Food for Thought by Lorraine
Food is basic here at the farm, but it also gets complicated. We grow as much of our own aswe can. How we eat is part of the alternative way of life we model to children and neighbors and visiting groups. The migrant workers who spend time here have opened our eyes to much that had been invisible in our previous ways of life. None of us are paid and it always makes me smile when I see the big sign at the Food Bank that says “We Work for Food”. I often joke that we work like slaves but we eat like kings.
Food at the farm comes from various places and is shared with various people. Joanna keeps you posted about livestock and gardens, and I always think our best meals are the ones that are most fully from the farm. Every eight weeks we order food from the local co-op. We get 25 or 50 pound bags of beans, oats, flours, rice. The co-op also is our source for raisins, spices, herb tea. At least once a week either Zach or Dan skis or bikes to Unity Acres to get bread. We found a Korean market in Syracuse where we get soy sauce and tofu. Meals take time—to plan and to prepare. I bake bread and a couple times a week we cook up a big pot of beans. We make meals from what is available. Some are feasts and sometimes we miss foods we took for granted before we came here—burgers for Dan, fish for me, fresh fruit for all of us. Whoever shows up eats with us. I take special pleasure in feeding healthy food to the children who come regularly and having them cook with me when they want. Our migrant worker guests have been surprised that they were expected to sit down and share meals with us and I have been nervous, knowing that our food will not be what they know or might prefer. The first year I worried about hosting guests who were used to more comfortable surroundings, wondering what they’d think of the concrete floor, mismatched dishes, the cold or the flies that sometimes plague us in the barn. But the conversations around the table soon carry us along, in whatever language, and almost everyone enjoys fresh baked bread.
When planning a group week, I always struggle with the menus. We are inviting people here to experience an alternative to what they often call the “real world” and the food is part of that. We ask them not to bring junk food. I know they will be hungry after doing manual labor to which they are usually not accustomed. I want the food to be nutritious and filling; I want them to eat it and enjoy it. The experience should be broadening but not alienating. And I have no way of knowing ahead of time how a given group will experience the farm or the food. Served the same fare, visitors have responded with everything from “No one ever cared enough about me to make real food like this for me before.” to “Ugh, can we just go to McDonald’s?” And when we have students for spring break in March and April, it is the low time for farm eating—nothing fresh yet from the garden, the potatoes and onions and winter squash from the previous season finished, the goats drying off before kidding. I can get caught between the urge of hospitality to please my guests and the responsibility to offer an alternative to students who come in search of another way.
During most group weeks, Deacon David Sweenie comes one night bringing migrant workers with him to share a meal and tell their stories to the students. David often begins by telling the students that if they eat, the treatment of farm workers is an issue for them to consider. Anyone who doesn’t eat can say it has nothing to do with them. After hearing the workers’ stories, our guests begin to see the rationale behind our growing as much of our food as we are able and begin to look at the sources and the costs of the food they eat back in their other worlds. At the end of the week, when evaluations are written, over and over the thing mentioned that made the biggest impact is the evening with Deacon Sweenie and whoever he brought with him.
In addition to the food we share in meals at the farm, there is the food we give away in the wider community. The first year we were here there was some expectation, locally and from our widespread donors, that we would be feeding the poor. People who wanted to help sometimes sent or brought us candy for the poor children, and there were awkward moments of trying to explain why we wouldn’t take it. Diabetes and tooth decay are two of the prevalent health problems in the area, and we decided early in our stay here that in sharing food our first concern would be to do no harm. This winter we have heard the concerns that other Catholic Workers have around food. Some express concern about the kind of food that is available to give away, how much of it is highly processed or lacking in nutritional value. The other concern is the dwindling supply of any surplus food. There is a call for more Catholic Worker farms and community gardens, a realization that in the future perhaps the only food we’ll have to share is what we grow ourselves. This year we’ll be growing more cucumbers since they were so popular with the children when we took vegetables to Scotch Grove and they were eaten on the spot. Some vegetables were taken to their apartments by children, and then brought back with the message, “Mom says she doesn’t cook these”. We hope to grow more to give away and to find opportunities to cook with people to whom many vegetables are unfamiliar. We want to extend the table.
I brought to the farm with me when I came in 2001 a much used copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook. I adapted a bread recipe from it when I found there was no milk or eggs for the recipes I usually used and needed to make it from what was on hand. The sequel to that book, Living More with Less, has informed our quest for simplicity in many aspects of our lives. And last fall a friend gave meExtending the Table, which takes the spirit of the first book and applies it to food from around the world. During Lent when many of you are observing some form of fasting (Quakers tend to consider every day alike and encourage people to fast or celebrate as they are led, not according to a calendar) I was browsing the new book for recipes to use here and found these thoughts on feasting and fasting:
When affluence allows people to feast too frequently and independently of others, feasting loses much of its joy and integrity. It results in ill health and dulls our sensitivity to the needs of others. Reclaiming the feast may require learning how to fast. Regularly abstaining from meat and other rich foods can be a spiritual act of solidarity. Reserving the special foods we might easily afford, but that are luxury items in the world economy, unites us with those who have less.
Bicycling by Zachary
When we first came to the farm I was 15, but I had never learned to ride a bicycle. Where we used to live the road was steep and twisty and had no shoulders, and my mother wisely decided that it was not a good place forbicycling. I was looking forward, when we first visited, to being in a place where I could learn to bike, and then use it to get around. During the week we were here visiting in April of 2001 I practiced whenever I could, and by the time we went back to Maine I was able to ride fairly well, although I still wobbled at times. I had been doing yard and home repair work for an elderly man in Portland, and one of his favorite things to do, after I’d unloaded the trailer at the dump was to go to the scrap metal pile and look for things, including bicycles, which looked salvageable. He was not able to do much of the physical work anymore, but he knew a great deal about how to fix almost everything. He would tell me what needed to be done, and I would do it, and in the process I learned a lot. When I got back from visiting the farm I found a mountain bike at the transfer station in my town which looked like it was in repairable shape, and was almost close to big enough for me. I brought it home and fixed it up, and I was lucky enough to find a rear carrier for it on another bicycle. When we came back out to the farm in July I took it apart and brought it. At first I just rode it short distances up and down Wart Road and the gravel road to Unity Acres, but gradually the distances I traveled increased, and one day Dan and I went to the library in Pulaski and back. This seemed like a huge journey at the time, but I kept doing it on my days off, and it got easier all the time. In the fall when we four were the only staff left I began riding to Unity Acres to pick up bread twice a week, and I learned how to carry large loads on the bike. Now I use it a lot, for any task on the farm that involves carrying tools or materials very far. I find it especially handy when working in the trailers, because I can go back and forth much more quickly than on foot. I have decided that, for me, bicycling is the happy medium between walking, which takes too long for my impatience, and cars and other machines which are costly and polluting. In the spring and summer especially I like to go for 30 or 40 mile long trips on Sunday afternoons, and this year I am hoping to train myself to go longer distances. I have found that I see a lot more of my surroundings when I am biking than when I am in a car. I have learned a lot about this area by traveling slowly and quietly through it, and paying attention to what I see, and I have met all manner of interesting people. In the very early spring I ride on the nearest roads and pick up returnable bottles and cans, which are easy to find at that time, because the grass has not grown over them yet. Last year I picked up about $22 worth, in four hours of collecting over a couple of days. I had a man stop once when I was down in a ditch collecting and ask me if I was picking them up or throwing them out. I told him it would seem odd to me to ride around on a bicycle throwing them away, and he said you never knew what people might be up to. The bikes here have also been popular with the migrant workers who have stayed with us, once they were well enough to use them. I have, in the time I have been here had to fix almost everything that goes wrong with bicycles, and I have been working on them with some of the children who come here through the Children’s Respite program. They have seemed to find it interesting, and my hope is that they can learn to repair their own bikes at home eventually. This winter I have figured out a way to make rear carriers using steel electrical conduit. I have completed one now, and another one is in the works. They are much stronger and more rigid than the store-bought ones I’ve used, and that is a great blessing when carrying loads over 50 pounds or so. In this time of climate change and oil depletion it behooves me to do what I can to change my way of living, in ways that are practical and efficient. I hope that rising oil costs will encourage more people to bicycle, and that once they begin they will find it as fun as I have.
