Pruning by Lorraine
Winter at the farm is the slow time in which we rest up from the demands of the growing season, catch up on the office and other inside work, and consider again this life and work to which we’re called. During the liturgical season of Lent, even before we can get out to prune the orchard, we look to our inner lives, cutting out dead wood to encourage fruitfulness.
During January we held our annual review and planning sessions, looking at what was working well and what needed to be cut back. We tended to our roots and looked at possibilities for future growth. During the busier months we can lose track of what is important and need time to remember what is basic. “All ministry is a caring attentiveness to vulnerable lives and a grateful receiving of the variety of fruits by which they manifest their beauty” (Henri Nouwen, Life Signs) Balance is maintained by the practical work–cleaning and filing and sorting what has accumulated while we were busy with other things.
We looked again at what has been basic since we first tried to formulate our calling late in 2001 and find that still our mission is to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels and Catholic Worker principles as an alternative to the consumer culture. Over the intervening years we’ve been aware of the gap between the goal and our attempts to reach it. Also it has seemed that the gap between the consumer culture and the way of any spiritual practice has widened. “No great sages have ever encouraged us to think of ourselves first, first, first, always ourselves first, like the popular media culture does.” (Bo Lozoff, Deep and Simple)
In addition to setting out again ourselves toward the goal we never reach, we try to reach out to others who may have only a hazy sense of dissatisfaction with the prevailing culture. So Joanna goes to community task force meetings and I revise our web site, trying to make the alternatives we offer clear. Even opportunities to serve can be seen and sold as consumer goods. A few years ago we stopped suggesting a donation for student groups coming to the farm. This year we eliminated the separate groups page and included the necessary information within the Visitors & Volunteers page on our website. Our mission is not to provide a certain experience to groups, but they are still welcome, and I’ve been talking to people who are interested in bringing groups this spring and summer. We can always use more helping hands in the green time, and we can offer place and time set aside for prayer, ever-changing beauty of the natural world, respite from advertising and opportunities to learn basic skills.
Wherever you may find a slow time, a pruning time, in Lent or winter or in moments set aside day by day, I invite you to find your way back to the source of your life. “Each one of us has to try to find the spiritual practice that helps us come to this source. If reading the Bible helps you, then read the Bible. If the Eucharist helps, then celebrate the Eucharist. If praying the rosary helps, pray the rosary. If sitting in silence helps, just sit there and keep silence. . . We have to find this long loving look at reality, where we don’t judge anymore, where we simply receive.” (Richard Rohr, Simplicity)
Meet the newest member of the Board
My name is Shirley Way. I am a Quaker and I first came to know Lorraine, Joanna and Zach through what we call meetings for faithfulness. A small group of Friends in Central New York State gathers about monthly for extended (2.5 hrs.) quiet worship around what it means for each of us to live faithfully.
To have come to know Lorraine, Joanna and Zach over the past five or six years has been a blessing. They are, of course, each very different but are united in their love for one another and their commitment to seek to live sustainably, weighing action with impact on the Farm’s, the local community’s and the global community’s health. Many of us speak of our concern for the planet and all of its inhabitants but in my experience, finding those among us willing to put that concern into a way of life is rare. That sums why St. Francis Farm in its current form is important. It is a model for us. I am honored to have the opportunity to be a part of the life.
My own journey to live into my faith has taken me to Latin America, to Fort Benning, Georgia and from there to federal prison. My volunteer work with the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) has taken me into New York State prisons and to Colombia. In May I will travel to the Republic of Georgia to help facilitate AVP workshops. This work is also, at times, Spirit-filled and directed.
My life thus far can be divided into two parts. The first few decades were largely driven by a need to seek the respect of those in my professional circles and those with power in our societal structure and all that comes with that—money, influence, prestige etc. Then there was a shift. I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico in 1997 with four other Quaker women. The Mexican government was waging a low intensity war against the indigenous peoples. A new way of being came into my awareness—that one could devote one’s life’s work to the work of peace and social justice. I was 36 and just reaching my stride as a landscape architect, and while I enjoyed the work and found meaning in public projects I wondered if it truly was my calling.
Around the same time I had a spiritual awakening and I decided I wanted to make listening to the still small voice within the first priority. So with the intention of learning Spanish in preparation for work with Christian Peacemaker Teams, I went to Guatemala in 2000 and ended up spending 19 months there. While in Central America, I learned of the massacres of hundreds of thousands of innocents and the torture and assassinations of people working for social justice at the hands of people trained at the School of the Americas (located at Fort Benning in Georgia) and with financial and military support of my government.
That knowledge, together with the connections I had made with people in Guatemala took me across the line onto Fort Benning in an act of civil resistance in 2003. (Again and again I am reminded that it’s all about relationship.) I spent the summer of 2004 at Danbury Federal Prison Camp. It was a gift to be able to follow as I was led with the support of my family and my faith community. While the process was challenging, I learned that I could trust that I would be carried if the path I am following is Spirit-led—that I will not be asked to take on more than I can handle. And so I am more empowered for having followed, more free.
The experience of being incarcerated, of carrying the understanding that my well-being is in the hands of people who may or may not care about me, made very clear to me the importance of AVP inside prison. AVP’s experiential workshops offer opportunity to develop our skills in communication, cooperation, affirmation and conflict transformation. We begin by asking if we can agree on how we want to be with one another during the workshop: that we will seek to affirm the good in ourselves and in others, that we will not put ourselves or others down, that we will not interrupt when others are speaking, that we will volunteer ourselves only. I try to observe these community agreements in my life outside workshops as well. Serving on facilitation teams with other volunteers who live inside and outside the walls is an opportunity for me to practice what it means to make living non-violently the focus.
My work for pay for the past 2-1/2 years has been as the part-time office coordinator for the Alternatives to Violence Project / New York. My intention in this work is to bring people inside and outside the walls to AVP. AVP is transformative. I have witnessed its power in myself and in others. To find out how you can get involved, go to www.avpny.org or call 800-909-8920.
