vans. They were following directions they had gotten from the Internet to Wart Road in Lacona, NY. They ended up pushing their vans along unplowed roads, unable for a while to get their cell phones to work. They finally were able to call and tell us they were thoroughly lost. When we realized they were on back roads in Boylston, we told them to stay and wait and we’d come find them. Joanna and Zach went to the rescue and they pulled into the farm parking area a couple hours late. We abandoned the plans for the evening, passed around hot cider and cookies, learned names and unloaded the vans and left the rest for morning. Overnight the temperatures plummeted well below zero and the wind rose to a gale. By morning the hot water pipes had frozen in the barn—no hot water on any floor. The furnace had quit in the house and those of us who had moved over there to make room for the group fled back to the barn. But amid the cold and the difficulties, we laughed and began to work and to get to know each other.
Over the week the BC students painted two large rooms at the Sandy Creek food pantry, did cleaning and painting and repairs in two private homes, worked one-on-one with the children at the after-school program, helped deliver Meals-on -Wheels and pass out food at St. Patrick Mission in Williamstown, helped with computers and other jobs at Rural and Migrant Ministry, and started seeds and taped drywall at the farm. The after-school children were delighted with their college buddies, someone to read with them, someone to teach their favorite games and draw pictures or do origami with them. The elders who were helped spoke with gratitude not only of the work done but of the kindness of the students who worked in their homes. We who have spent the winter here enjoyed the energy and the insights of these guests.
In addition to the work, there was time for discussions, planned and spontaneous, time for prayer and reflection and opportunities to meet the other people with whom we work. Sr. Sharon and Sr. Louise and Deacon David Sweenie came for supper Thursday and talked with the students about their work at RMM and the Spanish Apostolate. On Ash Wednesday the students went to Unity Acres to eat supper with the men, play games and visit and then attend the evening service. Students spoke of these times and of the morning silent prayers and the mealtime conversations as high points of their week.
Saturday morning they needed to be on the road at eight so breakfast was earlier and the time in the chapel briefer than usual. Zachary had shoveled snow away from the front of the St. Francis Farm rock so they could take pictures of their group there. By then we were all very tired but grateful for the work done and questions raised and stories shared and blessings given.
CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
Our work here would be impossible without the help of friends and neighbors who give us their time, energy and expertise when we are flagging or confused. People have come to help us get firewood in, build a handicapped ramp, tend the gardens and figure out how to take care of aging or oddly constructed buildings. Sometimes people have offered to help when we were going too fast to figure out how and where they would be most helpful.
There is always room for helpers in the garden. As soon as the ground thaws there will be beds to turn and compost to spread. At the end of May and the beginning of June there is a rush to get frost-sensitive plants out into the garden, and extra hands would be especially welcomed. That’s also a beautiful time just for walking and exploring outside at the farm. Then it’s mostly weeding, watering, weeding, mulching, weeding and tending the compost piles until the next rush in July and August, when harvesting and canning are at their peak and fall planting is going on. It’s a good time for picnics and we’ll have plenty of vegetables to share. We would also welcome individuals or families adopting a bed in the vegetable or flower gardens or taking responsibility for a particular task such as turning the compost piles. We’d be grateful to anyone with experience in seed-saving or solar greenhouse design who could take time to share that with us. We’re new to haying, and would greatly appreciate advice and assistance. This year we’re going to experiment with cutting some of the hay for our goats by hand. We have a couple of scythes in decent condition, but more scythes would be helpful, as would a demonstration of how to use them effectively and advice about the storage of loose hay. The rest of the fields will be hayed by machine, partly for our goats and partly for the beef cattle at Unity Acres. The haying equipment is old and somewhat prone to breaking down. We could use a more reliable mower, and help repairing our current equipment. We also need to start fertilizing the fields (with manure, not petrochemicals); equipment or advice would be more than welcome.
Maintenance and construction projects are somewhat harder to predict, as we respond to the needs that are brought to our attention as promptly as we can; we’d be grateful to anyone who would be willing to be ‘on call’ to give advice or help with roofing, wiring, plumbing &c. And there are almost always broken machines and appliances that we aren’t sure what to do with on the farm, in the trailers on our property or in the homes of our neighbors. Anyone who’d like to help tape and paint the chapel and dorms in the barn here would be welcome. See Zach’s article on Maintenance.
ILLNESS AND HEALING by Dan Wilckens
As I’ve said before, I wasn’t sure when I came to stay at the farm in September of 2001 why I was coming.
I came broken. I knew that where I was, where I had been going, was a dead end. I had finished college, and proven to my satisfaction that I was “number one” at math in my class. I had achieved what I had sought to do; but I wasn’t satisfied. The last two years had been ones of increasing isolation and confusion. I had trouble obsessing over troubles I didn’t need to worry about. I was in great distress; but I came to the farm, in the hope that I might find what peace could be found. I needed something where I would be interacting with people in a meaningful way. Saint Francis Farm seemed the only place I could go where I would feel safe enough to work on that.
A measure of peace I did find; the farm brought the safety of caring co-workers and plenty of work to keep me busy. I opened up to others as I hadn’t ever before. The Hoyts were patient with my limitations and distress. Things brightened; gradually, light filled the darkness. But the difficulties that I faced and which I presented to the rest of the community seemed to grow. The thoughts racing through my mind made my focusing on tasks difficult, and I found myself depressed with low energy for working. But I received help from not only the Hoyts, but also Sister Louise Macchia and other guides, and I was inspired by the groups that came.
It was a long haul and a trial of patience for the other community members. But over the time I have learned much—about caring, openness, giving of oneself, and God. Although the others came because they were seeking to serve, it is only after realizing that I can only be fully human by serving that I have sought to serve. I have grown stronger during this time, and my illness is much more manageable, and there is a new sense of purpose to life growing within me. The love—manifested, among other ways, in patience—of the Hoyts has taught me that there is indeed hope for healing, and that I can be loved even if I’m not number one.
CHILDREN, FEAR AND LOVE by Joanna
As we approach war there seems to be a widespread attitude of fear and discouragement. I feel frightened, discouraged and helpless when I consider the impending war and the systems of money, power, greed and fear that drive it. But again and again I am called out of my fears and speculations to the particular, small-scale work at hand. I am especially aware of the need to put other concerns aside and be fully present when I am working with children. In that work also there is cause for grief and concern, but there is also joy and hope.
The children are also fearful. Amy flinches when airplanes fly overhead and says she worries about terrorist snipers coming to Pulaski. Michelle asks me what would happen if someone knocked down the water tower, which is the tallest thing she can see. Would it make a flood, and how far away would she have to be to be safe? Liza remembers being locked in her room without food for long periods of time for being a ‘bad girl’. She is in a safe place now, with people who love and care for her, but she still hides food in her room, weeps and seems to collapse at small reprimands and acts desperate whenever she isn’t given what she wants. Kiera hides and whimpers when strangers come near her, especially men.
I want to be able to make things all right for them. I want to take them away from the television with its constant stimulation and its promotion of fear. I want to say or do something to take away the awful memories and assure them that they are and always will be safe. I want to know that they are and always will be safe. I am left with my own fear and the knowledge of my limitations. And all I can do is be with them. I listen to their fears and memories and acknowledge my own. Sometimes we are quiet together for a while, thinking of these things. I try to remember the light that shines in the darkness, and to hold us in that light.
And then we come back to the things we love. Amy and Michelle and I go exploring in the winter woods, climbing trees and sliding down hills and looking at the patterns of bare branches on the sky, or watch the bright close winter stars. Amy never knew what constellations were before, and she is delighted. Liza lets go of her knees, lifts her head and starts to draw or work with pattern blocks, pleased with the beauty that she can make. Kiera crawls out from under the bookshelf and starts to dance again. Now when I think of hope and fear, I picture Kiera last week, sitting on the kitchen floor with a tall young man from Boston College, building with her blocks,laughing and beaming up at him.
Perfect love drives out all fear. I do not have such love, nor do the children I work with; but if we keep looking clearly at the world and loving as we can, I believe that we shall learn a way of living that is not based on and hemmed in by fear; a way more open to the Spirit; a way that does not lead to war.
MAINTENANCE by Zachary
This winter has been a fairly slow time for projects. The workshop is now completely moved into its new room, and we are adding a sink to the former shop room so that it can be used for seed starting and gardening applications. The students from Boston College also spent some time in that room taping the drywall in preparation for painting. Also while they were here we found a spot where a large amount of air was leaking through the roof and into the downstairs of the barn. We were able to make a temporary repair, but in the spring we will need to do some work all around the barn, sealing it up. Also in the spring we will be building a new greenhouse using six large patio windows which we received in a donation.