Maintenance by Zachary
We have been working in the farmhouse this winter, cleaning out messes that have been there since we arrived, and which we never were brave enough to tackle before. We also removed the flooring in the living room, which consisted of carpet over 3 layers of linoleum and a layer of thin plywood. It is now down to the original board floor, which we will need to do a bit of work on before it will be finished, but at least is not musty and mildewed. We have also purchased a new wood stove for the living room location, which has a catalytic burner inside it. It is rated as being capable of heating a space as big as the house, and we are hopeful that once the house has been properly insulated and tightened up we will be able to keep the house comfortably warm with it from March through November or so.
We have been planning the work which will be being done on the farmhouse this spring and summer. We are going to start by cleaning out the basement and scraping the dirt floor down until it is level. We will put plastic sheeting down on the floor and weight it with crushed stone, especially around the edges. We have been told that this should reduce the amount of water coming in during heavy rains and snowmelt, and that having the basement drier should reduce the dampness in the rest of the house. The next step will be to shingle the porch roof, and run ice and water barrier up the walls around it behind the siding. Once the water problem is addressed the major parts of the work will begin. We are planning to take one wall at a time, and remove the siding and sheathing (if there is any) and replace the insulation and any wiring which still involves the old cloth-insulated wire. At the same time we will remove the windows and window frames and replace them with vinyl double-pane windows. We will also need to replace two of the exterior doors, at least, which are old wooden doors with single panes of glass. We have a lot of plywood and OSB from the trailer which we salvaged last summer. We will probably need more to completely re-sheathe the house, but we are well on the way, which is good, now that the price of these materials has more than doubled in the last year. We are then going to put vinyl siding on over that, and seal everything up as well as we may. This will be a very large undertaking, and anyone with time to help, or advice to give would be very much appreciated.
This winter we have had to do a lot of work on the wood boiler. The draft fan died, and we had to order one from the company in early February. Then a couple of weeks later the ceramic combustion tunnel underneath the firebox began crumbling away, and we had to order a new one, and several other related parts. The company told us they are only supposed to last up to 10 years, but we didn’t know that, and the owner’s manual does not mention anything about having to replace them. We also have some helpful papers in Dutch, which may explain some of these things, but as we are unable to read them they are rather wasted on us. We’ve been running the boiler for four years now, but there is still a lot we don’t know about it.
We had one night in January this year when the temperature dropped down to -25, and the pipe that carries the water through the farmhouse basement froze. This line also serves the barn, so when it freezes we have no water in either building. I spent a day trying to thaw it, without success, but in the end we removed the flexible pipe from the basement and carried it to the barn, where we laid it on the floor to thaw. After an hour it had begun to thaw around its perimeter, and Dan held one end in the sink in the garden room, and Lorraine held the other end in the kitchen sink, and I lifted the middle up to the ceiling, and round ice chunks came zooming out of both ends. It took several up-and-down cycles before all of it was gone, but then we just had to take it back over and put it back in. The whole job took almost 14 hours, and by the end we were quite ready to be done with it.
We have been quite fortunate in many ways with our weather this winter. We got a call in mid-December from a man whose mother had recently gotten a wheelchair, and a ramp had been built, but the railings had not been put on by the people who had built it. He was concerned by the coming winter, and what would happen if the ramp was slippery and didn’t have any railings. We said we’d do it, and he went out and bought the materials needed. Then we were fortunate enough to have a day when the temperature got up to around 40 and there was no wind, and Dan and Joe Morton, who was visiting at the time, and I, went up to the house and did the job, with the help of the son and his wife. It was much nicer to work outside that day than it would have been if it had been cold, like the rest of the month was, and we were very grateful for it.
At the beginning of the winter the furnace in one of our trailers was having problems, and we kept trying to fix it, and then whenever it got cold it would quit again. We were advised to get a line filter for it, to take out the water and dirt in the kerosene. We also had to stabilize the tank, which was beginning to lean towards the trailer. To do that, we had to wait until the tank was nearly empty so it would be light enough to move. This, in turn, stirred up the water in the tank more, and then whenever it got cold the filter element would freeze solid, and we would have to get a new one. Finally we adjusted the tank so that the line was in the higher end, and changed the nozzle and the electrodes, and since then it has run well, and we learned some things about how oil furnaces work, and what to do when they don’t.
We have also been doing some work on the interior of the barn during this winter. We have repaired and painted the stairwell walls, and the back hall on the first floor, and parts of the second floor dorm that needed it. While I was repairing one stairwell it occurred to me that there had to be some empty space under the stairway from the 2nd to the 3rd floors. It proved to be of a size that was worth having available, and I cut a small doorway and put up a door. We now have a usable space under the north stairs, and we are planning to make one under the south stairs when time permits.
Agriculture—any volunteers? by Joanna
We’re on the edge of a new growing season again, and I almost feel ready. The kale, chard, lettuce and tatsoi in the greenhouse held well through the winter but didn’t grow much until the beginning of February; then the lengthening days triggered a growth spurt, so that we’ve had greens to eat and share with visitors in the last part of the cold season, and snow peas are growing vigorously in one of our boxes. Next year the space will be ready ahead of time and I’ll get plants for the winter started at the end of August, so they have time to size up before the dark settles in. For now we’re emptying boxes as needed to make room for the spring seedlings. We’ll start the first of these early in March, with the help of the spring break group from St. Xavier University and a boy who visits us regularly and is enthused about planting ‘big huge fat purple onions’. The leeks and onions, pepper and eggplants won’t need much room at first, but in another month there will be tomatoes to plant, and the early plantings will need larger pots and more space.
We’re preparing to start growing shiitake mushrooms in hardwood logs from our woods. We’ll be inoculating the logs this month, and hope to start harvesting in October or November.
By then we hope to have goat kids, we’ll have ordered our piglets, and the outside garden work will have begun. We’re planning to expand the garden this year so that we’ll have more cucumbers to give away at Scotch Grove, and more corn, peas, onions, dried beans and potatoes to store into the winter. We also are hoping to do more community gardening with women’s or youth groups gathered by Rural and Migrant Ministry in Richland. This means we need to work up more ground, and there will be more weeding, thinning, feeding and harvesting through the growing season. Help would be very much appreciated.
We always need more organic fertilizer for our garden. This is compounded by our giving many vegetables away. If you live locally and don’t have a compost pile of your own, please consider letting us compost your lawn clippings (if you don’t use pesticide or herbicide on your lawn) or leaves.
In 2004 we were greatly helped by a couple of groups who came just for a day, one to help us prepare beds for the coming growing season, one to help us clean up before the cold came down. This made our work much easier, and the kids who came seemed to enjoy the chance for conversation and the wide variety of hitherto unfamiliar bugs in the garden soil, as well as time to visit the cows and try out the long-roped swing. Such groups are always more than welcome. It’s also delightful to have a few friends come up whenever they have the time and inclination to help weed and pick in the vegetable garden or organize and tend the flower beds.
–The Spanish Apostolate is coming for their Lenten retreat March 4-6.
–Our website, www.stfrancisfarm.org , is now updated and expanded.
