Winter Perspective by Lorraine
The months since the last newsletter have been the longed for slow time. We stacked up the beds in the second floor dorm and made again an indoor play place for the children to use when it is too cold or wet to play outside. We spent most of a week looking back at the year just finished and ahead at 2006, trying to see the problems and accomplishments and recurring patterns in our life and work. Anita was back from Alabama for Christmas with her family and so there was sledding and singing and praying together with her and with Melinda before she left for her internship in Wisconsin. Somehow with all we saved to do in it, the slow time has felt rather full.
We’ve seen clearly that we need more help to do all this work. Melinda plans to join us this summer when she returns from Wisconsin. We’ve asked some of the people who share the vegetables from the garden in the summers to share the work as well and found them eager to do so. We’ll have to go pick people up and bring them to the farm, but then they can enjoy the pond and the paths and help in the garden as well. We’ve contacted people who help volunteers find placements in the US and abroad and signed up the farm as a work site. And we hope that some of the churches and schools that have put together groups and come to help for a day or a weekend in the past will be back. St. John’s High School will be sending students for their spring break week in April and we’re planning to do rock picking, woodcutting, path building and other heavy jobs with them.
In addition to finding help for the work here on the farm, we continue to build connections with others to cooperate on work in the community. We met recently with folks from Unity Acres to plan for the coming season and the work we share with them around their cattle and haying. Catholic Charities continues to have more children referred to their respite program from this area, and lately when they call us about a new child they often say that some other social worker has recommended that the child start coming to the farm. The school now buses one boy here after school a couple days a week, and we’ve found the school staff helpful as we’ve sought to better understand and serve the children we see regularly. And from the school, Catholic Charities, and Rural & Migrant Ministry (RMMOC) we’ve met others who share our concerns about the families living at Scotch Grove. (See Scotch Grove below.)
While some problems are too big for us to tackle alone, we see more clearly all the time the importance of the little things we can do. We struggle to explain our work to the IRS simply because it is so little. Eating a meal together with the children during their weekly visits to the farm is important. It isn’t always easy because some of the kids aren’t used to sitting at a table for a family meal and the food isn’t always familiar to them. These are not our most relaxed meals. The youngest one still spills a lot and one boy tells the others not to talk, just to eat and another says he doesn’t need a napkin—he has a sleeve. For a while there were three boys each Saturday lunch and Melinda who had joined us to give the boys lessons on the keyboard. They all like homemade bread and sometimes help make it, the boy who is reported not to eat anything now hopes lunch is chili or enchiladas. and a couple of boys really like goat milk. The older boys like to build things with Zach and the one in Kindergarten often asks me to read to him. Walking the woods path or sledding works well for the ADHD boys and they like to throw sticks in the stream and run along the banks to watch their progress. Little things.
We’ve finished some of the big things—incorporation and tax exempt status, the exterior renovations on the house. We’ve finally cleaned out all the back rooms and storage spaces in both the barn and the house so that we know what is here and sometimes even know where to find things. We have games and books and toys appropriate to a wide variety of ages and interests so that we’re well prepared when a new child comes. The greenhouse is working well and we’ve set the limits of the garden for now and the beds and paths are well established. The new goat we bought in August is carrying kids which should be born in May so perhaps we’ve figured out breeding goats. We know a lot more about haying and keeping equipment running than we did a few years ago and the pasture is in better shape than at any time since our arrival.
There is still so much to do. Recently Mike Farrell, a forester with Cornell, visited and walked part of the woods with us. He looked at the red pine plantation with Zach and gave him advice about thinning it. (I already have ideas about using some of the logs to build play spaces for children.) Mike was also excited about the possibilities of our maple stands as sugar bush. He is going to be back in the spring to mark trees for Zach to cut for firewood to allow other trees to grow faster. He advised us not to give up on our shitake logs which haven’t fruited yet after 11 months and talked of the potential we have for growing lots of mushrooms. We’ve also contacted the Franciscan Ecology Center in Syracuse and someone from there will be visiting the farm in the spring to look at the large picture of our care and use of the land that makes up the farm.
The potential is sometimes overwhelming, all the possible things that could be done with the land, with our time and energy. The new director of RMMOC wants to work with children and youth at Scotch Grove and in the surrounding area. She wants to use the RMMOC facility and also to bring groups to the farm. We met early in February and will meet again in March with a psychiatrist who is helping us look at the mental health issues that arise in our work and how to coordinate better with area mental health workers, providing access to the farm for those who would benefit from recreational and volunteer opportunities and providing access to professional help when a crisis arises at the farm. From correspondence received from past visitors, we are reminded of the potential for change and growth when young people visit the farm. From the conversations with leaders who want to bring groups but can’t find the time or can’t find a time when enough young people are free to come we know that life is getting busier each year for many in the “real world”. We are trying to figure out how to continue the mission of sharing this life with groups.
As I write this it is snowing and blowing, but we’ve already seen a bluebird and by the time you read this it will be nearly spring. The Spanish Apostolate Lenten retreat is the second weekend in March and then the “slow time’ is over. As we move into the busier seasons feedback and ideas, prayers and visits, and help with the work are gratefully appreciated.
Discerning the Journey by Anita Kurowski
In my journey, I have had to grapple with some fundamental questions: Who is God? Who am I? Who are all of us, as a people? Where are we going? What does God ask of me? How is God calling me to be my truest and best self, for my own sake, and for the sake of all creation? How shall I respond? How can I transcend illusion and reach reality? Is it even possible?
I am 23 and I have done many of the predictable things–passed through childhood and adolescence, gone to college, graduated, and now gone to work. But these surface stages are really unimportant compared with the way God is leading me through a story that is always unfolding. I went off to college with all the love my family had poured into me, a hunger for knowledge, and the excitement of that privileged opportunity. I also went with desires to know more of God, to be a force of good in the world, to find joy in my future work, and to always be acquiring a deeper wisdom.
During my first year I discovered more about myself through my interactions with new friends and discovered the wealth of spiritual truth to be found in non-Christian religions through some of my courses. After participating in the Sisters of St. Joseph’s volunteer corps a few times, I was invited to live in community with a house of four Sisters. During my stay with the Sisters, I began to learn about community life and the charism of the Sisters of St. Joseph–cultivation of the relationships of neighbor to neighbor and neighbor to God. I also learned about the freedom of simplicity, the discipline of regular prayer (through many failed attempts), and the practice of present moment mindfulness. The Sisters and the Social Justice Group that I was involved with on campus gave me a much greater awareness of our world’s many social injustices and the subsequent responsibility to work for justice and peace. I began to see my future not in terms of job but of vocation, invoking the idea of service to God and neighbors, rather than simply making money for my own uses. As I grew anxious to know what my service was to be, one Sister told me that “God’s desire for you is also your deepest desire.”
During the transition from college to work, I encountered St. Francis Farm and some spiritual mile markers and forks in the road that I would never have found otherwise. I met people who were “being the change they wished to see” in the world, as Gandhi has said. Their counter-cultural lifestyle is like a pebble dropped into a pond, sending ripples of healing and awareness over a self-destructing society. I hope and believe that I am becoming one of the ripples.
One of the greatest gifts the Farm gave me was Silence derived from the absence of unnecessary or harmful technology. During my ministry as a music teacher, I have already encountered so many children over-stimulated by technology and starved for peace and stability. Though I have not been as bombarded as these children, I began to feel the sap of creativity awakening and running through me in the absence of passive entertainment, stimulation, and information. At the Farm I also shared in Silence as a form of prayer. This led to understanding myself better, learning to identify the many voices and messages from without and within, cultivating peace and mindfulness, and preparing an emptiness to recognize God’s presence and voice.
Last summer a group of us met at the farm to read a book together about Discernment. As we gathered regularly for prayer and discussion about it, I began to discern what sort of ministry God wished for me, using the totality of my present being and the specific skills of a music teacher. With the help of the prayers, listening ears, and guiding questions of the others, I began to see that I desire to use music as a way of bringing people together and building community. I began to realize that in many ways, the public school system works against real learning. If I really hoped people would learn something with my help, I would either have to work for change in the public schools, work outside the public schools, or do both, somehow.
All summer long I applied and interviewed for jobs, but as fall approached, I still didn’t have one. Then a Sister of St. Joseph called me from her ministry site in Pine Apple, Alabama. I had visited this mission and seen their Learning Center while living with the Sisters in Rochester. Education in Alabama is in dire straits, due to widespread poverty, lack of transportation, racism, and the instability of families, among other reasons. When Sister Nancy called and invited me to come work in Pine Apple, I wasn’t sure how to respond at first. I knew that I ‘d miss New York, my family, and my friends. I wondered if this would change my chances for an eventual job in New York. Also I was going through a personal struggle that made it hard for me to think of going so far away. However, Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary helped me sort through my fears and be free to make a choice. I came to recognize this opportunity as an answer to my prayers of discernment. They helped me recognize God’s voice.
Now, I have been working in Pine Apple since September. I have enjoyed working outside the public school system and the freedom to give the children what they really need rather than fit them into the molds of tests and state standards. In the mornings, I help teach Pre-School, transporting children to and from school, teaching, feeding them, cleaning and organizing the facility, communicating with parents, and supporting the other teachers in any way I can. In the afternoons, I teach children of different age levels, from first to sixth grade. Sister Nancy and I provide enrichment activities in Language, Math, Music, Art, Computer, and Cooking (as well as other things we discover that the children really need or want). We also transport these children to and from the Learning Center.
I have learned so much already from being here. I have had the opportunity to work at the Adult Day Care sharing time for music and encountering some of the music from the culture of the South. On Fridays, I help a youth group of children “at risk,” as they attempt to sing as a choir and perform as a gift for the community, in places such as churches, hospitals, and nursing homes. I have met two women who have organized many good things for the benefit of their communities, simply because they lived through hardships and wished to respond with healing action. I have met with a few musicians who are teaching me to make music with more freedom and interaction within a group. They have also taught me more music “of the people.” Each day I come face to face with the systemic diseases slowly destroying one of the poorest counties in the United States. I have also met people with great resilience, hope, and potential. I can only hope to support them in any way that I can.