There has been a fairly large amount of work going on in the trailers this winter. One of them has had to have the electric motor of its furnace gun repaired, and also has needed a new water heater. Another one has had chronic recurring roof leaking problems. A third one’s underground water supply line has frozen, and we have had to run a line for it across the snow from the next trailer. We are going to have to have part of that water line dug up and replaced when the ground thaws. We also have had to replace the pump in the well that supplies water to the farm buildings and four of the trailers. In the spring the pump house that supplies water to the farm buildings and four of the trailers will need some attention and rebuilding, because a lot of it is rotting.
While the Boston College students were here, another project that they worked on was clearing a one-room addition and hanging drywall at the house of an elderly neighbor of the farm. This project is not quite completed, but it has gotten off to a much better start than would otherwise have been possible.
I have been learning over the winter about how to repair farm machinery. At this point one of the tractors is in working order for the upcoming season, and the other one is almost there. We have a fairly large amount of work to do on our haying equipment before it can be used this summer, and we would appreciate the help of anyone who knows about that sort of thing. There are 2 balers parked out by the edge of the woods, which have not been used in a while. We are planning to get the newer and bigger one of them and bring it in and try to make it functional. Also we will need to replace some boards in the deck of our hay wagon and repair the sicklebar mowers. We are, in conjunction with Unity Acres, going to be doing some fencing repair and construction in the pasture, and clearing away some rocks, which we would appreciate help with. We are planning to move at least part of the old chicken coop over to the garden to act as a toolshed, as soon as the ground is dry enough.
AGRICULTURE by Joanna
In these dark cold months when I can’t go out and work in the garden to relax or center myself I have found time to do some of the thinking and planning for it that I put off during the busy season. I’ve learned about some of the mistakes I made last summer; for example, when my book said not to cover the leaves of potato plants when hilling them I thought it meant not to cover any leaves, but apparently it meant to leave a few sticking out at the top of the mound of soil. No wonder the potatoes we dug were small!
This year we’re trying to extend the time in which we can eat from our garden. We’re planting more early-spring and late-fall crops and concentrating on varieties that store well. We received a donation of large patio windows, and we’re planning to use them in a solar greenhouse in which we hope to grow brassicas and salad greens through the winter. This has been done successfully in Maine, so we think it should work here if we keep the snow shoveled off the windows. Advice and ideas are welcome. We’re also going to try saving seed from our tomatoes, beans, squash and cukes.
As soon as the snow goes down and the temperatures rise just a little bit it will be time to prune the orchard again. We’ve been enjoying the apples that we froze with Diego last fall.
Our chickens are not working out so well; they’re fairly old and have nearly stopped laying over the winter. We are investigating sources of ready-to-lay pullets, preferably of older breeds that can forage well and may brood their eggs and hatch out our next generation of layers. (Our current hens are more apt to eat their eggs if we don’t get to them quickly.) If you have pullets, contacts or suggestions please let us know.
In the spring we’ll bring a couple of piglets to the farm and raise them until fall. They’ll enjoy our excess goat milk in the spring, the tomatoes that get past us in the summer and the apples we don’t have time to put up in the fall, and supply us with quick and rich fertilizer as well as our own meat. We’d much prefer to eat animals that we know, and that have been well-treated.
The goats have dealt very well with the cold, and seem to be enjoying the longer days. We’ve stopped milking Norma, whose kid is due in mid-April. Nancy will give birth in late May, so the BC students were still able to milk her. The children who spend time here are looking forward to meeting the goat kids. We’re still figuring out how to handle pasture and fencing; last year it seemed workable to lead the goats out to eat for an hour or so morning and evening, but sometimes the time was hard to spare, and we bought our goats late enough so that we didn’t have to deal with kids. We’ve been told that large dog-kennels make excellent moveable goat-grazing units—does anyone have kennels or chain-link panels to donate? We’re going to experiment with cutting hay for the goats by hand. Scythes and people experienced in their use would be more than welcome—see the Volunteers article. We also need to start fertilizing the fields—does anyone have a spare manure spreader?
Mower (hay or lawn) Manure spreader Large dog kennel or chain-link fence segments (for grazing goats)
Tools for workshop
Building materials—lumber, drywall, hinges, etc.
Cross country skis, boots
Wooden blocks, simple puzzles, other basic toys for younger children
Your gifts of money or time, your stories and your prayers are always welcome as they are what allow us to maintain our presence in this community.
Thanks to all the people who have sent excellent books and art materials for children. These donations have been used and appreciated on the farm and at the after-school program. Some donations have arrived mysteriously in our front room or come through the hands of several people from Syracuse and points south, and we haven’t been able to identify the givers and thank them as we usually would.
Maybe it is exactly the experience of loneliness that allows us to describe the first tentative lines of solitude. Maybe it is precisely the shocking confrontation with our hostile self that gives us words to speak about hospitality as a real option, and maybe we will never find the courage to speak about prayer as a human vocation without the disturbing discovery of our own illusions….The paradox is indeed that new life is born out of the pains of the old—Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
CHANGES by Lorraine
Sometimes it seems that here at the farm as elsewhere only the changes are constant. When people tell us about the “good old days” the stories are all so different, depending on when they are remembering and what their connection was with this place. And just when I think that I know what to expect, from a winter or a retreat group or a neighbor, I find myself once again surprised. I even surprise myself, handling one situation with unaccustomed poise only to find my patience wearing thin at another seemingly minor difficulty. When I get dizzy out on the fast-spinning edges of this life and this work, I have to find my way once more back to the stillness at the center of it all. It is in being still and knowing that the work is God’s, not mine, that I find the courage to continue the journey.
Spring has been a delight of goat kids and wildflowers, birdsong and light after the darkness of the winter. And it has been a hurrying to get the garden in between the days when it is too wet to work the soil and to get the fence up and the cattle into the pasture before the grass can pass its peak. Yard work for the elders and finding salamanders and frog eggs with or for the children. Bunches of lilacs in all the rooms and early morning bird watching and a day’s work that stretches into evening and exhaustion.
At the after-school program, things also keep changing. One of our wonderful volunteers moved to Fulton in April and the other had a series of health problems that have kept her unavailable for the last two months so that at the end of the year we’ve come around full circle to the farm providing the staff for each session. Sr. Sharon, the director of the program is leaving Rural & Migrant Ministry later this month so the plans for the coming year will be made with someone else. RMMOC applied to participate in United Way based on the after-school program and was accepted about the time the winter weather broke and let us spend more time with the children outside. They have enjoyed playing kickball, looking at insects through a magnifier, making sunprints of natural objects, and planting flowers under the sign in front of the building. They are looking forward to the closing celebration this week and to school being out soon. We hope to see some of them at the farm this summer when school and the after-school are not in session.
The work with elders and children is constant and constantly changing. With my signing on officially with the Catholic Charities respite program I am more able to help Joanna with the children who come. If the goats weren’t valued for their milk, the kids would still be valued for their appeal to the “kids” who come. The children help me look for salamanders or frogs to take for the nature corner at the after-school, try their hand at making bread, fly kites on the hill at the top of the field. The elders call for help with cleaning or yard work in the spring, ones the farm has helped for years or ones who just recently heard of us. They need someone to help and someone to listen. Sometimes we can help and some problems are too big or too tangled for us to know how to solve. One woman needs to move from her mobile home into an apartment that is easier to care for and where she isn’t so alone, but she has 13 cats and cannot find homes for them. Her daughter who took in cats others abandoned died last August. We’ve made many phone calls but found no solution, but we still go and help and listen.
With the spring come more visitors and activity. Our new web site has been generating inquiries from people interested in joining us. Sue Ann came intending to stay for the summer, but has instead become clearer that she is called to a life of solitary prayer and has arranged to explore that life more fully with a Benedictine community. We had another chance to practice our Spanish when Jorge was our guest for the first half of May. The Resigs put together a large crew and came and sawed and split firewood for us on a rainy Saturday just before the black flies emerged. The North Country Service Project group was with us the first week of June. Then several students who were here from Boston College in March will be back to see the farm green instead of white and to help with gardening and haying. Joe Morton and Miguel, our first migrant worker guest, will be up from Baltimore to visit. In between are visits from family and friends from Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. Fr. Tony Keefe’s retirement as pastor is a loss to the parishes of St. Anne’s and St. Patrick’s but a gain to the farm. He has already given us much help with the organizational decisions we face and we look forward to his having more time to spend with us.