–We’ve made a new brochure. One copy is enclosed in each paper newsletter (we can’t send it electronically). If you want more copies, let us know and we’ll send them.
–We are now exempt from paying property taxes to the town of Orwell, and hope to be exempt in Richland soon
sturdy clothes and socks for children
outdoor play equipment
child-size bikes in any condition, or any bike parts
volunteer help with/advice about gardens(see p.5), accounting, sustainable forest management
building materials, especially plywood, OSB, insulation etc.
help with the upcoming renovation of the farmhouse (see Maintenance)
a drill press
printer compatible either with Windows 95 or with Windows XP (we have one computer running each)
Comings and Goings by Lorraine
The past three months have been full of comings and goings and changes planned and unplanned. We were mailing out the March newsletter when our slow winter time ended with the arrival of Deacon David Sweenie and ten men for the Spanish Apostolate Lenten retreat. Some of the participants had been to the farm before and some were on the first retreat of their lives. We enjoyed the food they shared with us and a chance to practice our Spanish, and as always it was a blessing to see the pleasure these guests take in the farm and the joy and peace they find in their retreat time together. A week later we were very glad for the recent Spanish review when David called and asked if we could provide hospitality for Julio and Cesar for a couple weeks. They arrived on March 13 with the snow still covering the ground and no work available for them until the fields opened up and the weather warmed up. Cesar found the keyboard and Dan taught him to play a few songs and Zachary taught him a few chords on the guitar. Julio spent as much time as he could outside exploring more as the snow melted and left patches of bare ground, finding the brook and wild turkeys and deer. He much admired the trees but thought they would look better green and leafy than bare branched. They left Easter evening to go to work north of Syracuse and hope to come back to visit this summer when everything is green.
Just hours after Cesar and Julio’s arrival, college students and a campus minister from St. Xavier University in Chicago arrived for their spring break week. Among the students was a Spanish major and another student who had taken Spanish all through high school so we had a table for Spanish speakers at all the meals that week. At first the students really enjoyed the novelty but at some point trying to communicate in a second language just became work and that became part of the learning for the week. We did spring cleaning at Rural & Migrant Ministry of Oswego County and repaired and painted floor and walls in the one room in their building that hadn’t been done when the building was renovated for RMMOC’s use. The local weekly did a story on the work being done which gave some positive publicity to both SFF and RMMOC. We also worked on the house here and started seeds for our garden and inoculated our shiitake logs with the college students.
Just after Julio and Cesar left with the busy season speeding up, we found out that the college student who had planned to volunteer at the farm for the summer had an opportunity to go to Kenya and wouldn’t be joining us. Then Joanna was selected as one of two Quaker young adults to represent New York Yearly Meeting at the World Gathering of Young Friends in England this August. She will be flying over August 15th and back the 25th. Dan left us at the beginning of April to return to his home in New Jersey. He had been with us since 2001, joining us soon after we came to the farm, and we are thankful for his help with many projects over these three and a half years. We wish him well in whatever he does next and we’re especially grateful to those who come by to give us a hand with the thousand and one things waiting to be done. We had a new burst of energy with the arrival of 8 students and 2 faculty members from St. John’s High School on April 17th. During the week they were with us we did yard work and washed windows and painted some rooms at three different homes where elders needed a helping hand. One was an old friend and one a woman we’d never met who was referred to us by RMMOC but all were pleased to have help with work they can no longer do themselves. For people who get out very little, clean windows to look out really matter and for an avid gardener with neglected lawn and flower beds, the yard work lifts drooping spirits. Here at the farm the students picked rocks out of the worst of our fields. (We discovered last spring that SJHS students thought it was fun to throw rocks, to pry them out with crowbars, to find the biggest one, etc. It puzzled us since rock picking is hard and seemingly endless work when we do it alone, but we made the most of the discovery this year.) They also cleared the first section of our nature path through the woods and along the edge of Trout Brook, dug garden beds, cleared brush from the orchard pruning, and cleaned salvaged lumber. Some of the boys also enjoyed learning to walk on stilts, seeing the woodcock on her nest, finding snakes and frogs by the pond. The weather was clear and warm for their week so that when Deacon Sweenie came to talk about his ministry he couldn’t find any workers to come with him and tell their stories—they all were working long hours with the growing season finally under way.
The last weekend of April Christy and Mike Huynh were back at the farm with a group of students from SUNY Oswego. The students were tired at the almost end of the semester and it rained most of Saturday, but they enjoyed walking the path made by the St. John’s students, swinging by the pond, silence and birdsong and a time to stop. They had a tour of Unity Acres and did some work in the house here and repotted the fast growing seedlings started by the SXU students. And there was still time for painting with watercolors, reading, even naps for some. One of the students lives not very far north of the farm and has offered to come help in the garden this summer while she’s home. Before they left, students spoke of the peace they find here—the same thing the migrant workers mention.
Opportunities are opening to share that peace with others besides the local children, the migrant workers, and groups. We have one group week scheduled for the summer—East Utica Youth Ministry in July, and the farm is coming to be used in other ways. We recently had a visit from a member of ACT Team Oswego (Assertive Community Treatment bringing mental health services to the clients in their homes and other sites) who wanted to know if his clients could come and help in the gardens or sit by the pond or walk in the woods. He had picked up a copy of the brochure we wrote this winter at the local thrift shop and called to see if the farm could be a place for the people he serves to visit. Then the director of Southwest Community Center in Syracuse came to visit to look at the farm as a place to bring children or families from the city. We still need to work out the details but I hope we’ll have more city kids helping in the garden and cooking in the kitchen and eating what they just picked. Finally representatives of the L’Arche community in Syracuse came to look at the farm as a site for their pilgrimage this summer or early fall. We will be scheduling that soon and looking at other ways for the farm and L’Arche to work together.
Given the constantly changing nature of the farm and its work, we especially need helping hands and prayers this summer. Fewer groups means less help with large jobs and with the endless summer work. With more inner city or special needs people at the farm, flower gardens and trails in the woods seem more important, but the haying still needs to be done and the vegetables grown and preserved. We see so many opportunities—and challenges—before us and we often recognize our lack of strength or wisdom to cope with the changes as they come. So this spring we are especially aware of our dependence on your prayers.
Maintenance and other projects by Zachary
The largest maintenance project we have been working on this spring, and that we will continue in the summer, is the renovation of the farmhouse. At the time of this writing we have done some major clearing out inside, and some painting upstairs on the inside. The basement has been cleaned out, and the area of the basement floor which is dirt has been covered with plastic anchored with small rocks. The basement stairs have had new treads put in, because of the degree of wear and tilt on the old ones. They had been rather unsafe, and I and others had slipped and slid down them on a few occasions. All of these issues have been dealt with now, thanks to the help of a group from SUNY Oswego which was here overnight in the end of April. There are still many things waiting to be done to the house this year. By the time this gets mailed I hope to have torn off the siding and sheathing, reinsulated and put new windows and sheathing and vinyl siding on one wall of the house. Over the course of the summer this job will continue all the way around the building, and it is my hope that we will be able to be done by the end of the warm season. The porch roof needs to be reshingled at the same time as the first wall is replaced, but other than that the roof is in pretty good shape all around. If anyone has time and willingness to help with the house, either with advice or physical help, it would be very much appreciated.