Zach is an AVP facilitator, and he and I have facilitated on-team together at Auburn Prison. Zachary’s level of comfort with who he is, his straightforward gentle manner, and his sense of humor are shocking to many of the men at Auburn. The world he speaks of is so foreign. It is one of compassion for people who have suffered injustice, of concern for the land and natural resources, of the joy he finds in physical work and creating things with his hands. Many don’t know what to think or how to take him but want to know more. And so do I. I want to know of the joys, the hopes and the concerns he, Joanna and Lorraine carry for the Farm and beyond. I delight in the life and the work and look forward to spending time there and contributing in whatever way I am able.
The root of the question by Joanna
During the winter ‘slow time’ we step back and try to see which parts of our work have life in them and where we might be able to reach out in new ways. Over time we come to see the roots of, and the connections between, the varied problems which we confront. This way of seeing complicates our work with others who often seem to be dealing with the same problems on a different level. I’ve been reminded of these complications as I attend meetings with community service organizations, as I reach out to students at the high school, and as I join with others for prayer and reflection.
I continue to make some useful and satisfying connections with members of other service organizations through the Pulaski Community Service Task Force. Several members were interested in organizing community activities during TV Turnoff Week (see Briefly on page 6) One of these was the director of the Pulaski Early Learning Center, who will bring a group of elementary students to the farm that week to walk in the woods, clear trails and build birdhouses; I hope that this may be the beginning of an ongoing relationship. The director also sought extra help with reading etc. for her students, and I thought perhaps we could provide that, but when I inquired further I learned that she wanted auxiliary homework help. We do know that students have to get through their homework in order to avoid trouble at school. But when we’ve tutored other kids we’ve often found their homework scattered, remote from the actual lives and interests of the children, and sometimes beyond their comprehension. We would rather step back and work on the foundations of understanding math and language.
The questions I hope to raise during my Stop and Think! counter-recruiting visits to the high school are also foundational. I realized this more clearly when someone suggested that students would pay more attention to my message if I dressed to show that I was successful. I wear clean, presentable clothes to the school, but I don’t ‘dress for success’. I had to stop and think about my reasons. For one thing, I don’t own the right clothes. For another, I’m not a ‘success’ in the usual way; I don’t have a degree, a job title, a salary, a retirement plan. Finally, my message to the students isn’t “Avoid the military and you can be a success.” I don’t think this is necessarily true. Our economic system is configured in a way that requires a large number of ‘losers’ to do the unprofessional but necessary physical work that supplies the daily needs of the ‘successful’. And many of the kids at the local school are starting at a disadvantage; that’s why the recruiters spend so much time at the school and appeal to so many students. Furthermore, I look at ‘successful’ people of all ages and am not convinced that their success translates to a meaningful, integrated and satisfying life, or even to freedom from fear. Our economically privileged guests still worry aloud about not having enough or about losing what they have; and they speak of feeling disconnected, of lacking time for prayer, of feeling trapped in work that pays their bills but doesn’t satisfy their souls. So what I want to say to the students, and to all our guests, is “Don’t listen to the people who try to sell you safety, happiness, importance. Nobody’s safe, except in the sense that we are all in God’s hands. You can find sufficiency, and sometimes happiness, without a lot of money. You are already important; you are a living soul. Your life matters. You have real and important choices about how to use it. Make them with your eyes open.”
With this message in mind I signed up for a a group study/reflection/action course on practicing and proclaiming Jubilee. As most of you probably know, the Mosaic law designated every 49th year as the Year of Jubilee when debts were to be forgiven, slaves freed and land restored to the families who originally worked it. It was also one of the Sabbath years, which were to occur every 7th year, when the land was to be left fallow and the people to trust that God would provide the food that they needed. All the course participants are seeking to live more fully into the values of the Jubilee—economic justice, forgiveness, liberation, trust in God and abandonment of illusory human security—in the context of the work to which we have been called. For several of the other course participants this work is tied to the attempt to bring about large-scale political change—ending war or torture, limiting corporate influence in politics, strengthening environmental protection etc. I can’t see my way clear to doing this work myself, although I admire those who do. I see the abuses that they wish to correct, but it seems to me that these abuses are not isolated policies but the natural result of the system by which we live. And I don’t know how to change this system meaningfully on a large scale. I only know how to meet people one by one and invite them into a space where they can examine their lives, decide what matters to them and find ways to live accordingly.
It’s not a matter of preaching at them, but of offering an example and a space. We’re sometimes amazed at what happens when we offer these things. A migrant worker decides to go home, plant a garden, keep goats, and buy less, so that he is able to live with his family instead of traveling to this country and taking abuse and long separation from his family in order to send home money to enable them to have an American lifestyle. A college student changes from a major that seems lucrative to one that allows him to do work he loves. A seeker stops frantically trying to do more Good Works and decides to take some significant time for prayer. Sometimes what we offer doesn’t make sense to our guests, and there is frustration and loneliness on both sides. Often I look at the needs around us and realize how painfully inadequate our offerings are. Then I need to remind myself that the results of our work aren’t up to me. All I can do is stay faithful and stay open. The rest is in God’s hands.
Maintenance by Zachary
This winter we have been making slow but steady progress through the list of things to do. Early in the season we had some unexpected excitement when one of the skylights on the third floor of the barn blew away in a high wind. We were eating breakfast downstairs and heard a dull thump, and when Joanna went up a short while later she found snow and wind coming inside. The pin was missing that holds the skylight down. We found one other skylight with a missing pin and fixed it. I brought the skylight back in and covered the hole with a piece of plywood to keep it closed till spring. We are hoping that it won’t happen again now that all of them are secured. On the bright side this is the first winter since we came that we have not had to shovel any roofs.