Over and over in our time here we are asked about the farm, what it really is, who those of us living here are answerable to, who is “in charge”. I used to smile and answer that SFF is a “charitable disorganization.” The next months should provide a different answer to that question. Time of Jubilee has owned the farm since soon after Fr. Ray McVey bought it, but their home and community building work on the south side of Syracuse is growing and they don’t see a Catholic Worker farm as part of their mission to the urban poor. So we will need to organize our own land trust or other corporation to hold the land. We are working to clarify our mission, getting legal advice and help from the Oswego County Housing Development Council about the mobile homes that provide low income housing. We talk to those who were here before us and to Catholic Workers in other places, trying to find a structure that allows us to carry on the diverse work of this place without tying us up in ways that would diminish our basic ministry of presence. We are grateful for the prayers and patience of all the “farm family” as we undertake these changes.
CLARIFICATION OF THOUGHT by Joanna
I often say that we are here at St. Francis Farm to live out an alternative to the consumer culture, which is often referred to as ‘the Real World” as if there were no other. But our life here comes to seem quite normal to me, and I am mainly aware of how far we have to go. When migrant workers, retreatants from parishes and private schools, children, social workers and fellow seekers of community join us, however, they seem to find our way of life startlingly different from what they are used to.
Sometimes this difference seems to be a gift to them. One of our migrant guests, accustomed to hard work, returned home determined to spend more time with his family and his God, and willing to live more simply in order to do this. College students from fast-paced lives have written to say that they now feel a need for silent time in the mornings. Children discover with surprise that it can be fun to cook and eat fresh eggs, or to pick and eat vegetables, even if they are supposed to be ‘healthy food’. A retreatant said that it was good to know that it really was possible to live a simple life in community, which she had almost given up on.
Sometimes the difference seems like a threat or a disappointment. Some guests who came seeking community have found the presence, attention or concern of other people burdensome, and have gone seeking greater privacy. Some who came looking for a simpler, more peaceful way of life find the pace here too slow or the food and space too plain. I sometimes find it difficult to deal with these disappointments; but when we are able to talk about them openly and work through them I can see that there is a gift and a lesson here as well.
For, when I can see things from the still place in the center, I know that we are not here simply in order to convince other people to live as we live. We are here to show that there are very real choices about how to live one’s life, and to provide a space in which our guests can come to discern their own callings. One guest went with a clear sense that she was called to a more solitary life of contemplative prayer. I hope that others also may leave with a clearer sense of what matters to them.
In the end, all I really know is that I am shaped and stretched and called by my own joy and disappointment in our common life. No, it is not always all that I imagine or wish, but through it I am learning to be competent and to know the limits of my competence, to take initiative and to yield to what other people need, to hold fast and to let go. That is enough.
SUE ANNE’S GYPSY PILGRIMAGE by Sue Anne herself
In my journey across the United States I have lived at various communities. They have been numerous and interesting and have taken me to New York, Hawaii, California, and many other states. What has spurred my searching has been the need to address over consumption in this country. Growing up, living simply was something I tried to do and people always told me that was fine, but not to try and force it on anyone else. I accepted this for awhile, but after living at Jubilee Partners in Georgia and learning how directly our consumer lifestyle so adversely affects developing countries, I knew that this problem must be addressed in a more radical way. I have found that both the Franciscan way and the Catholic Worker approach to this issue addressed the problem in ways that I believe in. The Catholic Worker Farms have special appeal to me. I have found great value and meaning in growing my own food and in feeding people and finding other ways of nourishing others. We have lost so much in the closing of countless small farms and in a way of life that was meaningful and honest.
I had known of St. Francis Farm here in Lacona, NY for years, but had stayed away because of the lengthy, snowy winters. I have recently spent time in the South (great for growing things year round), but never found what I was searching for, so, I decided to give St. Francis Farm a try. I have been here for three days and am settling in and finding my way. The people here are great. There are chickens and goats and a beautiful garden and wonderful places to explore. I am looking forward to visiting more with the people at the farm…..
It has now been almost two weeks since I arrived and I have learned a great deal. Much good conversation has been shared and much inner exploration has gone on. What has become clear to me and has been a growing conviction over the last several years is that I need to pursue my call to live a more prayerful life. Hence, I will be spending some time at Osage Monastery in Sand Springs, OK. It is a Benedictine community that combines Eastern and Western Spirituality. They allow people to become temporary members, which will allow me to explore this rather neglected side of my life.
WEBSITE RUNNING by Dan
Saint Francis Farm’s website, stfrancisfarm.org, began operation just as the newsletter was going out back in March. There you can find old newsletters, directions to the farm, information on the premises and mission, information for prospective groups, and some pictures from the farm. Special thanks to Joe Grieco for obtaining the domain name and for advice on getting the site going. The text for the site was done by all of the core community and it was html-ed and uploaded by Dan. If you find any problems with the site or have helpful suggestions, please contact us.
MY WEEK AT THE FARM by Marianne Comfort
St. Francis Farm was meant to be just a place to stay while a group of us performed service projects in the area. But our stay with Lorraine, Joanna, Zachary, Dan and Sue Anne turned out to be a highlight of the week.
Eight of us arrived on a Sunday evening for the first-ever North Country Service Project, five days of hands-on ministry coordinated by the religious vocation directors for the Franciscan Brothers, Syracuse Franciscans, Daughters of Charity and Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. We came with some of our own provisions and a full agenda of morning and evening prayers, a few hours of painting and roofing at a home in Pulaski, and a collection of games for evening entertainment.
By Saturday morning we had collected many insights from these experiences, and also some valuable lessons from our hosts in simple living, hospitality and care of neighbors.
It became clear early on that the snacks we thought we needed to get us through several days of manual labor were an intrusion on the full-time farm residents’ lifestyle of eating from what’s available from their garden, the cans and freezer containers from last year’s harvest and what they can purchase inexpensively from the food bank and area grocery stores. It got me thinking about my own food choices and the vast difference between wants and true needs, and the fact that many people have no choices at all when they look into near-empty cupboards and refrigerators.
I have to admit to having little patience with farm work myself, but I truly appreciate the hard work that goes into it and the bounty of the harvest I enjoy as a long-time member of a community supported agriculture farm in the Capital Region of the state. At St. Francis Farm, I also got to taste farm products as they were transformed into hearty meals by the farmers themselves. We were treated to apple chunks frozen from the fruit of trees on the property that had been stirred into pancake batter and into oatmeal; raspberries that were baked into breakfast biscuits; eggs from the farm chickens that were boiled and turned into a lunchtime salad flavored with dill from the garden; goat cheese tucked into sheets of lasagna; and home-canned green beans tossed into a cheesy pasta supper dish.
I asked Zachary and Joanna if they had ever considered operating a CSA operation to bring in some income, but they explained that their main aim is to produce enough food for themselves, their guests and their lower-income neighbors.
We were fortunate to have good weather for most of the week, and the one rainy day turned out to be a blessing as it provided opportunities for wonderful conversations. While Joanna and Lorraine fixed lunch in the kitchen, they shared their experiences with home schooling and their critique of the formal educational system. Afterward, Joanna and I had a very honest and open sharing about the complexities of lifestyle choices, even in the search for simplicity.
I fittingly topped off the whole experience with an attempt at milking Nancy and Norma, which really was just dribbling a few splashes of milk into a pail before the goats got impatient and I turned over the chore to the experts.
And we left with a feeling of fulfillment, knowing that we had spruced up an old man’s home with some new paint, a new porch roof and some plants in the yard. The transformation was enough to draw passersby into the driveway to comment on how nice the property now looked. More importantly, we had brought some lively company into Tony’s life with our presence several days in a row and we were in turn touched by his expressions of faith and joy in the Lord.
Editor’s Note: This summer, due to changes and challenges on the farm, in the world and in the Church, we have very few groups scheduled. Once we have made some basic decisions about how we are organized we will feel prepared to seek groups more actively again. In the meantime, we are growing clearer and clearer about what St. Francis Farm is and what experience we have to offer to groups. A retreatant with the most recent group to stay at St. Francis Farm wrote this description of her group’s stay with us.
MAINTENANCE By Zachary
This spring has, as is usual, been a fairly busy time at the farm. In the farmhouse we have had to replace all of the hot and cold water lines in the basement. They were old galvanized steel lines, which had rusted on the inside, and the rust was clogging them. They have all been replaced with copper lines, which do not corrode, and should last for a very long time. We have also had to replace the propane water heater in the house, which died after being submerged one time too many when the sump pump failed in April. It has been replaced with an electric tank, which sits much higher off the floor, and should be safe. The propane tank which had sat by the farmhouse for a very long time is now removed, and has been returned to Agway, whence it came.
The North Country Service Project came and used the farm as their base for a week of community service. Their main project while here was working on Tony Campolieti’s house. They painted it white, and replaced a rotten porch roof in back, making an incredible difference to its appearance. I went and worked with them on their last day there, and enjoyed replacing a couple of windows with Sister Jeanne.
