Personalism by Lorraine
Our first summer at the farm, we introduced visiting groups to the Catholic Worker principles, and the one I felt least clear about was personalism. I knew that we tried to respond to individuals and their needs personally instead of bureaucratically, but I felt there was more substance to simplicity and manual labor and non-violence. Since then I’ve read about the roots of personalism, how Peter Maurin brought Emmanuel Mounier’s philosophy from France and how basic it was to the foundations of the early Catholic Worker movement. Personalism was a response to the dehumanizing aspects of communism and capitalism, a recognition that all people are made in the image of God and a refusal to see them or treat them as objects to be used or dismissed. This understanding, however articulated, is the basis for all our work and is fundamentally different from prevailing attitudes in health care, education and economic systems.
Many of the people we encounter don’t have access to basic health care and those who do find it often confusing and alienating. We encounter elders who are on too many medications, prescribed by different doctors without sufficient thought for the whole person and the interaction of the drugs. Children who visit sometimes can’t eat because of aching teeth. They either have no dental coverage, and therefore no care, or their insurance is only accepted by a dentist too far away for them to reach with unreliable transportation. Insurance policies ask us to choose primary care physicians, and then the local health center assigns us one whom we are told we won’t actually ever see. I was recently required to fill out a questionnaire by my health insurance provider ostensibly so they could better “manage” my health care. One question asked what prevented me from making “healthier” choices, but the multiple choice answers didn’t include the alienation I feel at having no health care professional who knows me and has time and interest to hear my questions and concerns.The program then electronically congratulated me for healthy choices relating to diet and exercise, informed me that I was “at risk” because of my age and gender and because I was not being routinely tested for a wide range of problems
Testing seems to be the preferred management tool of the education system as well. We started tutoring area children in 2001 at the request of Sr. Sharon of Rural & Migrant Ministry, and since then we’ve worked with students from second grade through junior high. Some of the children have been tested and diagnosed and received special education services; others havenot. Most were lacking basic ability to read the instructions on their homework and some of their textbooks. They also lacked basic understanding of numbers foundational to the work they were required to do. Even the ones receiving “special” help do not get the one on one attention they need. Some are disruptive and labeled as “at risk” while others learn to get by and guess well enough to cover their lack of understanding which only grows from year to year. The result is that they feel like failures, describe themselves as stupid, or else flare defensively when they make any error, blaming it on anything or anyone else. Given the students’ desperate attempts to come up with a “right” answer and the school’s need to achieve acceptable scores on the tests, there is little opening for actual learning. We know people who work at the school as caring and responsible, but the children we encounter are systematically discouraged and labeled as failures if they don’t make progress in any of the available programs.
All around us we see the dollar used as the measure of worth; whatever isn’t marketable is dismissed as worthless. People often don’t seem to know how to categorize us because we live here and work and have no income and no titles—are we bums or saints or misguided idealists or opportunists? Working with a consulting forester to do a timber sale at the farm gives an interesting illustration of the follies of the economic system. One forester told us that the amount of wood we use for firewood each year was unsustainable given our forest. That puzzled us until we realized that he was only counting the trees large enough to be “marketable” as firewood in the areas of the woods deemed valuable enough to be managed for timber harvest. From that perspective the huge maple that crushed our van in 2005, the dying trees in the hedgerows between the fields, the blowdowns along the woods road to Unity Acres, the misshapen logs left by a neighbor who landed logs on farm land, all become invisible. We also realized after the trees had been marked for harvest and the value calculated that the market value of the hemlock logs was negligible, but that we needed boards to build a small barn and the cost of the boards at the lumber yard would be substantial. So the loggers will cut those trees and we will saw them into boards on the farm to use here.
Measurements may be intended to increase accountability or improve management, but they often distort reality. Medical care doesn’t promote health when it breaks people down into body parts or sees them as statistics to be dealt with by specialists and loses sight of the whole person. The narrow focus on testing in education obscures the errors that are opportunities for learning and overlooks abilities that aren’t readily quantifiable. Equating the worth of a forest or a person with the market value distorts the reality and ignores true value. I remind myself and invite you to look again at the alternative way of personalism. “If I treat [a person] as a subject, as a presence—which is to recognize that I am unable to define or classify him, that he is inexhaustible, filled with hope upon which alone he can act—this is to give him credit. To despair of anyone is to make him desperate: whereas the credit that generosity extends regenerates his own confidence…” (Emmanuel Mounier, quoted by Mark and Louise Zwick in The Catholic Worker Movement: Intellectual and Spiritual Origins)
Recent efforts by Zachary
We had a rather unusual winter this year. We did not have cold or snow to speak of till mid-January, and then in early February we had about ten feet of snow in a two week period. We spent most of our time during that period shoveling roofs and plowing snow. We do not have much room left in the parking area anymore, as the snowbanks have been moving in, but we are not supposed to have much new snow for a while now. We shoveled three trailer roofs, the farmhouse and most of the outbuildings. The pole barn roof had between five and six feet of snow packed on to it on the downwind side of the peak by the time we got to it. It took all day for Joanna and me to do that one building. The snow came most of the way up some of the downstairs windows for a while, but now it has packed down somewhat. The goats are not able to get out into their yard very much, as the snow from the roof has impinged upon their usual haunts. The snowbank there is eight or nine feet high in many places. One of the rental trailers had a water line freeze one evening during that time, but it took less than an hour to fix it. The trailer on the hill has a very long driveway, and we ended up plowing part of it for them sometimes when they were not able to get it done.
Also this winter I have been building some children’s furniture for the Interfaith Works Center for New Americans’ waiting room in Syracuse (scroll down for more information). They had an earmarked donation to buy furniture, and their director asked us if we would make it for them. We were able to buy cherry and maple lumber from a local business for benches, tables and an easel, and wide pine boards to make bookcases. At the time of this writing the furniture has all been assembled and is awaiting a final sanding followed by finishing. I hope to deliver the furniture around the beginning of March. I have enjoyed making the furniture, and it was very good that the work was commissioned in the winter when I had time for it.
We have finally signed off on a timber sale. Our consulting forester brought the contract earlier this month. The actual cutting will occur at some time in the next two years. This sale is not very lucrative, but it will improve the woods for the future. Some areas are overcrowded, which results in poor growth, and others are deficient in small trees and saplings. The loggers will be following the DEC’s Best Management Practices, and will be under the periodic supervision of the consulting forester, who will make sure they do things right. The loggers will bring us out four ten-wheeler loads of the marked firewood trees, and we will also have access to the wood they leave behind from tops and crooked logs on the landings and marked cull trees which they will cut but are not worth their time to take away. The loggers will also be bringing us out a number of hemlock logs from a lot on the far side of Trout Brook. We are planning to either hire someone to come with a portable sawmill or preferably to get one of our own. It may be possible to buy a used bandsaw mill for about what it would cost us to get someone else to process the logs we will want sawn. At the time of the last newsletter I wrote that we had taken some logs over to a nearby mill and had them cut there. Rumor has it that the man who owns that mill has sold the property to the Amish and is retiring, so we need to find some other way of getting our logs sawn. It is possible that we will be able to sell enough hardwood lumber over time to pay for a mill. I am looking for advice about mills, both in general about how to determine the condition of a used one, and specifically if anyone knows of a mill for sale in the area. Our intention is to use the hemlock lumber to erect a small barn just to the east of the farmhouse in which we could store the hay, the tractor, and some other things which are currently stored in the pole barn. The pole barn offers very little protection from blowing snow and rain, and is therefore not ideal for things which need to be kept dry. We hope to put in the foundation for this building sometime this summer, but we may not be able to proceed beyond that point for a while, depending on when the trees are brought out to us.
What St. Francis Farm Means to Me by Becky Kennedy
I remember the first time I met Joanna from St. Francis Farm. My three granddaughters were living with me, the girls were aged 2, 7 and 8. I was overwhelmed by the responsibility of their care and found there were not enough hours in the day to do everything that needed to be done. Joanna would come to our house and watch the girls while I went to appointments and meetings. Joanna always brought interesting games and things for the girls to do. They looked forward to her visits and I looked forward to having a few hours to rest and restore my spirit.
Later I met Lorraine and Zach through the After School Program that was run by the Rural and Migrant Ministry in Richland. My two older granddaughters received much needed help with their homework and socialization skills. When I asked the girls what they remember about the After School Program they said the neat board games, especially the game where they got to be different persons from different historical periods. At the end of the school year we had a get together at St. Francis Farm. Joanna gave us a tour of the fields and pointed out & named the wildflowers and plants that grow here in our area. It was amazing to hear her knowledge of our local plants and their uses.
Another way St. Francis Farm helped me was when college student volunteers repaired my house. My house is 125 years old and while it is charming and I love it, it sure has lots of needed repairs and things that need to be done. I am retired and live on a limited income so when the volunteers from St. Francis Farm painted woodwork, painted porches and did general fix up things, it was heaven sent help. Several high school students helped with much needed roof repairs. Zach led a group of volunteers that tore down my old garage. The garage roof had caved in during a bad snow storm and the building was unsafe and an eyesore. Zach and the volunteers were able to tear the building down in a couple of days. St. Francis Farm was able to use some of the wood and materials from the garage and I got rid of a real eyesore, it worked out good for both of us.