It is amazing to me to step back and reflect on where I am, what I am doing, what I believe, how I act, and what I am becoming each moment of every day. Even though I am far away, the people at the Farm have given me support and accountability, which together we had learned are so necessary for any ministry. Their encouragement and soul-searching questions help me to navigate the never-ending task of discernment, as I desire to continue walking with God. There may be times when, in the face of the mystery of God, I lose my trust. But when I look at how God fits the whole universe together, even in the pieces, strands, and seeming coincidences of my own life, I see the pattern of Creation at work, and I know that I have been guided. It was no mistake that I crossed paths with St. Francis Farm, even at the particular time that it initially happened. I thank Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary for being the instruments of God. I thank God for singing the Song, through all of us.
Instead of a Wish List by Lorraine
Three of us live here to take care of the farm and carry out its mission so when anyone calls or visits we are the obvious people on whom the work depends. But others came before us to purchase the farm and establish the ministries that have been carried out in this place. In the present we could not do this work alone. We rely on so many people—some we know and some we’ve never met—to support the farm. Support may be financial or spiritual or physical and all of it is vital to the carrying out of the mission.
No one at the farm receives wages or stipend, we cut our firewood and grow as much as our own food as possible. Zach uses junk he finds here or at Unity Acres to build a bike trailer and a wood wagon and he bikes whenever possible to save fuel. But we still need money for some things and are dependent on the individuals and churches and other groups that provide financial support. When we first arrived we had to borrow money to pay taxes and had other financial worries, but we have found ways to economize and people have been generous and faithful in their support over the years and the financial worries have diminished. For this we are very thankful
We also receive material assistance in various forms. Supporters have responded to the wish list requests related to children. This winter we had jackets and boots, mittens and hats, warm socks and scarves to share with those in need. We have books and art supplies to use here and to take to Scotch Grove for use there. We receive bikes and building materials and tools that are useful in our work. And people come and help us can or clean or garden or cut wood or work on the house.
Spiritual support is at the heart of the farm. I often say that we would have given up in the first months if it hadn’t been for the time we spend in prayer and the prayers others offer for the farm and its work. Sometimes we get lonely accompanying those in poverty or grief or pain. We can feel overwhelmed and inadequate. When visitors join us for prayer and song and discernment they provide spiritual support that gives us courage to continue.
We continue to depend on financial and spiritual support to carry on the work of the farm, and for the next few months we especially need extra hands to work with us on the thousand and one things that need to be done. One of the blessings of the farm is that anyone can help because there are so many different jobs requiring different skill or strength or time. Joanna will be starting seeds in the greenhouse and preparing and planting the garden, tending goats. Zachary will be continuing to work on the house, cutting firewood, thinning the red pine plantation, rebuilding the well house, reinforcing the woodshed and getting equipment ready for haying. I will be cleaning and working on the flower gardens and putting out nest boxes We want to extend the trail system started last year and to put up some swings or benches along the way. We want to build some play structures from the pine logs we get from the thinning. We’d like to redo the stonework around the big rock in front of the barn, and add to the stone paved area in the memorial garden, and repair the stone wall by the pond. Helpers are welcome to join us when and where they are able.
People that come to the farm should come because they want to work. That is to be understood. They must see the necessity and beauty of the work and do it. They must not be told. It must be voluntary. They are not working for their board and bed. They are working as a free contribution to the farming commune.--Peter Maurin, quoted in Peter Maurin: Apostle to the World by Dorothy Day and Francis J. Sicius
Maintenance by Zachary
Because this winter has been milder than normal we have not had many requests for help with shoveling roofs and other winter jobs that we often do for elders at their homes. We had a power outage for 28 hours when it was very cold outside, and we were very glad to have the generator. Without it I think we would have had frozen pipes in the barn, and also in the well house. The pressure switch in the well house failed during that outage, and to run the pump it was necessary to go and turn it on manually with a screwdriver. Fortunately our friendly repairman was able to come on a Sunday and put in a new one, so we were only without normal water service for 48 hours or so.
One of my hopes for the farm is that we can become less dependent on oil and other outside energy sources for economic and ecological reasons. In December I finally built the bicycle trailer which I have been planning for some time, and on a couple of mild days in January I took it to the spring where we get our drinking water. The jugs we use hold a total of 25 gallons, for a weight of 200 pounds. I was somewhat uncertain as to whether I would be able to pull that much, and whether the bicycle brakes would be adequate to stop the load on the hills in Orwell, but it worked out quite well, especially on the second trip when I had made a few changes. I plan to use the trailer to go to the spring and to the feed store in Sandy Creek, and to take vegetables to Scotch Grove in the summer. This feels to me like straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel when I consider all of the driving we still do, but I think it is a step in the right direction. I also plan to burn wood through the summer to provide hot water to the barn, rather than using the oil burner as we have previously done. We are looking into several possibilities for summer hot water heating in the long term, but burning wood can be done without needing to make any changes in the current system and will suffice as a stopgap while we decide among solar preheating, a large insulated boiler water storage tank or electric hot water heating. We have been thinking about putting up an electric wind turbine for some time now, and it seems that it might be a good option for the farm, because of the fairly strong winds we have here. There is a fairly large initial cost to set up a wind turbine, but it would pay for itself over time, and New York has a quite good rebate program for small wind turbine customers.
The interior of the farmhouse is still far from finished, but progress has been made. I did not start work over there until the beginning of February, and some things have taken longer than I had hoped. An electrician has come and helped run new wiring, and now all of the new wires that run through the walls have been fed and are waiting to be connected, and the basement is all hooked up. The remaining work on the wiring I can do myself, and I hope to have it done soon. Some of the plaster repair and trim board installation has been done, but much more still remains. I have moved the basement stairs so that they are under the main stairway, and we will have room for a large walk-in closet where they used to be. As much as possible of the ductwork from the furnace which used to be in the basement has been removed and given away to someone who can use it. We don’t plan to put in a new furnace, and if we ever do we have been told that the ducts were oversized and therefore not efficient.
In the barn I have begun putting in more built-in cupboards along the staircases. These have already made storage easier, and I expect they will continue to do so as more of them are made ready for use. There are several hollow spaces around the stairs of varying sizes that were walled off when the barn was converted, but can be used if they are made accessible with doors. One of the children whom we see through Catholic Charities has been helping with the cupboards. He seems to find the work interesting, and to be learning from it.
Aside from the usual annual jobs we will be painting the trim on the farmhouse, rebuilding the front porch and replacing a couple of pieces of the roof, and replacing the siding on the ends of the barn with T-111 so that they do not leak. We also need to replace a couple of rotted poles in the pole barn, expand the goat exercise yard and rebuild the fence, clean up the debris of the other pole barn across the road, which fell over in a wind in late December, and rebuild the deck of the hay wagon, which was in the barn at the time. I do not know if we will be able to get all of these things done, but I am sure that what is really needed will be accomplished.
Scotch Grove by Joanna
Shortly after our last newsletter people from Catholic Charities and the Rural and Migrant Ministry of Oswego County (RMMOC), my mother and I went to Scotch Grove to meet with some tenants and see what we might be able to do for the children in the complex. I knew that social-service groups had planned on-site programs and been frustrated by the wariness and lack of participation that they encountered. I also knew that some of the tenants had a talent for working with kids and were trusted by their neighbors, and I hoped that we could work together, share resources and build trust. I was excited by the possibilities, but I feared that if the meeting didn’t go well both tenants and social workers would have their fears reinforced and be less willing to work together in the future.
I thought I had come prepared to facilitate the meeting and draw people out. I expected the tenants to be nervous and quiet. I arrived early and found the woman I had counted on to bring people together discouraged and reluctant to attend. But she came anyway and four other women joined her. Suddenly they were all speaking at once–voicing complaints, floating ideas, describing current cooperation and brainstorming possibilities. I was surprised and lost hold of my plan, and the meeting unfolded without my direction. They complained of mold in the walls, repairs done late or omitted, quarrels with neighboring homeowners. They raised concerns about the young children who have no safe space for outdoor play, and the teenagers who have few constructive activities to engage their energy. They also described the strength of their community. One woman reads letters and legal papers for neighbors who can’t read. One is often home to watch neighbors’ children and engages them in constructive projects even in a very small and crowded space. One has a telephone and takes messages for neighbors who don’t. One participant has mental disabilities, and her neighbors listened considerately to her, incorporating her suggestions when they could and gently setting aside what didn’t make sense.
Tenants and visitors volunteered to help with children’s gatherings. Some were willing to lead craft projects, others to read or organize games, others to help as needed in keeping children constructively engaged. A plan emerged to begin during the February school vacation. We parted enthusiasticabout the next steps. Tenants recruited children and adult helpers and planned activities; I brought art and craft supplies that people have given to the farm; other interested outsiders made fliers, helped plan activities and offered to bring snacks. I thought that in this newsletter I’d give a glowing report about the first meetings of the Scotch Grove children’s group.
I tried to follow up on housing and safety concerns with local agencies, but I ran into dead ends and became frustrated. Then I heard that the complex would be discussed at a village meeting. I found concerned people there from the school, RMMOC and the Health Center. Health and fire hazards were described and code enforcement discussed. Much was said about the need to provide opportunities for constructive work and recreation for all the tenants, especially the kids. Several people had had concerns and worked on small pieces of the problem for a long time. At this meeting they began to look at ways in which they could work together more effectively for the good of the Scotch Grove community as a whole. I spoke for including the tenants in this process and mentioned some of the strengths and gifts I had encountered among them. Most of the meeting time was spent on Scotch Grove. At the end there was a brief presentation by a group interested in building more upscale homes in Pulaski in order to attract ‘real leadership material’ to balance the influx of poor people. I was somewhat disturbed by the assumptions being made by the presenter, but I observed that some of the real leaders in the community had just turned out to discuss how to work for and with some of the least privileged members of the community, and perhaps make it more possible for them to take leadership. I left feeling greatly encouraged.
The next day I heard that the children’s activities planned for the February break had been cancelled. Some of the social-service providers were worried about liability issues and whether this was a good use of their professional time, but some were interested in continuing. I couldn’t get anyone at the complex by phone, so I drove down to talk with some of the tenant organizers. I found them confused and discouraged. There had been an electric surge and a couple of small fires which seemed to be caused by faulty wiring;the mold was spreading fast in the damp weather; four families had moved away, and more were trying to get out; all those who could had made plans to get themselves and their kids away during the school break. I listened, asked if we could still try gathering kids at the RMMOC building (which had been offered by its new director, Mary Coon), heard that no one felt able to plan that at this point, and came home discouraged. I had a bad night, feeling that our time and planning had been useless and imagining what it would be like to live in those apartments and not see any way to get out.