I have been intending for over a year to enclose a cabinet in the front room under the upper part of the stairs. I finally have done it, and as of the time of this writing all that remains is to put an oil finish on the doors and put up a few trim pieces. It is quite large and will hold a lot of kitchen equipment, paper and other things and keep them from getting dusty. On the end of the cabinet by the hallway I built a floor to ceiling bookcase which we will use to display field guides and other nature-study books during the summer program and probably throughout the warmer season. I built the cabinet from lumber that I had sawn and set aside to dry last summer, and it is satisfying to know the history of the wood and where it grew.
We have had ongoing difficulties with the furnace in one of the trailers here on the farm this winter, but recently it seems to be doing better. The other trailer needed a new transformer on the furnace, but has otherwise been fine. Our wood boiler has been doing surprisingly well at keeping us warm this winter, and we have been able to keep the temperature consistently above 60 degrees during the day except on a few of the very coldest days. I had to replace the combustion tunnel in December, but we had a spare on hand so we didn’t have to wait for shipment. We have more firewood left in the shed than is usual for this time of year.
In December I traded my Allis Chalmers C tractor for a somewhat larger Farmall H of similar vintage. It will be able to pull the bigger wagon to move logs and I think it will be sufficient to power the haybine that we purchased at auction last fall. It is still small enough that it should be able to get into nearly as tight spaces as my other tractor did. I’ve been learning a lot about mechanical matters and enjoying the process.
Over the late winter and spring there are a few projects coming up. We’ll be tapping the maple trees and making syrup soon. In the last two years we’ve done this in March, but it is dependent on the temperatures and the progress of the season. I need to look over the haybine this spring and have it field ready by early June. I don’t think it needs a lot of work to be operable, but I need to figure out the hydraulic connection from the haybine to the tractor. We are planning to tear down the long narrow shed attached to the far end of the pole barn. We want to build a wider enclosed pole shed in the same spot to store hay and the haybine. We have stored this year’s goat hay in the loft of the new barn but we found that it was hard to load and inconvenient to have to haul it from the new barn to the pole barn in winter. I hope to have the roof up on the hay shed by the time the hay is ready to store. The walls can be added over the summer if there is not time in the spring. Of course, the first thing to be done when the snow melts is to cut and bring in next winter’s firewood. We still have a small pile of logs left from the timber sale near the shed, and I’ve done a little bit of cutting here and there during the winter.
Revised website–new nature page, group information now included in visitors & volunteers, updated information on all pages, booklist and excerpts from our 2009 reading.
TV Turnoff Week–April 19-26; an invitation to stop spending free time looking at screens and to reconnect with neighbors and the natural world. Locally, representatives from the library, early education center, soup kitchen, parent-teacher group and others are joining to plan community activities. High school students from Billerica MA will be spending this week at the farm.
Spanish Apostolate Lenten Retreat at SFF March 19-21.
Spring at the farm–Expecting goat kids in early April. Looking forward to woodcock displays, frog choruses, returning birds, woodland wildflowers. Visitors welcome to walk the trails or sit by the pond, field guides available in the barn, call ahead if you want a guide or to help with the work.
For the beauty of the earth, for the glory of the skies– by Lorraine
I sit down to write on a morning in early May, very aware of the blessings of living in this place at this season. I woke at five to birdsong and was out with binoculars before morning prayer–and before the black flies were active. The marsh marigolds and violets are blooming everywhere I look, the trillium are just starting to fade and the jack-in-the pulpits just emerging. The thrushes sing from the already leafed out woods, but the orioles aren’t back yet. Last evening I watched a lovely sunset and listened to the peepers and chorus frogs and a distant barred owl. This spring has come early and we’ve had many opportunities to share its beauty with guests.
The Spanish Apostolate Lenten retreat was over the spring equinox and with all the snow gone the retreatants were able to get out and see more of the farm beyond the buildings. Saturday after lunch we found sturdy shoes or boots for those who needed them and the group of five men and five women walked with us for a mile through woods and fields and along the bluff above Trout Brook. The wildflowers weren’t out yet but the stream was full and there were a few steelhead trout. At the end of the walk our visitors tried out the swings by the pond or sat on the benches and listened to the water. One woman went with me for another walk after Saturday supper and especially enjoyed the old stone walls and the deer we startled near the pasture pond. The theme of the retreat was healing and enjoying the creation was an added balm.
A month later when a group of high school students arrived from Billerica MA, the frogs were calling and the woodland wildflowers blooming. As soon as they got out of their van we took them for a walk before unpacking and orientation. Each evening of the week we took them to different parts of the farm and one night we had a fire on the hill and heard the woodcock calling. They enjoyed the stars and looking for salamanders and working in the garden and the woods. Students commented on how far they would have to go at home to find this kind of place, on the satisfaction of working with their hands. No one enjoyed the black flies and some were alarmed by anything that crawled or flew, but mostly they seemed to enjoy a closer connection with nature.
We asked a few of those students who weren’t alarmed by unknown critters to help us on Tuesday when the Early Learning Center in Pulaski brought 14 children and 4 chaperones for a field trip. The children ranged from 6 to 11 years old and their time was divided between helping and exploring. While Joanna and a couple high school students took half of the group on a mile long nature walk, stopping to look in ponds and under rocks and in the leaf litter, Zach took the other half to work and have a look at the gardens and farm animals. The children made birdhouses to take back to their center and to use at the farm, removed rocks from the pig pasture area, hauled firewood out of the pine plantation, and gathered pine needles to mulch the strawberries. After an hour, the groups switched off and after another hour, they ate their picnic lunch by the pond. They fed crackers to the fish and tried the swings and looked for frogs. The director told me she hadn’t realized there was a place like this so close by and she wants to have another visit in the summer.
