Winter (written in February) by Lorraine
We are over halfway through another north country winter. This morning it is snowing and the guys are out shoveling and I just picked up the phone and assured an elder that we would come by today and bring in the mail and clear off the steps again. Family and friends call after watching weather news; they ask if we are buried and how we are coping. The snow has been deep and so has the cold. (One day the high was -8.) The pipes have frozen in various places but have always thawed without bursting. The light box has helped me cope with the darkness. Zach and Dan have skis this year (Zach scavenged at the dump when we went to Maine in the fall) and skiing through the fields helps us see the beauty of the snow. A neighbor has been coming by and plowing the parking lot when he sees Zach and Dan working with the scoops. We bought a generator and haven’t had to worry when the power starts to flicker. Letters and calls and visits and prayers have helped us through the coldest darkest days. We never quite found the slow time as our work with children and the needs of the elders grow and the work of planning is set aside in the growing season to be dealt with in winter months.
When it was too cold for children to be outside and all the weather reports included wind chill warnings, we discovered that this barn has its uses even in winter when we don’t host groups. We stacked all the beds from the second floor dorm in the alcove on one end of it, leaving plenty of open space for play. We bought large balls for bouncing and hopping and rolling over. We brought in hoops and jump ropes we use in warmer weather at the After School Program. On Saturdays we bring children for 3 hours at a time to play in that space and build with blocks and make music and art. The children enjoy the active play and they are ready then to settle down in their smaller spaces at home. The ASP got off to a slow start this year but we have picked up new students in the new year and a couple students who were with us last year as 5th graders asked if they could return and busing was arranged with the school so that they could. Some children we see both at the ASP and here at the farm, and many materials are used in both places. One boy who is described as having difficulty academically spent a recent afternoon at the farm totally absorbed in working with an electronics kit from the ASP. He was able to read the manual, follow the directions to build various circuits, and figure out what would happen if different components were used.
The elders as well as the children find winter weather difficult, but instead of needing a place to use their excess energy they need help with simple things they can do for themselves when it isn’t so cold or icy. They can hire someone to plow their driveways but then need help clearing snow from their steps and walkways. When the roads are slippery or visibility is poor in snow, they need prescriptions and groceries picked up. Sometimes when activities are canceled because of weather and they have been at home for a few days watching the snow pile up they just need someone to talk to. We fill bird feeders, chip ice and rake snow off roofs, bring mail from a box at the end of the driveway but out of reach. We do the little things that help elders living alone cope until spring.
The snow is still deep and the icicles cover the first floor windows but we’re turning toward spring. In the silence of morning prayers today I heard a chickadee singing the two note summer song. The daylight grows on both ends of our days. Seeds have been ordered. As we ski through the fields Zach remembers last years haying and plans what he’ll do differently this time. We are making plans for Boston College students who will be here the first week of March and then Deacon David Sweenie will bring the Spanish Apostolate for a weekend Lenten retreat and students from SUNY Cortland and Oswego will come the last weekend of March. Whatever snow may still be left then, winter will be over and a new season of groups and growing begun.
Boston College Reflection by Emily Walsh
In the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson creates a character with two contrasting personalities. There is the pleasant, rational one that exists during the day, and the decrepit, dark one that comes out during the night. The thing is though, is that both personalities exist within the same person and neither personality is aware of the other one. Reading this story makes one more aware of the inner workings of their mind, as well as thankful for their sanity, for living with a split personality would be a very painful thing to deal with indeed, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. And yet, don’t we all live with a degree of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome?
I am a 21-year-old student at Boston College, a Jesuit university that emphasizes the motto of “men and women for others.” Jesuits are traditionally known for their commitment to education, serving the poor, and leading a simple life. These Jesuit ideals are seen in some of the various classes and programs that BC has to offer; classes that make you look inside of yourself and ask questions that aren’t normally asked, or might make one feel uncomfortable, pushing them to really think and consider what is being discussed. The university is also very proud of its array of service opportunities outside of the classroom, both domestic and international. This second part of BC, the commitment to community service, was something that attracted me to the school and one of the central reasons that I chose to spend my 4 years of college at BC.
For the past 3 years, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Appalachia program, which sends nearly 600 college-student volunteers to various service placements in the Appalachian area for their spring break. It is through this program that I came to know St. Francis Farm during my freshman year. While most of the Appalachia placements are large trips that work with Habitat for Humanity, or run a camp for kids, the SFF placement is somewhat different. For starters, it is a smaller trip, and while physical service is certainly a component of the week, in my experience, the biggest transition for the students who stay at the farm is witnessing what it means to live out the Catholic mission of serving others, and the rich questions and topics that Lorraine, Joanna, Zach and Dan present and grapple with. This, in my opinion, is what makes this experience different from the rest, for it is impossible to stay at St. Francis Farm and not be forced to assess where you are in your life, as well as consider whether or not you are living in line with your beliefs and genuinely consider where you are heading. If you leave this place without it impacting your soul, it is not for lack of substance of depth, but because you haven’t allowed yourself to be completely open to it.
In the second paragraph of this article, I described the ideologies and programs that I love about BC, and why I chose to be a part of that community. But, as with any situation, there is another side. While I have found a community of people who “care” about world issues, relieving the suffering of others, and a desire to bring about justice and equality to our world, I have also found an underlying tone of apathy. I have found contradictions with what we say and with what we do, both at the level of administration, as well as amongst the student body. I buy my books from a bookstore that sells clothing produced in sweatshops, I drink Coke products from the dining hall, I spend $50 on a ticket to a homecoming dance and I go to parties where beer flows like water. I go to a school that pays more attention to how one looks than to how one feels, I sit next to boys at lunch who discuss what girl they got to go home with for the night, and girls who are trying to decide whether Abercrombie or Gap is the more appropriate brand to wear for the day. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. Am I being honest? Certainly, and I recognize the fact that by virtue of being a part of this community, I am also a part of this hypocrisy. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome of Boston College affects every student at the school.
This is a scary thing for me to recognize because I consider myself as someone who is conscious and willing to make sacrifices for change. But there are also times that I don’t want to admit that some of the actions I take may be contributing to injustices that I am both aware and not aware of. There have been so many times I have heard the excuse that living simply, or being constantly conscious of whether or not one’s actions are at the expense of another person, is impossible. And yet the community at St. Francis Farm proves that this just isn’t the case. It may not be easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
I recognize that we each have different gifts, are called to do different things, and there is not one method or way in which we can change the world. But I will never be satisfied with the status quo, simply because that is the way things have always been, or because it is easier for only a certain percentage of the population. If we let the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome of acting one way at certain times and another at others, permeate our existence, what kind of world are we living in, and what kind of global community are we looking to build in the future? We need to live in line with our morals; there is no other way. In not facing the tough questions head on in the present moment, we are only setting ourselves up for tougher questions in the future. As Elizabeth Elliot writes: “The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived—not always looked forward to as though the ‘real’ living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible.”
Garden Volunteers? by Joanna
The garden is deep in snow, and now that onions, leeks, peppers and eggplants are started indoors there isn’t much to be done in the agriculture department for a month or so; but as we plan for next year we realize that what we hope to grow will keep us fairly busy. Last year we grew plenty for eating during the summer, and enough tomatoes and green beans to can and peas to freeze for winter, but we’re hoping to grow more root crops to store this year. And we keep finding more people to give fresh vegetables to.
Some of the elders who we’re shoveling and running errands for now spent most of their lives gardening, and now are finding that they don’t have the strength to turn garden beds or bend over and weed; they still enjoy greens and squash and leeks in their seasons. Children who visit and say they don’t ever like healthy food find that they actually like cherry tomatoes and edible pod peas and want to take some home. I started sending vegetables home with a boy from the nearby subsidized housing complex, and after a few weeks one of his neighbors wanted to know why she had been left out of the vegetable give-away. We started bringing boxes of extra produce down to the apartments every week when we picked up children, and everything we brought was taken—even the yellow tomatoes, after some hesitation. This year we would like to grow more to share. Some extra hands to help with the growing would make this easier.