I talked with Mary the next day, and we decided to go back to Scotch Grove to discuss what, if anything, could be done next. In the last week of February she came with me to visit in the complex for the first time. The woman we spent most of the time with was watching about 12 kids, some of whom were happily engaged in one of the projects we had planned for the break week. She talked about the interests, problems and aptitudes of some of the children and also about the difficulty of planning ahead. Some families have been threatened with losing custody of their children if they don’t move out, and others are worried and want to leave. People were interested in getting together at RMMOC over April break and coming up to the farm in summer, if they’re still in the area then.
I write and think often about the difference between running programs and having relationships, but it’s easy for me to get carried away by enthusiasm or discouragement and get stuck in the program model, attached to doing something visibly successful. When I really stop and listen, I know that isn’t what’s important. I don’t even know what to hope. If families leave Scotch Grove, they may be able to find safer housing; they will also lose their community. As long as there are tenants there, they will find ways to support one another. I need to hold my hopes lightly and be willing to accompany our friends at Scotch Grove through their joys and their struggles, as I need to be accompanied in mine.
Quotes from our reading:
Greed feeds on the continual busyness of the man-made world. Withdrawal from this busyness is necessary if one is to begin developing detachment…Detachment is freedom form the self-centering that destroys our ability to relate. –Jim Corbett, Goatwalking
Attitudes change through example rather than argument. The uncompromising attempt to live one’s highest ideals openly and constantly is the most effective social action one can take. To live in opposition to the principles one proclaims is the surest way to destroy them as social options.—Ibid
The choice is radical: between friend-enemy politics and covenant-formed religion, between conquest and communion. There is no way to choose both. –Ibid
When industrial nations go to war, civil society itself is a war machine. Any useful, productive role within a warmaking society contributes to the war effort; there is no place for non-participants, only for collaborators and resisters. –Ibid
We participate in the sin of others; we are all helping to make the kind of world that makes for war. –Dorothy Day, quoted in Peter Maurin, Apostle to the World by Dorothy Day and Francis Sicius
..The works of mercy don’t look like much. They don’t make much of a show, unless you are multiplying loaves and fishes the way Christ did. I always remember, however, that he did not keep on doing it, and they must have wanted him to. –Dorothy Day, ibid.
Manual Labor by Joanna Hoyt
Peter [Maurin] defended the dignity of labor against the idea that manual labor is menial, to be despised, that those who engage in manual labor are less as persons than white-collar workers… The Catholic Worker, with its identification with monasticism, was very aware of the dignity of manual labor. Dorothy [Day] pointed out that modern economics ignored the concept that depriving the laborer of his share was one of the seven deadly sins. — The Catholic Worker Movement, Intellectual and Spiritual Origins, by Mark and Louise Zwick
I enjoy having time to work and converse with people who come and help us in the garden. However, this often leads to remarks that catch me of balance. Sometimes they arise from concern for me: “Can’t you get some kind of real job?’, “I’m sure you’re smart enough to get a GED if you study hard, and then you’d have some opportunities..” Sometimes they come up casually in the course of other conversations: “Of course, the kids will need to get their master’s degrees, unless they want to be *plumbers* or something.” “Well, he’s a mechanic, but he still has some interesting ideas..”
Over and over I bump into the idea that necessary physical work is undignified, inferior, to be avoided. Usually people don’t say this outright, as though it were a position they have thought about and chosen; it comes out indirectly, in the course of talking about other things, as a basic and perhaps unconscious assumption. I find that it troubles me more and more.
First I face my own defensiveness. I don’t have credentials certifying me for more prestigious work. I spend much of my time milking goats, digging and weeding and harvesting in the garden, cleaning, sometimes tending children or listening to people who are lonely or troubled, and people who see me doing these things often assume that it’s because I have limited intelligence, confidence or opportunities. I also read up on nonprofit law and tax regulations so that we can describe our work fairly honestly and still fit the government forms, do English/Spanish translation, go to meetings with professionals who are trying to figure out how to help some of our neighbors more effectively. I get very different responses then: “You would do well in law school..” “This is the girl who runs St. Francis Farm, where they’re doing such wonderful work..” As far as I can see the different parts of my work are similarly demanding of care and concentration, and all are necessary to the life and work I have chosen
I am also aware of the people for whom manual labor is not a free choice. I think of the men and women who come from Mexico and Honduras and Guatemala, from areas where the local economy and culture has been destabilized by ‘free trade’ or military occupation, looking for any kind of work that they can do to send money home so their children can eat and have shoes to wear to school. They are often exploited, paid less than minimum wage, kept in substandard housing, made to work too long and too fast and without proper safety equipment or training. They are also invisible to many people. Some are kept in camps at a distance from the people who will buy the food they grow. (People often exclaim at the size of our garden and point out that it would be easier to buy food from the store where it’s so cheap; they seem surprised when we say we’re concerned about the treatment of the people who grow it.) Even those who work in cities may not be really seen. A woman once told me that she wished to become truly antiracist by forming more relationships with people of color, but she couldn’t do this because there were no nonwhite people in her neighborhood—only janitors and menial workers. Not seeing makes it easier for our country to describe illegal immigrants as ‘criminals’ and ignore our continuing dependence on them. We can continue living with comforts that we wouldn’t be willing to work for ourselves.
But manual labor need not be invisible, or dehumanizing, or joyless. The boys from Scotch Grove come here and learn to fix their own bikes and then want to fix a bike that someone else can use; they take pride in being able to do something well, and in having something to share. The students from private school come and split wood with Zachary and pick rocks out of the garden with me and come in tired and happy, talking about how hard they worked and what they learned to do. Later they tell us that it’s really cool to know that they’re doing something that really needs to be done. A confirmation groupcame last fall to help us transplant trees along with some neighbor kids in a difficult family situation. They were quiet and a bit nervous at first, but as they worked together they began to talk and laugh and be at ease together. Adults frazzled by city living, or difficult children, or stressful careers, come and spend time weeding and harvesting, doing what needs to be done and enjoying the birds and the flowers around us. We’re grateful for their help, and they leave saying that they feel more centered and at peace. Together we begin to live into Peter Maurin’s dream of workers becoming scholars and scholars becoming workers, laboring to create a society in which it is easier for people to be good.
The nearly intolerable irony in our dissatisfaction is that we have removed pleasure from our work in order to remove ‘drudgery’ from our lives. If I could pick any rule of industrial economics to re-examine it would be the one that says that all hard physical work is ‘drudgery’ and not worth doing. –Wendell Berry, What Are People For?
For those people who are able to produce their own food, clothing and shelter, there is a significant reduction on quality of life once they relinquish their own culture and independence for an unstable monetary income. –Helena Norberg-Hodges, Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh
In Catholic Worker Houses of Hospitality the emphasis on personal responsibility and voluntary poverty means doing the work oneself. —The Catholic Worker Movement, quoted at top
Global Encounter at SFF by Michael Urbanowski
I attend high school at St. John’s in Central Massachusetts. During April vacation (April 17th -22nd), I traveled with one of four St. John’s Global Encounter groups to Saint Francis Farm. In the same way that everyone coming into a St. John’s Global Encounter has a different background, everyone leaving at the end of the week took with him a different experience. This reflection describes my thoughts and experiences during my time at the farm.
On April 17th, having slept through an 5-hour van trip to Saint Francis Farm, I stumbled out onto Lacona, New York. My group was warmly welcomed by Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary. In keeping with the spirit of the St. John’s Global Encounter, we were to live as guests, but also as a part of the Saint Francis Farm community for the next 5 days. So, even though we were guests, we were also encouraged to participate ,learn, and challenge ourselves in the new experiences. During our first night, the group visited Unity Acres. Here, homeless men can come and receive living space in a safe environment.
The next morning our community got its first “shock”. As part of the spiritual life on the farm, the members of the Saint Francis community sit in silence around a circle for half an hour every morning. For my own part, I found the silence isolating at first. We were told that the idea behind the prayer time was that, in the absence of discussion, we could fill our heads with prayer and reflection. As the week progressed, I found that the morning reflection times provided an excellent opportunity to read, but also to reflect on the words that I was reading. Often, when reading for school, I have very little time to think about the message behind the stories and how they can apply to my life. By the end of the week, I found myself looking forward to morning prayer.
Many students who attend Global Encounter, myself included, have limited experience in service to our local communities. Furthermore, going to a school such as St. John’s, it is easy to begin to picture a stereotype of the “needy” as those that are poor or homeless. Service to the community is a major part of the Saint Francis Farm mission. During the week, we had several opportunities to provide service to the needy that included tasks from helping the elderly to cleaning a churchyard. The idea that our group could be of service to such a wide body in the community sent me the message that I could, and should, take a more active part in my local community in central Massachusetts. The work reinforced the idea that you need not necessarily work in a radical manner to make a difference. Humans are people of the community. For everything that community gives us, we should make the sincere attempt to give back. At Saint Francis Farm we learned that this cycle is the bond that holds community together.
There is a certain amount of comfort that I took after a day of working around the farm. On one day, the group cleared a field of brush and helped chop logs with Zachary. On another day, we worked in the garden with Joanna. After meals, we cleaned up the dishes and pans for the next meal. There was time for fun, (I took extreme enjoyment in taking on the challenge of walking on progressively higher and higher stilts) and time for reflection. There was a time for work and time for relaxation. The idea that the day could be split up in such a fulfilling way brought me back to a framed scripture reading that hangs on the wall of Saint Francis Farm. It comes from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 and begins “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens…” More than anything else, I believe that my group should take back from Saint Francis Farm a model for how one should live.
Not all of us will give up our lives in Massachusetts and move onto a Catholic Worker farm, but the principles that guide our actions in the separate worlds should be very similar. When I look back on the 5 days that I spent at Saint Francis Farm, I find them fulfilled. To fulfill a day is a monumental task. By my measure, to fulfill a day requires that you truly live the experiences that you are going through. In reflection, I asked myself, “What factor allowed me to live the experience?.” My answer is “service to others.” In preparation for our trip to Saint Francis Farm, Global Encounter participants were taught the importance of “love of neighbor,” and “sponsorship of charity.” In the program, at Saint Francis Farm, we were put in a position to live these actions.