Lorraine has so much patience and understanding of the difficulties some families face. She is a great listener when a helpful shoulder is needed. We had a lot of discussions about how to have a Christmas season without the emphasis on consumerism. I was able to move away from feeling that I had to buy so many things for everyone. The girls and I made Christmas gifts and had a great time doing the crafts. Lorraine has been a real source of inspiration for me.
What does St. Francis Farm mean to me? It is a little gem right here in Oswego County, tucked away up past Richland on Wart Road. Lorraine, Zach and Joanna are an example of three people living a simple but meaningful life and of three people that have made my and my granddaughters’ lives better.
Center for New Americans
We enjoy our developing relationship with the refugee resettlement program in Syracuse run by InterFaith Works, formerly the Inter Religious Council. On February 26th we delivered the furniture and met some of the staff at their Center for New Americans. This winter we were able to send handmade warm winter gear donated by the Needlers to the Interfaith Works Center for New Americans along with puppets made by Toni Hall, who has now started making puppets specifically for their program. We first met Hope Wallis last spring and she has visited the farm (where she lived for 5 years in the 1980’s) several times and has brought refugees to visit. We look forward to more visits in the coming green time.
Hope Wallis, Program Director
The mission of the Center for New Americans is four-fold. We:
Assist refugees in beginning new lives in America
Work as a resource and cultural center for the Southeast Asian population in our community
Assist our communities in being a place of welcome for refugees and immigrants
Help refugees and immigrants in developing their own self-help skills, projects, and associations
What is the “essence” of our work?
The Center for New Americans is a safe and welcoming place for refugee and legal immigrant individuals and families whom we embrace as our neighbors and help establish new lives in our community. Our caseworkers assist clients with a variety of needs such as arranging for housing, utilities, furnishings, and food; enrolling adults in English learning classes and children in school; ensuring that necessary medical care is received; finding employment; and providing help understanding U.S. culture. Beyond this aspect of the resettlement process, we assist groups in developing their own self-help associations and in the fulfillment of projects of their choosing. In 2005, we worked with four communities in this capacity: Vietnamese, Somali Bantu, Sudanese, and Bosnian.
Who do we serve?
The Center serves refugees and legal immigrants and those who work with and come in contact with them. A refugee is someone who has proved to both the United Nations (UN) and the United States Department of Homeland Security that they have experienced life threatening or nearly life threatening persecution in their home country or face a credible fear of experiencing such persecution if they return to their home country because of their national origin, religion, ethnicity, political opinions, or membership in particular social groups. An immigrant is someone who is not a US citizen or national, but has been admitted legally to the United States for longer than a temporary stay. The countries from which we are currently receiving refugees are: Sudan, Somalia, Liberia, Burma, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Columbia, Congo D.R., Burundi, and Ethiopia.
Who Is My Neighbor? by Joanna
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’, and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.”
“You have answered correctly.” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:25-29, NIV)
This summer I have been invited to speak at an annual nationwide gathering of Quakers. The theme of the gathering is “Who is my neighbor?’, a question that is basic to our work at St. Francis Farm. We are not helping professionals who offer our expertise to clients, we are people who try to be present to our neighbors. Neighborliness means understanding the other person as a center, a bearer of God, rather than thinking primarily of his effect on us. Whatever we cling to or whatever we fear becomes an obstacle between our neighbors and ourselves. When we think they will offer what we covet, or that they will take it away from us, we are blinded and treat our neighbors as objects.
When we cling to possessions, status or ‘security’, we cut ourselves off from our neighbors who have less. It is hard to keep buying the things we want if we personally know some of the people who are harmed and exploited in making those things. It is hard to defend our consumption as basic and necessary when we know people who live with much less. I still struggle with this. Part of what brought me to St. Francis Farm was my attempt to respond faithfully to the charge in Leviticus 19:16b, which the NRSV renders “You shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor.” It was clear to me that my way of life was based on buying things made or grown by people who worked in conditions that were degrading and sometimes dangerous. I realized that I was called to live more simply, do more of my own basic work for myself instead of requiring others to do it for me, and be present to the people who are usually invisible to comfortable members of this society. And I came to St. Francis Farm, and lived and talked and ate and sang with people who had been injured growing the food we bought. Now when I buy food I can’t help wondering who was hurt in growing it. It would be easier not to know. But then I would have missed the friendship and the stories of Miguel and Diego and Agustin.
Being good neighbors requires us to be aware of our limitations. It may be easy to spend a week in a new place repairing housing or working with children, to work hard and enjoy the gratitude of the people we have helped, and then to go home feeling generous, powerful and good. But living with people day after day, week after week, month after month is another matter. It becomes clear that we can’t simply fix their problems. The family with the leaking roof don’t really have a sturdy house on which to put a new roof, or the resources to move to a safer place. The children struggle with difficult memories, schoolwork that they haven’t understood for years now, mixed messages about what it means to grow up. Our neighbors don’t always choose what we think is best for them. Our choices don’t always make sense to them either. They see us when we’re tired and frustrated, when we make poor choices, when we have to say no, when we need their help or forbearance. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be much to feel good about at the end of the day. Then we can choose to pull away and start a new program in a new place where we can feel good again, or we can settle down to the hard work of knowing and being known. To do this we have to remind ourselves over and over that the other person is beyond our understanding and our control, that their wounds and their gifts are greater than we can imagine, and that all we can do is to be present to them. This is hard work, but it is the only way I know of building community.
Perhaps the thing that most hinders me in being a good neighbor is the fear of being alone. I want friendship, approval, closeness. I want the other person to think well of me. I don’t want to confront them or let them see my weaknesses. But if I refuse to do these things I am basing my relationships on a lie. And my false self cannot enter into real relationship with my neighbor, or with God.
It is hard to let go of our defenses. But the truth is that these defenses are illusory. When we seek military security, we end up endangering ourselves and the rest of the world by creating enemies and amassing ever more powerful weapons. When we seek economic security we buy into a system that ruins the natural resources which sustain all our lives. When we cling to our certainties and will not listen to dissenting voices we become increasingly isolated and fearful. When we cling to other people our neediness often pushes them away. When we avoid speaking uncomfortable truths in order to preserve fellowship, we feed resentments and confusions that make it less and less possible for us to live as members of one body. We are not capable of holding onto anything that will make us truly safe. The only true promise I know is that the Spirit is real and enduring, and in it we are all one. When we let down our defenses and open ourselves to our neighbor and to the Spirit, we enter into the eternal Life.
To be convinced of the sanctity of the world, and to be mindful of a human vocation to responsible membership in such a world, must always have been a burden. But it is a burden that falls with weight on us humans of the industrial age who have been…the humans most guilty of desecrating the world and of destroying creation….
If we take the Gospels seriously we are left…facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as not to be estranged from God’s presence in His work and in all His creatures? The answer, we may say, is given in Jesus’ teaching about love. But that answer raises another question that plunges us into the abyss of our ignorance, which is both human and particularly modern: How are we to make of that love an economic practice?–Wendell Berry, The Way of Ignorance
Community Service Task Force Update
Repairs and renovations are under way at the apartment complex which was Scotch Grove and is now Rose May Manor. The new landlord has kept coming to the meetings of the Community Service Task Force (CSTF) to tell us about the progress he’s making and to voice concerns about the cost of the work and the difficulty of keeping some units affordable for low-income people, given the inadequacy of housing assistance programs.
At our last meeting we agreed that conditions at the complex are no longer our first concern. We took time to look at the larger picture and talked about the root issues that don’t seem to be addressed by existing programs—poverty, transience, discouragement, lack of understanding between classes, lack of constructive channels for the energy of young people. We had to acknowledge that we don’t know what to do about many of these issues. We agreed to keep meeting. There is a value in gathering people who have been working on some of the same problems from different perspectives, giving them a chance to know one another and to share ideas, resources and concerns. We will be involved in some new projects. One is a youth center to be opened in a building which the village is in the process of acquiring. The hope is that young people will take some of the responsibility for getting the space ready and deciding how it will be used, and that in the course of working and playing together there they may build relationships with adults in whom they can confide. The other is a project called Bridges out of Poverty which attempts to build understanding and positive relationships between people of different classes and to foster understanding of the systemic causes of poverty.
Deacon David Sweenie is planning to bring a group of migrant workers here for the Spanish Apostolate’s Lent retreat from March 9-11. We have a new summer group scheduled. St. Mary’s Youth Group from Hagerstown, MD will be with us from 6/23 to 6/29. We don’t have any spring break groups scheduled, and we could especially use help with fencing, gardening and other spring chores during April and May.
Zachary is taking a Training for Facilitators workshop so that he can help lead Alternatives to Violence workshops in prison and elsewhere.