Sister Louise of Rural and Migrant Ministry arranged for our trailers to be inspected by the Oswego County Housing Development Council. The conclusion which was reached was that the trailer nearest to the farmhouse is no longer viable as housing and needs to be torn down, due to its age and the intensity of the problems it has. When it is no longer occupied we will take out the windows and doors which have been installed there in the last year or so, and move them to another trailer which is in need of some replacements. The rest of it we will tear down and reuse as much as possible. The other trailers will need some work, but it seems that they are still in good enough shape to be repairable. Some of them need roof work, or floor repair, and some of them have problems with loose electric sockets. All of them need additional smoke alarms installed.
We are going to be removing the old greenhouse and constructing a more efficient one using six large patio windows which were donated back in the winter. We would appreciate help from anyone who has experience with greenhouse design and construction. It will open directly from the back door of the barn, which means we will be able to open that door in the early spring and let excess heat from the barn out into there. We tore down half of the old chicken coop, and dragged the good half over to the back lawn behind the farmhouse. It is very convenient to the garden, and has proved its usefulness as a shed already. The pasture has a new fence around it, and seven cows from Unity Acres have moved in. Thanks to John Ferry and Diane Petrowski, the knowledgeable veterinarians who provided untold amounts of materials and labor, and pushed the project through to completion much more rapidly than we could have, and to the crew from Unity Acres.
At this point we are waiting for a few parts to come in that we have ordered for the haying equipment, but soon we should be all ready to begin, as soon as the weather improves. We would very much appreciate any farm machinery, parts or experience. We are considering mowing the hay for our goats mechanically, and then raking it by hand and storing it loose under the pole barn for winter use.
AGRICULTURE by Joanna
Spring is rushing into summer; the trees are leafing out, the gardens are starting to produce, and sometimes it seems that everything needs to be done at once.
Norma the milk goat presented us with 3 lively kids in mid-April. Bertha, Bucko and Izzy delight us with their antics and keep us busy trying to mend any gaps in the fence through which they might be able to wriggle out. Shortly after their birth I asked Dr. Diane Ferry to look them over and vaccinate them, since Unity Acres had recommended her. To our surprise and delight, she donated her time, both to deal with our immediate problems and to help us think about fencing, hay, and our long-term plans for the goats. On May 26 Nancy gave birth to a daughter, Amal, which means ‘hope’ in Arabic. If she grows well she will join our milking herd.
Dr. Diane and her husband and fellow vet Dr. John Ferry have also given time and supplies to rebuild the fence around the pasture so that Unity Acres’ cows and calves can spend the summer there. In the last week of May we joined men from Unity Acres in the unwieldy but enjoyable process of herding the cows a bit over a mile through the woods.
In the first week of June we picked up 2 lively piglets. Mumbo and Jumbo are happily rooting up the grass in their movable pen and eating extra milk, whey, table scraps and garden waste in addition to conventional pig grain. We’re enjoying their presence and looking forward to well-rotted manure for the gardens and pork for the freezer this fall.
We have some delightful new hens from Anita of Pekin Brook Farm, who is known locally as an animal rescuer. These hens are young and used to foraging, and much less inclined to eat their eggs than our earlier hens, who are now residing in the freezer. We’ve put their rolling coop at the end of the garden, where they control the weeds and eat grubs that might otherwise encroach on the garden proper.
We enjoyed asparagus from the patch we put in last year. We could only harvest it for two weeks this year, so that energy can go back into the roots; next year there should be plenty. Kale, chard and bunching onions grew back even after the very harsh winter, and helped us through the time before our spring plantings started to yield. The first succession of peas is blossoming, and we have been enjoying fresh lettuce and spinach. Potatoes and beets are well up, and the onions, leeks and brassicas that we started in the greenhouse are thriving. The tomatoes and peppers are off to a slow start in this cold wet season, although the eggplants seem to be thriving, who knows why.
Our new garden project for this year is strawberries. We set them out in April, and they are flourishing. We won’t get to eat any of the June-bearing strawberries until next year, but we’ll be able to sample the everbearing ones in the fall. I find it hard to pinch off the blossoms and wait, but I remember our first months here, how we had to cut back on our activities and take care of the basics first, and gather enough wisdom and energy to start branching out again.
We’re working on improving our beds. Last year we defined clear paths and crop areas, and started concentrating all our soil amendments in the parts that would be planted year after year. This year we’re digging the topsoil from the paths and adding it to the beds. This is slow work, but it should improve drainage, discourage weeds in the paths (we’re putting down rocks and wood chips to help with this—thanks to the town of Orwell which donated the latter) and keep concentrating the fertility of the soil in areas that will actually be growing food.
A boy who lives in a large apartment complex has been spending time at the farm regularly, and was excited by the idea of getting to plant things and watch them grow. I helped him plant a double row of sunflowers in front of the farmhouse, and we planted two large pots with marigolds (my suggestion) and baby’s breath (his wish) for him to take home and tend. He is delighted with his flowers that are coming up, and is looking forward to picking peas and tomatoes later in the year.
Words for the Journey
As we seek an organizational structure to carry forward the work of the farm, we have found the following quotes from our reading helpful guides and timely reminders of why we came to this work.
from Following Christ in a Consumer Society by J. F. Kavanaugh:
“the greatest tragedy happens for Christians when they sell, ignore, or explain away the heart of their belief itself, of their very God, to the dictates of practicality, helplessness, self-defence, consumption and marketability.” (p. 98)
“A community of this kind must be (a) consciously choiceful, (b) explicitly committed to and willing to be called to the life of the Gospels, (c) open to change through the authentic living-out of its principles and willing to be challenged to fuller Christian praxis, and (d) prepared to confront the patterns of the Commodity Form—injustice, manipulation, domination, dishonesty, escape—not only as they appear in the culture at large but also as they surface within the group itself.” (p. 133)
“why prayer is so difficult . . . There is no empirical pay-off, no immediate guarantee of success, no way to measure or control, no way to evaluate competitively. Silent solitude is filled with risk. It lacks pragmatics. It is hopelessly unmarketable.” (p. 136)
and from Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen:
“We cannot change the world by a new plan, project, or idea. We cannot change people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to discern themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center.” (p.76)
“The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from many “safe gods” to the God whose love has no limits.” (p. 126)
“We need someone who encourages us when we are tempted to give up, to forget it all, to just walk away in despair. We need someone to discourage us when we move too rashly in unclear directions or hurry proudly to a nebulous goal.” (p.137)
and from Listening Spirituality by Patricia Loring:
Our worth and meaning as an institution consists precisely in being faithful to listening for the Divine in our lives and to expressing, in our relationships and activities, the Oneness that we experience or in which we trust. In changing historical and cultural circumstances our continuity and faithfulness lie not in our preserving antique—or lifeless—forms of any kind, but in what has been referred to as a dependency of mind, expectant waiting, holy obedience and faithfulness to God.
Gas-powered string trimmer
Garden trowels and round-tipped shovels
Lumber and concrete blocks for greenhouse
Twin mattresses and boxsprings
Books (not textbooks) in Spanish
Simple, sturdy children’s clothing and rain gear
Help with greenhouse design, gardening, trailer repairs
Thanks again to all the people who have donated lovely children’s’ books! They have been used and appreciated.
Spaces by Lorraine
This summer at the farm has reminded me of the years when Joanna and Zachary were young and learning in non-traditional ways. Because they weren’t going to school and because they were clearly curious and interested in many things, friends and family and people I had just met often offered suggestions. I was often told of some class or program or school or camp that would be the perfect opportunity for one or both of them. Many of these opportunities did sound wonderful and there were times when I felt guilty about the things they were missing. Because we lived in a rural area and because my vision was too poor for driving, they were involved in fewer organized activities than their friends or their cousins. But as the opportunities and the suggestions accumulated, I began to realize that there were too many of them, no matter how beneficial or interesting they might be. I began to think about the value of spaces. Even when transportation could be arranged, we began to ask what we would set aside to make time for the new activity that was described in such attractive terms. We began to be grateful for the “handicap” that had provided some space in our lives. And that is how the summer has been, spaces opening up and opportunities among which to choose.
For the past decade, summer at SFF has meant groups of young people from across the northeast coming to learn and pray and work with the core community. There have been fewer such groups in the last few summers. We miss the energy and extra hands at work, and we look at the space created here to house such groups and see an opening. Not being so busy with groups gives us the time we need to sort out the organizational issues and to step back and look at our mission. We look at the feedback from groups who have come and talk to people who came with groups or worked at the farm before we arrived to understand what has changed and what worked and what didn’t. From the Boston College students who returned to the farm this summer after coming with a group in March, we hear of the value of this space in their lives, space to stop and think about the next steps in their journeys, opportunity to work with their hands and share meals and prayer with this community. A van from Brady Faith Center stopped by in August to picnic by our pond and see the farm. In that visit we were reminded of the value to city youngsters of the simple things we take for granted. They were so enthusiastic about feeding the goats and finding eggs in the nest box of the chicken coop, pulling heads of garlic to take home, finding frogs and feeding fish at the pond. When we feel discouraged it is easy to see the space as a sign of failure, but if we are faithful in the work that is clearly given to us then I believe that those who need what the farm has to offer will be led here as we were led.