We cannot change the world by a new plan, project or idea. We cannot change people by our convictions, stories or proposals, but we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and preoccupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their own center. –Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
All genuine instruction ends in a kind of silence, for when I live it, it is no longer necessary for my speaking to be audible. –Soren Kierkegaard, Provocations
Peace by Anola Gowin
Anola first visited the farm with a work group from Syracuse Friends Meeting a couple of years ago. Since last fall she has stayed with us several times to help with the work and enjoy the country..
I come for the trees and the chance to sit with them, talk with them, just be with them, without it being noted or commented on by passing humans. I come for the chance to ramble at will in the woods and fields, to dream or daydream for an hour or two or many without the feeling that I ‘should’ be elsewhere, doing real-world things. I come to fill my lungs with country air and to fill my ears with quiet sounds, to gentle my senses after too long amid the harsh lights, hassles and constant noise of the city. I come to ease the tension bars I bear around my mind and to fill my heart with natural beauty. I come for the simple garden work that grounds me, connects me with the Earth and with the process of Life, fills my need for something more concrete than daydreams. I find all that at the Farm.
I find more. I find Peace. More than ordinary country quiet, this is deep Peace springing from some deep well. A peace upon which I can rest my soul as well as my mind and body. From the moment I get out of the car and Lorraine, Zachary and Joanna greet me with hugs and welcome I can feel my heart opening up and Peace flowing into me.
The first time I came I helped in the flower garden—weeding, clearing, helping it to look its best. I worried a lot because I didn’t really have any idea what I was doing. I slowly came to understand that it is okay not to be sure. Whatever I do the garden will look better than if I do nothing. Nobody is sitting there judging what I do. It is okay if I go sit by the pond for a while or walk in the woods or just lie on the grass and watch the clouds and listen to the insects humming across the quiet and come back to work when I am ready. If a certain work needs to be completed by a certain time, Lorraine will tell me: it will be made clear at the beginning. I can trust that. But the Farm is for healing, the healing of mind and body, heart and soul. And there is somehow a feeling, an expectation, that my needs and the Farm’s needs are not competing at all, but will flow together until they form a pattern where both sets of needs will be met. The Farm is accepting of me and the deep Peace of the Farm is willing to hold me within itself. And the garden actually did look better when it was time for me to leave than when I arrived.
I come back when I can. The woods are always here, always changing with the seasons, always inherently itself. The Peace is always there, holding me. Usually there is work for me to do—not always in the flower garden, but as much quiet grounding work as I need. Sometimes it seems I don’t do much work at all. I know that if there is work to be done, part of my being there is to help with it, but I don’t feel that I have to earn my stay. The Farm still accepts me even when all I do is walk in the woods and dream.
I find that I do not come just for the woods or the quiet or the garden. They are lovely, but they are not the most important. I come because of that deep Peace. I come for long quiet conversations. I come for the times when I just want company and don’t want to talk, because it is okay for me to be with them and not talk. I come because when I need to be alone I can be and no one will take it amiss. I come because of Lorraine’s deep empathy which heals whether she speaks it or not. I come because of the strong integrity these people have: Lorraine, Joanna and Zachary say what they mean. I do not have to try to figure out where they are coming from or make guesses about them that may or may not be right. They give me their truth, the truth of themselves in a way I can trust. They ask nothing except my own truth in return, and they are patient with my trying to discover what my own truth is.
This is a safe place to come. I can release all shields. I do not need defenses around mind, heart and soul. When I need to rest and relax I can do that here. When I come here in joy, the Farm rejoices with me. When I am wrestling with my own shadow or trying to deal with some dark soul-pain, still the Farm holds me, heals me. There is always Peace for me here, always healing. However I am when I arrive, each time I leave I am more whole than when I came. Thank you Lorraine, Zachary, and Joanna. Thank you St. Francis Farm.
There is something deeper than doing. We must learn how to work in quiet and not always be physically active. –Thomas Kelly,The Eternal Promise
The ability to listen to another, to sit silently in the presence of God, to give sober heed and to ponder is the nucleus of the spirituality of peace. It may be what is most missing in a century saturated with information, sated with noise, smothered in struggle, but short on reflection. The Word we seek is speaking in the silence within us. –Joan Chittister, There Is A Season
Maintenance by Zachary Hoyt
The farmhouse is progressing well, and the upstairs is now completely ready to be used. We decided to put in a dormer in the upstairs bathroom to provide light and ventilation. I had never built a dormer before, so I was not entirely sure how to go about it, but it seems all right. Also in that bathroom we put in a new shower to replace the decrepit one which had been there. The downstairs is still in need of a bit of work, mostly putting up trim and repairing floors. Over the course of the house’s lifetime there have been many holes cut into the first floor, mostly for ductwork, I believe. Some of them were still connected to the old furnace system, and some were older and had been covered over with thin plywood and carpet. I have now filled most of them, but there is still some smoothing out of the transitions between patches and floor that is needed. We have removed all of the carpet downstairs, and everything else which had been put down on top of the original board floors, and we are going to paint them once everything else is done downstairs. I have repaired or reconnected a few drains which leaked or had become loose in the basement.This seems to have largely dealt with the dampness which used to plague the house. We are going to have to re-roof about half of the house at some point this year, and the trim still needs to be painted. The front porch should be getting a major overhaul in June, and we have decided to leave the old kitchen for a while until we have more time to deal with it.
The woodshed off the end of the barn has been repaired where one of the walls was starting to buckle, and I have roofed over a small additional area between the shed and the barn for the storage of additional firewood to burn during the summer months. The new area still needs to have one wall filled in, and the whole shed needs to be painted at some point soon. The wood for next winter was mostly in by the end of March, but the last bit of the shed wasn’t filled till early May, because I kept putting it off. Thanks to Mike and Tim Resig and friend Eric who helped cut trees in the pasture and bring them in. Thus far we have kept the wood boiler burning as we had planned, and it looks as though we should be able to keep it going all summer. I am cutting dead trees to burn this summer, and I hope in the fall to fill the new area with wood to burn in the summer of 2007 so it will have time to season.
The group from St. John’s this spring helped us to rebuild the goat yard, and they did a fine job. The old pallet fence has been replaced with woven wire, and also enlarged. The yard is now divided into two areas, and they built a small shed for the use of the goats who are in the portion of the yard that does not have access to the main shed.
I have installed a new bathtub in one of the trailers, and I’ll be putting in a window once I get some advice on how to fit it. The collapsed pole barn still has not been cleaned up, and the ends of the barn will need to have the siding replaced this summer. The well house rebuild is being planned for when we have a group here in June. Help with any of our projects would be greatly appreciated. Also any sorts of ladders or scaffolding would be helpful, especially a stepladder.
Agriculture: reality check (written in mid-May) by Joanna Hoyt
I come into each growing season with plans for how to use our garden space and time, resolutions about what I’ll do better (record-keeping comes up every year), daydreams of a full and luscious garden and some niggling concerns about what might not go well. What actually happens is usually both better and worse than I expected.
During the last two springs we waited hopefully for kids to be born, and we were disappointed. This year we decided to find out what was happening ahead of time, so we had them ultrasounded. We were delighted to learn that Amahl was carrying kids. The results for Nikita were much harder to interpret. We had hoped for a kid due in April, which should have been small enough to fit clearly in the window scanned by the ultrasound, but nothing that looked like that showed up. Perhaps she was carrying a large kid that would be born in March, the result of the first breeding that we had considered unsuccessful, or perhaps she had uterine growths that would prevent her conceiving. The due date in March went by and she showed no signs of giving birth. We decided we’d have to replace her, but we kept her to keep Amahl company while we looked for another doe. Then we had them out to graze in early April and realized that Nikita was filling up with milk. Two days later she gave birth to Yuri. (Many thanks to the vet who helped adjust Nikita’s hormones so that she could conceive!) He was large and energetic and didn’t have siblings to play with, so he bonded readily with people and was quite popular with the students from St. John’s. Amahl’s two kids were born on Mother’s Day, and Uno and Dos are still figuring out how to use their legs. We were fortunate enough to be able to see both births.
April and the first part of May were dry, and I spent a lot of time watering and running the soaker hose; then the rain came in abundance and wouldn’t stop. The garden has grown well through it all. We’re enjoying asparagus and greens, and the peas, potatoes, onions and brassica are growing well. This is the first year that we’ve been able to get the spinach to grow usable leaves before bolting. The cool grey weather has helped that. The seedlings in the greenhouse haven’t done so well. We had to buy tomato and pepper seedlings this year, although I have nursed a few of our heirloom plants along and think they will live and bear fruit. We’ve figured out what the problem was, and next year we expect to do better.
The St. John’s High School group was a great help in the garden. They put in onions and potatoes as well as turning beds, weeding and chipping paths and removing piles of rocks that I had dug out of beds and just dumped in the paths. Some of them wrote in their evaluations that gardening wasn’t as much fun as splitting wood or building things, but it was still satisfying because they could see that the work really needed to get done. I think everyone needs some of that kind of satisfaction. I’m grateful for all that they did and for the conversations about work, God, safety, priorities etc. that developed as we worked together.
Before their group arrived I dug a trench for a new row of asparagus. We’ve enjoyed the asparagus we have but we’d always be glad to eat more, and we have neighbors who also enjoy it but don’t have space to grow it. I will enjoy the results, but I am glad that most of our beds don’t have to be dug 12-18” deep. There are a lot of rocks down there. I’m grateful that garden books no longer recommend three-foot trenches.
There are piles of tent caterpillars again, and I have done what I can about pulling nests out and spraying the young trees in the orchard with Bt but I still am not sure that we’ll have fruit to harvest. For now, though, the blossoms are thick, lovely and fragrant, and I will do the best I can and wait to see what happens next.
Bits and Pieces
Today (May 31) Rob Breen, director of the Franciscan Ecology Center, made his first visit to the farm. He spent several hours walking and talking with us and will be working with us to formulate an ecological plan. He also has resources to share on wind energy and educational material that we can use with children in the summer program during July and August. We are grateful for his help and look forward to working with him in the coming months.
Rural & Migrant Ministry of Oswego County (RMMOC) is running a summer program for 12 children from eight to twelve years old. They will register children and arrange transportation. For five weeks in July and August the children will spend Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the farm learning about gardens, doing crafts and studying the natural world around them. After lunch at the farm, they will go to RMMOC for recreational and art activities.