That same spring vacation week when the high school group was with us was also national TurnOff Week. This was the second year that Joanna organized local events offering real life alternatives to time spent in front of screens. St. Francis Farm offered sunset nature walks from 6:45 to 8 each evening weather permitted. The weather was good and local folks came for these walks Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday. Getting through supper and clean-up before these visitors arrived was challenging, but the pleasure people found was rewarding. We had energetic young children, trying-to-look-bored adolescents, and a grandmother who had trouble keeping up with the youngsters running ahead. Some people already knew quite a lot of the flowers and birds and to others almost everything was new. Joanna is very good at finding the rocks that have salamanders lurking under them, and I know the places that are easy enough for elders to walk and still have plenty to see.
The night that two separate parties of sunset walkers arrived early, four of the staff from Unity Acres also stopped in after walking through the woods road. We left some of the Billerica group to finish the clean-ups, showed the early visitors where they could explore on their own for a bit by the pond, introduced the youth leaders to Fr. Jones. Then I set out to walk back with the UA folks while Joanna took the sunset walkers and Zach kept an eye out for late comers. Halfway through the woods we met a man who had recently arrived at UA. He was wandering along beside the road, looking this way and that at all the different flowers. When he saw us he started exclaiming over all the things he’d found that he’d never seen in Texas. He was looking for someone to tell him what they were. Steve and I took a little detour and told him the names of half a dozen flowers, and I invited him to stop and see us at the farm someday when he made it all the way through the woods. We caught back up with Loretta and Peg and Fr. Jones and then I realized that I ought to be getting back to our side of the woods. Joanna still was out with the local visitors but the Billerica group had dropped out of the tour when it crossed the road and were enjoying the area by the pond. I sat down for a chat with one of the leaders before we gathered the kids for evening reflection at 8, and I must admit that I had trouble staying focused for that discussion time and that it felt like a very full day with maybe too much to juggle.
This week we’ve had a young man from Washington state staying and working with us. He also has enjoyed the woods (so different from the ones he knows at home) and the brightness of the stars. Friday of this week children who are prospective participants in our summer program are coming for a visit to help them decide if they want to come this summer. Early next week Andy Nelson is coming again to help us identify plants.
( three weeks later) May is almost over and it’s time to finish this and get the June newsletter together. On Mother’s Day we woke to an inch of snow on the ground and we went walking in snow and sleet and marveled at the new green of ferns unfolding against white. Andy pointed out various invasive plants and we’ve begun to deal with some of them. He also identified plants that had baffled us and corrected some misidentifications we had made. He found a raccoon family living in a hollow on the back side of a maple in the edge of the woods behind the barn, and we’ve enjoyed watching them. When we found a large maple blown down across one of our woods paths, we saw two owlets sitting just outside a cavity on the downed trunk. Our Directors came for the annual meeting and had time for a woods walk after lunch. We had two more WWOOF volunteers who walked with us every evening and enjoyed the swings and the wildlife by the pond. We need rain and we and the wild things struggle to adjust to the drastic temperature swings, but we’re grateful for the surprises and the sureness of spring and for the folks who’ve shared them with us at the farm.
for the love which from our birth over and around us lies,
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.
–Words from hymn by Folliott Sandford Pierpoint
One group’s view of our mission
At the end of their week with us we ask visiting groups for feedback. One of the questions we ask is how our stated mission was carried out in their time with us. Below is our mission statement followed by excerpts from the feedback we received from the nine students and two chaperones who spent their spring break with us in April.
The mission of St. Francis Farm is to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles as an alternative to the consumer culture. The community provides practical assistance, prayerful presence and a place for reflection to help others simplify their lives.
The grace of God, the generosity of supporters and the bounty of the land provide the foundation for the community. By their commitment and unpaid labor the full-time residents maintain buildings, work the land and welcome visitors. Guests volunteer their labor and share the simple gifts of the farm: work and prayer, discussion and recreation.
The work tasks were as I was hoping for. The lifestyle/simple living was much more intensive than I expected. But it made me think more about my personal lifestyle.
I’ve done manual labor before so I’m used to it, but I’ve never done it that much and I didn’t have to wake up at 6:30 every morning. I did learn to do many things that I didn’t know before, also I learned to be able to relieve stress by praying.
I’ve learned so much, not only about farming but also about my choices as a member of a consumer society. I am very glad that you allowed us to stay with you and took the time to make sure we had a fulfilling visit.
It did surprise me how tired and how hard I worked. Also I came into this hoping to come out a little different and I think I did. After listening to people’s thoughts and having talks with Lorraine I do feel different. I literally want to go home and live simply. I want to help in my garden, stop spending useless money, and anything I can do to help people.
After the hard work pondering about my life was helpful. This trip really made me to learn the other side of the opinions about the simple life. Some of the discussions that really touched me were about using less energy and resources since I am [an] environmentally friendly person… I just realized that even having many products that are not needed disturbs the world.
I thought coming here that this was going to be all farm work and not as much prayer/circle time. I think more people should live simplier but not to this extreme.
I am surprised to have learned certain things from this trip. It’s not so much where you start as where you end. You followed your mission to the best of your abilities.
This is a peaceful quiet place and you could let go of your life at home. We got to experience many different things and try new challenges.
You opened our eyes about consumerism and tried to show us how simple living works, I really enjoyed living simply. It’s peaceful and beautiful on the farm.
The mission of alternative to the consumer culture was definitely accomplished. The way of life based on the Gospels was not so visible to me.
Instead of that mindset of our consumer world you decided to choose your own, to make life not like a conveyer belt in the pollution spewing factory that is my world. You’ve made it fun, enjoyable, complex and intriguing. Your world is out of the ordinary and goes against what I’ve been used to. I love that.
WWOOFers’ Week at St. Francis Farm by Aya and Amy Mares
My sister and I were drawn to St. Francis Farm by the honest and practical voice that rose from the descriptions we read both on the St. Francis Farm website and the WWOOF online directory. Living and working on the farm for close to a week, we have not been let down but encouraged by the company of Joanna, Zachary, and Lorraine.