What we can grow is partly limited by the number of garden beds we have available. Working the beds by hand has given us deeper, softer workable soil as well as saving fossil fuel, but it is a slow process. Breaking ground and turning new beds can be exhausting, but it also provides fresh air, good exercise and an opportunity for conversation—and it only has to be done once.
As the growing season progresses we would also welcome help with less strenuous and more constant jobs, such as weeding, harvesting(which takes a long time in peak tomato season), feeding (with side-dressings of compost or foliar seaweed spray) and succession planting.
Advice from experienced gardeners would also be helpful. We still have a lot to learn, especially about seed saving (bush beans and peas tested out well, but pole beans and lettuce were more problematic), growing winter vegetables in greenhouses with only solar heat, slug control, strawberry thinning and companion planting.
We have never had a more literate population, or a more powerless one. Now the best-educated people in the history of the world do not know what to do with what they know.
Everything is too big for us, too overwhelming for us, too global for us. So we ‘mind our own business’ and ignore everything else. We have learned well not to see the bodies that we step over in the streets or the elderly ill in our neighborhood. Then are the responsibility of someone else—of bureaus and agencies and faceless civil servants. We have handed conscience over to government programs and looked away. (Joan Chittister, There Is A Season)
It is not a matter of doing great things. No, it is far worse than that. It is a matter of doing small things courageously. (ibid)
St. Francis Farm Community now officially exists as a corporation. We filed our certificate of incorporation with the State Department in December, and in late February we held an organizational meeting in which we adopted bylaws and chose directors to provide oversight, advice, help and continuity to the farm. We have been able to preserve the simple and non-hierarchical nature of this place. Instead of designating a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, we have decided that our officers will be Core Members, who must have lived and worked here for at least one year, and who will carry out the work of St. Francis Farm and make decisions as needed. The four of us who live here now are Core Members.
We continue to live by gifts given and received, taking no salaries. The board of directors will meet once a year to appoint new Core Members as needed, and to renew the terms of existing Core Members or, if things are getting out of hand, to end them. In between meetings individuals on the board will advise and support us in various ways. Decisions will be made, not by voting, but by a Spirit-based consensus process.
Lorraine and Joanna are on the Board along with five others.
Father Tony Keeffe worked with Fr. Ray McVey even before Unity Acres was founded, and helped him think about how the farm could best be used to meet the needs of low-income families in the local community. During his twelve years as a pastor in Pulaski and Lacona he organized various community outreach ministries, including a clothing room and a food pantry, and he has continued this work in his other parishes. When the farm began to host service-learning groups Father Tony came to lead discussions about social justice. Since his retirement last year he has spent a lot of time here, helping us with the sometimes confusing and tedious process of incorporation, giving us advice about the dilemmas of our day-to-day work here, helping us connect with people in the wider community and telling wonderful stories about the history of this place and his work for peace and justice in other places. He is an incorporator and initial Board member along with Lorraine and Joanna, and he helped us to find some of our other board members.
Joe Morton is a professor of logic and peace studies at Goucher College in Maryland. He has traveled extensively among Catholic Worker communities and other peace-minded groups. He is closely involved with the ministries of Jonah House, a center for Plowshares actions (nonviolent civil disobedience working against war and militarism) and local community outreach, and Viva House, a Catholic Worker house in Baltimore. He’s also on the board of Peace Brigades International. He has been a friend of St. Francis Farm since before we knew it, and we always look forward to his visits, his cheerful help with whatever work we’re doing and his thoughtful perspective. Some of you may remember his article in our March 2002 newsletter.
Mike Huynh will be familiar to many of you who have been friends and supporters of the farm for several years. He was a member of this community for several years, and after his marriage to Christy Harrison, another longtime community member, he stayed for a little while to help us learn about this place and work when we were new. He is currently working as a counselor at Bishop Ludden Jr/Sr High School in Syracuse, and is involved in music and other forms of ministry at the Newman Center at SUNY Oswego. He drops in to visit and encourage us, and to hunt and fish; one of the boys who we work with had the time of his life salmon-fishing with patient and good-humored help from Mike.
Carmelyn Hevey first visited the farm on Palm Sunday of 2003 with other parishioners invited by Fr. Tony. She was already familiar with the Catholic Worker movement and wanted to live the Gospels in a more present way. As a registered nurse she seeks to serve the sick and elderly and comfort the weary. Working with the Vietnamese community has raised awareness of the lives of migrant workers. She works in the food and clothing pantries at St. Patrick’s in Williamstown and has helped facilitate retreats using the arts and nature in prayer and meditation. We’ve already been grateful for her advice and support and look forward to getting to know her better as she becomes more involved here.
Joe Pidkaminy is the president of the parish council of St. Patrick’s Church in Williamstown, where Father Tony was pastor before his retirement. He has been through a 2-year formation for ministry program, especially focused on work with the sick and elderly. He loves the area—after a brief experiment with living in the city he came back to the North Country and has just built a home in Parish. He came to visit the farm along with Carmelyn and Father Tony, and he’s been back to help us figure out how to fix ailing switches and cranky stoves. We all enjoy his help and his company.
Now that we have held our organizational meeting we are ready to receive the title to the farm’s land from Time of Jubilee, which has been very patient with the slow unfolding of this process.
We are beginning the process of filing for tax exemption, but we don’t know when it will be completed. We know that many people have strong feelings on both sides of the issue of tax-exemption, and that it is not usual for Catholic Workers to be tax-exempt (although it has happened before). Some feel that allowing donors to receive a tax deduction encourages giving for the wrong reasons. However, it seems good to us that people can reduce the amount of money which they send to finance our government’s wars by giving to places that work for peace. At this point, however, we are NOT tax-exempt and donations are not deductible. The process will take some time. More about this in the next newsletter.
We are grateful to Effie Kritikos and Patrick Lee, students in the Syracuse University clinical law program, who have helped us with this process free of charge, and to Professor Deb Kenn, who has helped them and us figure out the legality of some of the more unconventional provisions of our bylaws. Also to Father Tony Keeffe, and to all of you who continue to make this place, this work, this life possible.
Maintenance by Zachary
This winter has not been a very busy time for maintenance projects, but we are looking ahead to a busy spring on many fronts. The greenhouse interior is finished except for the floor slab, which will be poured in the spring or summer. The sink in the garden room has been installed, and will be used for washing things like plant pots, goat dishes and other things that we don’t want to bring into the kitchen. We have purchased a generator which can be used to run the barn when the power is out. We are planning to run buried cables to the farmhouse and well house from the barn, which will eliminate 2 of our electric meters, and save $30 to $40 per month on our electric bill. This will also make it possible for the generator to run the well during power outages, which will make taking care of the animals much easier. In the next week or two we are going to be building a wall to provide more privacy for RMMOC’s medical clinic, and we have repaired the walls of a small upstairs office there. We have painted the ceilings of two rooms at the Friendship Thrift Shop with the Boston College group, and also painted at the houses of some local families. Another project which needs to be undertaken this spring is the disassembly of the 2nd trailer up the hill from the farm. It is not in good condition, and at this point it would take more work to make it habitable than we think makes sense to be done, especially since we cannot see any use for it in the near future. Much of it can be salvaged for other uses, the only difficulty being finding the time to do it, and the space to store them. We are going to to be looking at the farmhouse this summer to see what can be done to make it more usable. It is a large question, which will take quite a bit of thought. We would very much appreciate help with these and many other projects here on the farm, if anyone has time for it.