This spring we had the pleasure of meeting Hope Wallis who lived at the farm in the 80’s, running the women’s shelter that the house held at that time. She now works with refugee resettlement in Syracuse and we are looking together at ways her families might use the farm. We hope to do a day trip for elementary age children and the American teens who tutor them and a women’s weekend this summer.
As always we need helping hands in the garden and with the buildings, money for the things we can’t make or grow, and prayer to support the life and work here.
The daylight is shortening, the birds flocking up, asters and goldenrod blooming, and fall is in the air. The September newsletter needs to go out next week and it is time to look back at the summer. We are tired and still busy with the many summer tasks so it is hard to see the last three months clearly. Always help was expected that didn’t come and always somehow the necessary work was done. Somehow it all fit together. The group that came the last week in June helped us with the gardens, worked at the soup kitchen where we take vegetables and brought nets to use in the ponds and streams during the summer program. The local children who came for that program harvested the garlic we shared with Unity Acres and refugees in Syracuse. They also made a bench to put by the pond where elders sat when they came to visit.
The June group was intergenerational, led by Mary Christine, a former Boston College student who came to the farm with an alternative spring break in 2003. She brought her mother and sister and their friends to see what had changed her life. They painted floor and walls in a couple rooms of the farmhouse, making it ready for future guests and they helped Joanna catch up with the garden. Since it was county fair week, the soup kitchen was short handed and the women and girls went to help out on Tuesday and Wednesday. A woman whom the BC students had met when they worked in her home had kept in touch with MC and came to have lunch with us and meet her family and friends.
In July the summer program, organized by Rural & Migrant Ministry and named Down on the Farm, began. For five weeks local children aged nine to twelve came to the farm on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The Pulaski school district bused the children here while transporting other children to the summer recreation and reading programs at the school. The Food Bank provided breakfast and lunch as part of their summer food service program. The afternoons were spent at the RMMOC building with art instruction, Catholic Charities’ Kids Express program, and tennis. Because of the small size of the group (15 students registered and attendance from 7 to 12) we were able to give lots of choices and individual attention. We were grateful for help from a high school student fulfilling his community service requirement and from Melinda and Anita Kurowski during some of the sessions.
We all enjoyed the time in spite of the hard work. After breakfast the children were given a choice of chores which included weeding, harvesting, cover cropping, cleaning garlic, moving pigs, grazing goats, building twig supports for sunflowers and a twig bench, making goat cheese, laying a rock edging for the flower beds, maintaining woods trails and setting up a worm composting bin. After chores we went exploring through the fields and woods, along the streams and around the ponds on the farm. We collected and identified wild flowers, mushrooms and insects. We set up an ant colony in a frame Zachary had built and a pond life aquarium. On a very hot day when the weather reports were warning of poor air quality, we spent the time in the woods along the small stream where the students from St. John’s had helped us create a new path in April. The children especially enjoyed catching frogs but they also learned after the first day or so that watching the frogs and snakes and dragonflies was more interesting than scooping them into a net. Each child had a journal and a spot he or she had selected the first day and the time just before lunch was journal time. No assignment, no requirement except to slow down and be quiet and notice a chosen small area. After lunch children often lined up for the swings or played pattern ball with Zachary until the bus came.
Summer always means more visitors from near and far. Along with the children came a county health inspector and the person in charge of the Food Bank’s summer food service program. We were a little nervous about their visits but the Food Bank supervisor had time for a tour and to sit by the pond when he made his site visits and the woman from the county talked about growing up on a farm. One of the chaperones for the St. John’s group that came in April returned in August for a weekend visit with his wife whom Joanna remembered from the times she volunteered at Overlook Farm, the Heifer Project northeast headquarters in Massachusetts. BoKyom, a woman Joanna met in England last summer as the Korean representative to the World Gathering of Young Friends, spent a couple weeks with us getting help with idiomatic English and helping in the garden. Rebekah, cousin to Kate and Abraham Land who visited in 2002 when their family was starting a Catholic Worker farm in New Zealand, spent a few days with us in August as part of a three month visit to Catholic Workers in the U.S. Our elder friends come from Sandy Creek, Syracuse, Oswego, or Pulaski to see the animals, pick up fresh vegetables, sit and talk and enjoy the flower gardens and pond.
We get discouraged sometimes about the amount to be done–keeping up with the vegetable garden and making and maintaining trails, mowing lawns and tending flower gardens. But we are encouraged by the delight the children took in exploring, by the enthusiasm of the women at the soup kitchen when we bring greens and herbs and beans and squash, by the satisfaction that visitors take in resting by the pond. The line between the helpers and the helped keeps blurring and we are reminded over and over that we are all giving and receiving. Barbara who wrote for this issue speaks of what she gets from the farm, but we know what she gives. She has brought so many friends—the one who brought the bee balm that is planted by the pond to attract the hummingbirds, the one who tells us stories of working at “the Sanitarium” before the beginning of Unity Acres, the ones who knit us wool socks and knit hats and mittens and socks for the children of Scotch Grove, the Sister who hopes to bring a group of young people she teaches, a woman from India. As the harvest comes in and the summer winds down we are grateful for the fullness of this life and for those who’ve shared it with us. –by Lorraine
MY SENSE OF THE FARM by Barbara Steinkraus
One of the things I like to do best, in this my seventy-ninth year, is hop in my car, pick up a friend and drive up to St. Francis Farm. It’s a trip I dream about many times more than I actually do it.
I’ve tried to put my finger on just what it is that draws me to the Farm. I think it has something to do with feeling closer to nature there than I do anywhere else. It’s not as if I live in an apartment in a big city. I don’t. I have a house, a yard, two flower gardens, one in front and one in back, three trees, and a lilac bush. I can walk outside on the grass, when I want to, and I can admire my flowers from my windows. I live only two blocks from the beautiful great Lake Ontario and perhaps seventeen blocks from the Oswego river. I enjoy driving by each of those daily, and sometimes I even sit and gaze at them.
But I don’t have any goats-or chickens-or pigs to care for. I don’t milk my goats two times a day so I can drink their milk. I don’t make goat’s milk cheese. I don’t gather my own eggs. I don’t have to move the chickens from spot to spot so they always have fresh forage. I don’t have to feed the pigs or move their pen when they have rooted up all the vegetation, and I haven’t cultivated a great garden where I grow not only all the vegetables that end up on my table, but have plenty to give to my neighbors who have no gardens. This would be “living close to the land”. This is what Lorraine, Joanna and Zach do at the Farm………and so much more.
When I visit, I can sit by their little pond on a sunny morning. I can see the little stream flowing by. I can feel the breeze on my face and see the tall grasses wave. Certain times of year, I can hear the frogs croak, but I have yet to see the Little Green Heron that Lorraine saw catch a fish, or the Kingfisher at work, or the Oriole’s nests.
Sometimes when I visit, I get to lend a hand. Once I snapped beans while sitting by the pond and then filled quart jars while Lorraine put them on too cook. Once or twice I shucked peas. I have spent some happy moments in their lovely sunny chapel upstairs in the barn. I understand they worship there at 7:00 each morning.
As busy as she is, Lorraine has found time to teach me how to make note cards by hammering fresh blossoms onto paper stock, and a way to make sachets from lavender. The result is an intricately woven beautiful little thing. Often times I have eaten at their table, fresh goat’s cheese, beautiful fresh greens and tomatoes, and those tasty crisp peas you don’t remove from the pod, and often home-baked bread. Hospitality abounds at the Farm. Lorraine has convinced me that they really love having visitors, so I plan to go again…and again…and again.
The Children’s Reflections on the Summer Program
I really liked catching frogs. And I liked going to the ponds. I also liked that we got choices. And I liked helping you with the chores. I didn’t like finding worms. I think it was really fun going and exploring. I hope I can come again.
I liked putting the rock (border) together. Walking together with the goats.
Some things I liked about the farm were the animals, the pond and the woods. One of my favorite things was grazing the goats. Another was catching fish. I wish I could go more.
The farm was very fun. It was hard work but after the work we had a fun time. The ponds were very fun. I enjoyed everything we did. I’m very thankful they took time to spend with us.
I liked the big frog. I liked all the people at the farm. I liked the fish.
On the farm I liked looking at the ponds with everyone. I liked moving the pigs. I liked the chickens when I fed them.
I highly enjoyed going to the farm and helping you out. Mary has told us about how you live off the farm and how much you appreciate our help. It was hard work sometimes but I really liked helping you out. Thank you for letting us come here.
On the farm was really fun when we went to all the ponds, walks on the trail and two creeks and seeing all the animals and have a great time.
I liked catching stuff. Building stuff with Zach was pretty cool. I liked the extra milks they gave me. Pretty much everything about the farm was fun.
I really liked moving the pigs. It was very fun in the garden. I will miss going to the farm.
What was fun?
Making the ant farm
Picking up salamanders
Spying things that older people didn’t find
Making goat cheese
What was hard?
Trying to get all the trees out of the path
Weeding in the garden
Trying not to get scratched
Moving the rocks and trying to find anything but salamanders
What about the work?
It was hard but fun.
Some things were fun and some were hard and some were both
We cleared the trail and it was hard
Finding the big flat stepping rocks made me happy
The work was easy—cutting down the trees
We did a lot of farm work and I thought it was cool
Moving pigs and grazing goats was fun and the garden was fun too.
I liked garlic harvest and tying up tomatoes, weeding, picking beetles, harvesting worms
What did you learn?
About insects, plants, reptiles and fungi
About frogs, bugs, fungus, plants and the garden
That salamanders eat bugs, worms, fish eggs, crayfish and other salamanders and snails
That if you take some things away from their home they will not be happy
About what you have to do on a farm to maintain it and that you can do fun stuff on a farm
That everything is harder on a farm with a few people and it helps to have more people
What did you find exploring?