We’ve been enjoying fresh greens from the sunroom/greenhouse all winter, despite some problems with insect pests. It appears that we will not have goat kids this spring, and we’re overwhelmed with goat milk; we have been taking soft cheese to the North Country Christian Church’s soup kitchen, and we’re getting better at making hard cheeses. Our last attempt at growing shiitake mushrooms was a failure, but we are trying again with more information and mushroom spawn from a different company; we’ll also be trying oyster mushrooms and stropharia, which are native to this area.
Thanks to the people who give us good things to share! Families working on simpler Christmas celebrations appreciated the craft materials and needlepoint kits which we were able to pass on. Your gifts of money, volunteer help and prayers make our work and presence possible.
We’ve just updated the St. Francis Farm website. There are some important changes on the groups page, and we’ve added a page for those interested in visiting and volunteering. As we look ahead to busy season we hope to find people to help us plant, pick, weed, can and build. The snow is deep now, but soon the weather will be more welcoming for visitors to come and walk on the trails or sit by the pond.
Just after our March newsletter was mailed out, Deacon David Sweenie came with a group of fifteen for the Spanish Apostolate Lenten retreat. Not having received the article he was writing about his work and its connection with the farm, I decided to tell some about it from our viewpoint. Hosting the two retreats each year and providing hospitality as needed to migrant workers is written into our mission statement and has been part of our work since we came in 2001. We are nourished by this connection and it is not always clear who is hosting and who is being served. We are on the periphery of the retreats which are led by Deacon Sweenie in Spanish. Meals on these weekends are prepared sometimes by the retreatants and sometimes by us. I always bake bread for Friday supper and have recently been putting out soft goat cheese and pesto when they have pasta and sauce. They cook up extravagant breakfasts of rice and beans and eggs and fruit. There is often a pause after the blessing before meals when the farm family and the retreatants are urging each other (in mixed Spanish and English) to go first. We enjoy their music and a chance to try out our Spanish. They enjoy the goats’ milk and a chance to try out their English. This year a family came on the retreat–father, mother and adult son. They sat with our family at meals and we communicated by smiles and gestures when our limited vocabularies failed. At the end of the weekend our guests left the remnants from the feasts they’d prepared and took garlic and onions stored from our last year’s garden and fresh cheese. It is especially satisfying to feed those who grow the food for this land with food that we have grown here at the farm, but it would be hard to say who is the benefactor and who the beneficiary.
For a number of years the groups that each spent a week at the farm provided the income and the labor that kept the farm running, but we now have fewer groups of students coming. Groups were scheduled for spring break weeks in March and April but didn’t come. One group was cancelled because the campus minister was not interested in having students “experience an alternative to the consumer culture” and wanted them to have “more contact with the poor”. The other was cancelled because the campus minister, who thought this would be a wonderful trip for his students, was not able to interest enough students in coming. We have stopped suggesting a set donation per person for a week’s stay partly not to deter the less affluent from coming and partly not to foster the assumption that service and learning are something to be bought and consumed. We were uncomfortable when we were told that students at one school assume that the most expensive trips were the most valuable. Service groups are sometimes uncomfortable with voluntary poverty and the lack of clear definition about who is giving and who receiving. We continue to invite others to come and share this life with us but we don’t package it up and sell it.
People still come. Sr. Louise came for a visit and finally had time for a spring nature walk that she never quite found time for when she lived nearby. We saw trout lilies and hepatica, we crossed the small stream on the stepping stones, and we found a little pile of yellow-shafted flicker feathers on the bluff above Trout Brook. We ate together and sat in the chapel to tell each other of our work over the past year. We don’t call or write often, but we are in each other’s prayers. Fr. Tony came for lunch and walked the short loop around the pond. We are going to Syracuse to plant a small garden for him and his sister and he is arranging to pick up the 60 to 80 backpacks loaded with school supplies that the NYS Columbiettes have offered St. Francis Farm and deliver them to the Brady Faith Center for distribution in the city. Fr. Fred Daley, currently serving the local parish,came for lunch and a tour and to hear about our work here. He has served in Utica for years and knows Sr. Lynne and some of the girls she brought here from the East Utica Youth Ministries in 2005. He volunteered to get involved in the community task force meeting in Pulaski with Joanna, and he will try to bring a Sudanese family from Utica to visit the farm.
Lora Goulet brought her two home-schooled daughters, Catherine and Maria, for a long weekend visit. They learned to milk the goats and make cheese, joined us for morning prayer and prayed the rosary on woods walks, helped Joanna in the garden and with her Spanish. They asked questions about the Catholic Worker and sang with us in the evenings. On the Friday of their visit four Friends from Syracuse Meeting came for lunch. They snipped chives for the freezer, transplanted tomato seedlings into bigger pots, watched the bluebirds that have claimed one of the nest boxes, sat by the pond and went on a woods walk to see the trillium in bloom. Melinda milked the goats at the end of April so that we Hoyts could all attend a Quaker meeting in western NY (the first time all of us have left the farm overnight since 2004) and helped with the garden fence. She comes for visits and meals, music and wildflower walks. We finally took her across Trout Brook on a wiggly bridge made by the springy branches of a fallen tree. On the ridges among the newly leafed-out beech trees we found our first painted trillium. Joe Morton helped with the last of the firewood and in the garden. He brought plants from his garden and took rocks for his landscaping. He sat with us by the pond for morning prayer on May mornings and took pictures that captured some of the beauty of the farm in spring.
In the coming week Hope Wallis will come for a meal and worship and a few hours retreat from the city and her work. Anola Gowin who wrote for the June 2006 newsletter will spend a few days with us, helping with the gardens and goats and walking in the woods where she finds peace. Brother Tom McNamara arrives on Sunday to stay for a few days. Then Vince, a seminary student, is coming to help and to learn for 3 weeks of his summer. Several of the staff of the Center for New Americans are coming for a day to find out more about the farm. A school counsellor and a nurse practitioner from the community task force are coming to visit after getting to know Joanna at the community meetings. Students from Cristo Rey HS are scheduled for a week in July, a Dutch woman and a Korean student for a work camp in August.
That is how it works. People come for a restandend up helping or come to help and also find a place of peace and rest. They give what they have and accept what they need. Sometimes people want to come but worry that they will “interrupt” the work because they cannot dig post holes or split wood. Sometimes people need help and hesitate to accept it because they can’t pay. Sometimes people want to buy the goat cheese we make or the garlic we grow. We try to make it clear to all of them and all of you that we live by grace and gifts. We do what we can and receive what we need. I think that all life works that way but here perhaps it is more visible. We welcome those who wish to visit and rest and work and learn and give with us, recognizing that we are all both blessed and benefactors and that the worth of the gifts cannot be measured.
GOD SINGS TO US …
AND WE SING TO HIM…
(The Book of Wisdom 7:11-14)
When wisdom came to me,
All good things came with her.
She brought me untold riches.
(María Goulet’s thank you to God…)
Wisdom brings untold riches
Like meditating and praying
While walking or just sitting
In God’s beautiful creation.
I was happy with them all
Because wisdom had brought them to me
I had not realized before
That she was the source of all these things.
I found great joy in milking goats
Praying, planting, weeding and relaxing;
I too realize that
These were the gifts of wisdom.
I was sincere in learning from her.
And now I am glad to share
What I have learned.
Now, we sing the songs,
We learned so much about gardening…
We learned so much in our discussions
We are so excited about sharing
What we have learned.
No one can ever exhaust
The treasures of wisdom.
Use those treasures, and you are God’s friends.
He approves of what you learn from her…
Our stay at Saint Francis Farm,
Sharing the wisdom of simple living…
I think that no one can exhaust the joys
Of praying together, singing together
Eating good healthy food, goat herding
Living and learning from the land.
I can’t wait for our next visit.
Thank You Jesus…
GOD SINGS TO US …
AND WE SING TO HIM…
(The Song of Three Young Men…)
53 Praise the Lord, mountains and hills
Sing His praise and honor Him forever.
55 Praise the Lord, lakes and rivers
Sing His praise and honor Him forever.
(Catherine Goulet’s thank you to God…)
At the farm, we often took walks.
Some places looked as though
They had come right out of a story book.
When I think of those places
I thank God for His marvellous creation.
59 Praise the Lord, cattle and wild animals
Sing His praise and honor Him forever.
Milking goats and goatherding was fun.
We learned how to make soft cheese
With goat’s milk and vinegar.
Praise the Lord for His wonderful creatures!
54 Praise the Lord, everything that grows
Sing His praise and honor Him forever.
Transplanting vegetables and
Joyfully working with friends was relaxing.
Praise the Lord for plants, flowers and trees!
31 May hymns be sung to Your glory forever
And may Your Holy Presence
Be praised in that temple.
I can’t put into words
The joy of praying the Holy Rosary
While walking in the woods…
Thank You Jesus…
(The Book of Wisdom 7:20)
He has taught me about the nature of living creatures.
The behavior of wild animals,
The force of the wind
And the reasoning power of human beings,
The different kinds of plants,
And the use of their roots as medicine.