That is always our temptation when we set out to do good: to do it in a way that will leave us above the fray. But our desire to stay above it all reveals our misunderstanding of right action….Right action can only be an immersion of ourselves in reality, an immersion that involves us in relationship, that takes us to our place in the organic nature of things. (Parker Palmer, The Active Life)
The quality of our active lives depends heavily on whether we assume a world of scarcity or a world of abundance. In a universe of scarcity only people who know the arts of competing, even of making war, will survive, But in a universe of abundance acts of generosity and community become not only possible but fruitful as well. (ibid)
Volunteers to help with gardening, maintenance and repairs (see other articles)
Garden spades or shovel handles
Mattresses and box springs for dorms
Books (not textbooks) in Spanish
Puzzles up to 100 pieces
Boots and snowpants in small sizes for visiting children
Manure spreader, and manure
Field mowers in any condition, or parts
Washers, bolts, and cotter pins
Hay wagon or running gear
May is perhaps the loveliest month on the farm. The woods are carpeted in trillium and spring beauty and the low wet places with marsh marigolds. The orioles sing from the tops of the tallest trees and brighten the days with flashes of orange as they chase each other. One pair of robins has a nest behind St. Francis on the front of the barn that faces the road. Another nest is tucked just under the floor boards of the landing on the outside stairs of the house. Bluebirds and tree swallows have built nests in the boxes we put out last month. There are fresh herbs to go in the goat cheese and fresh asparagus to cut each day from the garden. The evening frog chorus is at its fullest with the last of the peepers still calling along with the first of the bullfrogs.
The other side of May is that the black flies are still with us and the mosquitoes have just started. The work piles up. When Joanna gets sick and loses a few days in the garden and Zachary has to set aside his to-do list to work on a problem with the drains and Dan goes home to New Jersey for his brother’s college graduation the pile begins to look overwhelming. The After School Program is still going on with students restless with spring and testy after days of standardized testing. The weeds in the garden always grow faster than the grass in the pasture. Zachary wants time to go for long bike rides and I want time to take photographs of trout lilies and to figure out where the yellow warblers and the flickers and the kingbirds are nesting. Joanna misses time to write the stories and poems that run through her mind as she works and Dan misses time to play his saxophone.
The delight and the weariness stretch me and I struggle to learn again a lesson learned in other times and places—how to keep my balance in the moment, doing the work faithfully and staying present to those around me and giving thanks for the abundant blessings. In June Sr. Louise is leaving Rural & Migrant Ministry for a clinic in Stamford CT where a Spanish speaker is needed and where she will be able to live with other sisters of her order. I sit by our pond with her and watch swallows skim the surface and a water snake chase a frog out of the water at our feet and a large snapping turtle lumber through the grass and glide into the pond while we talk of the children and families we work with in the After School Program and about the future. The silences are filled with memories of the past two and a half years and the work and talk and meals and tears we’ve shared. We talk longer than we’d planned and she comes in for supper with us and goes out with Joanna to milk the goats and meets Dan’s father who has just brought Dan back from New Jersey.When we decided to take on this work in the summer of 2001, I asked Sr. Louise whom I had only recently met if she would be willing to meet with me regularly. I knew I’d want some help working through the recent deaths of my parents and that I would need someone wise and experienced in service to help me through the rough patches. I try to enjoy the time with her and be thankful instead of focusing on the gap that will be left when she leaves.
On May 15th a group of high school students and adults came to spend the morning helping at the farm. The rain that was threatening held off so that everyone was able to get out to the garden and catch up with the weeds. Paths were cleared and beds dug and manured for planting. The garlic and peas were weeded and the area around the newly planted berries was cleared of weeds and ready for mulch. And still visitors had energy to go for a walk up through the pasture and a bit of woods to the Unity Acres road and back to the farm by the orchard. The younger folks tried the swings and took their lunches out to eat by the pond while the adults sat in the barn away from the bugs and talked with me about the farm. Suddenly the load had become manageable with an infusion of outside energy and I was near tears saying good-by to a carload of kids who had no idea what they had done.
On Monday the 17th Zachary and I walked through the woods to Unity Acres to help drive their cattle through to our pasture. They were a little late being ready to start and I had time to sit by the stream and listen to the water song and birdsong and look at the neatly trimmed lawns and the clumps of flowers just coming into bloom on the bank. Finally all was ready and we let the cattle out. Inside the fence the grass was grazed down shorter than the lawns were mowed and all the cows set out for greener pasture although the calves were too confused to follow and had to be brought later in the van. That evening we walked out to see the herd, grazing contentedly in the tall grass in the first section of pasture. And there was tall grass on our lawns and in the orchard and along the edges of the roads and the garden and around the trailers we are tearing down and cleaning up. I’m still not sure whether it is chaos or abundance, but I am learning to live with it. –by Lorraine
The Real Worldby Dan Wilckens
Around the time I was eight years old I went with my family to a log cabin in the Catskills. My aunt and I got in a rowboat and rowed down the large pond behind the cabin. I remember the deep brown water of that pond and the mystery of an old rotting dock and fallen trees and a turtle. This was my first experience being surrounded by nature and nearly everything about it fascinated me. However, after returning to the suburbs that interest in the natural world grew dormant and was expressed mainly vicariously, writing stories and later video games about exploring a cavern or forest.
But in the time since I’ve come to the farm, that interest has been reawakening. One of my most vivid memories is climbing around some great old willow trees one warm evening in November the first Fall I was here, and being struck by their realness: the limbs wide and horizontal enough to walk on, shoots growing from them everywhere, the quiet stream nearby. And I was not a passive observer, but a part of that reality. The process of this world opening up to me continued the following year when for the first time I came to know Queen Anne’s Lace and burdock and thistle and milkweed and my limited knowledge of garden plants grew. And as I began to cross-country ski, I became aware of the contours of the land, the way the sun—or moon—wasscattered by the snow, the contrast of the sky with the rugged outline of trees bordering the hayfields where we skied. After the snows melted I went on walks and noticed the currents and whitecaps in the stream, the early spring golden leaves, the pollen forming on the trees, the little wildflowers—speedwell, wintercress, buttercup—growing all over the fields. This great variety amazed me, yet it is all only a tiny piece of a vast, ancient process, and only recently have people been able to forget their dependence upon it.
As I continue to live and work here, I become increasingly aware of the connections between the food I eat and the work I do to grow it, something which hardly dawned on me previously. I realize food is a gift of the Earth, cultivated by work and meant to nourish us. It doesn’t appear by magic and the land from which it comes must be respected and cared for. When people purchase all of their food in a supermarket, never work the soil or see the plants grow, they are deprived of experiencing those connections and food becomes simply a commodity.
The result of those deprivations is not only the malnourishment of people’s spirits but also environmental devastation. I wonder what I can do here at the farm to further reduce our use of fossil fuels and lessen the environmental impact of my life. One thing is to bike when feasible, which provides good exercise and experience of nature in addition to not using gas. I plan to construct a solar oven for use in sunny weather, hoping to reduce propane use. And perhaps someday we will implement a solar water-heating system. But what seems to me fundamental is the cultivation of an attentiveness to nature, a wider awareness of the wildlife around the farm, the patterns of the seasons, the trees and the stars. That’s hard to do, but it’s worth it.
Maintenance by Zachary
This spring it seems we’ve spent a lot of time playing catch-up and trying to repair one thing that breaks down before the next thing does. We had to install a new greywater drainage system for the kitchen sinks and dishwasher. They had formerly been draining under the floor of the kitchen, but water began to flood up out of the drains in the floor when we let water out of the sinks, and we needed to attend to it promptly. Fortunately our friendly backhoe operator was available, and he dug a hole in the parking lot for the pot-washing sink to drain into, and another for the dishwasher and its sink to drain into in the front lawn. We had a difficult time figuring out how to run a drain out from the dishwasher, and the only way we could do it was to chisel a hole through 10 inches of concrete wall, which ended up taking several hours. We also have a pipe which froze in the ceiling of the farmhouse and needs to be replaced, along with about a third of the ceiling drywall. There is a place on the back side of the farmhouse roof that leaks quite badly, and we need to determine why. That roof was shingled in 2001, butit has continued to leak in that spot. The general dampness of the house is another issue that needs to be addressed in some way. We’ve had some ongoing problems this past winter and spring with the oil fired boiler breaking down, but we have had the wood boiler for a backup, so it has not been too big a difficulty.