A lot of fungi and plants
Salamanders, two with their tails chopped off
A frog on a rock that looked like a face
Blue spotted salamanders and red-backed salamanders
Two enormous worms, extremely slimy
A whole bunch of step rocks
Five salamanders, a toad, a baby crayfish
Seven red-backed salamanders under one rock
Frogs and snakes and bugs and plants
MAINTENANCE by Zach
This summer has been a long series of maintenance jobs, and many of them have gotten done, but there are still a lot of jobs on my list awaiting attention. The porch of the farmhouse has been largely rebuilt, from the floor up to the main beam under the roof, but the roof itself was fine. The porch was one of those jobs that kept getting bigger the deeper I went in, but I think that now all of the rot has been removed. The well house was rebuilt and the big empty iron tank removed so that we will also be able to use the well house for storage of root vegetables. The climate in there is quite suitable, being dark and damp and cool. The whole exterior and interior of the building was quite rotten, but the frame was still mostly sound. The insulation was quite wet or had been removed by rodents in most places, so we are hopeful that the new insulation and the new electric heater we will install will make it more efficient. As of this writing I am working on the roof of the farmhouse, parts of which began to lose shingles last winter, and due to the condition of the shingles we decided it was time to replace most of the roofing. When I started tearing up the old roof on one section I found that there were three layers of asphalt shingles and one of wood shingles, and under that the boards of the deck were rotten, so what I had thought would be a two-day job ended up taking four days and a lot of trips to the dump. The rest of the areas I have done since seem to have sound decks, and all that remains to be done is the roof of the kitchen. It seems to take quite a long time to remove that amount of material, and then it all has to be carried by hand to the edge of the roof wherever I can get the truck in close, because a wheelbarrow would not work very well on the slope. I am hoping to have this job done by Labor Day if not before. There is still a lot of work to be done on the interior of the house, although the front part of the downstairs is nearing completion. We have a lot of painting of walls and floors, and some wall surface repair and putting up of trim to be done. It is my hope that all of this can be accomplished over the winter.
Once the roofs are done I will be turning my attention to the siding on the ends of the barn, which is quite leaky and will need to be replaced with new wood. I am still trying to figure out how to get up there with all of the additions that stick out and prevent the use of conventional scaffolding, but I am sure some way will be found. Later in September Dave is coming with his backhoe to straighten out the pole barn and replace the poles on the southwest side. Five of them have rotted and sunk in the ground to various degrees, up to two feet in some places, and the weight of the barn is now resting on the top of the steel storage trailer which is parked underneath it, which does not seem to me a tenable way of getting through the winter. The pole barn across the road which collapsed last winter is still mostly lying where it fell, although we did get the metal roofing removed from it and piled up awaiting removal to a more suitable storage location. I am hoping to get the rest of that mess cleaned up late this fall, depending how the weather and the other jobs go.
The bicycle trailer which I made last winter has continued to be used for some jobs, and we decided that it would make sense to buy a work tricycle which we could use for many of the jobs for which we now use the truck. The tricycle is pedal powered, and therefore does not have to be licensed, insured or inspected. The insurance for the truck is quite high because I am only 20, and as gas prices rise we are less apt to use it if we can find another way. I am buying the tricycle but as long as I am here I can use it for the farm’s work, and if I leave it is unlikely that anyone else here would be inclined to use it anyway. I have ordered it from a company in England and I am currently waiting for it to be put in a container and on a ship. The management of Oswego County solid waste said that they will allow the tricycle to use the transfer station, and because it is only 5 or so miles away it should not be too hard to get there with a load. The tricycle is rated to carry 550 lbs, so I am hopeful that it will be adequate for our local pickup and delivery needs. If we had to do large jobs like the roofs I am currently replacing we would have to get a dumpster and have the shingles delivered, but that would still be a great deal less expensive than maintaining a truck and keeping it on the road all of the time. It is my belief that as gas continues to become more expensive and harder to obtain we will need to continue adapting how we live to that changing circumstance, and this is probably only the beginning of what may need to be rethought.
Agriculture by Joanna
The days are getting shorter and cooler, and the garden beds are being harvested and cover-cropped. As usual at the end of the season I am struck by the amount of weeds that got past me and the mistakes I made (principally not leaving enough space between plants), and also by the amount of good food that we’ve had to eat and preserve and share. This year I am also aware of changes in the land that affect our ability to farm but are beyond our control.
We’re having more trouble than usual with insect pests. Nearby gardeners report similar problems, and some think the mild winter didn’t kill off many pest eggs and larvae. We won’t use toxic pesticides, so we’ve done a lot of handpicking; the cucumbers are still dying early, probably because of the high numbers of cucumber beetles which often carry diseases, and other plants have been riddled by flea beetles. This year for the first time we had large patches of poison ivy in the hayfield and along our paths. I have never been highly allergic to poison ivy, so I went out with plastic bags to pull it out, and I had blistered arms for a couple of weeks. We asked Riobart Breen of the Franciscan Ecology Center if he had any ideas about what might be causing the infestation, and he told us that global warming models predict explosions in the population and potency of poison ivy.
Growing food to eat and to share with neighbors will probably become more difficult in the coming years as the climate changes. As food and energy costs rise some of our neighbors find it more difficult to buy food, especially fresh food, and there is less surplus food available to food banks and other programs for feeding the hungry. We need to keep learning how to grow food well, care for the soil, rely more heavily on human or animal power rather than gasoline.
There’s still a great deal to be grateful for. This year for the first time we bought piglets from someone who had healthy ones ready for us on the date we had agreed to beforehand. Gruby and Maly (Polish for Big and Small) are growing well. The goats are regaining weight and energy now that their kids have been sold, and we have all the milk we can use. The orchard trees are heavy with apples in spite of the forest tent caterpillar infestation this spring. We’ve had plenty of vegetables to eat and to share.
We had hoped to have help in the garden from some of the families at Scotch Grove to whom we brought vegetables last year, but the people we planned with have ended up moving away. This year we didn’t find tenants at Scotch Grove to help us distribute vegetables either. We started bringing vegetables to the soup kitchen that the North Country Christian Church in Sandy Creek opened two years ago as part of their outreach to the community. Their volunteers prepare and serve a hearty noon meal from Monday through Wednesday to anyone who comes. In summer there are children who count on school meals during the academic year; year-round there are families trying to get by on food stamps and elders who miss real home-cooked meals and people to eat and talk with. The number served has ranged from 25 to 63; usually they serve 40-50. They say that it’s hard to plan meals since they never know how many people will be coming, but somehow there is always enough for everyone who comes.
We mean to keep growing and sharing food; we also hope to find ways to invite our neighbors to help us in the garden and/or learn to grow their own. Sometimes people find us. Last year a woman stopped by the farm to ask some questions about raising goats. People at her factory were getting laid off, and she already had a garden and chickens and wanted to expand into more farming. We talked with her for a while and I gave her some books and catalogs. A few days ago I went to buy feed at the store in Lacona, and they were offering local goat milk soap for sale; her name was on the packages.
The Bible story begins with emphasis on God as worker, in making the world, and then stresses the creation of humans in God’s image. If God is the Worker, then men and women, in order to fulfill their potentialities, must be workers too. They are sharing in creation when they develop a farm, paint a picture, build a home, or polish a floor.–Elton Trueblood
We were grateful this wet summer for the boots that have accumulated and kept feet dry when the children were here for the summer program and when visitors wanted a tour and wore shoes not well suited to gardens and goat pens. We have very small boots for up to about five years old and we have enough large boots, men’s 10 and up, but could use more for older kids and women. Also gloves for gardening or other work in small sizes for women and children. As winter approaches we welcome hats, mittens, warm socks, and jackets for children in all sizes. We thank all of you who’ve called to ask before bringing adult clothing which we can’t use.
Lately we’ve heard from several folks who wanted to change the form in which they receive the newsletter, paper or email. We will be working on our mailing list during the colder months and would like to hear from you if you want to make a change or if we haven’t heard from you in the last couple years and you’d like to continue receiving the newsletter (or to be removed from the list)
We always need money, helping hands, and prayers. Those of us who live here do the work of the farm without pay, but we rely on donations to provide the materials needed to do that work. From early spring through late fall the physical work is always a little more than we can get done on our own. In the next couple months we’ll be planting garlic, putting the garden away for the winter, cutting fire wood, and doing the other jobs mentioned in Zach’s article. This place was built on prayers and prayers sustain it. We are grateful for all of you who’ve been part of keeping this mission going.
Breathing In, Breathing Out by Lorraine
Back in our other life before we came to the farm I avoided busyness and sometimes when people asked me what I had been doing I answered, “breathing in, breathing out” instead of offering the expected list of activities and accomplishments. I was reminded of this at our annual meeting in October when I realized that sometimes our Directors miss things they should knowbecause to us they seem as obvious and as natural as breathing. The Directors suggested that we write about some of these basics for the newsletter, and thinking about it I remembered also the questions visitors have but hesitate to ask. So at the risk of stating the obvious, this article is about the breath of our life here at the farm.
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. When we needed to form a corporation in 2003 we endeavored to embody this mission in the structure we were creating. Having a Board of Directors and an annual meeting satisfies the legal requirement, offers stability during transitions in the core community, and provides support and accountability for those of us who live and work here. Within this structure our alternative life is evident. The Board is advisory and decisions are made by those who live and work here. The officers are the core members and have no other titles. Decisions are made by group discernment instead of by voting.
The farm economy runs on the work of our hands, the vitality of the land, and the gifts and prayers of supporters. Visitors sometimes assume that we are financially supported by the Diocese of Syracuse or by the Catholic Worker movement. We do participate in the missionary cooperation program, annually speaking at one or two parishes assigned to us and receiving the second collection. There is no national or other central body governing or supporting Catholic Workers, and the loosely associated network of farms and city houses of hospitality are all in need of funds. Sometimes we have received from and sometimes given to other Catholic Workers. Donations are also received from churches and other groups, from individuals, from some of the groups that come to spend time at the farm for a retreat or an alternative experience. We haven’t done fund raising nor written grant applications, but donations still come from those who’ve never seen the farm and those who receive many more insistent or heart-rending appeals from other charities.