Soon school will be starting for another year and the after-school program at Rural & Migrant Ministry that I coordinate will be starting as well. I had not been looking forward to that, had felt frustrated with the expectation of some parents and teachers that I could somehow make students do their homework and the expectation of some students that I could somehow take the boredom out of their lives. Then a friend from our Quaker meeting came to visit and gave me materials on conflict resolution that she uses in schools in Syracuse. Here was a collection of activities and ideas to help children communicate better, recognize emotions, deal with anger and conflict constructively. Over and over last year I faced students who were too upset to learn anything and I tried to give them at least some privacy or a listening ear or a reminder to just breathe. I couldn’t make them do their homework or give them dirt bikes or ponies to ride, but I began to be excited about the possibility of working on this material with the children. Sr. Louise was enthusiastic about the material when I showed it to her at our planning meeting and we’re looking forward to starting the new year. My failure to be able to make students do homework created a space for some new possibilities.
Another frustration ever since our arrival at the farm two years ago has been how to work with the trailers and how they work with the farm. The trailer problem became more pressing as we worked toward organizing so Time of Jubilee can be divested of the farm. We were informed that having three or more trailers made us a trailer park although the housing provided had never been registered as one, and we were advised to form a separate corporation to handle the trailer park. With help from Fr. Tony Keeffe we had invited several people to serve on a board for such a corporation, but I was very uncomfortable with the prospect or with just abruptly ending the housing offered, and I kept going back to it in prayer. The night before I was to meet with the future board members to make some decisions, the idea came to me that we could keep the two homes that have the longest occupancy, empty the two trailers in the worst condition and with tenants who came in just before we arrived here, empty one other trailer that was in good condition and could be used for emergency shelter when needed, and not have to formalize our problematic trailer park. When I explained the problems and my struggle to Fr. Tony and the others the next day, they affirmed the solution that had come to me. The tenants have all found other housing and there is a space opened up beside the farmhouse and will be a space for emergency housing soon.
Summer on a farm is a busy time, and over and over I am reminded and need to remind the others that stopping is important as well as getting things done. Sometimes we all just get too tired to work effectively or listen compassionately and we need to stop. Zachary had been fretting about being behind on the hay due to weather and breakdowns. When the weather was dry he pushed too hard and when it was wet he hurried to get the other things done that he had neglected. Then we took a Saturday afternoon off to take a visitor who had been with us all week to Salmon River Falls. Zachary got poison ivy on his feet which he made worse by wearing shoes and working anyway until he was forced to take a couple days indoors and barefoot to let the sore places heal. The two days gave him space to rest and we all found we had missed his humor and his laugh when he was pushing too hard. Joanna was fretting about the difficulties of making plans with the families of some of the children she tries to see each week. Some don’t have phones and some have but don’t return messages and weeks went by in which she couldn’t arrange a visit with some of the children. When she talked to her contact at Catholic Charities about the problem she was told that there was a waiting list and asked if she had time and energy to start with another child. Another space open for another new beginning. I wonder how many blessings we miss because we are too hurried and crowded and full to receive them and I try again to be willing to be emptied or filled by the Spirit who calls us to this life of work and prayer.
Beyond Measure by Joanna
I spent the first three weekends of August talking about St. Francis Farm’s ministry at parishes in our diocese assigned by the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. I was blessed by the opportunity to experience a wide variety of churches and to talk to many people about their faith and how they are putting it into practice. I tried to describe our ministry of presence, the concerns from which it arises, some of our encounters with our neighbors. And afterwards people came up to me and said “How lovely! Now, how many people are staying with you?” And I wished that I could give a large and impressive number, instead of explaining “It doesn’t work that way….” When people come to visit the farm from other service agencies, they talk about how many people they house, how many meals they serve, how many ‘service encounters’ they have each week. People understand those numbers immediately, and can appreciate what a difference these ministries are making in their communities. I am grateful for all those who work in this way. Sometimes I am also envious. But that is not what we are doing at St. Francis Farm.
It can also be hard to describe exactly what we are doing. We aren’t a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, a rehabilitation center or an advocacy group. I suppose we are simply trying to be good neighbors; this means that we do some of the things that any of the above groups might do. We live here as simply and peaceably as we may, we create a space into which our neighbors can come for healing and refreshment, and when they come we listen to them. Sometimes as we listen we find other ways in which we can be helpful. The challenge for me is to remain present and open and welcome those who come, rather than anxiously trying to find something to do so that I can feel sure I’m doing something worthwhile; and, when I am available to someone, not to be too anxious for obvious results.
When I work with children I am sometimes asked to evaluate, on a number scale, the improvement in the child’s self-esteem, social skills, behavior and so on. I find it hard to answer. And I find myself wondering with all the people we work with: Does this make a difference? Will Liza ever feel safe enough to ask for what she wants directly instead of manipulating for it? Will John learn some way of resolving conflicts without using his fists? When Judith is a grown woman, will she be strong enough not to re-create the abusive relationships that have been passed down in her family? Will Theo ever remember to follow through and do the things he says he’ll do? After all these years of living on her own, will Thelma be able to choose to move to a place where she can get the help that she needs before she gets sicker? I don’t know. I don’t need to know. All I need to do is be available, to listen to stories and questions and worries and dreams, to take out Thelma’s trash on an icy day or run the vacuum cleaner, to be gentle but firm with Liza’s manipulations and encourage her spunkiness, her creativity and her attempts to help, to plant flowers with Theo and remind him that we need to weed and water them if they’re going to grow, to let Judith tell her fears and her memories, directly or indirectly, and give her a space where she is safe. And I can do even this only for a little while; people move away, get busy, get sick, get angry, and I lose touch with them. Then I need to leave them in God’s hands and turn to welcome the next person who comes.
There are times of gift; Miguel’s visit this summer, and his obvious healing and growth and generosity; letters from students who say they find strength and focus in the silence now, and feel more free to follow their visions even if this makes less money or isn’t popular; Tess, who came to the afterschool program rather belligerent and inclined to dislike everything, now showing enthusiasm and learning to say “I don’t know how to do that” without defensiveness, and to feel proud of what she can do. These don’t add up to anything large and impressive; they are small and commonplace things, but they give us strength to keep following God in the little things, knowing that we are part of God’s love and work which is beyond measure.
Maintenance by Zachary
We have been carrying out the recommendations of the Oswego Housing Development Council this summer..St. Francis Farm’s oldest trailer became vacant in July, and was torn down over the course of the next month or so. We were able to save a lot of the windows, lumber and plumbing and electrical parts for reuse elsewhere, and some things are being sold, if they are not usable here or in our projects elsewhere. We have also sealed the roofs of three of the other trailers, repaired some plumbing problems and some faulty electrical fixtures. Still to be done this fall are 2 floor repair jobs, some work on a furnace, and 3 door replacements.
We replaced a porch floor in Constantia, and we are going to replace a porch roof in Redfield and another porch floor in Pulaski at some point before winter. The pole barn, across the road from the farmhouse, which is used for hay storage had begun to rack slightly over the last yea or two, but we have put braces up to hold it from racking further. When the bike tour was here in August they helped at various local houses. At one, they painted porch floors and a swingset and picnic table in the yard, at another they painted an addition and did some yard work, and they cleaned the basement at Rural and Migrant Ministry.
We are drawing plans for our new greenhouse. We have been given some very helpful advice by various people, and hopefully construction will begin on it in September. We will try to dig trenches for the foundation walls to a depth of five feet, which may not be possible, given the number of rocks around here. We also will need to remove a piece of a concrete slab, which may prove difficult, but no doubt it will get done somehow.
Haying this summer has been fairly successful. It has been a joint effort with Unity Acres, and thus far most of the fields are mowed, and about 1300 bales of hay have been made. Our goats only need 75 bales or so for the winter, but the beef cows at UA need quite a lot to stay well fed. Some of the fields are mostly weeds, and are just going to be mowed, since they are not very nutritious. Our baler has been somewhat problematic, but UA bought a used one in late August that works much better. The rockiness of the fields has been hard on the mower and rake, which have needed continuing attention and some new parts but are mostly working well. We are hoping for a little bit more good weather to finish getting in the hay from the good fields. Any donations of knowledge or equipment to help with next year’s haying would be very much appreciated.