Maintenance by Zachary
We had a very late spring this year, and we are consequently still behind on our outdoor projects. I have just finished bringing in the firewood for next winter at the time of this writing. I had hoped to get it all in during April, but we had snow falling until the 16th, and when I started this year I strained my wrist and had to stop for a few days. There will be somewhat more to cut in the summer, because we will be burning wood for our hot water this year. The addition on the woodshed has been used to store wood for that purpose, and when it is empty we will fill it so that it will be ready for next year.
We have built a fence eight feet high around the vegetable garden and part of the hillside to keep out the deer. We did not get it up until May because I was trying to find cedar posts ten feet in length. Our local farm retailer thought they could be had, but in the end they could not, so we bought treated 4x4s instead. We had intended to rent a post hole digger for the occasion as we needed 35 post holes dug, some to two feet and some to three in depth. The rental company said that they don’t send them to Orwell because the ground is too rocky. We dug the holes all by hand, with help from Melinda, and by the time we got the whole fence up it took about three days of work for Joanna and me.
I have torn down the old cow shed in the pasture because the roof had begun to fall in. There are now no buildings in the pasture area, and it looks much nicer than it did. We decided to sell the farm’s old baler because it did not work very well, and for now Unity Acres will let us use their baler for our goat hay. We have also sold the two old sicklebar mowers up on the hill which we no longer used, and I hope that sometime this summer we will get the last of the messes on the hill and around the back of the pole barn cleaned up. We have a lot of used lumber which needs to have nails removed, and any help with that job would be very much appreciated. Because we will only be cutting enough hay for our own use, we will have a lot of fields to cut with the bush hog this summer. This is a lot less time consuming than doing all of the steps that are involved in haying the fields. It may also enable us to improve the quality of the fields over time, as we will be able to cut all of the fields closer to the ideal time, rather than waiting for windows of dry enough weather to bring in hay.
The ends of the barn need to have new siding installed, which I had hoped to have done by now. They need to be done sometime this year, particularly the southern exposure, where the boards have shrunk and cracked severely. The addition on the pole barn which we call the bike shed needs to have a new roof. The translucent plastic roofing it has now is blowing off in bits when we have strong winds. There is more work to be done in the farmhouse at some point, and I am still hoping to find a sawmill we can afford this spring or summer, and also a planer. In the process of cutting firewood I have cut several dead and dying trees which had good logs in them, and I have moved the logs in when I have brought loads of wood. There are now five hardwood logs waiting just up the road from the farmhouse, and a few more in the woods that I have not found time to move out yet. Now that the firewood is done I am planning to begin searching more actively for a mill.
During March we replaced the farm’s van with a Subaru wagon which gets better mileage and should, I hope, be more reliable. We also sold the truck around that time, and now we are using the tricycle for things which used to require it. We have had to have a delivery made from the lumberyard, and I imagine there will be more of those as time goes on, but it is still a lot cheaper to pay for that than for all of the expenses of owning another vehicle.
Agriculture by Joanna
Last year we had trouble with deer eating our peas and greens. We didn’t think we had the time or money for a proper fence, and I didn’t like the idea of having the garden walled in, so we tried out a low temporary fence that worked until September, when the deer figured out how to get across and eat the cover crops which we had carefully chosen to improve soil health and break up hardpan in the newest section of the garden. This spring we completed an 8’ fence protecting the garden and the hillside below, where we have berries and hazelnut bushes and hope to add rhubarb and more fruit trees. I like the fence better than I had expected. It’s strong enough to keep deer out and open enough so that the birds can come and go easily, and the posts are popular bird lookouts. There is something restful and satisfying in having the enclosure. I find myself looking more attentively at how the plantings fit together and how the space can best be used. I’ve finished turning the hilltop area into raised beds, so we have plenty of room for a full rotation of vegetables to eat, preserve and share.
The spring was late and short. I planted peas during the first week of April, and then we got several more inches of snow, so they didn’t germinate for about 3 weeks. Our strawberries and hazelnut bushes arrived by mail in the middle of April and we had to keep them in cold storage until their planting sites were free of snow. The cold wet weather lasted through April, and then the rain stopped and the temperatures began to rise rapidly. We’re running the soaker hose again, and hoping that the greens will size up before they go to seed. We’ve had plenty of asparagus from our established row and the new one we put in last year. Potatoes, onions and garlic are thriving, and the cold-weather plantings are coming up well; by the time this goes out I’ll be scrambling to plant and transplant the frost-sensitive plants. This year we’ve sorted out our fertilizer problems and have healthy tomato seedlings again. I thought they were not thriving a few weeks ago, but friends came and helped us move them into bigger pots and now they are growing rapidly. I’ve found a way of keeping garden plans and records that helps me to keep track of the big picture.
We are trying to grow mushrooms again. The shiitake logs we started 2 years ago never fruited, and when we tried to call the company that sold us the spawn we were told that the person who really knew about mushroom growing had left. This year we’ve bought mushroom spawn from a source recommended by John Boyle, a mushroom grower and educator recommended by the Cooperative Extension who has taken a lot of time to answer our questions as we go. We’ve inoculated logs with Shiitake and Oyster mushroom spawn, and a bed of straw with Wine-capped Stropharia. The oyster logs are already showing signs of mushroom colonization. Various friends have stopped by to help us start the mushrooms and to take logs home. If it works this time, this will be a valuable way of growing food to share. We’ve just learned that mushrooms are quite nutritious and high in protein, and they’re reputedly easy to grow.
Once again we have healthy piglets who arrived on time. Piggly and Wiggly are growing well and getting used to foraging. By the time this newsletter goes out we hope to have new laying hens in the rolling coop. We meant to breed Amahl and milk Nikita through this year, but Amahl didn’t conceive. Both goats are still giving plenty of milk, and Amahl is getting less nervous and easier for visitors to handle. Nikita has always been the boss goat, pushing out to the milk stand first and getting first choice at the feeders; now they seem to be sharing power about equally without too much fighting. This should make things easier if both have kids again next year.
Greetings St. Francis Farmers.
I have been particularly blessed during this past weekend of Pentecost to have celebrated the coming of the Spirit with the people of God in the Boston area. I completed my diaconate year with a sprinkling of baptisms, funerals, preaching, and assisting at the weekend liturgies here in Jamaica Plain, MA. Last week I completed my theological studies at Weston Jesuit, and tomorrow I will move my belongings and myself to live with a group of 3 other brothers who minister at a parish in East Patchogue in the middle of Long Island. There I will work full-time helping to organize a group of Spanish-speaking day laborers and assisting them in their spiritual needs with a group of folks coordinated by the Diocese of Rockville Center.
I will continue my diaconate year with the people of God in the parish and will also complete a training in community organizing through the Industrial Areas Foundation that has done some great work in Boston(Greater Boston Interfaith Organization) and New York (East Brooklyn Congregations). Later this summer, God willing, I will visit Rome and Assisi with the other newly professed Capuchin Friars in North America. Lastly, I expect to be ordained to the priesthood on Saturday September 8 at 11:00 am at the Church of the Sacred Heart in Yonkers, NY.
It will be the culmination of 12 years of discernment in which I felt God calling me to the priesthood and of the reason that brought me to St. Francis Farm in the first place. Little did I know what God had in mind as I began there at 136 Wart Road. But I’m delighted and excited to have woven a piece of the history of The Farm into my own. It was at St. Francis Farm that I learned that relationship building is the essential foundation of anything worthwhile on this earth, especially if we would seek to help others. Jesus built relationships with people in preaching the kingdom, and ultimately we believe that our God is the very relationship who encompasses both unity and diversity.
God is good. I am grateful for the many St. Francis Farm friends that continue with me on the journey. As I take these next steps in my first assignment, I am reminded of the example of St. Francis who challenges us to intentional relationship with all of creation if we would be a force for transformation today. May it be so!
Pax et Bonum!
Tom McNamara, OFM Cap.
Cultivating Love at St. Francis Farm
by Jenny Dolan, Campus Minister, Cristo Rey New York High School, Harlem, NYC
The rhythm of the Creation is easily drowned out amidst the tall buildings, messy streets and loud sounds of New York City. As a colleague, eight courageous and curious teenagers, and I visited Saint Francis Farm, we heard the rhythm of the Creation in a way we had yet to experience. During our brief stay we learned by participating in what makes the farm such a productive place — gardening, clearing paths, cooking, and maintaining the land. The students commented during these moments about “how great it feels to help” and “to give to such an important cause”. It feels good to see the fruits of one’s labor, and the students needed to see the results of their hard work. A filled basket, a weed-free path or a hot meal on the table was a tangible reminder of the intentional simplicity and justice they had embraced so fully the previous year in my class. Yet, as we later reflected on our time on the farm, students and teachers alike, we came to value even more the relationships we formed – even for just that week – which impacted us and will stay with us forever.