This past winter within the snowy woods of Maine, after a discussion of our interests and their intermingling with our environmental concerns, Amy and I decided to spend our summer on a journey of experiential learning revolving around sustainable agriculture and living. After much time with our noses in the WWOOF directory, Amy and I were fortunate to discover St. Francis Farm.
In the short while we have been here, we have worked with Joanna in the garden and greatly enjoyed the stories and songs shared among seedlings, weeds, and compost. We have assisted in the milking of Shasta and Poppy, the farm’s lovely Alpine goats. After which Lorraine taught us how to make Cider Vinegar Queso Blanco. Along with the goat cheese, Lorraine has produced marvelous meals consisting of the farm’s asparagus, onions, lettuce, pigs, eggs, and homemade bread. These meals were accompanied by interesting discussions on lifestyle, environmental ethics, books and beyond. The conversations continued after supper time as we enjoyed some of the many trails on this 180 acre farm. These walks heightened our environmental awareness as we were informed of the various bird songs, nesting areas, and other plants and wildlife such as napping baby raccoons and trillium that were pointed out to us on the way. Amy and I are grateful to have found this area of common ground and growth and feel that St. Francis Farm has acted as a fertile beginning to our journey and research of sustainability in the environments and minds of America. Thank you Joanna, Zachary, and Lorraine for thoughts, teachings, and interest.
Maintenance by Zachary
This spring the projects on my list have gone surprisingly well. The maple syrup season was very brief and very early, but we got twenty quarts since the flow of sap was quite good while it lasted. I got the firewood in starting in March when the snow was gone. The last of the pile that the loggers had left for us by the woodshed filled the shed about halfway. I went out and got some wood by myself, and when the group of high school students from Billerica MA was here they helped me get in a couple of big loads on the new firewood wagon that I had welded together last fall. Adam from the west coast helped finish filling the shed. We have been burning the hardwood slabs from the sawmill over the past couple of years and have found them to work quite well in the boiler.
The group helped me tear down the old shed on the end of the pole barn that was in quite bad shape. They also started to dig the three holes for the footings for the new shed. After the group left I found a rock in one of the holes that turned out to be about three feet square and was quite a project to remove. Once the holes were dug the new shed went up quite easily and quickly. Before I proceeded with the shed I spent a day jacking up the pole barn roof and straightening it. It had become quite wavy as the new posts had settled in over the past few years. Many thanks are due to Unity Acres for letting us have five logs from their spruce plantation blow-down to make the rafters and the beam. Our red pine plantations don’t have trees big enough to make the wider pieces and the spruce is much lighter and easier to work with than aspen, which is the other wood we have used for framing lumber. The new shed is 14’x28’ and will be used to store hay and haying equipment. At the time of this writing the roof is up and the walls are still open. I am planning to enclose the walls with the next group which is scheduled to come in June. For now we can put hay in it whenever the hay is cut, and as long as we get the walls done before winter we’ll be fine.
I have sold some lumber over the course of the spring and around the end of April I had an idea that we could saw kits for people who want to rebuild their hay wagons before the haying season. This gives us an outlet for lower grade lumber that is not desirable to our customers who build furniture and such. We have sawn kits for three wagons thus far at a total value of $700, and I think that we can find more customers for wagon lumber as I have time to cut it.
We were advised by Steve Dickhout to ask Mr. Milferd Potter, our county legislator and former Orwell highway superintendent, what to do about our portion of the gravel road through the woods. He was kind enough to come and lend us his expertise, and now I have a much better grasp of what needs to be done. On his recommendation we rented a box blade for the tractor which enabled me to pull a lot of gravel back up out of some of the ditches and put it back in the road. We had two loads of driveway gravel delivered and used it to fill in some of the worst holes that remained after the road was graded. We will likely need to buy another load or two at some point to finish the job properly. We also need to re-dig a couple of substantial sections of the ditch along the road and clear rocks and trees and such from the rest. This should help with our drainage problems. I am very grateful to have such good advice, and the job thus far took a lot less time and money than I had thought it might.
To use tools and knowledge in a particular place with good long-term results is not heroic. It is not a grand action visible for a long distance or a long time. It is a small action, but more complex and difficult, more skillful and responsible, more whole and enduring, than most grand actions. –Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land
Doing What We Can (written during the fourth week in May) by Joanna
There’s a children’s song in the voice of a pioneer farmer. Each successive verse describes a longer list of difficulties–the backbreaking labor of building a house, the milk cow that went dry, the overworked horse, etc, etc. The refrain is, “But the land was sweet and good, and I did what I could.” That song has been running through my head as I try to deal with the challenges of this growing season and to give thanks for the goodness of the land and the food it still provides.
We had another fitful spring. The weather turned warm in late March, and we had some 80-degree days in April. I planted peas and greens very early, and they got off to a good start; the asparagus started producing early; the grapevines and oak trees leafed out early too. Then May turned cold. We had snow on Mother’s Day and a 26-degree freeze the following night. The grapevines lost many of their green shoots, the new oak leaves withered, the potato sprouts blackened. Some of the lettuce, kale and spinach that we didn’t manage to cover died; the rest stopped growing for a while. In the third week of May the weather turned warm and dry again. The potatoes are up again, we have all the greens we want to eat, and we’ve set tomatoes and squash out and planted beans, hoping not to have another freeze.
We’ve started taking steps to deal with difficult weather and need to do more of this next year. The extra row cover we purchased helped us keep the asparagus and much of the greens from freezing. Zachary built a cold frame which sheltered large greens transplanted from the winter greenhouse; this worked very well and we’ll build another next spring. I also plan to do more sheltered succession plantings. The winter lettuce mix I started in the greenhouse in January throve, and we’re still eating from those plants now. Next year I’ll start another batch in March or so, along with kale, and move them out into the new cold frame. We’ll probably get our first real trial of the drip irrigation system this summer; the last two growing seasons were so wet that we didn’t use it much. I’m also mulching more to help retain moisture. I continue to make mistakes. We moved our shiitake logs to a rack under the pole barn where we could keep them out of the sun, so they wouldn’t dry out, and off the ground, so no more of them would be colonized by other sorts of fungus. We started to soak them in mid-April and got some mushroom pins, but then the temperature dropped sharply and only one pin matured. The logs we soaked later, when the weather was warmer and more favorable, haven’t fruited at all. I don’t know if the logs are just getting too old or if I let them get too dry. I’ll figure it out now, but I should have checked earlier on how soon they needed to be soaked in spring. We’ve inoculated a large batch of new shiitake logs which should start fruiting next year.