I decided that this year before the house exterior was undertaken I would fill the woodshed, since that is something that needs to be done, and the sooner the better for the sake of the wood being good and dry by the time we start burning it in the fall. We have been running the wood boiler later into the spring, and starting it earlier in the fall in recent years, because of the increasing cost of heating oil, and the other concerns we have about using it. The woodshed is now full, far earlier than we have had it done in previous years. It has been easier this year, not least because of a new, and larger, chain saw, and a newly built and much bigger wagon for carrying the wood out of the woods on. We have also purchased a heavier and therefore more efficient splitting maul, which has sped up that task. The wagon was built on the frame of an old collapsed camper which had been in the woods on the farm for many years, and which we brought out last spring with the help of a group. It was fitted with a heavier axle from one of the mobile homes we tore down a couple of years ago, and a deck and low sides made from salvaged lumber from various sources. It doesn’t dump the wood, as the old wagon did, but it holds four or five times as much wood, which greatly reduces the number of trips it is necessary to make.
Other jobs this spring that have been accomplished have included building a new bridge across the stream in front of the barn, because the old one began to float away during the spring flood, repairing a floor in one of the trailers, and replacing the siding on an enclosed porch on the other one. There are still a few smaller jobs pending in the trailers, which we hope to get done soon. With the week-long group that was here from St. John’s High School in April we painted the upstairs of a house in a nearby town, and did some other small jobs up there, and with the group from St. Xavier University in March we did some work in the RMMOC building in Richland, refurbishing a room upstairs, and cleaning out the attic.
The site of the second trailer up the hill has been completely cleared except for the porch, and graded off. It may be used for hayfield for the time being, if anything grows on it. Thanks to the man who lives in the trailer on the hill, who has cleaned the dead vegetation off the hillside by the road, and done some mowing in those areas. They look much nicer than we would have had time to make them. Under the direction of Lorraine a path through the woods has been cleared of debris, smoothed out and marked, and connected to a path of just over a mile in length which has been mowed around the perimeter of the hay fields. The mown path will be maintained until the hay is cut this summer. I still need to devise some system to make the pigpen portable for this season, as well as tightening it up before the pigs arrive. Anyone who is willing to help in any way, with any of these projects, whether you have skills or not, would be a great help to me.
Agriculture by Joanna
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vine, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pens and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord…” (Habbakuk 3:17-18a)
The situation here at the farm isn’t as bad as what the prophet was describing, but it has been a difficult spring. So far the season has been very dry—I found it particularly vexing to have weather dry enough so that I had to water and cold enough so that the hose froze overnight on several occasions. In between the frosts we had a few days of very warm weather in April that seemed to confuse the plants; the asparagus, which had been off to a good start, came up looking pre-cooked after a string of summer-hot days followed by a hard freeze, and the pea plants yellowed and drooped. The wild plants were also affected; the plantain leaves in the fields blackened and curled, and the leaves on the black walnut tree by the foot of the garden died. I was frustrated and upset and couldn’t think of anything to do to fix it. I did spray the peas with seaweed extract, and when we got a soaker hose so that I could water the garden while working on other things I wet the soil down thoroughly; that didn’t seem like an adequate solution, but it was what we could do. And, with time, it worked. A few pea plants died, but the rest are green and growing again, although the continuing dry weather slows their progress; and the asparagus spears are coming up healthy again. Now the rhubarb is ready to harvest and the strawberries are beginning to set fruit.
We pruned the old orchard more thoroughly than we’ve ever done before.. There seems to be another plague of tent caterpillars this year; we are doing our best to remove them from the orchard, and hoping to get apples this fall.
This is our second spring of waiting for kids to be born and being disappointed. The veterinarian who had generously donated time, medicines and advice before is working with us to find out why Nikita isn’t conceiving. Nancy has developed some disturbing and puzzling health problems and had to be replaced. We’ll miss her lively character. We are now looking for a milking doe to replace her, keep Nikita company and provide us with more milk as the piglets arrive.
This year we were able to make arrangements in advance to get piglets of a breed (Hampshire-Duroc cross) which is supposed to be good at foraging, and at a time of year when they fit well into the farm system. We are still figuring out how to get ready-to-lay pullets, but our aging hens have been turning out a surprising number of eggs, so we’re set for this year.
In spite of the difficulties of this season some good progress is being made. The cool weather which delays our tomatoes and peppers has been good for the brassicas, which are larger and healthier-looking than I’ve ever grown them before; I’ve remembered to fertilize the garlic promptly, and it seems to be thriving. We’re starting to see the results of the labor we put into hand-turning the beds each year; the beds are noticeably softer and less stony, and there are plenty of earthworms in them. Paths and beds are more regular and clearly established than they had been, and we’ve gotten most of the paths mulched to slow the spread of weeds. The new apple and pear trees on the slope below the garden are leafing out and seem to be doing well in their new surroundings. Whatever this year brings, we will carry some improvements into next year’s growing season.
We have made more space and time for flowers, clearing out the weeds from the perennials in Joan’s memorial garden, digging a space for sunflowers and nasturtiums along the front of the barn, and continuing to tend Tom’s garden on the rocks. Lorraine’s persistence and mindfulness have made this happen. I can be impatient with flowers, since they aren’t very helpful in stocking up for winter; but I see how they delight visitors who come looking for a lovely and peaceful place, and I know they refresh me too at the end of a long day.
And when I am tired or frustrated with our gardens I go and walk on the trails that Lorraine and Zach made around the hayfields and in the edge of the woods, and watch God’s garden growing. The woods are alive with wildflowers, warblers and thrushes; the leaves are fully out but still have their fresh new color; and even the dead and decaying trees fit into the pattern, providing delight to the eyes, habitat for some birds and insects, and finally nourishment to the soil. I remember again that order and beauty and plenty are not things I somehow create. They are gifts. I can work with them in a little space, and the work can be long and hard; but they do not come from me, and the success or failure of my efforts is a small thing in the pattern of which we are all a part
Quotes to Ponder:
Contemporary Christians find that they face many of the same questions as the early hermits. How does one find one’s true self? How can we learn to see what is illusory and what is real? How do certain elements in our society’s value structure block our ability to hear God’s call? What does it mean to live a life of prayer? How can we find a firm foundation on which to build our lives? –Sandra Cronk, Dark Night Journey
The more we become people of action and responsibility in our community, the more we must become people of contemplation. If we do not nurture our deep emotional life in prayer hidden in God, if we do not spend time in silence, we risk becoming embittered… People who are hyperactive, fleeing from their deep selves and their anguish, live on illusions. They quickly become tyrannical, and their exercise of responsibility becomes intolerable, creating nothing but conflict. –Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
It is silence and solitude that bring us face to face with ourselves and the inner wars we must win if we are ever to become truly whole, truly at peace. Silence gives us the opportunity we need to raise our hearts and minds to something above ourselves, to be aware of a spiritual life in us that is being starved out by noise pollution. It is a call to the Cave of the Heart where the vision is clear and the heart is centered on something worthy of it. –Joan Chittister, There Is A Season
This summer the weather was difficult, but the garden prospered in spite of it. Much work was done with the help of a variety of visitors, several of whom wrote the other articles for this newsletter. The beauty of the farm continued to nourish us and we saw some of our dreams take on form and substance.
After a cold dry spring, the summer turned hot and the storms violent. The huge old maple in front of the house came down in July while the group from Utica was here, crushing our van we had brought with us from Maine four years ago and doing considerable damage to the new car of one of the chaperones. The tree is now cut up into firewood for the cold months ahead. That same week we lost electricity for 12 hours and were glad that we bought the generator a couple winters ago. By running it for half an hour several times during the day we were able to keep the refrigerator and freezer at proper temperatures and have running water at intervals.
The harvests have been bountiful from the early asparagus to August corn and tomatoes. We canned all the green beans we needed and gave some to friends and neighbors to can and took them along with cukes and tomatoes to give to families at the Scotch Grove apartments in Pulaski. The freezer is almost full with peas and corn and pesto from the garden and berries that Joanna picks around the edges of hayfield and pasture in the last light of summer days. Onions and garlic are in along with the first orange pumpkins and the fall crop of snow peas has just begun bearing.