We see other charitable agencies struggling to carry out their programs, hampered by insufficient funds to pay the staff needed to do the work and to keep their buildings maintained, lit and heated. With no paid staff and the resources of the land the farm needs less money. The woods and our work provide heat for the buildings. The soil and our work provide food. Maintenance costs are comparatively low because we only have to buy materials and some of those can be scavenged or salvaged. We sometimes feel a lack of enough hands to keep up with the work. We have fewer groups than a decade ago as the lives of students become busier and as “service learning” becomes a requirement at some schools or another commodity in a competitive market. A successful experience is defined as one in which participants are able to see obvious poverty, to do something in their week or weekend that fixes the problem, and to leave feeling good about themselves. The farm doesn’t fit that model. Instead of programs St. Francis Farm provides a place and people willing to be present in it. That is sometimes hard to explain to the IRS, to workers from other agencies who call to ask about our “programs”, and to service learning groups looking for an encounter with the poor. But the money and labor that keep the farm open provide a place and a presence that is flexible and available as needs arise. During Advent Deacon David Sweenie will be here with a group of migrant workers for a Spanish Apostolate retreat. In October Hope Wallis brought Liberian families who had been refugees in the US for over a year and never been out of the city of Syracuse. The delight that these visitors take in the farm is a blessing to us. The gardens and goats that we tend to provide food are a link for them, something familiar that reminds them of homes far away. In November we had a call from a woman whose grandchildren had been in the after school program we did with Rural & Migrant Ministry a few years ago. Last year we had given her materials from Alternatives about ways to get back to the spirit of Christmas and she wanted to talk more about that and find homework help for the two granddaughters who live with her. We help the girls with homework a couple days a week and they enjoy getting out to walk or milking a goat, making crafts and learning to pick out a tune on a hammered dulcimer.
At our Annual meeting October 24th the Directors were concerned about the fatigue of the core community. None of us got back to Maine this fall or to retreat or Quaker gathering for a week in the summer. Some have had a weekend or two away. Presence is more constant than programs, and we need to find for ourselves the rest we hope visitors will find here. We are learning. Zachary had more time during the busy season for the woodworking he enjoys and for biking. Joanna took more time for the writing that is for her almost as necessary as breathing. We continue to observe Sabbath one day each week, to take Sabbath walks in the woods and fields, to step back from our concerns and work. We begin each day with prayer and we rely on the prayers of others for the strength and wisdom to continue being present in this place. For us these are givens, the breathing in and out of our days.
Reflections on living at St. Francis Farm by Melinda Kurowski
I live in the local area and have been visiting the farm for three years now. During a time of discernment last summer I felt called to spend some time living at the farm. At the time, I was unsure of the reason of the call, but felt it strongly nonetheless. The more time that I spent with the Hoyts, the more I realized that I had much to learn about sustainable living and that I had a strong desire to do so. I could also see the need for help as the farm is big and the summer is very busy. It soon became apparent that my time at the farm was meant to be a time of learning and a time of helping.
With that in mind, I moved in at the very end of August. I worked with Joanna in the garden picking vegetables, weeding, turning compost, and eventually cover-cropping and helping to plant garlic. I canned tomatoes with Lorraine, and she taught me how to make soft cheese and how to cook with what was available. Zachary showed me how to do some of the re-roofing of the farmhouse. There are many jobs at the farm that can only be done by someone who has lived there for awhile. However, there are many other tasks that need to be accomplished that are sometimes hard to get to. I was able to help with some of those tasks such as washing the garden pots that need to be ready for planting in the spring. I helped with cleaning and painted the garbage bins and the side of the woodshed. Joanna taught me to milk the goats. Eventually I was able to milk them both on my own and take over morning milking on Fridays and Saturdays.
I could take up much of this page listing all the little things that I did, but I think that what I did and what I learned is much more than a mere list. I have thought for a long time that there are different levels of “knowing.” You can read about something in a book and “know” about it. You can talk to someone about what they do and then “know” that. But there is a distance in that type of knowledge. As I was a visitor to the farm, I knew about what the Hoyts did, but I didn’t participate in it fully every single day. During my time at the farm, one could argue that I never quite got to that level anyway. I can never be the Hoyts, but I could experience more directly the life that they have chosen to live. Having lived it, I have a more personal connection now to sustainable living than if I had only ever talked to them about it.
In the garden, turning compost into a garlic bed, there was a moment when I was filled with the thought that what I was doing made sense. It made sense to me in a very real and profound way that I had not experienced before about any task. After spending time in the garden and seeing how my actions directly impacted my life, I felt connected to my work. It was a wonderful feeling and a wonderful realization. That is how it is about many aspects of life at the farm. Everything I did impacted my life in a very concrete way. I think that is quite a rarity in popular culture today. People aren’t as connected to the earth, themselves, others, or their God as they could be.
I have wanted to simplify my life for some time now. I find it easy to get stuck in a rut and to never actually get going. The desire is there, but I don’t act on it. I did act on this desire by staying at the farm. I see now that there are many things that I can eliminate from my life and be perfectly happy. For example, I don’t need a television or a clothes dryer to be a happy person. It gets me thinking about what other things I don’t necessarily need to be happy.
I also learned about myself. I never thought that my time at the farm would involve soul searching. Well, I shouldn’t say that. I mean that I never expected to do it with such intensity and to be stretched so much. What I do know is that I am a different person now because of my experience. I see the world, other people, and myself in a new way. I can’t go back to living as I did before with my new knowledge. Little by little I want to grow more towards living as I did at the farm. I am very grateful to the Hoyts for letting me come and share in the richness that is sustainable living.
A Reflection on Answering a Phone Call by Mike Resig
Recall if you would (or read it now for the first time) Chapter 3 of the First Book of Samuel. God calls to Samuel, who is sleeping by the tabernacle. Eli is sleeping in his room nearby. Eli has, for a lifetime, been a priest of the tabernacle and Samuel is in training to move into Eli’s job. Samuel thinks Eli is calling him and Eli thinks Samuel is dreaming. If I were in Eli’s place my first thought would have been that Samuel was spaced out from all the incense that had been burned in the sanctuary since long before recent memory (more on this later). Eli says go back to sleep and let an old man sleep too. Well, this scene repeats for some time, repeated, I’m told, to impress on the reader’s dim perception that Eli’s and Samuel’s abilities to perceive what is happening have grown a bit slack; Eli who has spent his life as a priest of the temple specifically waiting and listening for God to speak to the people of Israel does not recognize it for what it is and Samuel who is being prepared for the same life of waiting and listening is not yet capable of recognizing the voice. The author tells us plainly at the outset that “…it was rare for Yahweh to speak in those days; [and] visions were uncommon” and “…Eli’s eyes were beginning to grow dim; he could no longer see”. This is literature of high order so we should understand God’s silence of late and Eli’s lack of vision both literally and figuratively. So, maybe this was the last thing either of them was expecting, after all, doesn’t the mind naturally grow dull and slack in the face of persistent tedium and boredom and commonplace routine?But, hey, this was their job, vocation, avocation, their calling; their duty as members of a priestly family of the tribe of Israel! This was what they had spent their lives waiting for. Finally, a message from the Lord of the Universe, and they were so, so slow in recognizing it. Eventually Eli did grasp the situation and his response was simple and puzzling; “…go and lie down, and if someone calls say ‘Speak, Yahweh, your servant is listening”. As if to say: “Oh! It’s God calling! OK. Here’s what you do Sam!” Eli’s job is done. Lifetimes and generations spent waiting to hear God speak and he just went back to bed! He didn’t even bother to stay up to listen to the message! His response might be intended to help us understand the rest of the story that follows, a harsh and sad story but all a part of the fabric of the story of the chosen people. The rest of that story is, however, not applicable to the subject at hand so we will leave Eli and his protege to history and further independent study.
I and my wife Martha have also, in past months, received a few calls from sources which at first glance would appear disassociated and not of celestial origins. They arrived by ordinary electro-mechanical and electronic means. One came by old fashioned telephone (not by cellular phone). Two came by the increasingly ubiquitous e-mail the second of which requested the penning of this article (I almost wrote “epic tome”) which is not being “penned” but pounded out on a keyboard. But, I digress! I think most would agree that any ordinary message from the Master of the Universe, the Lord of Hosts, El-Shaddai, Yahweh Sabaoth, the Supreme Being hopefully would come by more spine tingling and awe inspiring means than the mundane offerings of current technology. We just have to take what we can get.
The first of the two e-mails came from Tom McNamara asking if Martha would consent to be a reader at the Liturgy where he and two other Franciscan Brothers would take their solemn vows in the Capuchin Order. A copy of the reading was, of course, included as an attachment. (You are now encouraged to guess which reading was attached). His request was an honor and privilege beyond telling, but both of us realized immediately that the liturgy would probably be formal and incense would be used in the requisite fog of billowing clouds. I, for one, like incense and appreciate the atmosphere it is intended to produce in our rituals and enjoy its mildly mind altering qualities, particularly frankincense when used in large enough quantities. To Martha, on the other hand, it is a toxin of remarkable potency to which she is highly allergic and of which she can not tolerate the slightest exposure. We accepted Tom’s request with the caveat that Martha might not be able to read if incense were used. Tom was kind and gracious enough to say he would see if it were possible to have no incense used, but we declined his offer so as not to cause unnecessary consternation among the prelates and planners of the forthcoming liturgy. Martha prepared the reading, hoping against hope, and I, in anticipation of the probable, prepared the reading also. To shorten an already long story: incense was used, Martha could not remain in the church and I read in her place. It was the first book of Samuel Chapter 3 verses 1 through 9 in case you haven’t figured that out yet. It was a nice reading from a long time ago when God, albeit infrequently, actually spoke to us humans. Its message was moving, inspiring and applicable to the day’s activities. And that, I thought, was that! Now, like Eli my job was done! Then the homilist took over. A long sermon followed, likewise moving and inspiring, on the meaning of the readings, the connections between them and the three candidates for vows, what is it like to be called by God to a “calling”, whether we would hear and understand the call when it came, and how long must we wait for it to be realized and put to use. Many, he said, would wait a lifetime and for some it would never come to pass. Now, here, to borrow from a bard far greater than I, is the rub. About half way through the sermon the homilist, when speaking to a particular point which I no longer precisely recall, began to make repeated, intentional, and prolonged eye contact with me, not just with the congregation at large as a good speaker would. I remember clearly feeling he knew more than I and was speaking directly to me as if to say “Pay attention. This is for you. Don’t let this get past you. Take it to heart.” I did! I was being prepared for the next call. It came a few weeks later from Zach Hoyt by telephone. He, Joanna and Lorraine were asking me to consider being a member of the farm’s board of directors.
I must interject at this point that I am aware of and recognize my calling in life. At least I like to imagine I am. I tend, however, to overlook and resist specific calls to action within the overall calling and frequently need a considerable bit of prodding and cajoling to recognize and respond appropriately to them.