I keep learning from my previous mistakes and mishaps. I started our seedlings in a better soil mix and remembered to water them from the bottom not the top; our tomato seedlings throve. I’ve inoculated them with Actinovate, a symbiotic bacterium that’s supposed to help them fight off fungal diseases like late blight–we’ll see. And the greens are decently spaced, well-fertilized and beginning to yield abundantly.
We still need to figure out about goat breeding; I thought Amahl really was bred this year, but she didn’t give birth. We sold her to a farm that keeps a buck on the premises and bought a new doe, Poppy, from the same farmer who sold us Shasta and Amahl. We’ve gotten promising-looking piglets from a new farm and they are growing well (and staying in their pen after an initial escape that included a swim in the pond).
We’re enjoying the food that comes by grace. We ate a lot of wild leeks before the leaves dried up. The berry bushes and apple trees were loaded with flowers this spring, and we think we could have a good year for fruit if it isn’t too dry.
We’re also enjoying the people who come to share the work and learn with us. The youth group from Billerica helped me to get ahead of the weeds in their mid-April visit, as well as pitching in on planting seeds and turning compost. Some said they’d help more with gardens back at home. We’ve already had 3 volunteers this season through the WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) program. Adam from WA spent a week with us in late April, and Amy and Aya Mares (authors of WWOOFers’ Week at the Farm on page 2) spent a week with us in mid-May. We are grateful for their help, questions, stories and songs, and hope that they’ll keep finding their way into a sustainable and satisfying life and work. And our time with them reminds us of the goodness of this life that we have found, in spite of its many frustrations. The land is sweet and good, and we do what we can.
What Sacrifice? by Joanna
We got good work done and had interesting conversations with our most recent youth group. On some points we failed to understand each other. I was puzzled by the youth and adults who spoke of our way of living as ‘extreme simplicity’ and uncomfortable with those who said they’d ‘sacrificed’ their break to come live and work with us or praised us for ‘sacrificing’ our lives by living simply. I’ve often heard similar remarks from other groups and not known how to respond. I don’t find our way of living extreme or sacrificial, and I wonder if this way of seeing it makes it harder for our guests to enter into it. After the latest group left I had an experience which brought the question into sharper focus.
I bicycled to Pulaski to get groceries. It’s a very short trip by any real cyclist’s standards–about six miles each way–but the way home is mostly uphill, and I am not a disciplined cyclist. I caught myself mentally grumbling about having to go uphill when my carrier was full and I was tired, humming the theme from “Chariots of Fire” on particularly steep bits, congratulating myself on being disciplined, resenting being disciplined, and thinking about what I wanted to do to indulge myself when I got back. I realized that this was quite ridiculous. I also felt empathy for our recent guests, who sometimes seemed to have a similar reaction to their week with us. Working with our hands, eating at meals instead of living on snacks, taking time for silence and for meaningful conversations instead of being plugged into electronics–all of these things seem as basic and normal to me as the ride back from town seems to my brother who cycles much longer distances. But beginning to practice any alternative to the consumer culture feels uncomfortable. It’s tempting to deal with that discomfort by exaggerating it, claiming it as a sacrifice made for others, and feeling entitled to some external reward.
But the truth is that bicycling to town was my choice, made for many reasons. Bicycling gives me a chance to notice the flowers in the grass and the birds in the trees, to stop and talk to neighbors, to step back from my usual routine and clear my mind, to strengthen my muscles. It does also slightly reduce my carbon emissions; but since I have to live with the results of climate change, I can hardly claim this as a disinterested or altruistic motive.
Individuals who come to volunteer outside groups are much less likely to describe their time here as a sacrifice. They come to learn about farming and forestry, slow down, pray and think. Sometimes they find this life and work mentally and physically tiring. But they speak of this as a choice, a different way of living that may be both harder and more satisfying, a chance to test practices that they may want to incorporate into their own lives. Our relationship is one of mutual help toward a common goal.
Such mutual giving might still involve sacrifice, depending on how the word is meant. The dictionary definition of ‘sacrifice’ is “To give up…or forgo something valued for the sake of something having a more pressing claim.” That’s a basic thing we have to do every day, sorting out which claims are most pressing and acknowledging that we can’t have all the things we want. There’s an old Spanish proverb that I remember in times of weariness and discouragement: “Take what you want, says God; take it, and pay for it.” It’s important for us to acknowledge what we are taking as well as what we are paying. Then sacrifice doesn’t entitle us to any reward, here or hereafter, besides the intrinsic satisfaction of choosing what gives enriches our lives, our communities and our world.
There is a big difference between having many choices and making a choice. Making a choice–declaring what is essential–creates a framework for a life that eliminates many things but gives meaning to the things that remain. –Plain and Simple by Sue Bender
We have another high school group from the same parish coming June 20-25.
The local elementary school has 8 children signed up for Growing Season Summer Program at the farm on Tuesday and Thursday mornings from July 13 to August 12.
Three other WWOOF volunteers are scheduled to come at various points through the summer and we continue to get inquiries.We are thankful for the financial support and prayers that sustain us in this work, and your letters and visits are welcome.
To Walk and Not Faint by Lorraine
I haven’t found a focus for my report on this summer. Heat and humidity were higher than in recent summers, sapping our strength but spurring growth of both crops and weeds. The calendar is written over and crossed out as people scheduled visits and then canceled. Yet we seem to have had visitors much of the time and those who came had very different points of view, giving us contradictory reflections of the farm as seen by outside eyes.