This spring we repaired the subfloor of the kitchen and front hall in one of the trailers and put down new floor tiles. We still need to repair the floor in one of the bedrooms there as well. The work of removing the second trailer up the hill and cleaning up the remains of the first one still continues. The yard where the trailer was which we tore down last summer should be completely cleaned out within the next couple of weeks, but that still leaves us with the task of tearing down the shell of the second one. Much of the gutting of it was done by the Boston College group which was here in March. While they were here they also worked at Rural and Migrant Ministry on the task of repairing the walls in the small upstairs office. Later in the month we built a new interior wall dividing the downstairs kitchen where the medical clinic is held into two parts, to give a more private office for the medical staff there. In April the group from St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, MA worked at the Ministry to put up shelving in the medication room, to augment what was already there. The staff there has reported that it is easier to find medications now. We have also done some small repairs on the plumbing at their building on an as needed basis.
We have had some ongoing vehicular difficulties. The pickup truck needed a new muffler and catalytic converter in March, and later developed a tendency to stop running at random intervals and refuse to be started, which we were told was probably the fuel pump failing. However, it was also possible that it was something wrong with the electrical system, and we did not want to have to buy a new fuel pump if we didn’t need one. We spent a few weeks taking parts out and testing them and putting them back in, and eventually we had it diagnosed at a garage, and the fuel pump did need to be replaced. By the time we actually put the new one in we had removed and reinstalled the fuel tank three times, and we were getting pretty good at the procedure. Many thanks go to Unity Acres for towing it with their van all the times that it quit.
We purchased a newer side-delivery rake at the auction in Sandy Creek this spring for a very reasonable price, so that now we will only have to use our old not-very-functional rake as a backup. The new one is PTO driven, and fits on the 3-point hitch, so it should be much more effective for the fields we have. The men at Unity Acres are painting the new baler which they bought last summer, and checking it over before the season to replace worn-out parts. We would appreciate the donation of sicklebar mowers in any condition, since ours are rather old and tired and tend to need new parts from time to time. The haying will be beginning shortly, as soon as the weather dries up. We have built a new pigpen from some old sections of picket fence which weighs a lot less than the old one did and will be much easier to move.
Agriculture by Joanna
The frost-free date has come and once again everything seems to need doing at once. Most of the tomatoes are set out (and a few died in a late cold snap), but the greenhouse is still full of rootbound basil, peppers and eggplant seedlings waiting their turns. Outside the peas are tall, starting to set pods and pulling their supporting stakes down, the greens are small but growing vigorously (and need to be fed), the strawberries are blooming (and why do the ones that have popped up in the path seem so much healthier than the ones in the bed?) and we’re hurrying to plant beans and squash and cukes and corn.
There are some signs of long-term progress. Last year we got some of the beds turned, fertilized and mulched before the snow came; these are in excellent condition now, soft andfull of worms. The other beds have fewer large stones and turn more quickly than they did last year. The new asparagus patch, which we were supposed to cut from for only 2 weeks last year (we cheated a little bit) is producing abundantly, and this year we can harvest all we want. We have planted highbush blueberries and transplanted black raspberries from the yard of a neighbor who is moving away, and these are leafing out and growing well on the hillside below the garden. And the new sunroom that Zach and Dan built with donated windows is much more accessible, light-filled and stable in temperature than the old greenhouse; I didn’t have to bring all the seedlings in every night in early spring, and they don’t require much hardening-off, since they’re used to strong light and good air circulation.
We’re also trying to take better care of the flower gardens. At some point last year we looked around and realized that we had forgotten to plant flowers. Now sunflowers, nasturtiums and cosmos are coming up around the house and barn, and we’ve set out marigolds and pansies. Lorraine is keeping Tom’s garden deadheaded and weededand making space around the less aggressive plants. Joan’s memorial garden had been situated between the compost bins and a trailer yard full of junked vehicles and unhappy dogs, but that trailer lot has been cleaned out, the compost bins have been moved to the other side of the garden, and with some work and attention the garden will be a lovely place to sit in. If anyone has sedums to share they would go well in the stonework.
It seems that we will not have any goat kids this year, but both does are continuing to produce milk in abundance. The children who come here will miss the antics of the kids, but it saves a lot of time in fence repair and goat moving, and it has been lovely to have a constant supply of milk to drink and cook with and use with groups and send home with children.
The cows and calves have come over from Unity Acres for the summer, and are enjoying the rich grass in the pasture, which is now divided into 3 sections to allow for better pasture management. The grass is tall and thick in the hayfield, and we will be ready to start mowing when the weather gets drier and the mower gets fixed. We had hoped to fertilize the fields this spring but weren’t able to buy or borrow a manure spreader in time. We hope to feed them this fall or next spring at the latest.
If any of our readers have some spare time and would like to help us keep up with weeding, feeding, planting-out or anything else in the garden, please come! The farm is lovely at this time of year, with apple trees and lilacs blooming, goslings in the pond and robins nesting behind the statue of St. Francis. Thanks to all of you who support us with prayers, time, money and useful things so that we can stay here, care for the land and our neighbors and enjoy this beautiful place.
Both Sides Now by Joanna
‘Kyle’ started coming to the farm a few months ago. On his first visit he would barely speak to us; he kept turning around and darting his eyes from side to side. I had been told that he was shy, and young for his age. I tried to give him space, listen to him when he did speak, wait. He was interested in the goats and the chickens, and after being cooped up in a small apartment with several siblings he liked having room to run. As his visits continued and he learned that we were safe he relaxed visibly, grinned and told extravagant tall tales, let me push him on the long-roped swing. But whenever I had to raise my voice to keep him from running on the stairs or darting across the road he cringed and shrank into himself again.
One day when I went to pick Kyle up his mother showed me a cut on his cheek and a lump under his hair and told me that ‘Eddie’, his older brother, had beaten him up more seriously than he usually did. Authorities had been called, but no one had come; Eddie, still preteen, was considered too young to be a serious problem. Kyle was hard to handle that day, first withdrawn and then bouncing off the walls; and I was furious with Eddie and with the people in authority who wouldn’t get him out of there and keep Kyle safe–furious partly because I felt helpless to change the situation. I kept doing the small things that I could do: setting clear limits for him and enforcing them as gently as possible, channeling his nervous energy into baseball practice and long explores, praising his competence, making it clear that the farm was a safe place for all people, & animals too His mother spoke of Kyle and Eddie’s father, who had beaten and frightened his wife and children until they finally left, and of Eddie’s assumption of the bully’s role in the family. And finally I agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to start having Eddie visit the farm. I had seen him occasionally, but mostly when I thought of him I thought of Kyle’s bruises and his frightened eyes. I was willing to take him out of the home sometimes to give his family some relief, and to work with him on his behavior if the opportunity arose. I did not expect to like him.
Eddie, like Kyle, was quiet and wary on his first visit. He was fascinated by the creatures in and around the pond, but he wanted to whack them all. I told him he couldn’t do that here, observed that he wouldn’t like it if a funny-looking giant came along and decided to whack him. (When he looked offended at being called funny-looking I explained that I thought all people must look funny to frogs.) He looked startled, but refrained from poking the animals and eventually threw his stick away. The most noticeable thing about Eddie was his desperate need to be in control. He insisted that his kite would stay in the air as long as he told it to, yelled at the soccer ball if it didn’t go where he wanted it to. I was uncomfortably reminded of my own anger at things I can’t control. But on his second visit Eddie found our electric organ. He played the first half of the Ode to Joy quickly and accurately; then he stopped, looked rather sheepish, and said “I don’t know the rest.” He listened with interest as I played it, had me write it down, tried it. Absorbed in the music, he willingly admitted what he didn’t know, asked for help, tried new things. I was pleased with and for him, and began to readjust my image of him.
Later that day Kyle came to the farm and wanted to play house. He threw himself enthusiastically into the role of the big, strong father who could hurt, humiliate and control everyone else. He wanted me to be the daughter, and I tried a variety of responses, from passive compliance to belligerence to firm but fairly courteous noncooperation; but Kyle looked at me with desperate eyes and said “I’m big. You’re little. You have to.” But I had options, and said that it was time to play something else. It wasn’t long after that I heard that he had started to hit his younger siblings. Although at the farm, in his own character, Kyle continued to be gentle with the animals, eager to please, fond of making things for my mother, I sought advice from people with more experience in dealing with very troubled children.