It is impossible to record in writing every moment of kindness and love we were gifted with during our stay with the Hoyts. To share just one, I want to tell you a bit about the daily chore of milking goats. From the first day until the last (twice a day, too) a few of us would join Joanna in milking her two beloved goats. As a teacher, I painfully watched as my students shrieked and giggled their way out of carefully and efficiently completing the task. Joanna, on the other hand, enjoyed their awkwardness and encouraged them by giving them the knowledge of how, without harm (which was a concern for my students), to milk these seemingly foreign creatures. Her patience was love for our students and her gentleness was love for the animals on which she relies. Milk is mass produced in our society and we can be almost certain that the milk we pour in our coffee comes from an animal that is treated as a profit making machine. At that time, Joanna did not measure her approval of my students by their performance nor the goats by their production. The students were valued for their silliness and willingness to be a part of something so different from what they live each day in New York City. The goats were valued not only for the delicious milk Joanna enjoys each day (which she sees as a blessing), but also for their quirky personalities which we all came to understand during our stay. Joanna treated both members of Creation as God loves them, with dignity for what they contribute to the rhythm of Creation, not just to her life alone. For this moment, and many more, I am grateful for the people and all other creatures of Saint Francis Farm.
We asked Minke, a woman from the Netherlands who spent two weeks at the farm, to write about why she came to the farm and what she found here. She was good company and good help and we are grateful to her for coming and for writing about her experience here.
What brought me here was an impulse. I was stuck in my life. I live next to my ex-husband, and I thought moving somewhere else would give me more space. Then a wise person told me, “Why should you move? You’re stuck inside yourself. You can go and look for another house (which is quite difficult to get in the Netherlands) but then you will be sitting there–still stuck maybe–alone.” (Now I live in a community.) “You’d better go and travel!”
I hadn’t traveled for a long time. I felt no need for it anymore after traveling a lot in my twenties. During those travels I found out that people are deep down very much the same and that I’d always take myself with me, when my (unconscious) hope was to flee from this very complex ‘me’. But something in me recognized this advice as being the right thing to do. So when a leaflet of SCI (Service Civil International, a workcamp organization) came my way at the same time as some money, I intuitively was caught by the description of 2 workcamps. One was in Sydney, helping in a home for aboriginal people, and the other was St. Francis Farm. I didn’t want to be in a city and I didn’t have so much money, so Sydney was out.
I haven’t been raised religious. In fact my early life has been quite a chaos and I’ve been missing very much some truth and some models who’d have an inner life and some ideals. I do live now in a community with about 100 people that started off with ideals–we try to live a more simple, less consuming life than most people around us do. And I did meet a Russian master who connected me with the Russian Orthodox church. Through him a faith grew in me that there is a God and a Son of God who brought love to the earth. I recognized these things, as if finally somebody spoke some truth. Where I live it has always been (and still is) quite embarrassing to speak of God,
I didn’t know anything about Quakers. I signed in for the workcamp and started to read some novels of Jan de Hartog about Quaker history. I was impressed and curious. So that’s how I came here.
I find here what I recognize as a deep longing in me: to be able to talk to the same people with whom I work and eat and live. In my community we share some things, but people can be quite different and live quite different lives.What touches me here is that, despite how much work there is to do, there always seems to be time and concern and attention for each other. It touches me that people still talk with each other, after so many years. It’s a proof for me that it is possible, that you can stay interested in each other, that you can stay open to show the others what’s going on in you, that there will come no end to the talking. In all relationships I know, after a time, you know how the other person will react, the other person knows you. People get involved in patterns that become deeper over time. How is it that the people here seem to stay more open?
I think maybe it is because they all have their own relationship with God and they all look for their own responsibility towards Him. They’re independent in this; they can help each other maybe sometimes with things, but everybody has an own inner life. This is something I’m not used to.
So things seem to come together here; People here are conscious consumers, they like to keep the foodchain as small as possible, so they take care for the earth. They do not think it’s normal to sit on a couch all day to look how other people live but take the responsibility of their own life. And what’s more, and what’s new to me, they take care of God, they make Him a house in themselves.
It seems to me that it’s not by accident that I’m here now. My father is dying; I’ll have to let him go. And with letting go my father, I feel it’s time to examine all the things I got from him and to let them go too if they don’t fit anymore. I’ve been searching all my life for a father who would recognize me as a child of God. Maybe it’s time now to stop searching and look inward, and see that My Father is already living inside me.
And it’s so good to be with people who live that. Who know they have God in them and who treat other people as children of God. Because that’s what they do. I admire their way of laughing about themselves and about other people, their knowing that people are small and do often silly things, but also knowing that all those people have God in them, and that’s the part they try to see and want to communicate with.
Another thing Joanna and Zachary confirmed that I already thought–that if you could avoid being in a school system where authentic thinking is suppressed and where you are taught to do and think like others, you would be much more able to cope with all kind of situations. They hardly ever think, ‘I can’t do that; somebody who’s been trained for it must do that’. No, they think, ‘Hm, how could I do that?’ And they can do so much, not hindered by the idea that they should be older, or specialized or whatever. They just specialize themselves. You can really see that when they were younger, Lorraine let them do and learn what they wanted to do and learn. And this worked out so much better than in my case. I have a head full of things I’ll never need but can’t do the most simple things that are needed in my life, and there are a lot of very basic things I know nothing about. I believe children are able to learn almost everything in a playful way. But what you almost always see in our school system is that they stop playing and start thinking they’re not good enough. If they’re lucky, they grab on to something in which they are good that fits in some profession, and then that’s what they do.
Here I see that it is possible to become a balanced person who can work with hands as well as with head with an ability to always continue learning. Here I see people who work hard with a lot of pleasure, who don’t run away from their responsibilities, who know there is a lot of misery in this world, who have worked with people who live under ‘inhuman conditions’ (maybe I should say, ‘human conditions’ or ‘ungodlike conditions’) and still are very lighthearted.
These are the things that inspire me here. I’ve always been someone who looked, looked how people did their ways. Now it gets time to look around less, look in myself more, and do more. To turn the energy, instead of letting energy come in me from outside, let energy from the quiet rich source in me flow outwards. I do not know yet how these inspirations get a place in my life. But I don’t worry about that. I believe things do not cross my path by accident. And I am just very grateful that the people of St. Francis Farm crossed my path. It is the best that could have happened to me and I can not thank them enough for inviting me to stay with them.
Peace, Minke Wijnen. 6 August 2007
Questions by Lorraine
Various guests have blessed the farm this summer, helping with the work and offering us a new view of our life and work through other eyes. I have been especially aware this season of what changes and what remains the same through the progression of the season and the coming and going of visitors. Every morning we gather for prayer at 7–the faces around the circle change. Every day there is work that changes and repeats with the cycle of the year. Many evenings there is music that changes from fiddle tunes to spirituals to folk to hymns to gospel to lullabies depending on who is gathered. In the garden or around the table or during an evening walk conversations and questions abound. Some of them are described in the agriculture article or in those written by two of our guests. Some questions recur and we learn more about ourselves as we try to answer them.
What is it you do here? Do you have a children’s program (a nursery school, a program for migrant workers, etc.)? In response to this we often hand the asker a brochure open to the mission statement which proclaims “The mission of St. Francis Farm is to live an alternative to the consumer culture, based on the Gospels and Catholic Worker principles. . . We invite visitors to slow down and think about their assumptions, to do simple and necessary work together, to spend time listening to the Spirit in the silence, and to experience poverty, voluntary and otherwise.” Then we describe some of what we do in the space thus created, the things that change. Sometimes we have children whom we mentor or tutor here, and sometimes we have migrant workers on retreat or recovering from injuries. Some of our visitors go with us to take food to the soup kitchen. But much of the work a guest does provides food for that guest and for us and the next guest as well. Guests walk on woods trails previous guests helped clear and then may help us extend or maintain a trail or flower garden someone else will enjoy.
Do you do this all the time or are you just doing it this week because we’re visiting and then when we’re gone you’ll get back to regular living? In its essentials, our life remains the same whether we have a group of students or a family or single guest with us or are by ourselves. Some work is more easily shared or explained or done by newcomers and when they have gone we catch up on the work we need to do ourselves. But the goats still need to be milked twice daily, chickens and pigs fed, garden weeded, bugs picked, compost turned, vegetables harvested and processed, buildings maintained. We don’t have a television hidden away that we get out when guests leave. Zach gets in more fiddle practice and we all have more time to read when we’re alone. We still eat as much as possible what is grown here although I sometimes take a break from cooking between guests and we each find something to eat from the garden or among the leftovers. But this really isn’t a strange way of life that we model for the amusement of guests or an extreme we demonstrate to make a point. We are working our way toward a life that is whole and caring and we still have many questions and no notion that we’ve discovered the final answers.