The school in Pulaski that arranges for children to come to GSSP, our growing season summer program, only signed up seven children this year. That was easier for us but we wonder why so few when they have told us it was hard for them to limit the number to twelve. Four of the children had been to the farm before and so knew the ropes. In spite of the uncomfortable heat and humidity, the children were good help and enthusiastic explorers. Each day they came I listed available vegetables on the blackboard and they could sign up for the ones they wanted. Most days they all signed up for everything, and they all took seed garlic and instructions for planting it this fall. This year I noticed that they chose the edge of the flower gardens as often as the stream or pond edges for their quiet place to sit before lunch. Tree climbing and berry picking were favorite activities.
Both our group weeks in June were canceled. The high school group couldn’t find the second chaperone required by their diocese and didn’t let us know until a couple weeks before their expected arrival. The older college student group was canceled in May so we hadn’t done much planning for them beyond planting extra peas for feeding more mouths during pea-picking time. One of the women who had signed up for that group contacted us asking to come herself and bring her granddaughter. They came the last week of July and enjoyed participating in the summer program on Tuesday and Thursday. They were going to write for this newsletter but we haven’t heard from them since they left. Andy who spent several days with us in the summer of 2007 wanted to come back this summer with his wife and their two children, ages 5 and 7. They were scheduled for early July, and we suggested postponing the visit when the weather report was for very high heat and humidity with air quality warnings. They then planned to come in August but it didn’t work out from their end.
We had a surprise day visit from a family. In 2003 Protus had visited the farm while a college student, coming with his host family from Oswego. He had spoken of spending some of his summer with us, but we hadn’t heard from him again until he arrived on a July afternoon with his wife and four children. I showed them around and they ate their picnic lunch by the pond. I brought out the magnifiers and nets and field guides we use with the GSSP, and the girl visiting with her grandmother joined the exploration by the pond and stream. Then she asked if she could take these visitors along the woods trail where we’d been in the morning to look for salamanders. Joanna came down from the garden to act as guide, and off they went with more field guides and containers for looking at whatever they found. When they returned it was time to milk and the children who were old enough tried milking before they piled into the car with vegetables and promises to keep in touch. As they were saying good-by Protus again mentioned that he’d like to come back with his family for a couple days to help out next summer.
Earlier this year we had inquiries from many individuals who had seen our website or our Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) listing and wanted to volunteer. Neither of the young men who thought they would like to come for the season stayed for longer than a week. Sometimes we didn’t think this farm was a good fit for the volunteer, and sometimes a visit was arranged and then the volunteer changed plans. We will have a WWOOFer from England who had originally planned to come in the spring with us from August 24 until September 3. The reactions of those who do visit vary. Some find their time here rewarding and experience us as caring, open, and generous. Others are disappointed with the experience, discouraged by the work and displeased with us. We keep trying to be clear with people both before they arrive and while they are here and ask them to be clear with us, not only about what they like but also about what disappoints or displeases them.
From all of these experiences we have come to some preliminary conclusions that we’ll consider more fully during the coming winter. Being clear about expectations is helpful, but is complicated by the different basic assumptions people have. Our basic mission is not to provide an alternative experience to visitors, but to live and work in an alternative way, allowing people who are willing to share that life and work with us. Those visitors who enter most fully into the work find the most satisfaction. (This is true for the local children in our GSSP as well as for individuals or members of groups staying here overnight.) Since all guests not only work with us but eat and pray and walk and relax with us, they have a significant impact on our energy. We’re trying to see how that can work when families with young children come for more than a day visit.
In our first couple years here, my worries were about having enough money to keep the farm open. Thanks to faithful regular donors and various unexpected donations, I don’t find myself fretting about finances. The fear I sometimes feel is of not having the energy for the next task, the next day, the next month, the next person coming to our door. I’m thankful for all the prayers and helping hands and encouraging words that have helped us when our energy was low. I’m thankful that Joanna was able to get away for a week in August to attend a gathering of New England Quakers in Rhode Island and that Zach was able to bike up into the Adirondacks recently for a few days of camping and hiking. I’m looking forward to taking some time myself when the tomatoes are canned and dried and the days are turning golden. I try to remember that “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
In the disarray of our time spent between the here and there, a couple weeks ago and now, seldom are the moments that invoke meaning and few are memories worth revisiting. I have spent the last two years studying at SUNY Oswego and wanted to gain a new connection with nature through gardening and working with the earth. I was looking for a different style of education that cannot be taught in the classroom. Saint Francis Farm was recommended to me by chance, and through the friendly and welcoming website that chance became a decision, and that first inquiring email turned into various visits to the farm this summer. Between working in the garden with a patient Joanna, eating unbelievably delicious food prepared by Lorraine, and staring in awe at Zachary‘s abilities and craftsmanship, I discovered a very special feeling inside myself that had lain dormant for a long time, peacefulness. There is a certain good old fashion quality– whether you call it openness, kindness, or just plain wholeheartedness– that most people seem to lack today. It’s no one’s fault in particular, it’s just not raised within our society’s walls to appreciate and look after one another the way we use to. But here at the farm where technology slows down and hard work and developed skill take center stage, compassion and understanding also seem to be written into the role. My time at the farm was split between learning the beginnings of gardening–I couldn’t even tell the difference between tomato plants and potato plants–and listening to advice about the different roads and options an unhappy college student like myself can take. It’s refreshing to hear different viewpoints and opinions from people who live by their own example
I was also able to help out once with the kids who came for the summer program held at the farm. I was able to watch and help out the kids that came for a couple hours. They worked in the garden pulling out weeds, pulled off garlic root from the plants, and collected all different types of flowers from around the property. I was in charge of the microscope table where the kids brought over the flowers and got the chance to look closer at all the different parts of a flower under higher magnification. Before lunch was served, a little meditation session was in store and everyone was asked to sit in a spot for a couple of minutes without making any noise and simply observe the world around them. I watched as a boy ran across the grass and jumped eagerly into a bush, as if he had had that spot picked out already. It made me smile. When it was lunch time, the kids ate outside on the tables set up next to the lake. It was a good way to end their time at the farm for the day.