Our work with the children is a small-scale form of peacemaking. At first I found it very easy to see Eddie as the bad one and to think that if he could be gotten out of the way the family would be all right. But I am distressed when our government defines other governments as ‘evil’ or ‘terrorist’ and promises that their elimination will make the world better and safer or when friends in the peace movement define certain people in our government as evil and say that if we can discredit them and remove them from power the country will be better and safer. It’s never that simple. Now I know Eddie and Kyle and can’t just dismiss them as ‘bad’; and I know that it doesn’t help to blame their father, who must have been another frightened child. I am left with the more difficult work of seeing Kyle and Eddie clearly, caring for them, trying to help them transform the violence within themselves and encourage the strength, the gentleness, the wonder and the music. That’s all that I can do for myself, for my neighbors, for the world.
Volunteers to help with gardening, maintenance and repairs (see other articles)
Thread in basic colors, Stuffing for pillows etc
Watercolor paper or other heavy paper, Acrylic and watercolor paints
Outdoor play equipment
Magnifiers, esp. boxes with built-in magnifying lenses
Rubber boots and rain gear in kid’s sizes (suitable for boys)
Black fly nets
A lawn mower, shovel handles, trowels, and small pruners
Bicycles and parts
We always need volunteers to help with gardening, maintenance and repairs, money, and prayers.
Thanks to all who have donated things to us. The binoculars, books and kid-sized slippers have been especially appreciated lately.
St. Francis Farm Community now officially owns the land which has been its home for almost thirty years. Time of Jubilee, the Syracuse-based land trust which held the title for Fr. McVey for twenty one years and then asked us to form our own land-holding entity, transferred the title to us on September 2. This is the end of a lot of legal paperwork, and the beginning of a new set of questions about our use of the land. Much of our land is wooded. A state forester told us three years ago that we had timber which was ready to be harvested, and some stands which should be thinned. Now we are legally able to harvest timber. We are conscious of having a valuable resource in an area where there are many needs; we also want to preserve the complex network of life that has grown in our woods, and the beauty of the land. We will be consulting the College of Environmental Science and Forestry and others as we consider how to be good stewards of this resource. Friends have come to walk the hayfields with us and help us figure out how to keep getting what we need for our goats and Unity Acres’ cows without depleting the soil.Friends have suggested that our woods and fields offer a good space for nature walks and study. We still have a lot to learn.
We were granted federal tax-exempt status in June. We recognize that many Catholic Workers choose not to seek this status, preferring to remain clearly independent of the federal government and to encourage people to give out of love and at personal sacrifice without an added incentive in the form of a tax deduction. We also know people who do not wish to support war through their income taxes. By living more simply, making less money, and making donations to tax-exempt organizations that work for peace and justice, they are freed from the obligation to pay war taxes. When we had to incorporate in order to hold the title to the land, we decided that we needed to seek tax exemption. Federal tax-exempt status is required to exempt us from paying property taxes which consume over a third of our budget. We had expected to be tax-exempt before this year’s school and property taxes were due; we forgot how long it takes some larger and more official organizations to process paperwork. We’re looking at a substantial tax bill but it frets us less than it did three years ago as all we need has been provided over and over. Our thanks go out to Father Tony Keeffe, who has helped us plod through the paperwork, to his lawyer friend who gave us pro bono legal help ,and to his former parishioner who shared his expertise in accounting with us and helped us organize financial information for the IRS.
Our board of directors (introduced in the March newsletter) met with us in June and will be meeting again on September 28.Between meetings individual members have taken time to call and visit, to weed and pick in the garden, to look at what needs fixing in the farmhouse, to help dig a ditch for a buried electric wire, and to help us think and pray about the many decisions we have to make. We are trying to discern how to respond to the need for decent housing in this area. We need to clarify our purpose in bringing groups to the farm; are we primarily trying to get help with the basic work of the farm? to educate students about the hidden costs of the consumer lifestyle, and model an alternative? to provide a breathing space in which spiritual discernment may take place? We need to work on how we communicate with prospective groups about who we are and what we are trying to do. We need to figure out how to balance work with groups and our time with local children. We need to look again at the optimal size of the core community and at how we invite people to share in our work. We don’t expect the people on our board to have the answers to all these questions, but it is a blessing to have the perspective and support of such a diverse group of people, some who knew the farm long before we did, some who are new to this place but bring rich experience from other work and ministry. It is also a blessing and a challenge to do ‘official business’ in a truly communal and spiritual way, finding a process that allows everyone to be heard and makes quiet spaces for listening to the still small voice. We began the incorporation process with some reluctance, and sometimes the legal work is a headache and we don’t seem to fit any of the forms; but it is becoming clear to us that in this as in everything else there are gifts and chances for further growth hidden among the tasks and frustrations along the way.
SHEEPDOG by Lorraine
Usually we read the 23rd Psalm from the perspective of the sheep and take comfort in the green pastures and still waters to which the shepherd leads us. Often in my life at St. Francis Farm I have thought of myself as a sheep dog and have found another comfort in the reminder that the Lord is my shepherd. I came to see myself as the sheep dog because day after day I am the one rounding the others up. I try to get Zach to leave the hay for a while and come in for a meal. I try to get Joanna out of the garden or the goat pen a while ahead of time when she will be picking up a child to bring to the farm. Over and over my observation has been that we work better with children, are more present to whoever comes to us, if we have time to be centered ourselves, if we don’t hurry from our other tasks into welcoming our guests. I am often the one inside, picking up the phone and trotting off around the farm to find whomever the caller wants. And I am the one who notices who is tired and could use some help and goes and asks someone to give it. So it is among those of us who live here that I find myself in the role of sheep dog.
I have also found myself thinking of those we serve as sheep without a shepherd. Some seem weak or wounded or lost and I don’t always know how to help. I don’t know enough about the waters or the pastures or the sheep. Sometimes I catch myself worrying about them and recall watching shepherds demonstrate working with their dogs at the Common Ground Fair back in Maine. Some dogs kept their eyes on the sheep and when the sheep began to scatter or wander the dog was off to round them up, to do something. The shepherd had to keep calling those dogs back to his side where they would settle briefly but then again become distracted by the sheep and forget the shepherd until he whistled or called. Other dogs kept their eyes on the shepherd until some command was given. Then they focused on the sheep, not hurrying, sometimes barely creeping, belly on the ground, until the sheep could be moved in the direction chosen by the shepherd. Then the dog stopped again, eyes on the shepherd, waiting for further guidance.
It takes considerable time to train a sheep dog well, and I am still in training. I have to be called back over and over until I remember to keep my eyes on the shepherd. But it comforts me to remember that I am not the shepherd, that these are his people and that all that they need has been created for them. Not by me. I am only a sheep dog. I’ve seen though how a dog can assist the work of a shepherd and seen the satisfaction the dog finds in the work. I’m grateful for the work in this place and for the training of the past three years and that the Lord is my shepherd—I don’t have to figure everything out. I have everything I need.
Maintenance by Zachary
This past summer was unusually wet for this area, so we have had some difficulties with the haying and other tasks. In some ways the haying was easier than last year because Unity Acres received a large donation of hay from another source, which meant they and we didn’t have to get as much in from the farm’s fields. Some of our fields have not been cut yet this year, and we are hoping to borrow a bush hog from someone near here to mow them off. Unity Acres has purchased a manure spreader which will be used to fertilize the hayfields in preparation for next year. It has been several years now that the fields have been hayed without being fertilized at all, and spreading the fields should increase their yield substantially, as well as making it possible to get second cuttings from some of them. Another project we have been and will be working jointly with the Acres is straightening the pole barn by the pasture, and covering the spaces between the poles on the walls with rubber roofing. It has been racking gradually to the south over the last few years, and we were concerned that it would eventually just fall over. We have straightened it part of the way, and we are hoping to move it some more and get it covered before winter. Various possibilities are being considered for how to hold it more securely once it is in place.