Agriculture by Joanna
The harvest is in full swing now, and sometimes it seems all I can do to pick and help can and water and keep a little way ahead of the weeds. Writing this has given me a chance to look back at the last two newsletters and what we meant to do at the beginning of the year. Some things haven’t gone according to plan, but we are learning.
The goat kids were delightful, and greatly enjoyed by the children who visit the farm; however, it became increasingly clear that they took more time, energy and space than we had available. They were sold for meat in mid-August along with Norma, whose poor udder attachment and extreme bullying tendencies with other goats made us reluctant to keep her for another year. We were pleased to find a buyer who is careful and humane in her treatment of the animals, and friendly to their owners as well. Nikita joined our milking herd on the same day. She is responding well to this place, and is very good company for Nancy, as we had hoped that Norma would be.
Mumbo and Jumbo are growing apace. The moving pen system seems to work well; we’ve been pleasantly surprised by their robust health, the lack of bad odor and the fact that they haven’t yet broken out of their pen. It has also been helpful to have a good use for excess milk as well as cores, peels and vegetables that get past us in the garden. Now the orchard is starting to produce again, and there are plenty of good apples for us to eat and freeze and plenty of rejects for the pigs, who seem to enjoy them. Thanks to Unity Acres for sharing pig-bread with us. The pigs seem to prefer it to regular hog mash, and it saves a lot of money too. Jumbo is now much larger than Mumbo, but both still seem to get access to food and water, and to enjoy each others’ company.
We’ve had an unexpected reduction in our chicken population; a neighbor’s dog broke in and killed four of our hens. The remaining five, however, are living much more peaceably together than they had been. Perhaps they were too crowded before.
The cool, rainy summer came as a surprise after two hot dry growing seasons. This year I wouldn’t have needed to focus on buying drought-resistant seed varieties! The peas have responded wonderfully; we are still able to get a few edible-pod peas from the spring planting, and the fall snow peas are starting to bear. Our onions are much better than last year’s, although we started most from seed not sets. The basil has stayed rather puny, and we think the cool wet weather doesn’t work so well for it. We have canned all the green beans we need for winter and are now enjoying giving them away. The tomatoes were late this year, but now the windowsills are packed with ripening tomatoes and we’re plunging into canning. The cherry tomatoes don’t can well, but we’ve enjoyed them fresh and in stirfries, and the families we work with seem to like them too. We’ve also been giving squash away as fast as possible. Last year the slugs ate most of our squash; this year I overcompensated, and the summer squash are bearing much more than we can eat, while we’re kept busy pulling back sprawling tendrils of winter squash and pumpkins from other beds. We have a small but constant and very tasty supply of fruit from the everbearing strawberry plants we set out in April. I’m eagerly anticipating next year’s harvest from the Junebearers. The tops of our potatoes died early, but the tubers underneath are much bigger than last year’s. And the pole barn is hung with curing garlic. We’ve given garlic to various friends and neighbors to cook with, and a longtime gardener at Unity Acres will be planting some.
We didn’t get all our beds properly raised this year, but I can see that turning them by hand has made a difference. There are still rocks, but not nearly as many as there had been; and in spite of the rain the weeds have been more manageable than they once were.
The seed-saving project is under way. We have quite a lot of pea seed almost dry, and have set some beans and squash aside for seed-maturing purposes. We’ll see how it works next year.
The new attached greenhouse/sunroom for growing winter vegetables has been clearly planned (thanks to Mike Resig’s assistance) but not built yet. The old greenhouse is coming down now; then we need to dig the new foundation and start construction. Doubtless that also will not go entirely as planned, but we’ll learn as we go.
When we (Hoyt family) lived back in Maine, we had a blank book that we called “the keeper book”. In it we wrote the things we wanted to remember, verbal snapshots of places or people or special moments. Since we find less time for reading in the busy summer months, we decided to share some of our memories from this summer in place of our usual quotations from our reading.
Watching a young great blue heron learn to hunt along the margins of our pond for three days in August.
The afternoon Jerry and Carol Berrigan brought their brother Daniel to meet us and see the farm. We sat with them and Mark Capone in the chapel, talking and then in silence and peace.
Sitting under the pole barn watching the clouds billow past and hearing the rain thunder on the tin roof and the real thunder ripple across the sky.
Singing songs, telling stories, listening for owls around a campfire in the woods with Joe and Miguel and another friend
Picking black raspberries with the Kennedy girls
Swinging by the pond and watching the stars come out
Watching Theo watch his sunflowers grow and bloom
Bicycling around in the State Forest
Seeing a double rainbow while milking goats one lonely evening
Going out to see the stars before bed one night and seeing Mars so bright and close above the horizon that I had to call the others and we stayed out for a while, some in short sleeves or bare feet, as the cold deepened and the owls began to call.
Making huge bubbles in the damp dusk with the bubble thing two students from Boston College had sent us in the mail that day.
Taking Protus, a visiting student from Tanzania, on a hurried tour of the farm and learning from him that our pigs’ names mean “hello” and “how are you?” in Swahili.
Being startled by twin fawns jumping up and running away from a clump of tall grass just fifteen feet in front of us when we were out grazing Nancy and Norma.
Sleeping outside on the hill as the coals burned down from our fire
Garden spades or shovel handles
Mattresses and box springs for dorms
Books (not textbooks) in Spanish
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
Puzzles up to 100 pieces
Mittens, gloves and boots in small sizes for visiting kids
Volunteers to help with greenhouse construction, harvesting/canning, trailer repairs…..
Field mowers in any condition, or parts
6” wire wheel for the bench grinder
Washers, bolts, and cotter pins
Hay wagon or running gear
How Much Is Enough? by Lorraine
That was the first of the questions that shaped the journey that led me to this place, and I spent a year or two wrestling with it and wondering about it before moving to another question. But in recent months that old question has come back with some insistence and some new dimensions. So in this season when we count our blessings and give thanks and the following celebration in which we give gifts and try to produce miracles or create a little magic, I ponder again, “how much is enough?”
In my other world it was quite clear to me that I had enough and more than enough even though I caught myself worrying about whatever seemed lacking. We were warm and well fed and had access to health care when we needed it and entertainment when we wanted it. When something broke, there was money to have it repaired or replaced. Here there is a new edge to the question when we look into the woodshed or fuss with the boiler on the coldest, windiest days trying to get just a little more heat. It is warm enough so the pipes don’t freeze and we don’t notice it too much when we’re working. But is it warm enough when some of us are sick? And what about the recurring power outages? Is there enough money to buy a generator to keep the freezers going in summer or the circulator pumps for the boiler in winter? Is there enough time and energy to respond to the latest call, the needs all around us? Some days I look at the three younger folks who share this life and work with me and I worry that they are too thin, too tired, too anxious, too stretched. We all chose this life, this work, and the challenge keeps us growing, but we all need a rest. We take Sundays off and soon, surely soon, it will really be the slow time. Is that enough?
When Agustin was with us this fall, he obviously needed rest and good food, but he wanted to help and at first he was able to eat only tiny amounts. Again the language barrier increased the difficulty. Spanish was his second language after an Aztec dialect and his English was limited to greeting, thanks and apology. I wondered what chores we could give him that would satisfy his idea of obligation without exhausting him, what food would encourage him to eat more, how much actually was enough for someone half the size of Zach or Dan. Only Joanna could speak with him with any ease, and he was clearly and understandably lonely. With all of our other Latino guests I had been able to communicate enough to learn something of their stories. This time my Spanish, limited as his English, left us dependent on Joanna for any meaningful exchange. I realize I need to work on Spanish this winter. It isn’t really enough to feed and house our migrant worker guests and invite them into our life of work and prayer and to come on our walks or listen to our music or play games with us. I wanted to hear about his family, to ask how he was feeling and understand the answer, to answer his questions about our life here.
From Agustin and other migrant workers here before him, from local people we are coming to know we hear the insistent demands created by commercial advertising. We see longing for whatever promises popularity or security or excitement or progress. I pose the question gently—”How much is enough?” I tell an elder worried about how to afford the Christmas gifts that grandchildren and great grandchildren expect that her memories and stories are a gift. A parent mentions wistfully something read recently about simplifying Christmas and shakes her head because the television is incessantly hyping the toys for the season. We talk about alternatives and I offer an Advent through Epiphany calendar that could help keep the focus on the holy days. Children come to spend time at the farm with no gloves or mittens, no hat or boots for the growing cold. When we take them home, the Christmas decorations are already strung and flashing and crowding the small space, whatever is newest, whatever is being sold this season.