How is the farm financed? Do you get money from the national Catholic Worker? from the Church? from grants? Do you need money? Are you tax exempt? I always have to stop and think about this question and then wonder if the person asking sees that or the answer that eventually comes as evasive. There is no national Catholic Worker, and most of the houses in that loose association are chronically short of funds. We receive donations from various churches and until this year the farm was invited to send a speaker to one or more parishes in the diocese as part of the summer mission program. But no church has a commitment to fund the running of the farm. We were short of money to pay taxes when we began managing the farm in the fall of 2001, and for about the first year we weren’t sure about being able to keep going. But since then we have always had enough for the needs. With no paid staff and with the resources of the land as a starting point, hard work makes a little money stretch a long way. But we do need some money to stretch, and we are sometimes surprised and always grateful for how it comes. This year for the first time we sold timber that had been marked and marketed by a consulting forester, but we don’t sell the vegetables we grow or the cheese we make from the goats’ milk; we give those away. We don’t charge people to come stay at the farm or to have work done at their homes. Some people who take vegetables or come to stay here or have work done make donations. Other donations come from folks who came to the farm years ago or who have never seen it. I don’t understand it and can’t predict how much money will come in or who will send it, but for the past six years what was needed always came. The farm has been tax exempt since 2004 for IRS purposes and we paid the last local taxes early in 2005.
Visitors remind us of the questions that brought us here: how much is enough? what is worth doing? They bring their own questions as they search for community, for meaningful work, and for ways to peace and justice. We exchange recommendations for further reading and tell each other stories of those who have inspired us. Retelling the story of how and why we came here reminds us of our calling and reinforces our commitment to this life and work. We challenge and comfort each other and find that the still unanswered questions are good companions for the journey.
Contemporary Christians find that they face many of the same questions as [the Desert Fathers]. How does one find one’s true self? How can we learn to see what is illusory and what is real? How do certain elements in our society’s value structure block our ability to hear God’s call? What does it mean to live a life of prayer? How can we find a firm foundation on which to build our lives? —Sandra Cronk, Dark Night Journey
Agriculture by Joanna
The summer has been very dry, but the well has held, and we’ve had plenty of vegetables to eat, preserve and share. We’ve shared greens, beans, squash, onions, garlic and cherry tomatoes with various neighbors and guests. Our tomatoes were late this year, and we’re still in the early stages of canning. We have to pick the fruit before it’s fully ripe so that birds or rodents don’t get it before we do. Our new everbearing strawberries are producing well. And wild apples and blackberries are growing all around the edges of the fields–pure gift.
Our new hens are laying plenty of eggs for us and for neighbors. When they first arrived they wouldn’t leave their fenced yard and come up into the coop to roost, and we worried about weasels eating them; we put one old hen in as a mentor, and soon all but two were roosting properly and also laying eggs in the nest boxes instead of on the ground. Piggly and Wiggly are growing well, and we’ve had plenty of visitors to help move their pen onto fresh ground. Amahl and Nikita are still giving a good amount of milk in spite of not kidding this year. The woman from the Netherlands who spent 2 weeks with us (and wrote the article on page 2) had worked in a goat dairy before, and did the evening milking while I watered the garden. Zachary fenced off a little piece of pasture at the end of the garden, with the help of several guests, so the goats can eat there while I’m watering before morning prayers.
This summer I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden with various guests. They helped tremendously with the work, gave me a new perspective on the endless round of tasks which I take for granted, and reminded me that the work, like the food, is a gift to share. A UCC seminarian who had worked in urban food pantries and soup kitchens spent 3 weeks with us and helped me pick peas and greens and bugs while talking about Christian community, discernment, and how to create a society that provides wholesome nourishment to people’s bodies and spirits. He said the rhythm of our days was entirely unfamiliar to him, but he participated willingly and learned and taught a lot. His mother and aunt joined him during his last week. It was delightful for us to work in the garden with another family, and they said that this work was grounding, peaceful and a restful change from nursing and teaching. They helped us harvest garlic which we sent to Unity Acres and to the Interfaith Works refugee resettlement center. The Cristo Rey students who came next (see article on front page) helped us stay ahead of weeds, pick greens and squash for the soup kitchen, and plant cover crops and late-season vegetables. Some of them enjoyed the fresh vegetables, and all of them spoke about looking at food with much more appreciation after seeing the work that went into it. Our guest from the Netherlands helped us with the prolific green bean harvest. We snapped and canned beans for ourselves and delivered the rest to the soup kitchen in Lacona, the senior meal site in Pulaski, and various tenants and neighbors. While we worked together we talked about God and family, the questions we were working on in our lives and the cultures in which we had grown up. A middle school librarian interested in starting a CW farm helped with late-summer harvesting and compost turning, and we shared questions about growing and preserving food, welcoming guests and setting boundaries and priorities, and working inside and outside institutions as we try to help our neighbors. Various guests spoke of feeling reconnected to their bodies and to the earth as they worked and ate with us.
Sometimes I am discouraged by the drought and the proliferation of pest bugs (we’re losing our cucumbers to the beetles again this year), and by the realization that the weather is apt to become increasingly difficult and unpredictable as the climate changes. I remind myself that the fence is keeping the deer out, the soil is steadily growing softer and richer, and I am growing more mindful about keeping the compost turned and planting cover crops. And through all the unexpected gifts and difficulties the good work and good food continue to nourish us and all who come.
Maintenance by Zachary
One of the main projects which we had planned to do this summer was to replace the siding on the ends of the barn. The old siding was tongue-in-groove boards which had shrunk to such an extent that they let a lot of water in through the cracks. This resulted in considerable leakage around the windows and in the wall to roof joints when we had wind blowing rain against the ends of the building. We did the chapel end a couple of weeks ago over a five day period, and now we are waiting for some nice weather to do the other end. The chapel end was harder in some ways because the electric service is on that end of the building and had to be worked around. We have put up T1-11 plywood siding to replace the old wood, primed it and painted it red. We hope to have the other end done by the time this reaches you.
I have still not been able to find a suitable sawmill that was in our price range, but I am still looking and hope to find one soon. The loggers have not come yet, so there is not any great hurry. I have been bringing logs out of the woods and piling them to wait for a sawmill. We have a lot of damaged and dead trees which I would like to make into lumber at some point. In July I cut a large hemlock in an area across the stream whose top had been blown off in a storm. A seminary student was staying with us at the time and helped me roll two of the logs down the bed of the stream by hand for a distance to where they could be taken up out of the woods. We didn’t get to the biggest one before he left, and by the time I went to get it in late August several smaller trees had been blown over in the stream so that I had to use the bank instead. We have several other fallen hemlocks to be fetched in at some point, but they are all a little more accessible.
This year we have been burning wood for our hot water all summer, and it did not take as much as I had feared. We seem to need about five extra cords of wood for the summer months. This is some extra work, but it used to take most of a tank of oil to heat the water for the summer, and it is much cheaper to burn wood. I will be cutting wood for next summer in a month or so. Once we have a sawmill I will be cutting some trees for firewood but saving some parts for lumber. I cut our hay for the goats in June and ended up with an extra 90 bales of which we gave some to Unity Acres for their remaining cow and sold the rest. The other fields were mown with the bush hog in late July and early August.
In July we had a quite strong thunderstorm one night, and the next morning our well was not working. I went to town after determining what was wrong and bought a new pump and installed it, and just as I was finishing that one of our trailer tenants came and said his well was not working either. That one needed a pressure switch, so I had to go to town again. This summer I also replaced some rotten subfloor in the other trailer. The other project we had intended to do this summer was to pour the concrete slab for our new building, but I am not sure if we will get that done or not.
In August I finally finished cleaning nails from lumber, at least for the time being. Since 2003 we have had a succession of piles of wood awaiting our attention, needing to have nails removed and be sorted and stacked. With help from a group and various individual volunteers the last loads of lumber were cleaned up, stacked and covered to await being used.
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Br. Tom McNamara will be ordained as a Capuchin Franciscan priest on Saturday, September 8, 2007. He will be celebrating Masses of Thanksgiving as follows:
September 16 at Our Lady of Lourdes in Jamaica Plain, MA, at 10:00 AM—September 23 at the Sacred Heart Chapel at Unity Acres in Orwell, NY, at 11:00 AM—September 30 at St. Joseph’s Church in Oxford, NY at 10:45 AM.
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Some readers look for a wish list, but sometimes “what do you need?” is hard to answer. Often we find ourselves using with gratitude things we wouldn’t have thought to ask for or hadn’t needed in a while. This summer we had rain ponchos and nets to keep the flies off, half gallon canning jars and a peavey at hand when needed. We still depend from day to day on money and prayers and helping hands, and we’re aware of a few specific needs. Check with us if you have other items you think would be useful.
Our kitchen appliances are old and some are no longer working. If you have and are not using a food processor, microwave oven or large coffee maker, please give us a call. (One of each of these would be very useful; dozens wouldn’t.) Zachary would appreciate a lead to a sawmill we can buy, a planer, an extension ladder of any size, and/or bicycles in any condition.
This fall at the farm we will be making wooden toys and soft dolls with a variety of skin colors for the Center for New Americans’ Christmas gifts for recently arrived refugees. Hope Wallis tells us that there is a standing need at the Center in Syracuse for new underwear and socks in all children’s sizes and warm hats, scarves and mittens.