By the time this newsletter is mailed the concrete floor in the greenhouse will have been poured if all goes according to plan, and we are also planning to pour a floor in the goat shed. Many thanks to Judith Daly who is sharing her time and knowledge with us to get these tasks done. None of us here have any experience in pouring slabs, and it will be very good to have someone in charge who knows what she’s doing. She has also given us some greenhouse tables with wire-mesh tops so that water will drain through.
We are making progress in cleaning up the area where the trailer was which we tore down last summer, and now all of the lumber from that has been cleaned up and stacked ready for where it may be needed. We have been given a lawn tractor, which will be very useful for keeping the grass down in the areas where the trailers were. We have dug a ditch from the farmhouse to the well-house with help from various people in which we are laying a wire which will carry all of the power to the well-house. We are also going to dig a ditch from the barn to the farmhouse for a wire, and this whole project will accomplish two goals. One is to eliminate the need for the separate electric meters on the house and the well house, which will save us about $40 a month in metering fees. The other is to make it possible to run the well from the generator, which has a hookup on the barn, during power outages. There is another trailer that will be torn down later this fall, and then we will be finished with removing old buildings on the farm. We have already taken apart the addition that had been built onto the trailer, and the lumber has been stacked, and is waiting to have the nails cleaned out of it.
In the latter half of August we were told of a need for a wheelchair ramp at the home of an elderly couple in Sandy Creek. We already knew them from having done work for them occasionally in past years, and when we heard that the man had fallen and would be using a wheelchair we were able to build it within a week because they were able to pay for the materials, so we did not have to ask for funding from any of the agencies that we usually deal with about ramps. ~
To know when to stop,
To know when you can get no further
By your own action,
That is the right beginning.
-from The Way of Chuang-Tzu, ed. and trans. Thomas Merton
Agriculture by Joanna
It has been a strange season, with late frost, a cold spring, and wild winds and rain; but through it all the garden continues to thrive and produce. We’ve had plenty of cucumbers, squash and green beans to use ourselves, to give to visitors and to share at the subsidized housing complex that is home to some of the children we work with. The cucumbers are always taken immediately by kids who then run around yelling “Look what I got! These things are good!” and biting into them without bothering to take the peels off. Vegetables that have to be cooked go more slowly; sometimes the adults aren’t as interested in vegetables as the children are, sometimes perhaps they don’t know how to cook them.
I stopped trying to grow fancy potatoes this year and just ordered Kennebecs, which were described as basic and easy to grow; we have already gotten a lot of large tasty tubers by robbing the plants, and soon it will be time to dig the rest. Onions and garlic did very well and are drying under the pole barn now. This year at last we have plenty of carrots to can and corn to freeze. The raccoons and deer have done some damage to the corn and greens; for now we’re warding them off with a radio and hot-pepper wax, but next year we’ll probably need a fence.
It wasn’t the best year for hot-weather crops. Our peppers stay small, and we may not get any decent-sized eggplants this year. I put the basil out too early and the late frost slowed it down, but we are putting some pesto into the freezer. But the tomatoes which got off to a slow start are now bearing heavily, so that we have plenty to can and to share. And the season has been good for peas and greens; we’re getting a copious harvest from the snow peas we started in July, and the Swiss chard is lush and plentiful. The elders whom we visit remember growing their own greens and enjoy having some fresh from our garden.
I’m still reading up on greenhouse growing. It looks as though we should be able to grow chard, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, carrots and perhaps peas through most of the winter, although it’s doubtful that anything will grow much in January’s cold. The greenhouse may also provide a good space for composting worms, which we have meant to start for some time now.
After several unsuccessful attempts to buy healthy piglets we had just about resigned ourselves to a year without home-grown pork when Unity Acres gave us two energetic piglets who needed a little less competition at the trough. Runt and Grunt are extremely personable and keep eating and growing in spite of the frequent rain which has made their pen into a swamp sometimes before we got to moving it onto fresh ground.
We still worry about the rain and the uncertainty of getting kids from our goats next year; but no doubt these things also will work out, perhaps not quite as we had expected. Thanks to all of you whose support allows us to keep living here by precarity and by gift.
There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see;
and to see we have only to look. I beseech you to look.–Fra Giovanni, 1513, quoted in Seeking Peace by Johann Christoph Arnold
Quotes from Bishop Ludden High School Group, June 29-July 2:
All the stuff became less important.
The migrants coming really put a face to the problems I hear about.
This is the opposite of the “real world”—there is more time to think.
I really learned how to set aside distractions and think deep down and discover more about myself. I learned also to reach out to other people instead of judging by first appearances.
Garden work is NOT fun (except when Joanna is there to talk to). Washing dishes and making bread and milking goats are the best.
You folks live an alternative lifestyle here, and I thank you for inviting us in to see that there are other possibilities.
I saw where the food comes from, and the work that went into it.
Warm winter boots for children
Children’s boot socks and regular socks
Children’s bicycles, in any condition
Finance software that can run on a 200 MHz Pentium Pro running Windows 95—maybe an old version of Quicken or Quickbooks
Money (Now that we are tax exempt for IRS purposes, donations are tax-deductible. If you would like a receipt for tax purposes please let us know when you donate; we always write thank-you letters.)
–People have responded so generously to our previous wish lists that we don’t have much to ask for this quarter. Thank you! At this point we could especially use help with fall farm tasks, prayers for wisdom and courage and perseverance for the decisions we have to make, for the work that still lies ahead of us and for the children, families and elders who we work with and sometimes write about in our newsletters, and money to help us with tax and insurance bills.
You are probably striving to build an identity out of…your work and your witness….to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used for God’s love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.—Thomas Merton, letter quoted in Seeking Peace by Johann Christoph Arnold
Memories from the summer:
going bicycling with Kyle and Eddie, panting on the uphills and whooping on the downhills and very excited about really getting to go somewhere on their bikes
singing around the campfire with Anita and Melinda before they returned to college
roaming the edges of the pasture and hayfield, picking quarts of big sweet juicy blackberries
eating just-picked corn with Nina and Theo (kids from the apartments)
the van from the Brady Faith Center showing up unexpectedly as always and the kids tumbling out and the one boy who kept saying “I remember” as he picked clover to feed the goats or led the way to the pond.
Friends from our Quaker Meeting coming for a workday in July when it rained so hard that the late arrivals couldn’t get to the worksites in the house or the trailers but had to stay in the barn and all the laughter and talk as they washed the pots for starting next years’ seedlings
the stars shining and the coyotes and owls calling at the end of the day when the work is laid down and we are weary
the bright blue sky, the asters and goldenrods, the rolling fields and richly green trees while biking to Mass in Lacona
John Donnelly and Billy O’Day working together with Joanna in the gardens on August 7th at the SFF reunion workday
ADVENT by Joanna
I have always looked forward eagerly to Advent. When I was very small the candlelight in the darkness and the color and smell of balsam fir in the grey-and-white days satisfied my winter cravings. The story of God’s spirit hovering over darkness and chaos and calling forth light, the stories of slavery, fear and liberation, of exile, longing and return, satisfied another hunger. And the promises that we remembered then entered strongly into my imagination and my hope. “They will neither harm nor destroy in all my holy mountain…for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea…” “The Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings..”
As I grew older and more aware of the injustice, fear and brokenness in the world around me, I identified more strongly with the anguish and impatience of the prophets. “How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you “Violence!”, but you do not save?…Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails….” “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down!…Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are all your people.” Sometimes Christmas itself was hard for me, realizing how much of the promise was still deferred. Emmanuel has come, God is with us; and still we destroy ourselves, and one another, and the land. I longed to believe that someday there would be no more struggle, no more falsehood, no more violence, no more darkness; and sometimes I could not.
Once again I am entering the Season of Lights, in this place where the light and darkness both grow clearer and clearer to me. I still rejoice and grieve and struggle. I hold onto Fra Giovanni’s reminder that “There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see we have only to look.” I see the land around us being ill-used, polluted, dumped on. I see its continuing beauty, in the stream where it flows clear and quick through land that is still cared for and in the profusion of marsh marigolds in a trash-strewn ditch by the road. I see the soil in our garden growing richer and softer, and I see the good work being done by many neighbors and friends who are re-learning how to protect land and use it well. I see the children who visit us growing up surrounded by fear and violence, at home, at school, in their neighborhoods, on television, and in the conduct of their country. I also see them taking delight in the natural world, in art and in music, offering eagerly to help with whatever they can, and reaching out in friendship to people who are different from them. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot put it out.