I notice that it isn’t the amount available as much as the story we build around it that determines how much is enough. When we go to do yard work for elders or pass along donated school supplies to children, the response to the same help varies widely. Sometimes there is gratitude and sometimes there is only increasing demand so that what is given is never enough. I remember the story of the loaves and fishes– a hungry boy with lunch in his pocket, the disciples counting the crowd and sensing scarcity, Jesus giving thanks and creating abundance. I realize again the poverty of always being the one in need, anxious and grasping and counting. And the richness of being able to give, of knowing there is enough. And I remember the winter when I was a young girl and my family was living for a few years just outside Philadelphia, far from extended family in Maine. My father had been very sick that fall and unable to work so there were medical bills and no income. My oldest sister gathered us younger ones as Christmas approached and told us that there wouldn’t be any gifts, that my parents felt bad about it and that we must not make them feel any worse. The first Sunday of December was “white gift Sunday” at the church we attended and everyone brought gifts wrapped in white tissue paper. We also took gifts—a book, a pair of mittens, canned food. We knew there was enough to share. On Christmas morning my sisters and brother and I were amazed to find full stockings, piles of presents under the tree, mouth-watering aromas from the kitchen, and very tired and very happy parents watching us stand with our mouths open in wonder. People from our church had come the night before while we children slept and unloaded a station wagon full of food and gifts which my parents spent the night preparing. We never had such an overflowing Christmas again, never had one when there wasn’t enough to share. I learned something though about giving and receiving, about being part of a web through which gifts flow, that I have never forgotten. Enough is what is shared, what is received with a thankful heart.
Agriculture by Joanna
The ground is freezing and the garden is done for the year, except for the last of the leeks and kale. We’ve managed to get most of the empty beds turned and composted for next spring, and next year’s garlic is planted and covered. We need to find some more sources of manure and compost material—the one drawback of the moving-pigpen system is that there are no large manure accumulations, although this means that the land they used is well fertilized as well as being tilled. They turned up some huge rocks at their last pen locations; the round ones were carted into the woods and the flat ones taken to form part of the stone path Zachary has started laying around the garden.
The pigs were butchered late in October, and we are enjoying home-grown pork, which tastes as different from store meat as our tomatoes do from the ones that can be bought all year round at groceries. I didn’t know much about asking questions or giving instructions for pig butchering, but Tanya Shirley was ready with help and advice, as usual. We sold our smaller pig, and it seems that there are other people around who would be glad to have pigs raised for them. We need to think about this; one pig supposedly is lonely, so having two makes sense, but with more it would be hard to keep their pen on fresh ground, or to supplement their grain well with milk and apples and garden extras. And most of what we raise is for our own consumption or for giving away, not for sale.
Nancy and Nikita are getting along well and giving plenty of milk. Soon it will be time to breed Nikita for an April kid. We’ll keep milking Nancy through this winter; we don’t need many kids, and we hope a year off from kidding may help her gain some weight.
The time for gardening and goat-grazing is over, and now there’s time to settle back, enjoy the food we’ve put up, make plans and daydream about next year’s growing season, starting seedlings in the new greenhouse Zachary and Dan built and trying out our saved seeds. There’s plenty to be thankful for.
Hospitality by Dan
This summer we missed the connection with Deacon David Sweenie of the Spanish Apostolate, having had no long-term migrant worker guest as we had the previous summer. But in mid-September Deacon Sweenie called, asking us if we would be willing to receive Agustin, a migrant worker recovering from illness related to overworking. He only needed a couple of weeks of recuperation, but we were unsure whether this would be doable, because during much of that time the Hoyts would be away for their annual vacation back in their home state of Maine, leaving me and my very limited Spanish the only hospitality for Agustin. We soon agreed that we would welcome Agustin for a few days and see how it went before the Hoyts left
Agustin arrived on a Tuesday. In spite of his illness, right away he began helping all that he could. At first this was limited to peeling and slicing apples and sweeping, which he executed with great diligence and remarkable persistence. Soon, however, he was helping in the garden with weeding and harvesting tomatoes, and despite our injunctions to take it easy, he was always looking for something he could do to help, however strenuous the task. While Agustin sometimes seemed sad, with Joanna translating, meals were a lively mixture of English, Spanish, and gesture. I occasionally threw in shameless attempts to speak and stretch my patchy knowledge of the language I would soon have to rely on, for it had not taken long from Agustin’s arrival before we decided that he would stay while the Hoyts were away. Despite the language differences, we were comfortable with each other.
When the Hoyts left, there we were, with all of the tasks to be done to keep things going on the farm before us: milking and walking the goats, harvesting and weeding vegetables, preparing meals, keeping spaces clean. Agustin was a huge help with all of these. He seemed to really enjoy being with the goats; I learned that back at his home in Mexico he had five dairy goats similar to ours. He loved to take the goats for long grazes in the September sun; often during these we taught each other the words in our respective languages—for sun, grass, clouds, wind. His enthusiasm with garden work was contagious; I recall vividly the day we rapidly cleared out a forest of weeds from one of the gone-by lettuce beds, which would have been drudgery to do alone. I learned from him how to make some delicious and simple meals as he made them back in Mexico, and his evident fondness for goat’s milk at any time of the day led me to a greater appreciation of it. Communication was awkward, but generally each of us seemed to know more or less what the other meant. When the Hoyts returned after about a week, they were pleased to notice he was in better spirits and health.
Throughout this time Agustin was anxious to find a job, for he had plans to get enough money to buy a pickup truck, return to Mexico and use it to take his produce to market in the city thirty miles away. He wanted to see his family. When one night a job offer that sounded workable opened up, he suddenly left, leaving us a little surprised but happy for him. His time with us was a very positive experience for me, one I think I will remember fondly for a long time. I hope that I’ll be able to connect better to the next migrant guest we have as my Spanish improves, and I hope that before long Agustin will be able to return to his home and his family and his cabras.
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in the present instant.
The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within reach, is joy.
-Fra Giovanni (1513)
Connections by Joanna
In the process of organizing to hold the title to the farm I have often been frustrated by the neat categories into which we are expected to fit. At first we hoped to find another land trust to hold us. I contacted several and I learned about a great deal of good work that was being done, but I didn’t find a title-holder for our land, or a group to ensure continuity at the farm in case something should happen to those of us who live and work here now. Some land trusts hold property for low-income housing and community centers. Some hold wild land in trust to protect it unchanged. Some hold sustainably managed working forests. Some hold farmland. Apparently none hold property that is used for all of the above, plus providing a space for an intentional community based on prayer and service and retreat groups and occasional injured migrant workers and…….. I was usually advised that we should start our own corporation. At one trust I found someone willing to talk with me at some length about this. Her advice, however, was rather daunting: “You can’t incorporate a place with that many purposes. You’d better decide on one primary purpose, and then maybe you can work some of the others in around it. ” But, I protested, these were all primary purposes; we couldn’t just declare one of them to be the most important. She sounded puzzled. “But you just can’t do things that way.”
I have run into the same difficulty over and over. When I started studying economics in my teens, and began to be troubled by the harm done to people and other creatures by the things I bought and took for granted, I went to talk with the economics professor at a nearby college. He listened politely to my concerns, and then informed me that I was confusing different disciplines. Economics was not concerned with the long-term sustainability of natural resources; I should talk to someone in Environmental Science about that, and if I had concerns about ethics, I should talk to someone in the philosophy department. It became clear to me that his position was not unusual; after our conversation I became increasingly aware of how textbooks and news discussed war, trade, poverty, pollution, education, health care and religion as separate topics having very little bearing on one another. It seemed to me that this compartmentalization encouraged us to go on undermining ourselves, devastating human communities and the earth with our wars and then working on disaster relief, participating in an economy that favors the wealthiest and then trying to do something about the chronically poor, poisoning land and air and water as we try to make a profit and then seeking cures for new diseases. At the time when many of my friends were going to college, I realized that I was called to a life-work that dealt with the real but often unacknowledged connection between things. I have found that at St. Francis Farm.
When it became clear that we needed to incorporate I was afraid that we would lose our ability to be flexible and work on making connections. I read the applicable laws and came away feeling overwhelmed, wondering if we could explain our varied work in a way that would make any sense to the Dept. of State. But we have been blessed with the help of Professor Deb Kenn of the law department at Syracuse University and two of her third-year students who are helping us with the incorporation process pro bono as part of the legal clinic program. They have dealt bravely and patiently with the outside-the-box nature of this place. With their help we have written a mission statement that lists some of our specific activities as examples of the projects we undertake out of the basic concern which has remained the same here through the changes: modeling an alternative way of life, ministry of presence, prayer and service, sustainability, simplicity.
This was satisfactory to the State Department; the one change we have had to make is in our official name, from St. Francis Farm (which was already claimed) to St. Francis Farm Community. As we proceed with writing bylaws and applying for 501©(3) status I hope that we will be able to keep the focus on the central concerns of our work which are outlined in the mission statement, which connect the odd assortment of particular works we may be involved in at any given time.