Martha took the call from Zach as I was busy at a task I could not leave at the moment. When I returned his call and made my first off-the-cuff response to his inquiry he laughed and said I responded exactly as Martha had said I probably would. Paraphrased, it went something like this: I was pleased and honored to be considered worthy of such responsibility but I was not comfortable with nor did I feel competent to sit on a corporate board, perform bureaucratic functions, make decisions, argue points of order or be responsible for any one’s well being other than mine and my family’s. I would be (and have indeed been) much more willing and capable of and more comfortable doing manual labor: cutting fire wood, building construction and repairs, answering questions, solving design problems and the like. Zach said Lorraine asked that I at least think about it before I gave a definitive no. I agreed. For a few weeks I pondered the pros and cons, rewards and pitfalls, obligations and responsibilities. One Saturday after a morning of cutting firewood with Zach we four talked things over at lunch and then for the rest of the afternoon. Interestingly, everything we discussed relative to being a member of the board was exactly and precisely the same things we would have talked about after lunch on any other Saturday after cutting fire wood in the morning: local social and political problems and solutions, theological and philosophical debates, questions and explanations on religious practice and ritual, political and environmental concerns, structural problems in buildings, forestry and woodlot management, gardening, livestock and wildlife husbandry, with the addition of the obligations, duties, responsibilities and risks of being a director on the board. I left no question unasked, no fear unaddressed and no personal preference toward the types of work I would be willing and not willing to do unmentioned. I intended that they understand exactly where I was coming from even though they already were fairly familiar with my philosophy, faith, politics and propensities toward cynicism and sarcasm. I even expressed the following which was not easy: I admire the Hoyts’ personal commitment, courage and faith in what they are doing and the life styles they have chosen. As much as I am willing to help and work with them as time permits and enjoy being on the periphery of their lives, I have a certain fear and uneasiness about committing myself full time to such a life. As things stood then when the work was done at the end of the day I could go home to my safe, comfortable, recognizable and secure way of life. Accepting an appointment to the board would, to my way of seeing things, remove the possibility of such a retreat as an option. Then Lorraine observed that I was and had been doing nearly all the things expected of a director with the exception of being formally listed as a member of the board and participating in the necessary meetings – a rather salient and inarguable point. She has a knack for making those kinds of points. I would give the matter a few more weeks of thought and discussion with Martha. We decided this is what I should be doing. So here I am. Speak Lord, your servant is listening.
Back to the Root by Joanna
We are heading into the slow time again. The vegetable harvest is over, and it is time for me to step back and consider the purpose of the garden and the health of the soil. The flow of summer visitors is over, and it is time for us to step back and consider how we welcome people. I miss the straightforward summer work. I value having more time for other work in the community, and for attentive consideration to the root of all our work.
The group that first came together with a concern about Scotch Grove early this year has continued to meet monthly as the Community Service Task Force (CSTF). At our November gathering we met the new owners of the Scotch Grove complex. They plan to do a major overhaul of the buildings so that all the apartments are clean, safe and insulated. They are thinking about creating a green space or playground for the children, having a welcoming space available for community gatherings, and changing the name of the complex to reflect a new start. They plan to keep some apartments simple and low-cost and add more amenities to others to attract tenants from different income levels. It isn’t clear yet how much the rent will need to rise to cover the repair costs, or how many of the current tenants will be able to afford the improved apartments. The CSTF is talking with the local branch of Habitat for Humanity, looking at the possibility of acquiring land and building Habitat homes in Pulaski. These steps may lead to more decent affordable housing in the area and perhaps to a better sense of community. They do not address the fundamental issues that leave basic needs unmet.
The CSTF has begun talking about the drug problem in the local community. At SFF we try to listen and respond appropriately to young people who are being pressured to use drugs by their schoolmates, or who have parents who use or deal. People from the school and the health center deal with these situations more frequently, and they also grope for an adequate response. Suggestions include educating young people about the dangers of drugs, having parents drug-test them, teaching caring adults how to recognize signs of substance abuse, and providing counseling for those who are addicted. It is hard to find funding for these programs. I wonder what could be done to address the roots of the problem. Some people associate drug use with poverty and desperation, but at the farm we have encountered economically privileged young people who are deeply enmeshed in the drug culture. They tell us ‘it’s cool’ or ‘it’s just what people do’ or ‘there’s nothing else interesting going on’. It seems to me that they suffer from a poverty of meaningful work, of deep and caring community, of purpose. Lacking this, they are vulnerable to anyone who promises them distraction, excitement, adventure, acceptance. And our economy is driven by advertisers who promise that these things can be purchased along with whatever legal or illegal product they are selling.
Our mission at the 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. This requires us to be clear about the damage done to workers who sell their time to corporations that ill-use them and to consumers who try to buy love and worthiness and joy and end up with mounting debts and a lot of junk. It also requires us to offer another basis for living. Sometimes we can speak of a life based on the encounter with the Living God and the attempt to live in faithfulness to the promptings of the Spirit. In other relationships religious language would be off-putting or inappropriate. Then we must let our lives speak as we work for wholeness. There is a great deal of fragmentation in this culture. Old and young people, Christians and Muslims, rich and poor people, often do not know or trust one another. Eating is far removed (geographically and in the awareness of most people) from growing food. Work and worship are put in separate compartments. We offer an alternative space in which very different people can come together to work, to pray, to seek healing and understanding, to reconnect with the land and with the Spirit. The work of bridging the gaps between ourselves and those whom we resent, fear or disparage is painful. The work of facing and resolving the contradictions in our own lives may be harder still. It doesn’t offer a quick fix or a comprehensive solution. But we do not undertake this work alone; when we open ourselves, the Spirit works through us to gather the Beloved Community, the Kingdom of God.
A Tricycle and Wood by Zachary
My cargo tricycle, which I wrote about in the last newsletter, finally arrived a week before the time of this writing. I have constructed a flatbed body for it, and taken it for two trips thus far, the first to the dump with a load of trash and then into town with the chain saw to cut up a fallen tree, and the second into Pulaski again two days later, this time to pick up a couch and three chairs to deliver to a house in Richland. The tree was in the yard of a lady who wanted it taken away, and Unity Acres is going to go and get the wood for their new boiler. The tricycle is somewhat slower than a bicycle because of its greater weight and resistance, but it is certainly much easier and faster and safer than my old bicycle and trailer combination. Our plan is to use it to replace the truck, which is getting quite old and needs more work than we see fit to put into it. I will also use it when I am going to craft shows and the farmer’s market. I do not yet know how it will behave in the snow, but I am sure I will not have to wait long to find out, and I expect to be able to use it on nice days when the snow on the road melts anyway. I have already had a lot of comment on it ranging from those interested in getting one themselves to those who offer me sympathy for my plight. I am hoping that my use of a tricycle may cause other people in this area to consider alternative means of transport for themselves. I am of the opinion that going from place to place with the great rapidity which cars enable is certainly a convenient thing, but that slower means of locomotion have many advantages also. They enable me to come to know better the area in which I live and allow greater contact with the people whom I encounter on my way because I am not shut up in a little fast-moving box. I believe that in going too quickly from one place to another I often miss most of the things in between.
This fall I have also begun to take logs from dead and/or fallen trees on the farm over to the sawmill in Richland to be sawn into lumber. I have only taken two loads so far, one of hemlock and one of hickory, but I am hoping to do more, or possibly to have someone come with a portable mill and saw some logs here that are too big to move easily ourselves. I am not entirely sure what we will do with the lumber, but we always have projects looming on the horizon and I am sure it will be very handy for something. There are over 100 wooded acres on the farm, so there is apt to be a fairly ongoing supply of blowdowns and such, both for firewood and for lumber. The firewood for the 06-07 heating season is all in, and I am planning to spend a day at Unity Acres cutting firewood for their new boiler, after which I will not need to cut any more until the spring. The new addition on the woodshed has been very helpful and has increased our storage capacity by three cords or so. It may also provide a good storage space for the tricycle in the front part by the door. We had a lot of help in filling our remaining wood storage spaces this fall from Mike Resig and also from a Saturday group led by Sister Mary Lou Seitz from Notre Dame High School in Elmira.
Why a Simpler Christmas?
A simpler Christmas leads to freedom. A consumer Christmas leads to stress and debt. Simplicity leads to generosity.
It builds relationships. We are told thousands of times every day by commercial advertising that we will find meaning and happiness through stuff. Voluntary Simplicity says we will find happiness and meaning in life through relationships – within ourselves, with others, with the Earth and with God.
It leads to a whole life of simplicity. Celebrating is one part of a total life of integrity. Only we can choose to simplify our own lives.
It promotes justice. By using only our fair share of Earth’s resources, we leave some for others around the globe and for future generations. “Live Simply that Others May Simply Live.”
It cares for creation. A simple life is an Earth-friendly life.
Our reading while Joanna and Zachary were growing up is part of what led us to this life at the farm. Alternatives was a source of books and Advent/Christmas calendars for years. Recently we’ve been reminded of this resource when folks have come to us looking for ways to simplify their Christmas celebrations. We copied the above material from their website. Contact information: Alternatives for Simple Living, 109 Gaul Drive, P.O. Box 340, Sergeant Bluff, Iowa 51054, 712-943-6153/ 800-821-6153, Alternatives@SimpleLiving.org, www.simpleliving.org
Thanks and Wishes
Once again our needs don’t present themselves neatly in a list. If we had programs that stayed the same, we could tell you what we need to carry them out. But being present to needs as they arise makes the needs harder to predict. We are thankful for the response we’ve had to requests for art supplies, warm winter clothes for kids, tools, etc. We’ve also been grateful for gifts that we wouldn’t have thought to request and for people who’ve responded generously when needs arose, picking us up at the garage when the brakes failed on the Thruway and we got towed to Baldwinsville or exchanging printer cartridges at Staples or bringing us old newspapers to line garden paths and grocery bags for the vegetables we give away.
This is the time of year when we stop to look at our priorities. Hearing how you became connected to the farm and what parts of our work are or have been meaningful to you is helpful as we discern the way forward. We are still seeking clarity about hosting retreat/service-learning groups, given the gap between the life here and the popular culture’s expectations. We would appreciate hearing from people who have participated in group events at St. Francis Farm, and people who are connected with groups which might be interested in manual labor, time for prayer and discernment, and the experience of an alternative lifestyle.
Your gifts of time, labor and money sustain this work and this place. As the number of paying groups decreases we have more need of these forms of assistance. And your prayers sustain us when we are tired and discouraged. Thank you for supporting us through another year.