Once I saw the leaves of the black walnut tree detach in a bright sudden shower, beautiful in green and brown and gold, making a soft sound almost like falling water, dying with grace for the dark time, clearing a place for the unfolding of new leaves when light and warmth grow again. Sometimes I too am able to let go of fears and hopes and plans and know the peace that passes understanding, with us already, here, now.
LIVING THE MISSION by Lorraine
The mission of St. Francis Farm is to live an alternative to the consumer culture, to model a way of life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles. We seek to help others live in this way by our example, by providing material and practical assistance, and by offering prayerful presence and a place for reflection.
Whatever has changed in the three years we’ve been at the farm, the mission statement Joanna put into words for us that first winter has remained and has shaped the subsequent developments. Seeking to live an alternative to the consumer culture has shaped the corporation that was formed over the past year, has defined our presence in the local community and has colored the experience of groups who come join us for a time of retreat or for a service/learning experience.
Forming the corporation took longer because we wanted the structure to reflect our commitment to an alternative way of life. Last fall the law students from SU struggled with the unfamiliar language and the variety of activities that make up the life of the farm. They didn’t think we could mention God in our by-laws or designate all officers as simply “core members”. We had to rework the mission statement and carefully explain how decisions are made without resort to voting. When we first realized that we might have to incorporate the farm, I remember thinking that it would be easier to tell people that I was director of a non-profit than to try to explain our lives in what I had come to term a “charitable disorganization”. We made it through—the certificate of incorporation, the by-laws, the 501(c)(3) application, the first annual meeting, and the state and local tax exemption papers. But we still find we need to explain ourselves to people who don’t understand why we don’t just do things the “normal” way.
Forming relationships in the local community has also taken time. At first it felt very much like dying. We stopped doing the Christmas baskets and the large community dinners. A project to put an addition on a trailer for a growing family that had been planned and begun before we came had to be abandoned shortly after our arrival. We realized that we didn’t know enough about construction, about the people, about the other services available. People complained that we didn’t invite them to events at the farm and when we did they didn’t come because they didn’t know us. People complained that we didn’t bring them candy at Halloween and Christmas and Easter so we must not be Christian. We started doing little things—what we were capable of and what made sense to us. We shoveled snow and did yard work for the elders and gave away fresh vegetables from the gardens. We repaired leaks in roofs and began working with the after school program at Rural & Migrant Ministry. We did small repairs at their building and at the Friendship Shop. We passed on school supplies and mittens and coats that were donated to us to children who needed them. We brought children to the farm, one or two at a time, week after week so they had time to get to know us. We thought about what they didn’t have and tried to provide it—space and quiet and attention and healthy food, musical instruments and art supplies and puppets and blocks and magnets and magnifiers. We felt frustrated that it wasn’t enough for the difficulties they face, but we wanted them to know that there was something besides the life they lived or the life they saw advertised. Sometimes the children want to work with Zach in the shop or cleaning lumber or with Joanna in the garden or raking leaves. So we see the time we spend with them grow to resemble the time we spend with the groups of students who come.
We haven’t had as many groups at the farm in these three years. We came in 2001 and that fall the Canadian groups canceled their weeks after 9-11. Then other groups from the Boston area canceled their spring and summer weeks. People asked us how many groups we had scheduled or why fewer were coming and we weren’t sure how to answer. But the national difficulties and the Church difficulties gave us time and the groups that did come helped us become clearer about what we and the farm had to offer. The people who call to schedule for March or April are looking for an “alternative spring break” experience for high school or college students. But they don’t necessarily mean the same thing we do by alternative. When Joanna tried to answer a question about our life here by telling a story of St. Francis working in the fields and refusing payment and then begging his food, one student responded, “Well, for dumb!” Some college students ignored the list we had sent of what not to bring—junk food and electronic gadgets—because they didn’t see any reason for the request. Another group was never given the list in the confusion of organizing multiple trips but when it was explained to them put the items into their van for the time they were here. Those who came in the groups usually wanted to work “out in the community” and sometimes saw no value in the manual labor that fills our days. But the jobs that need to be done off the farm can’t always wait for a group and aren’t always suitable for a group. And as we grew clearer about our work with local children, I was reluctant to have them come to the farm to spend time with people who would talk to them about whatever show or movie was currently popular and which stuff they had bought. I realized that we hadn’t been clear enough in communicating with groups, that we assumed one thing and they sometimes assumed another. We decided that the number of groups didn’t matter that much. We knew that some students found the alternative offered here thought-provoking or even transformational. We wanted to find the people who would want to find the farm. We were told by leaders of one group that we’d have more folks scheduling if we offered “more of a cruise ship mentality” but that wasn’t our mission. So we kept explaining to those willing to listen and suggesting that those without time to listen might prefer some other site. We risked an empty barn and found people who were looking for the kind of alternative we offer.
Sometimes living an alternative gets lonely, and sometimes we get weary and uncertain. But we know that it won’t help to buy something or hurry into a new project or distract ourselves with a lot of noise. We go outside when we can. We build a fire and sing and listen to the songs of coyotes and owls. Or we walk the road through the woods toward Unity Acres in pitch dark or moonlight. We read aloud the words of those who’ve gone before us along less traveled ways. People come to visit, to lend a hand with the work, to hold hands around the table and share a meal, to share silence and stories in the chapel. We get letters from old friends or from folks we haven’t met yet asking about life at the farm and telling about their work and questions.We look again at the “real world” and realize that we’ve only begun to find our way toward the Kingdom about which Jesus taught but that there is no hope or life for us in going back.
MAINTENANCE by Zach
Over the last several months we have been looking at the farmhouse and trying to determine what needs to be done to it to make it more habitable. We have gotten advice from several knowledgeable people on the subject, and tried to take all of the advice and form a clear plan of what we will do. We have decided to replace all of the windows with better ones, and to remove the clapboards and reinsulate and put up vinyl siding on one wall at a time. While each wall is taken apart we will run new wiring. The old wiring is cloth insulated, and we have been told that it is a fire hazard and needs to be replaced. We also need to put new roofing on the porch, and possibly on the section of roof immediately above it. It is our intent to leave all of the plaster and drywall on the interiors of the walls and do all of the work from the outside. This will make the whole job much easier and cheaper. We are considering making a couple of alterations to the downstairs of the house which will make it easier and more efficient to use, but we have not yet finalized our plans about them. We are also going to buy a more efficient wood stove to replace the one in the living room of the farmhouse. We decided to do this instead of replacing the furnace in the basement, because it is far more cost-effective to run a wood stove than to buy heating oil. We are looking at either laying down plastic sheeting under gravel or else pouring concrete in the basement of the farmhouse to deal with the dampness.
We have had a number of small building jobs in the area, including a trailer which needed some roof and siding repair and a shed which needed new siding and roofing. We have also done some work at the RMMOC building, sealing the chimney flashing and places on the roof, and tightening up a basement door. We replaced a window at one of our trailers, and worked on the furnace at the other one, where there is also a flooring job pending. The vacant trailer which we had begun tearing down at the time of our last newsletter is now gone except for the porch and the chimney and some stacks of lumber awaiting processing. The other vacant trailer has been sold and should be removed by the time this letter goes out.
We have begun cutting and splitting next year’s firewood. Thanks to Unity Acres for letting us have the tops and leftovers from their logging of a couple of years ago. It is conveniently already on the ground, and somewhat seasoned, and only needs to be found, cut up, and moved back to the woodshed. Our chain saw is having some difficulties, as usual, but they are generally repairable. We would very much appreciate it if anyone would donate a working chain saw so that we had a backup. Soon it will be too snowy in the woods to get out and get wood, and we will not be able to again until next spring. Until then we will keep trying to get as much as we can. With the help of the staff and men at Unity Acres we have begun spreading manure in the hayfields, and we hope to continue that also as long as the weather holds. The fields that were not hayed this year have been mowed with Unity Acres’ bush hog, and will be ready for next year.