We’re making good progress on renovating the house. On two thirds we’ve finished tearing down, insulating and replacing windows, sheathing and wrapping and only need to put up the vinyl siding. That is already up on about a quarter of the house and one third is still not started. We’ve had help for a few hours or days or weeks from Joe Morton, Anita and Melinda Kurowski, Phil and Katrina Giardino, John Doughty and Tom MacNamara. The haying is done except for getting a second cutting from one more field and Zachary has been especially grateful to Jim Fuller from Unity Acres for his help. Jim has also bush hogged the pasture sections so that they are in much better condition at the end of this summer than last and has bush hogged fields that are too weedy for haying when Zach wanted to work on the house. In addition to the house and haying and other odd jobs, Zachary also found time to build a wheelchair ramp for an elderly man in Lacona.
The group of girls from East Utica Youth Ministry worked hard doing work unfamiliar to them during the hottest week of July. We were grateful for their help and their patience with the unexpected and we enjoyed their response to the farm. Lena touched a real live pig and caught numerous frogs and Sr. Lynn milked a goat. We hope to have an article from Poni (one of the girls and a refugee from the Sudan) for this newsletter or the next. Later in July the entire L’Arche community of Syracuse came to the farm for their pilgrimage. They had a lovely sunny breezy day with the first of the sunflowers blooming and Zachary took them on a hayride across the woods road to Unity Acres. We enjoyed their singing and enthusiasm and look forward to having one of the houses come for an overnight. (Janet Brown wrote a brief explanation of L”Arche which is on page x) Viv Hawkins spent almost a month with us, helping in the garden and on the house and cooking our vegetables with Indian spices in delicious recipes she had learned during her visit to India this spring.
Joanna found her trip to England for the Quaker gathering very rewarding and will write about it next time. We and our visitors have enjoyed the walking paths around the perimeter of the hayfields. The goldfinches and I have been delighted with the sunflowers blooming along the wall of the barn facing the road. I have pictured them there for two or three years but until now they were only in my mind. I also took delight in the family of kingfishers that spent a week or more at the pond while the fledglings learned to catch their own fish. While mowing hay Zachary has encountered several fawns, a pheasant family, and a snapping turtle who disputed the right of way with him. In August we finally found a milking doe to replace the goat we lost in the spring and in the process of looking found a farm where we can get the Duroc-Hampshire cross piglets we want next spring. Our current pigs are worthy of their names, Gordo and Guapo. The logs we started in March are showing signs that they will soon be producing shitake mushrooms. In the next few days we will be starting plants in the greenhouse for winter greens. Our annual meeting will be held October 1 and Melinda and Anita Kurowski will be joining our Board.
L’Arche Communities were founded by Jean Vanier in France in 1964. They, bring together people, some with developmental disabilities and some without, who choose to share their lives by living together in a faith-based community. The first L’Arche community in the United States was founded in 1972 in Erie, PA. In 1974 a community was started in Syracuse, NY, which has grown to include four homes with 16 “core members” who share life with assistants from the United States as well as several foreign countries .
As a Christian community, L’Arche welcomes people from all faiths and believes that by acknowledging our common humanity, men and women from many different cultures and traditions can nurture relationships that reveal God’s presence and love in the world.
Specifically, L’Arche tries to create homes where core members and assistants celebrate the daily activities of life. Reconciliation and celebration are the two “pillars” of L’Arche community life, challenging us to forgive one another and to rejoice in the unique value and gifts that each member brings to the community. L’Arche believes that it can be a sign of hope and love by making the Beatitudes come alive in our contemporary world.
L’Arche Syracuse is one of 130 communities in the L’Arche Federation worldwide. We are changing the world one heart at a time.
My sister, Anita, and I have been coming to the farm for about a year now. For a long while we had been planning on making a visit during the summer months when we were on vacation from college. While growing up in this area we had heard about the farm a couple of times. However, it was not until we went to Social Justice meetings at our college and moved into a Volunteer House run by four Sisters of St. Joseph that we were introduced to the idea of the Catholic Worker and Catholic Worker Farms. Of course we became curious about the farm that we lived only five minutes away from. It was then that we decided to call and visit during the coming summer. Right about the same time, we met Dan (who used to live at the farm) at our church. He invited us over for a visit, and that was how we finally started visiting.
I think it’s one of the best choices we ever made. For a long time, I have been seeking a lifestyle that is centered around simplicity, social justice, care for the environment, and spirituality (and not necessarily in that order). It is so hard to find all those things, or even one of those things, being lived out successfully on a day to day basis. However, I knew that it must exist. I could not be the only one who desires more than the status quo, or feels that the current life philosophy is misguided.
It was and is so refreshing to know that just such a place exists. During my visits to the farm I have had the opportunity to share in the living out of the four things I mentioned previously…
I have worked in the garden with Joanna and learned to milk a goat. Too few of us are intimately acquainted with the source of our own food. So much more gratitude is fostered by taking part in the planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting. It is no easy task to grow and maintain a garden. It is also wonderful to experience the miracle of nature. It has helped me to feel more aware of and connected to the earth I live in.
I have worked on the farmhouse with Zachary. Of course this type of work is out of my skill area. But it has been fun to rip off boards, pound in nails, and climb scaffolding. It is extremely hard work that takes patience and a certain amount of strength. I have so much more appreciation for a warm house in good condition!
From Lorraine I have learned how to better express myself. She is the kind of listener that I strive to be. We have had great conversations as we’ve snapped beans and picked over basil. Lorraine helps me to think things through and inspires me to get to the root of what motivates me.
Our discussions all together are fun and fruitful. We talk about all things. We share our dreams, our memories, our teaching philosophies, our frustrations and trials, and our joys. Right now we are reading from a book on discernment and are using it to help in our own discernment of God’s call in our lives. After each chapter we discuss and share with one another. We also spend times together in the chapel or around a fire sharing our favorite songs and poems.
Whether working or having fun, the time spent together is so meaningful. Since I have been visiting, I see myself examining my own choices about living, my thoughts about life, and why I do what I do. The farm is a place where I can feel at peace. I am very thankful to have found this place and friends who I identify with. I think of all the groups that have come and will come to the farm. People who will be exposed to an alternative way of living. A way of living that I believe all people could benefit from. I think it’s truer to the kind of life that we are intended to live…connected to the earth, one another, and God.
Sunday is a Sabbath day at St Francis Farm. 7AM worship occurs later and all non-essential work is laid aside for the day. Sitting here beside the pond as the wind dances with the trees and white clouds shape-shift in a lapis-colored sky, I give thanks for time and space in which God has breathed new life into me and plaited together what appeared disparate strands of life.
About eight months ago, I confirmed with Rainey (Lorraine) my hope to spend a month at St Francis Farm. I had met her family at a conference and subsequently visited with them at the farm for a few nights a year ago. Three weeks ago on my arrival, I knew not what I hoped the time would hold except work and worship but I sensed a rightness in being here, a need to heed scripture’s advise to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’
The time has been replete with outer and inner learnings. Discussions on theology and sustainability with Joanna across garden beds; laughter with Zach while residing the farmhouse or moving the pigpen; spiritual companionship with Rainey snapping green beans and at other quiet times wind together with daily worship, individual contemplative time, group spiritual direction focused on call and discernment, and assorted readings including books from St. Francis Farm’s library. I explore the nexus between my long-standing love for servant-leadership, Gandhi’s teachings, and the topic of call as I prepare for a future full of God’s mystery.