I need to bring this to mind on the days when I feel as though I am juggling an impossible array of separate tasks. It is still too easy for me to get caught up in each particular task and forget what gives it importance. I need to remember the Spirit who lives in all of us, from whom come all integrity and all unity. When I am close to that center, there are no more arbitrary divisions, and I am able to see clearly, to work and to love. For me at least, this is where the work of peace and justice must begin.
Maintenance by Zachary
The major new thing at the farm this fall is our greenhouse. It is built partially on the site where the old one was located, but it faces southwest instead of southeast, and is attached to the barn, so that it is opened into by the door from the workshop. Many thanks to Katrina Hanna, who donated the big windows and sliding door around which the new building was designed. At the time of writing the exterior is completed and painted, and the interior is awaiting insulation. We have been very fortunate in the weather that we have had this fall, especially because we didn’t get started on even digging the hole for the foundation until mid-September. The foundation was by far the most difficult part of construction, because we had to dig the trenches out 4-5 feet deep by hand, and also break part of a concrete slab that was sitting where the new foundation was going. Mike Resig gave us frequent helpful advice over the phone about the masonry work, and pouring the concrete. All that needs doing now is to remove the rest of the pile of dirt outside the building, and finish the interior, which we can do this winter.
We have finally gotten our chain saw working again, after quite a while of trying. We bought and installed a new oil pump in October, and once that was done realized that we needed a new bar and chain, but now it is working quite well, and we are cutting as much firewood as we can, so that what we don’t use this winter will be well seasoned for next year. We are putting the farm machinery under the empty pole barn across the road, except for the balers, which were covered with rubber sheeting by Unity Acres. We are hoping that it will break down less often if it is kept dry.
The chickens now have a small insulated winter coop, which is under the pole barn, and has some old plexiglass in the south wall, so that they will get natural light this winter. We are hoping that if they are in a warmer, lighter environment they will lay more eggs through the colder months.
In the trailers we have replaced an exterior door and a piece of window glass, and we have some indoor electrical work to do in the winter. Also we did some work on fixing leaking drains, and replaced the works of a toilet. One of the trailers needs to have some subfloor replaced, and we would appreciate help with this, especially from anyone who has experience with putting down linoleum, which I have never done. We also replaced a porch roof on a trailer in Redfield, and we have a porch to replace in Pulaski, which we have unfortunately not had time to do this fall, but will do in the spring. We have done some small winterizing projects on various trailers in the area, repairing skirting, and installing a heat tape.
Farm Economy by Lorraine
Tom MacNamara refers to it as “the farm economy” and we are sustained and surprised and delighted by it over and over, by the way that what comes is what is needed. In recent months this blessing has been evident in the people we’ve met and in the supplying of so many material needs. Fr. Tony Keeffe’s retirement in the summer has given him time when we’ve very much needed the help of someone who goes back farther in the farm’s history than we do. And he’s introduced folks to the farm and us to folks who’ve been helpful in various ways. The abundance of the garden this summer came at just the time when we were beginning to work with children from a subsidized housing complex and finding many people there eager for fresh vegetables. The windows that we were donated last winter before we had any plan for them are now the main components of the new sunroom/greenhouse. After a difficult fall a year ago, we got a light box which I started using in October and found helpful. I talked about it and was asked about getting one by a mother concerned about a depressed son who struggles with the dark days. Before I could get the information to her about how they work and where we bought ours, one was donated by someone else who had heard me speak of how helpful it had been, so we have one to pass on.
The farm economy has been particularly evident in the work with children. Sr. Louise was able to find volunteers this fall for the After School Program(ASP) so that Zach and Dan have often been able to stay at the farm doing outdoor work that has to be finished before the weather breaks and the children still have the one on one attention they want and need. We have had such generous responses to our requests for books and art material. We had school supplies to give to families who needed them in September and wished that the folks who had donated them could see the pleasure of the children and the relief of the parents. Two years ago we asked people to stop bringing donations of clothes because we didn’t have room or time to sort them and make them available. But a few things still come for children and we keep enough here so that when a child arrives on a chilly fall day wanting to go outside but not dressed for it, we have socks and gloves and hats for them to wear. While we were trying to decide where to go to look for boots and winter coats for the children who lacked them, one of the ASP volunteers mentioned that a local church was collecting winter clothing and asked if we knew any families in need. On days when the weather keeps them inside they enjoy sewing puppets and beanbags, weaving potholders and making necklaces using the materials that people have given to us. It’s delightful to bring them home and watch them enthusiastically giving away the things they’ve made. We just ordered a couple very large play balls for small children to use inside this winter when they need an indoors outlet for their energy. Joanna has plenty of felt and other fabric and pipe cleaners for making little dolls, but she has a boy who has trouble with many of the games and puzzles and crafts but who enjoys stringing beads. So she could use more beads. The conflict resolution material that a friend gave me this summer has become the center of the After School Program and the puppets donated last spring are used by students to act out conflicts from their lives. Dan has used his artistic ability to draw “Ed and Ted” comic strips of the conflicts he and Zach get into and work through. These delight the children who then write their own stories in this way.
Ahead of us we see more needs, more work to be done. The farmhouse, which we tried to paint the first summer and fall we were here, needs new siding we are told. The power outages becoming more frequent and lasting longer make us realize our need for a generator to run freezers and refrigerator or circulation pumps for the boiler system depending on the season and to pump water from the well whatever the season. The youngsters miss the pizza that I used to make when the oven would heat up past 350 and I miss being able to make bread that doesn’t stay doughy in the middle and we need to figure out how to repair our old gas stove. Zachary has figured out how to repair and maintain the tractor and chain saw and Unity Acres bought a new used baler this summer, but the mower is still very slow and prone to break down and hard to find parts for. From Unity Acres experience over the past few years we have learned that incorporating is apt to mean inspections and they may require upgrading of our facilities. All of it could be daunting if we forgot the farm economy, the many needs that have been met before.
We four who live here have learned to accommodate each other. I am the eldest and the mother of two of the others and they look to me to figure things out, but every time we need to get to town or visit an elder or pick up a child, someone else has to go. I am visually handicapped and have never been able to get a driver’s license. And I can’t lift what the others can or work as long in the heat. Dan sometimes get anxious and has trouble staying focused on the work to be done, but we are thankful for his music in the evenings and the artistic talent he uses with the children. And he’s the only one here who can drive the pick-up. Joanna is at a loss with anything mechanical and has to struggle to give or get directions, but we count on her ability with language to translate for our Latino guests and her way on the phone to deal with social service agencies and other difficulties. She has a way with the children who quickly come to trust her and she says she enjoys getting up and milking the goats before morning prayers. Zachary doesn’t like to write letters and sometimes avoids the children and gets impatient with the incompetence of folks around him. But we need his skill at fixing things. (While I was writing the previous paragraph he took apart the stove and cleaned some bits and now the oven heats again!) And he works well with the men from Unity Acres on the farm tasks and says that in the slow time he’ll help one of the boys make tops and teach one of the girls to play harmonica. So somehow, whatever our weaknesses, the work gets done.
We invite you to join us in it, however you are led and able. We couldn’t do this without your prayers. And although we can stretch very little a long way here at the farm, we need money for some things. In winter we have more time to read and answer mail and would especially enjoy hearing from old friends as well as from those we’ve never met who have some response to what we write or some memory of this place before we knew it. Through October we kept receiving donations in memory of Pia Winnewisser. At first we were puzzled as there was no such name on any of the mailing lists we could find, but someone sent a copy of her obituary and we learned that she had been the secretary at St. Lucy’s when Fr. McVey was there before he founded Unity Acres and St. Francis Farm. Over those weeks I came to wish I had known her or at least knew her stories about this place and I realized again how much we depend on people who are strangers to us and how much has been entrusted to us. As we make decisions necessary for incorporating the farm which will help shape its future, we value the perspectives of all of you who read this and have some connection to this place, this work.
Joe Morton has been a friend of the farm since long before we knew it. His letter in response to our last newsletter arrived at a time when we were anxious and stretched, and this remark provided perspective and assurance:
Oh, the mad (frantic and not sane!) anxiety for immediate and measurable results! They are just not appropriate for any significant process of giving, growing, enlightenment, enrichment………..
Out of Darkness
Our Christmas celebrations come when cold
and dark are growing; earth is hard with frost,
her colors dimmed to only palest gold.
And we would hunker down bereft and lost
beneath the burden of foreshortened days
unless we told the sacred stories then
of Savior born, Messiah come, his ways
made plain as God now dwells with mortal men.
We light the candles, caring not that this
same time of year knew feasts before our Lord’s
as pagans called upon the sun they missed
to shine again. We pray in other words,
and yet we all keep reaching out to light
for warmth and hope to face the lengthened night.