The greenhouse floor was poured in September, and a floor was poured in the goat shed at the same time. The interior of the greenhouse has now been trimmed out and painted, and is finally complete. We also repaired and painted the interior of the chapel. We had to bring in a scaffolding to reach the high arched parts, so it was a bit more of an undertaking than the other rooms we’ve painted here, but it didn’t take as long as we had thought it might. We are hoping to seal the floor in the part of the chapel where it has never been done next summer, when we can open the windows.
WHY BOTHER? by Dan
As I grow healthier and less depressed here, I am faced with the challenge to reorient my life away from habits of mental apathy, reserving my full attention and efforts for contests and diversions, towards habits of mindfulness and giving my all to real life. In the apathetic mind-set, I wonder, why bother to leave the comfortable world of distractions and enter the world of real things, where so much is uncertain? Why not just go through the motions of working and entertain myself with thoughts of music etc.? But the work here demands attention not just during isolated tests, but throughout each of the many tasks, and so I am called into greater mindfulness. And I am beginning to see why it is indeed worth the “bother”, as that same mindfulness in turn greatly enriches my life. It helps me to be more attentive to others around me and more aware of and involved in the natural world, and often when I am so drawn out of myself I am happier.
It is an overcast Monday morning, and I go outside to split and stack the pile of firewood Zach cut and dumped there. I work deliberately, trying to remain mindful of everything I am doing, the whole and each part: I balance the log on the chopping block, judging its toughness and looking for cracks, take hold of the splitter, raise it and swing. The feel of the strike is satisfying, an audible but incomplete crack. One more swing suffices to finish the split, and I toss the wood aside to be stacked. It would be easy enough to let my mind drift, maybe onto music, working without being present; but with each part of the task, I refocus, and in so doing both the task and I benefit. As the day wears on, however, I think, “This is easy; I’ve got this under control,” and soon my mind does drift; and at one point I hit the wedge squarely with the cutting edge of the splitter instead of the sledgehammer! Miraculously it doesn’t seem dulled, but such close calls demand renewed mindfulness.
What makes mindfulness difficult is that it often doesn’t offer immediate, gratifying results. The benefits of attentiveness are often less apparent than the disasters that result from inattention. You can’t compare how long a task took with how long it would have taken done inattentively, since the latter can only be guessed at. The same goes for the quality of the task, e.g. how sturdy the stack is. Learning, which can only happen when you’re paying attention, also isn’t readily measurable. And while working your best can be satisfying, there is also the risk of meeting your limits and failing.
However, the demands have their rewards. It is satisfying to be focused, working towards a single purpose; I feel more at one with the objects, the gifts, I interact with. And everywhere there are interesting things to be noticed, beauty to be appreciated, challenges to confront. While it is uncomfortable to be drawn out of myself, it is in the long run what creates inner peace.
Agriculture by Joanna
Now the garden has frozen, and our work there is done for another year. The harvest was good, and we did fairly well with turning beds and planting cover crops in preparation for spring. I am looking forward to the winter slow time and a chance to plan more thoroughly for next year’s garden. I always miss fresh green and the feel of soil between my fingers before the ground thaws again, but this year some of that craving is satisfied by the transplants and seedlings which are growing in our greenhouse. Everything grows more slowly in this time when the light is less, but we are beginning to harvest salad greens and kale from our 2’x3’ soil boxes, not long after we stopped being able to harvest them from the garden.
We have had wonderful help in the garden. A group of students from Notre Dame High School in Elmira got up early on Saturday morning so they could come and help us clean the garden up after a messy and productive summer. We appreciated their help and their enthusiasm. An eight-year-old boy who has been spending time at the farm regularly asked my mother how carrots grow; he looked dubious when told that they grew in the soil, and went up to the garden to see for himself. He ended up pulling and washing a bread tray full of carrots along with me, taking some home to his family and looking with satisfaction at the pile he’d helped with here.
Animal chores are also slowing down for the winter. Our piglets, despite a slow start, grew well and finished out at a quite respectable rate; we’re enjoying fresh pork again. The cattle are back at Unity Acres until the grass gets tall next spring, and the chickens have been moved into winter quarters that don’t have to be moved every day. We have lost our source of ready-to-lay pullets; any leads for next year would be more than welcome. We’ve been taking the goats out to graze wherever there is good grass left, but the pickings are getting slim and soon they’ll be settling down to hay and overgrown beets for the winter.
We have a lot of good produce and good times in the garden to be thankful for, and now we can also give thanks for a time of rest.
Winter and spring groups scheduled:
December 3-5 Spanish Apostolate Advent retreat
March 13-19 St. Xavier University alternative spring break
April 17-23 St. John’s High School alternative spring break
Tax exempt status:
We received our federal tax exemption as a 501(c)(3) organization in June of this year. Receipts for IRS purposes will be sent to donors who request them. With help from the Syracuse University Legal Clinic we applied for and received exemption from state taxes this fall. A lawyer friend of Fr. Tony Keeffe is working on our applications for local property tax exemption for next year. Currently the local taxes are over $10,000 which is over a third of our annual budget.
Quotes for the Journey
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Isaiah 55: 1-2
“To step into pure relation is not to disregard everything but to see everything in the Thou, not to renounce the world but to establish it on its true basis. To look away from the world, or to stare at it, does not help a man to reach God; but he who sees the world in Him stands in His presence…Men do not find God if they stay in the world. They do not find God if they leave the world. He who goes out with his whole being to meet his Thou and carries to it all being that is in the world, finds Him who cannot be sought.”—Martin Buber, I and Thou
…the State is no longer led; the stokers still pile in the coal, but the leaders now have only the semblance of control over the madly racing machines….The levers of economics are beginning to sound in an unusual way; the masters smile at you with superior assurance, but death is in their hearts. They tell you they suited the apparatus to the circumstances, but you notice that from now on they can only suit themselves to the apparatus—so long, that is to say, as it permits them. –Ibid
For security against robbers who snatch purses, rifle luggage, and crack safes,
One must fasten all property with ropes, lock it up with locks, bolt it with bolts.
This (for property owners) is elementary good sense,
But when a strong thief comes along, he picks up the whole lot,
Puts it on his back, and goes on his way with only one fear:
That ropes, locks, and bolts may give way.
Thus what the world calls good business is only a way
To gather up the loot, pack it, make it secure
In one convenient load for the more enterprising thieves.
Who is there, among those called smart,
Who does not spend his time amassing loot
For a bigger robber than himself?
–Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
This vision made me understand that every soul can derive great benefit from experiences such as these: sometimes to be comforted and consoled, other times to be abandoned and bereft. For God wants us to know that he keeps us surely and loves us fully whether we be in sorrow or in joy. –Julian of Norwich, from Ordinary Graces , ed. Lorraine Kisly
We are not truly personal as long as we are turned in on ourselves, isolated from others. We only become personal if we face other persons, and relate to them. -Kallistos Ware, ibid.
–Cross-country ski equipment (for adults or children), sleds, snow tubes
–Lego, Technics, K’Nex, Capsela, Erector etc. building sets for older children
–Trowels, claws, other small gardening tools
–A working chain saw
–Lumber scraps for making things with kids in the workshop
–Plywood, OSB, insulation and other materials we can use in our work on the farmhouse
–Finance software that can run on a 200 MHz Pentium Pro running Windows 95—maybe an old version of Quicken or Quickbooks
–Money (Now that we are a 501(c)(3) organization, donations are tax-deductible. We always write thank-you letters and will send the appropriate receipts for donations to any who request them)
Thanks to all who have responded so generously to our previous wish lists. We were able to outfit all the children we knew who needed warm clothes this fall and we have enough hoes and shovels even when we have extra hands in the garden. Thanks too for your patience when we haven’t been able to use items. Sometimes we run out of space or the supply outruns the demand—then we try to redirect what we can’t use to other places.