In Village Swaraj, M.K. Gandhi writes, “Man’s triumph will consist in substituting the struggle for existence with the struggle for mutual service.” Robert Greenleaf writes, “The best test [of servant-leadership], and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society; will they benefit, or at least, not be further deprived?” Called by God, says of being chosen, “Although bahar [election] implies separating, the Lord does so only to accentuate the relationship of service of the part to the whole, of the few to the many, of the one to the all.” The Bible teaches us to ‘love our God with all our hearts and minds and souls and to love our neighbor as ourselves.’ These teachings are realized here at St Francis Farm whose purpose is to demonstrate an alternative to the consumer culture by doing as much of what needs to be done one’s self rather than through hire and allowing the excess fruits of one’s labor to benefit one’s neighbors.
I offer this prayer in thanks to all who helped it to form through care of St Francis Farm–
“God, who is my guide, I emerge from the wood to find the intersection of several trails on which I’ve traveled with You. And standing here, stunned and wondering from where I’ve come, where I am, and where I will go, I slowly and surely as water seeking its course come to know that the paths most naturally converge and sing mellifluous harmony in Your name. My mind and heart nestle into the flow taking my spirit along, mixing and then blending me with Thee. And, in a flash, I know I have but one way to follow–life in You for the rest of Our days.”
Spiritual Attractions of St Francis Farm
In early 1999, Voices in the Wilderness organized a walk from Washington, DC, to New York City to protest the economic sanctions against Iraq. Of the fifteen persons committed to going the whole distance, five (Christy, C.J., Tom, John Doughty, Phil) were from St. Francis Farm. They stopped for two nights in Baltimore; I was greatly impressed by the project and the participants, and soon began my continuing association with both. I believe I first came to the metropolis of Lacona/Richland in the summer of 1999, and have been here roughly three or four times a year for a few days at a time ever since.
There are two evident types of attraction of the Farm: the place and the people. Either one would be rewarding, but it’s the combination that is particularly moving. It’s a place of great natural beauty and serenity: going a couple of hundred yards east or west from homely Wart Road, you can easily imagine yourself being in a national park.
But for all its lovely scenery, this has been for decades an area of desolate economic and social conditions, and its prospects look even more dreary as the world—not just upper New York State—heads toward the potential devastations of petroleum shortages, environmental degradation, and political/financial disasters.
So it takes persons of rare compassion, dedication, endurance, and skills to strive to carry out the ideals of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in service to the people of Oswego County—people sometimes unaware, unresponsive, and ungrateful no matter how much is done for them by residents who voluntarily adopt Lady Poverty, various forms of isolation, and much misunderstanding even from their relatives and friends. Thank goodness for that continually changing cast of characters (yes, definitely ‘characters’) who try here, as at a hundred other Catholic Worker communities, to discern the face of Jesus among even the most unlikely of their neighbors.
Despite doing physical work that often leaves me exhausted (especially now as I approach late middle-age), I find the good company, challenging endeavors, excellent meals, and natural beauty of Saint Francis Farm a never-ending source of spiritual and bodily nourishment. I hope to share these treasures with the residents and with other visitors for many years to come.
August, 2005 Joe Morton, Baltimore, MD—SFFC Board Member
A small, reliable car which will start in the winter. Our remaining van does not do well in cold weather, and we are hoping to replace the van we lost with something which is more fuel-efficient, especially in the light of rising gas prices. Stepladder or short ladder
Printer that will run on Windows XP and has software for installation with it
Sturdy boxes with lids to hold canning jars (11”x14”x19” for 12 2qt jars)
Financial donations as we face rising prices and uncertainty
Help with the fall chores in the garden and work on the house
Sabbath by Lorraine
During this year the idea of Sabbath keeps calling for my attention. We were given Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book Sabbath at Christmas almost a year ago and in the middle of the busy season, Sr. Lynn left her copy of Wayne Muller’s Sabbath with us when she left at the end of the East Utica Youth Ministry’s group week. This fall we have been reading the latter book together during community time and have tried several of the suggested practices and found them helpful. But as we pass Thanksgiving and enter Advent I realize that I still have much to learn about the rhythms of work and rest.
The work done in this year has brought me to late November both weary and grateful. What we planned in January and February as reasonable work for five people living here through the summer was quite a stretch for the three of us. Often we had help for a day or a week, friends and church groups, people doing court-ordered community service and people looking for the alternative way of life set forth in our mission statement. We walk the new paths with the children who come on Saturdays or we see how the renovated house holds the heat of the new woodstove or we cook meals from the abundance grown on the farm and we are thankful and pleased with what was accomplished. But I see in Joanna’s and Zachary’s faces the same deep weariness I see when I look in the mirror and once again I tell myself and them that next year will be different.
Our first summer on the farm, 2001, we seldom had a day off at all, never once attended Quaker Meeting. At the end of the summer when we made the commitment to live at the farm, we agreed that one day in seven would be a day of rest. And we stuck to that pretty well, not always able to take Sunday off, but taking another day when necessary and laying aside the ever-present work of this place. Over the next three summers, we also managed to get away to a gathering of Quakers for a week of renewal and connections. People urged us to get away more often, but we had a sense that we wanted to learn how to rest and be renewed in this place and that “getting away” could just become one more thing on the list of what needs to be done.
The farm itself suggests the rhythm of work and rest. Always we’ve found the winter, not a time of isolation or boredom as some have warned it could be, but a time of quiet beauty. We’ve enjoyed cross-country skiing, dark nights with bright stars, time to read and write and sing. We’ve also used that time to look back and look ahead, to see where we’ve been and where we might go. We have fewer visitors and more time for reflection. And we have to lay down various tools during the coldest snowiest months when the only outdoor work is shoveling snow. But Sabbath means more than laying down tools and taking a nap. In recent weeks we’ve sought to recognize all that is already good, all that is done with no effort from us at all. We’ve sought to lay down our worries and plans along with the hammers and hoes. We’ve known for a long time that we needed to do that to be ready on days children come to the farm or before a group comes in for a week or a weekend. We couldn’t be fully present if we were hurried and harassed. We’ve known that the land needs to rest so the garden beds are rotated and cover-cropped and the pasture divided into sections to be grazed in rotation.
Now at years’ end when all around us the natural world is settling into winter rest and the commercial world is gearing up for a frenzy of “holiday” shopping, we count our blessings and give thanks; we light the first Advent candle and hope to be still and present to the Light that is coming to shine in the darkness.
AVP by Zachary
I had been hearing about Alternatives to Violence Project and last January I attended an AVP Basic workshop with the Quaker youth program in our area. Later in the spring I took an Advanced workshop with the youth program, and then in June I signed up as a volunteer and attended a Basic workshop with inmates in the Auburn Correctional Facility, a maximum-security state prison near Syracuse. A workshop consists of five or six sessions over the course of a weekend, totaling at least 20 hours of program time with 15 or 20 participants and three to five facilitators. Each session has an opening and closing question, which everyone in the group answers in turn, and various exercises which help to think about peace, violence, careful listening, who we are, and what we can do. Periodically between exercises are ‘Light and Livelies’ which are group games which are helpful in getting people moving around and uncramped. Questions can range from very easy ones like ‘Describe someone you admire’ or ‘What do you like/dislike about yourself’ to harder ones like ‘When was a time you have been oppressed’ and ‘When was a time you have oppressed someone else’. Towards the end of all workshops there are role plays, of a conflict from the participant’s lives. The situation leading up to the conflict is then enacted as it occurred, and then the players have to try to act as they think the person they are playing would act in the circumstances following. The facilitators have the power to freeze the role play at any time to talk to the characters about what they are thinking or feeling at that moment, or to prevent the role play getting out of hand. At the end each player is debriefed by a facilitator, and first stays in role and tells what they thought or felt in that character, and then comes out of role, and says what he or she would actually like to say to the character they had been, and where they think Transforming Power was or could have been used to change the conflict.