Counting Blessings, Lighting Candles by Lorraine
Yesterday I put up a large paper on the wall in the chapel. On it we’ll be writing the things for which we are thankful for our Thanksgiving litany next week. The last of the vegetables have been harvested and stored in the root cellar, our shed is full of firewood, our freezer full of pork. We’ve enjoyed oyster mushrooms from the logs we started in the spring and have just begun harvesting from the ‘winter garden’ in the greenhouse where we grow herbs and greens. We’ve taken time on the golden days of fall to walk in the woods or sit by the stream reveling in the color and the light. We’ve sat around a fire while the sunset faded and the stars came out, enjoying song and silence with friends old and new from near and far. In September we heard the great horned owls calling many evenings, and as the leaves have come down I’ve been looking for crow and hawk nests they might use when their breeding season begins this winter. We’ve been pleased to meet our neighbors using the paths we’ve made with the help of our visitors. Sometimes we get weary and focus on the work still waiting to be done, but when we stop and look around us we realize what a blessing and privilege it is to take care of this place and share its bounty and beauty with others. We count among our blessings the generosity of donors, the labor and stories of visitors, the faithfulness of those who pray, and words of encouragement and wisdom.
The first Advent candle will be lit around the time the newsletter gets to you. As the frantic season begins for so many, we are entering the ‘slow time’. Each evening we’ll be lighting the candle(s), telling the ancient stories, praying for peace and opening to the mystery of what is promised and what is already given. Early in November we printed up some material from Alternatives and put it out at the library in Pulaski, the Friendship Shop in Sandy Creek, and Rural & Migrant Ministry in Richland. These papers invite people to set aside the hectic agenda that stresses them and to remember what it is they are celebrating. We found out the next week that the local parish was planning an Unplug the Christmas Machine workshop; then we received a mailing from a church in Sandy Creek reminding us all to be thankful and rethink our rush to buy more and go faster. Deacon David Sweenie will be bringing folks for the Spanish Apostolate Advent Retreat in a couple weeks. We invite you (and hope you will invite your family and friends and colleagues) to slow down, light a candle in the growing dark, breathe out, breathe in and remember that you are a living soul.
Sharing the Bounty by Carol Ann Wihera
Carol Ann Wihera is a deaconess and treasurer for the North Country Christian Church. She is also leads cooking at their soup kitchen on Tuesdays.
The reality is that there is definitely a poverty belt in New York State. Oswego County, located east of Lake Ontario, is in that belt as the statistics confirm. According to the 2000 Census the per capita income for the county was $16,853.00 with about 9.7% of families and 14.0% of the overall population living below the poverty line.
There are many needs associated with poverty and for the most part the State and its Department of Social Services are the ones attempting to fill the needs. The North Country Christian Church located in the Village of Lacona has made it their mission to help feed their neighbors. In September 2004 the small but dedicated congregation began a soup kitchen. The kitchen is open Monday thru Wednesday from noon to 1:00 PM. In just three years they have served over 16,000 meals. This soup kitchen is the only one in operation on the Interstate 81 corridor between the cities of Syracuse and Watertown. The distance between these two cities is 67 miles.
The Food Bank of Central New York provides most of the food served in the soup kitchen but fresh produce is not something that they usually provide. Each spring as soon as the first seasonal crops start coming into maturity St. Francis Farm begins making weekly (sometimes twice weekly) trips to the soup kitchen.
The bounty begins with lettuce and kale, then tomatoes, herbs, and then various types of squash. The diners all look forward to the fresh produce because it generally is something they can’t afford to purchase. Garlic and onions are also received and are used throughout the growing season.
By summer’s end the freezer at the soup kitchen is stocked with blanched chopped kale and string beans that will be used in various ways throughout the winter. Receiving produce from St. Francis Farm enables the North Country Christian Church to extend the groceries they receive from the Food Bank. Canned vegetables not used over the summer can then be used over the winter and not having to order as much canned vegetables means the soup kitchen can spend their allotted grants on other foods. This past summer the farm provided the kitchen with fresh eggs and goat’s cheese. Although the Food Bank provides cheese they do not have goat’s cheese. The eggs were used in quiche like dishes that everyone enjoyed.
Running a soup kitchen in Oswego County is a necessity. Making the experience pleasant and healthy is a commitment that is important to the North Country Christian Church. The donations received from St. Francis Farm help fulfill that commitment. After all, the North Country Christian Church and St. Francis Farm are neighbors working together to help other neighbors.
Vince Amlin visited this summer as part of a ministry enrichment project that he designed for a fellowship he received from the Fund for Theological Education. We excerpted this article from a reflection he wrote this fall as a wrap-up to his fellowship. Vince is a member of the United Church of Christ in which he grew up; he is in his second year of seminary.
I feel certain that the events of this summer have changed me and radically transformed my potential ministry. The change which I am experiencing is not arbitrary or artificial, but rather this change and the project which inspired it are simply bright new stars in a constellation which has long been a part of my life and faith. In listening to my life, and specifically to my arguments with classmates and friends, I noticed certain themes returning again and again to my thoughts. After a particularly heated debate with my friend Bethany, it struck me that my questions, concerns and passions surrounding what the Church should be and how it ought to interact with the world might be fertile ground for the summer.
Specifically, I identified a discomfort with the liberal protestant ‘social justice’ model of church, in which a sincere desire to live out the gospel has become warped in many congregations by a desire to change the world by legislating Christian values to the rest of society. I contrasted this view of ’society as kingdom’ with a model of ‘church as kingdom.’ I decided that my summer would be broken up into two parts, the first a three-week stay at a Catholic Worker farm in upstate New York reading theologians who supported the ‘church as kingdom’ model, and second a two-week traditional mission trip reading theology from the ‘society as locus for kingdom’ camp.
After my time at St. Francis Farm and during the Ekklesia Project Gathering I realized that I had only begun to consider what a model of ‘church as kingdom’ meant. It had become obvious even within the first week at the farm that my driving question, ‘How should the Church work to change the world?’, could not be approached directly but only prodded at from all angles. In my many conversations with all the members of the Hoyt family I slowly gave up on this question and tried to live into the life that was being offered around me. My summer became less academic and more experiential, less answer-driven and more spirit-driven, and I replaced my question about what the Church ought to be with an awareness of where I was being asked to go. I revised my plan again to spend time at Englewood Church in Indianapolis and Church of the Servant King in Eugene, OR.
At Church of the Servant King they have a term for seminary students who come out and visit and feel a call to a non-traditional type of ministry: ruined. I am just beginning to question whether I may be ‘ruined’ for ministry as I once construed it. Can I serve churches like those my father serves, patiently coaxing unwilling parishioners toward a more authentic life in Christ? or simply focusing on the few willing souls in every congregation? Can I participate in a church which is still ruled by a pastor/ laity divide which I can only see as unfaithfulness on both sides? Is there room for me in my denomination? Are there UCC churches who will accept me? Am I instead called to lead a community? A house church? Or simply to join one as a member? What does this mean for my family, my wife? Am I at the right school? How do I maintain a connection with things which brought me to seminary and to God in a place in which they are not always apparent?
The creation of the kingdom matters to me and to the Church because it is the visible sign that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection here on earth have left things forever changed and it is only in the creation of this kingdom (what Lohfink calls a ‘contrast-society’) that the Church has something to offer to the world. John Howard Yoder speaks about the difference between a ‘witness’ to the state (or society) and a ‘lobby’ to the state. While the lobbying church merely tells society how it should be shaped and waits for society to do so, the witnessing church acts out the kingdom within its midst and thus has something concrete to which to call society. This contrast between witness and lobby was one of the first things I read this summer, and something which has seemed applicable to most conversation during its course. While I have been a strong advocate in my own liberal protestant tradition of an extravagant welcome for all God’s people it has struck me recently how little else these churches seem to speak about. We are caught in a perpetual state of welcome unsure exactly to what we are welcoming folks, and in attempting to welcome as many folks as possible, we forsake the particularity of our very peculiar religion for the politeness of liberal American society.
I cannot yet claim to be different than before, but depending upon how any one of these questions gets answered in the coming days, months, years I may soon be very different from what I was before this summer. I am writing with great thanks to all the many people who took time to love and challenge me this summer and with apologies for the necessarily incomplete reflection on these still-too-fresh experiences.
For making toys for the Interfaith Works refugee resettlement agency we are looking for wooden beads unfinished or in earth tones 8 mm and 16 mm round and 17.5 mm long x 16 mm diameter. We also need macrame cord for pull toys and for bird marionettes.
We hope to start collecting sap from our sugar maples next spring. If you have taps, sap buckets or a wide shallow pan for boiling sap down in, please give us a call.
We’re looking for copies of Mary Pipher’s Shelter of Each Other, a book about families which has been helpful to various visitors and neighbors. We gave away one of our copies to an overseas guest and lost the other when it was loaned out locally.
In the workshop we are looking for a larger stationary belt or disc sander to help in making toys, a thickness planer to help in processing lumber for the sawmill for furniture and a small air compressor that is easy to move around.