Transforming Power is one of the central ideas of AVP, and is a blanket term for whatever it is that gives people the ability to change conflict into something better. For many, the source of transforming power is God, but this is not universally believed by everyone who does AVP, which is not affiliated with any religion. There is a mandala which is often set out on the floor at some point during AVP sessions which has Transforming Power at its center, surrounded by Respect for Self and Respect for Others, which are in turn surrounded by Expect the Best, Seek a Nonviolent Path, and Think Before Reacting. On the second morning of the workshop in Auburn one of the inmates said that he had already thought before reacting twice since the previous night, and it had helped. Inmates spoke about how often they get into conflicts with others in the prison which only result in their both being punished, and said they wanted to learn how to calm such situations before the guards became involved in them.
On November 15th Nadine Hoover, a Friend who has been working in Indonesia for many years, and especially since the tsunami, gave a talk here about her work there in the last year or so. She has been working in Aceh province, one of the hardest-hit areas, but one which has gotten little attention because it is perceived to be unsafe. Since 1965-66, when the CIA staged a coup, civil war has posed many difficulties for residents of the area which was then hard hit by the tsunami. Nadine has done AVP there, where there is even more need of hope and constructive alternatives. We were very blessed to have her here and to hear her talk about her work there. I am going to do more with AVP in the coming year, and I am now eligible to take Training for Facilitators, the third level of workshop. Once I have done that I will be an apprentice facilitator, and able to help on teams. I think AVP is helping me to deal with those around me in more constructive ways, and I want to share that help with other people. I believe that any constructive change or work for peace must first be embodied in the individual before it can be shared.
Learning to listen by Joanna
This summer I spent eight days in Britain with a group of 240 young adult Quakers from all around the world. It was a powerful and sometimes painful experience. We came from different cultures and classes, spoke different languages, had fundamentally different understandings of politics, theology and right living. I heard many people expressing consternation that members of their faith community could be so thoroughly different, and doubt about whether there was anything that really united us. Polite avoidance didn’t work well; neither did argument. We tried to set our preconceptions aside and listen to where others’ words and actions were coming from. As we did this, it became clear that many of us shared the transforming experience of the presence of God, and the attempt to keep our lives faithful to and centered in the Spirit. Some of us spoke of dying to ourselves and being reborn in Jesus, others of being vessels for Spirit, others of letting go of ego and opening to Truth. Over and over we wrestled with the query: Are you burdening yourself with tasks that you consider important, or are you waiting before God to find the work to which you are called? We spoke of the wish to believe that we are in control of our lives, and the fear of what God might ask us to become. We spoke of the strain, weariness and sense of failure that come from trying to control the world, and the peace and power that we have sometimes experienced flowing through us when we are open to Spirit. We found that many of us were divided in ourselves between love and fear, and united with each other in striving to choose love, to live in faithfulness. I heard men and women from very different cultures and theologies speak of how they had been moved by the faithfulness of people who seemed strange to them at first, and how they had been challenged to look at some areas in their own lives that they had not thought about before. We did not come to agreement on a set of religious or political ideas, but we did reach a place of unity in the Spirit.
The struggles and blessings are similar here at St. Francis Farm, where we are trying to live a Spirit-based alternative to the culture of consumption and violence, and to share this alternative with others in a respectful and loving way.
When a college student on retreat during our first year here started speaking about the importance of a strong military to protect our freedoms by killing anyone who threatened them, I was distressed and began explaining how military retaliation only made others more inclined to hate and fear us, and how it was unjust to preserve our own rights by taking away the rights of other people, and how Afghanistan really wasn’t responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorists, and…soon both of us were glaring at each other, arms waving, voices raised; we each defended our positions, and I don’t think either of us learned anything.
Two years later another young man came on retreat with his college group. He was in ROTC and planned to go into the military. We listened to him, asked questions occasionally, said little. Military careers were traditional in his family; he wanted to travel and learn about other cultures, and wasn’t wealthy enough to be able to do this recreationally; he was grateful for military protection, and thought he ought to be willing to bear some of the cost of the security and freedom that he believed the military granted him. He wanted to know about our way of life. We spoke of the concerns and questions that had led us here. He joined us in discussions and in silent prayer and reflection. One day when we had a time set aside for people to talk about the questions they were working on, he said “I have a question that I’ve just started thinking about. I’m Catholic, that’s important to me, and I believe that life is sacred. And I’ve always thought I would go into the military, which would mean being ready to kill people because someone told me to. And I’m not sure if those two things can go together.”
Over and over we spend time with people whom we respect and care about, who absolutely disagree with us about war and other policies of our government. We talk with mothers whose sons are in the military and have been sent into combat. We listen to their statements of pride in their sons and their country, and remarks about the ingratitude of the Iraqi people or the evils of Islam. The last time this happened my mother listened very quietly until our neighbor noticed that she wasn’t saying anything and asked why. Lorraine said that she saw these matters differently but didn’t want to argue with her, that she felt compassion for her and her son. Our neighbor wanted to know what this other perspective was and how someone she knew came to it. A way was opened for a simple sharing of questions and concerns.
Shortly after this visit we were called by a peace group asking peace-loving communities to hold public vigils, ringing a bell and remembering all the people of Iraq who have been killed by our war. My mother told the caller that she didn’t know what that would mean to the people in our local community, which tends to be conservative, pro-war, sure that our government must be right. Often it seems that the vigils and leaflets and public actions help to gather the people who are already distressed and outraged by the harm that is being done in our name, but that they don’t help to open a constructive dialogue with responsible and loving people like our neighbor who have never questioned the rightness of our way of life. Lorraine asked the caller if he knew of any peace literature reaching out to those people. He said no. She told him about her conversation with our neighbor. He said “Maybe you don’t need to do a vigil. It sounds as though you’re already on the front lines.”
Perhaps what we can offer is not our opinion, our convictions, our arguments. Perhaps all we can offer is our lives, and a quiet space in which we can all step back from our assumptions and preoccupations. In this space we can still ourselves and remember again what really matters to us. In this space we can hear our calls and find the Spirit in which we all are one.
Little by little by Joanna
Over the summer we weren’t seeing children from the subsidized-housing complex, but we wanted to keep up some connection there, and as usual we’d planted considerably more than we could eat; so once or twice a week one of us would drive in to Scotch Grove with boxes of whatever vegetables were in season. Last year most of the children were eager to take vegetables, but some of their parents said they didn’t eat that stuff. This year people took everything we had to offer. There were probably several reasons. Prices are rising, and food is harder to come by for families who were already on the edge financially. People at the complex are beginning to know and trust us. For this first year or so when I got out of my van the kids who congregated out front would yell “Social worker! Social worker!’ as a warning to anyone who might be doing something social workers didn’t approve of. This year they usually yelled “Hey, the vegetable lady’s here!” or just “It’s Joanna!” I had gotten to know a woman who watches many of her neighbors’ children before last winter, and when people gave us coats and hats and gloves for kids I asked her if she knew anyone who could use them. She seemed offended and said that her kids and all the kids she knew had everything they needed. Some of the kids came to the farm wearing thin jackets that were too small for them and without anything on their hands, and if they wore warm stuff home they might be allowed to keep it. We didn’t know what else to do. This year the same woman helped us considerably with giving out vegetables; she talked people into taking things they weren’t familiar with, saw that everyone who wanted some got some, and invited other mothers to come to her apartment and learn how to can and make tomato sauce. This fall I told her again that people had given us warm clothes, and we had taken what we could use ourselves and still had a lot left; she took some for her four children and helped me find people who could use the rest.
Trust has grown in both directions. At first I sometimes found the complex alarming. The torn carpet and broken lights in the hallways, the people yelling and arguing in their apartments and on the front lawn, reinforced the impression that I had from social-service providers. When my supervisors came to the complex to meet with me and with families I would be working with they were obviously uncomfortable. One Sister and social worker described the place as a ‘den of iniquity’. Agencies that had seen the needs in the complex were discouraged by the poor response to their short-term programs, and the grant structure made it next to impossible for them to maintain a long-term presence that would permit the building of trusting relationships. We don’t have the resources or the expertise that some of these groups do, but we have time. And I still see the things that alarmed me at first, but I also see signs of health and community: women cooking together, adults collecting groups of kids to do artwork or go fishing, kids watching out for one another. I hope we can keep finding ways to support and encourage these strengths.
We have also struggled with integrating our work with service-learning groups and our work with local children. Sometimes we’ve had to cancel visits with neighbor kids because we had young people staying with us who were rude enough so that we thought they would make the kids we work with miserable or at least set them a bad example. This has been awkward, since the local kids sometimes thought we were ashamed of them and didn’t want our visitors to see them. But this fall we had two neighbor boys with us for their second visit when a confirmation group came from St. Mary’s and St. Joan’s in Hamilton and Monroe to help us for a day.
I had spoken at their churches this summer and was encouraged by their warm welcome and the varied and spirited work people were doing there, and I was fairly sure that whoever they sent would be good company and good examples. And they were! They were used to working, capable, cheerful, eager to help, interested in everything. The neighbor boys loved them. The 14-year-old was delighted to be included by the older kids, and from up in the garden I could hear him talking and laughing with them as they helped us transplant trees. He still talks about how much he liked them and repeats the names of kids that he can remember. The 5-year-old, who ran into his room and wailed when he met me and was told that he’d be going to visit a new place with this tall stranger, trailed along after the group leader and wanted to be part of everything they were doing. The kids and their leaders were very thoughtful about letting him help and including him. He wasn’t used to sitting up with people and eating real food, but he still wanted to be with the group and got up his courage to try eating what we had because the other kids seemed to like it.
In the busiest part of the summer we found ourselves without any visiting children, and I was unhappy and wanted to think of some way to make more connections, but we were too overwhelmed with work. As the pace began to slow down, and before we had time to think of another way of reaching out, we started getting calls and seeing children again. I am beginning to learn that people come to us when we are ready for them. We don’t need to make things happen; if we keep doing what’s in front of us faithfully, the next step is always given to us.
Maintenance by Zachary
The biggest news is that Clare House now has all of its new siding, windows, and doors. The exterior renovations are essentially complete except for painting the trim next summer and rebuilding the front porch. There are many things about the house which are much better now, including how well it holds heat with all of the walls being insulated, and the good windows. There is also a light for the outside stairs now, which makes them much safer for people who aren’t used to them, and the railings are much stronger than previously. The stairs are now both fully freestanding and supporting all of their own weight, and also more firmly attached to the side of the house. The new windows are quite marvelous, as they both open and shut easily, whatever the humidity, and you can’t feel the wind blow through them. The interior of the upstairs is basically back to normal, and we have used it for visitors this fall, but the downstairs is still quite a mess. This winter I will be spending a good bit of time over there putting up trim boards, replacing old cloth wiring, repairing damaged plaster, and putting up a new ceiling in the kitchen. There will be plenty of time for all of that when it is cold, I hope, and we will be able to run the woodstove to keep it warm enough to work. I think it will be much more useable when we are done with it. The porch will need quite a bit of work next spring, including replacing a lot of rotting wood, and perhaps straightening it again.
We have finally cleaned the nails out of almost all of the lumber from the house work, and also the stuff from the trailers, and now it is all organized into two very large stacks, which have been covered with rubber roofing for the winter. We have quite a lot of lumber, but we have given some to Unity Acres workers, and used some ourselves, so I am sure it will all find a use somewhere. Our neighbors up the road have had a new trailer put in by their landlord, and came to us for materials to hook up their plumbing and electrical services. I have finished cutting up the pieces of the maple tree which used to stand in front of the farmhouse. Most of it has been stacked up for firewood, but some parts of the main trunk I have cut into slices across the grain, and I hope to use some of them to make tabletops, shelves, and outdoor furniture. A county truck with a stump grinder unexpectedly came and ground up the stump of that tree, which we’d been wondering what to do about, and left us a pile of chips, which we were able to use around the little trees we’ve planted lately. With the help of a confirmation group from St. Mary and St. Joan’s in Hamilton we were able to dig up and move an oak tree from the hillside to the front lawn near where the old tree was. It is about twelve or fourteen feet tall, and we were not at all sure if it would survive the move, but it seems to be okay, although we won’t really know until the spring. Two children who had just begun coming to the farm through Catholic Charities also were here that day and seemed, as the kids we work with often do, to want to help, and they enjoyed being with the group. We have reviewed the forester’s report and are now planning to start thinning in the pine plantations and a couple of the hardwood lots where non-commercial thinning was recommended. This should give us most of the firewood we need for next year, and possibly more, as well as a large pile of fairly small pine logs which we will have to figure out what to do with at some point. There are a lot of large hemlocks which have blown over in an area of the woods, and we are thinking about whether it would make sense to try to get some of them sawn into lumber. They are in an area which is not accessible by tractor, so we are thinking that carrying them out might be a project to undertake with St. Johns High when they come for their week in April.
Thanks to the very kind loan of a back blade we are going to be able to plow the parking area with the tractor this winter, which will save a lot of time and effort, and is more cost effective than hiring someone to do it. Fortunately the tractor is running quite well, and seems to start easily even when it is quite cold. We have also gotten new tires for the truck and van, which we hope will make them better able to deal with the winters here. In other years we have had trouble getting the van to start when it is below twenty degrees or so, but I am hopeful that we’ve fixed that for this year. It has not been a problem in other years, because we’ve had the other van as well, but this year all of the work of transporting children will have to be done with the one we have. I have parts in the shop to build a large bicycle trailer, which I am hoping will be capable of carrying two or three hundred pounds at a time. If I can make this work out it will mean that we won’t have to use to vehicles for going to get water at the spring, or going to Sandy Creek to get grain for the animals. I think it is feasible, and I hope to have time over the winter to work it out. I am trying to find ways to reduce our use of gas, especially with prices as high as they are, and not much hope of their being lower.
We are already planning the work that will have to be done next year, and it is going to include replacing the siding on both ends of the barn, because it leaks, and tearing the wellhouse down to the foundation and rebuilding it. It is falling apart, but I hope it will last though this winter, and when we build the new one I hope we will be able to use it for storage of vegetables as well as protecting the well. If we build a new one we should be able to get it tight enough so mice can’t get in, and the temperature range in there is ideal for root crops. There is currently a very large iron water tank in there which is not being used for anything, so if we can get it out it will give us a lot of space. There are a lot of things yet to be done, but many are already done, and for that I am grateful.
Many of the kids who we work with need boots, warm socks and gloves/mittens (children’s sizes or small adult sizes). Please send ones that boys might be willing to wear.
Lego or Erector sets or pieces, drawing paper and colored pencils, and children’s books (please no TV spinoffs) get good use here and at the public housing complex.
Shovels, claws and trowels would be very useful for next year’s garden.
We would find a stepladder or short extension ladder very useful when we are working on buildings.
I have begun again to repair and distribute bicycles, and there seems to be an increasing need for them. Any bicycles or parts would be very much appreciated.
Splitting wedges would be handy for when we are processing firewood with groups.
None of what we do would be possible without your donations and your prayers.
Quotation from our reading:
Sabbath time can be a revolutionary challenge to the violence of overwork, mindless accumulation, and the endless multiplication of desires, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity. —Sabbath by Wayne Muller