Maintenance by Zachary
In September we replaced the siding on the north end of the barn and replaced a window which had begun to rot. I also replaced a number of shingles which had been damaged on the eaves of the barn roof by the ice and snow of last winter and attempted to stop some leaks around skylights in the dorms. Two of them seem to be fixed for now, but one still leaks and may have to be removed and reinstalled to deal with the problem. The second-floor outside stairs on the farmhouse have been stained, although I ran out of stain before I could coat the under sides of the steps. We have a lot of stain, but there were only two gallons that matched each other.
The chickens have a new winter coop into which they moved in early November. It is bigger than their old one because we have more birds, and it has more windows and doors providing more light and convenient access to tend them. They seem to be happy, as far as we can tell. The goats have had an alteration made to their pen which will make it lighter inside during the winter. In previous years we have had a roof which could be lowered onto the walls of their pen in the pole barn to keep snow out during storms, and now we have mounted that roof permanently about three feet above the top of their walls and put old windows in the intervening space. This makes it possible to have daylight in their pen even on days when the door has to be shut, and puts the windows high enough so that the goats cannot break them.
At the annual meeting in October the board approved the purchase of a new sawmill from Turner Mills in Oxford, NY. I had been looking for a used mill since February but had not found anything that seemed suitable. Thanks to Steve and to the Acres for the help in bringing the mill to the farm. As we do not currently have a place under a roof to use the sawmill it is something that I only run in good weather, but it is our hope to build a small barn next year which will have a place for the mill. We had initially hoped to have that building up this year, but we had planned to build it with hemlock trees from across the stream that are to be brought out by the loggers who are cutting our timber sale. They have not yet come, and they have until December 2008 to do the job. The sawmill is easier to use than I had anticipated, and I have sawn over 1000 board feet to date. In addition to the lumber we will be using ourselves we will be trying to sell hardwood lumber locally to help defray the cost of the mill. I have been sawing trees that were dead or dying or had blown down, and it looks like there will be enough of them to keep the mill occupied for some time. Most of next summer’s firewood is in, and I am expecting slabs from the mill to make up much of what is still needed. We are sending sawdust for pig bedding and softwood slabs for their boiler to Unity Acres. Next year I hope to do some thinning in the pine plantations and saw some of those trees into boards. Now that the Acres has an outdoor boiler they can burn the parts of the trees that are too small to saw.
This fall we are making some wooden and some cloth toys for the Interfaith Works Refugee Resettlement program in Syracuse. The weather has stayed nice for so long that I have not gotten into the shop to make many wooden ones yet. It is our intention to continue making toys through the winter and save them for next year’s Christmas distribution. Once the lumber I am sawing has had time to dry I hope to use some of it for the toys. Some of our wood is quite interesting to look at, and should be particularly fun for wooden animals.
Bridges by Joanna
I wrote in the March newsletter about the Community Service Task Force, which met initially with a concern about the lack of decent affordable housing in Pulaski and was beginning to look more broadly at issues of class and poverty. Our informal discussions have given way to a formal training process based on the Bridges Out of Poverty model. I have been grateful for some parts of this process and deeply frustrated with other parts; but when I stop fretting and look clearly at the causes of my frustration I begin to see St. Francis Farm’s work more clearly.
The Bridges Out of Poverty program is designed to help people see and understand one another across class lines. One exercise asked us to develop our ‘mental models’ of poverty, middle-class and wealth by picturing a day in the life of a person we knew and liked from each class. Many of the other participants found this difficult; they identified themselves as middle-class and didn’t really know people who were either wealthy or poor. During the sessions they began to see ways in which the systems they understood and valued didn’t work well for their poorer neighbors. School officials noticed that the cost of required back-to-school supplies might be prohibitive for families who lack reliable transportation and have to buy everything at local stores where there is little competition and prices are high. People who praised the area’s free cultural and educational programs noted that they were only available to people who had transportation. Some people said that neighborliness and sense of community are among Pulaski’s greatest strengths, but others observed that many people don’t recognize neighbors across class lines.
I have often been troubled by this lack of recognition. At conferences people talk earnestly about brotherly love and then are rude to the cooks and waiters or don’t observe closing times so that caretakers can get home to their families. At the farm groups listen politely to migrant workers speaking about working long hours in terrible conditions to try to send money home to feed their families, and at the next meal reminisce about the food offered on cruises they have taken. At meetings called to address poverty social service workers speak disparagingly about ‘those people’ who don’t have a college education or paid employment… I notice these things because I work and eat with migrant workers and social workers, people who are trying to get enough to live on and people who are trying to free themselves of excess possessions. I also notice them because I don’t have a salary or a degree and I spend much of my time doing the work that our society makes invisible. I think that this noticing is one of the gifts of St. Francis Farm.
But the difference between classes is only one side of the truth. It is here that I struggle with the Bridges program, and also with the expectations of some people who come here to Serve The Poor. The story of the Bridges program seems to be that if poor people learn middle-class skills (such as fluent formal English and planning ahead) and values (such as delayed gratification and valuing achievement more than relationship), they can get on the career ladder, move up into the middle class, and have satisfying lives. The parallel model of service to the poor involves upper- or middle-class people giving of their time and resources to help underprivileged people be a little more like them.
Two basic realities are left out of these pictures. Physical work is necessary. This work is often defined as lower-class, and in many cases the pay and respect given to it bear this out. Moving out of poverty is associated with becoming a supervisor, manager or office worker. Because our economic system requires more workers than supervisors, trying to help people move up the career ladder may affect which ones end up on top but doesn’t work as a way to lift everyone. And however ‘successful’ we all become, we will continue to need food and shelter and warmth, and someone is going to have to do physical work to provide them. And our resources are finite. It sounds generous to help others attain what we consider an adequate, middle-class standard of living, but if everyone in the world consumed as much as the average US citizen we’d need the natural resources and dumping space of four more planets.
Even if these physical limits could be overcome, moving up the ladder would not necessarily lead to a satisfying life. In this country people of all classes have unsatisfying extras and still lack essentials. This seems obvious when we go into a run-down trailer and see a large-screen television and a Christmas tree with lights that flash and play carols. Visiting students often wonder how those people can be poor and have all that stuff. We wonder why the questioners, who have plenty of money and attend expensive schools, don’t get healthy meals, adequate sleep or quiet time and space for prayer and reflection.Across class lines, Americans are chronically in debt.Bo Lozoff wrote about this in his book Deep and Simple: “Amazing! Millions of people, young and old—precious, divine vehicles of God—are rushing to enslave themselves to banks and other corporations for the rest of their lives, to support a lifestyle which has little to do with joy or truth or freedom.” The question of the prophets is still relevant: “Why do you spend your money on what is not bread and your labor on what does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2)
Millions of dollars are spent every year on advertisements which play on our desires and fears. We may not be taken in by any particular product message, but over time we seem to accept the message that buying something will make us happy, worthy and lovable. Lacking close community, spiritual discipline and meaningful work, we find ourselves painfully empty. We try to stuff this void by consuming more things and more experiences. Unwilling to acknowledge our pain and emptiness, we are unable to learn from them.
Certainly there are times when we need to offer our neighbors material help. Here at the farm we grow food to share with people who don’t get much fresh stuff, make a space for migrant workers, help neighbors with home repairs and wheelchair ramps. This part of our work is easily recognized and supported. The other part of the work is less visible but not less necessary. We offer a space in which we and our neighbors and guests can slow down, lay aside distractions, and see what is true. Some of the truths we have to see are painful. We also begin to see the gifts that are already ours: the beauty and bounty of the earth, the love of our neighbors, the presence of God that fills and surrounds us. The truth provides a bridge for all of us, a way out of our anxious grasping after more. Then we can begin to work our way toward sustainable living and caring community.
Our mission is to live an alternative to the consumer culture and to help people think twice about some of the unnecessary or destructive things that are sold to them. Alternatives for Simple Living offers resources for simpler, more meaningful Christmas celebrations. (See article on page 1.) Their phone number is 1-800-821-6153, and their website is www.simpleliving.org Free resources are at www.simpleliving.org/archives .
We have been concerned about the sales pitch that military recruiters are targeting to students who see few options after high school and have little help looking critically at what is being offered. We’ve just received permission from the high school in Pulaski to offer information about the hidden costs of military service and about other opportunities for youth who aren’t college-bound to earn money, gain skills and be of service. Let us know if you’d like more information about this.
Zachary has completed training as a facilitator for the Alternatives to Violence Project, and will be helping to lead an AVP workshop at Auburn correctional facility from Nov. 30 – Dec. 2.
The Spanish Apostolate will be here for their Advent retreat December 7-9.
Thanks to all the people who have supported us through the last year. Your gifts of money make it possible for us to buy what we can’t grow or make ourselves. We are a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization; your donations are deductible and we will send you a receipt for tax purposes upon request. Your help with the work makes it easier for us to make and grow enough to share. Your letters, visits and prayers sustain us when the days seem dark and we are tired. If we haven’t seen or heard from you for a couple years, we would appreciate knowing whether you still want to receive the newsletter. Please also let us know if you’d prefer a paper copy if you are getting email or vice versa.
May you be blessed with support and guidance, warmth on cold days and Light in dark nights.