I can go on and on about how tranquil it is to be able to hear the birds sing or how rewarding it is to help plant what you eventually will eat, but I’ve only visited a handful of times and I don‘t think its right to pay lip service to anyone, let alone nature. As I plan on continuing volunteering this next year, with Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary already offering to teach me how to make bread, flower print cards and mouth-watering raspberry pie; maybe next seasons newsletter I’ll have a crazy experience or special skill I’ll be able to ramble on about. So for now all I can say is that I took a chance in visiting the farm and that chance left me with memories made with the Hoyt family retold many times to eager friends who always end up noticing the same thing, how, while recounting those special summer days, I had been smiling the entire time.
Maintenance by Zachary
This summer we have done most of the things we set out to do, but it has been unusually hot and I have not been working at my customary rate. The sides are up on the new shed but the front wall is still waiting for lumber to be sawn out for it. The shed is currently almost full of hay, most of which will be sold as soon as possible. The hay for our goats will only take up a bit less than a quarter of the space and I plan to devote the remainder to the storage of haying machinery and such. I am hoping to be able for the first time to get all of our equipment except for the wagons under cover for the winter. This year we were not able to cut hay until the beginning of July because of the weather but once we got started we put in 530 bales in just a week while the weather held. We have sold about 125 thus far. I left about 80 bales on a wagon with a tarp over it but the hay sat on the wagon for longer than I had expected and the tarp leaked and made the hay become moldy, so I had to dump it. Both tractors had a tendency to overheat while baling this year, which is not surprising since the temperature was in the 90s. I need to see about getting the radiators flushed at some point. Our ‘new’ haybine worked very well except for a couple of minor breakdowns and made the cutting and drying both much faster than they have been in previous years.
In June I had to replace the head gasket and do some other work on my tractor prior to the haying season. It was my first time using a torque wrench and I was somewhat unsure if I could get it right, but it has been running well thus far. I also had to rebuild the magneto after the tractor lost spark about a mile away in the woods. It took me a few tries to get that right, but I am hoping that soon I will have caught the tractor up on repairs and will not have to work on it as much.
One of the rental trailers on the farm had ongoing problems all of last winter with its furnace and we were not able to resolve them even with visits from two professional furnace repairmen. This has further hardened my idea that I might as well mess things up myself as hire a professional to mess them up for me. A few years ago we made the determination that we would phase out our rental trailer activities as the trailers became too difficult to repair and we informed the tenants of that decision. We decided last winter that we did not wish to try to get through another winter with the furnace in the trailer acting up and in the spring we notified the tenants that they needed to move out by summer. They have now moved and the trailer has been sold. It is expected to be removed in the next few weeks.
We have had some ongoing troubles with high water in the stream across the road flowing into the pond and making the pond overflow across the lawn back into the stream. In the spring we built up some low spots in the strip of lawn between the pond and stream and put in some rocks to try to control the erosion. The summer program kids helped me start to dig a trench across the driveway at the lower end of the pond on the last week they were here and Bob Bartell helped me finish digging and then bury an 8” diameter plastic culvert there last week. The culvert leads to a small overflow pond which is at a lower level. Over the weekend we got 3.8” of rain, which was sufficient to fill the pond to the level of the culvert. It worked very well on this occasion and we will have to see if it is sufficient to control the water level during spring snowmelt.
Harvest and Helpers by Joanna
I spent the second week of August at the Yearly Meeting of New England Quakers, who were focusing this year on the teachings of Jubilee, of justice, forgiveness, community restoration and healing for the land. I found the worship and company helpful, and I enjoyed the rest from my usual work. The day before I left I caught myself thinking ‘Seven whole days without bellowing goats and Japanese beetles….’ But when I got to the Meeting I spent much of my time talking with Friends about my work here at the farm. I came home grateful for this place where I can practice the Jubilee teachings in a small and immediate way, where I can see the results of my faithfulness and my carelessness and experience the practical effects of grace and mutual aid.
The garden is producing well. After the erratic temperatures of spring the summer has been quite warm. The peas bore early and the first few pickings were heavy, though they tapered off early in the heat of July. Many of the summer vegetables came early; we were able to give cherry tomatoes, cukes and squash to the summer program kids from the beginning of their time with us. We’ve sent bags and bags of cukes and squash to the soup kitchen, the senior meal site and any visitor who’s willing to take them. Now the vines have powdery mildew and production is declining. Mildew also hit our onions this year; due to this and my irregular weeding our onions are about 1/3 of their usual size. The antifungal symbiotic bacterium we got to fight off blight might have stemmed these infestations, but I failed to read the fine print and refrigerate the first batch. (We have a new batch now in proper storage.) The tomatoes show no signs of blight as yet. We’re drying quantities of Juliet tomatoes and canning the larger varieties. The peppers are thriving, and we have decent eggplant for the first time in years. We’ve finished canning beans and freezing pesto and are giving basil and beans away as fast as we can. It looks as though we’ll have plenty of carrots and potatoes to store. And in spite of the heat we’ve had fresh lettuce throughout the summer thanks to succession planting, shade cloth and frequent watering.
It’s been a good year for fruit. We’ve frozen 29 quarts of raspberries and blackberries from the brambles that grow wild around the edges of the fields. The apples ripened early and we’ve already frozen and canned a large portion of what we’ll need for the winter. Two of the young apple trees that hadn’t borne much fruit before have given us fair amounts of large sweet fruit this year. The grapevines planted in 2007 have also fruited for the first time; the Concord-types are decent-sized, the seedless ones tiny but very sweet.
The goats are doing well, and it’s easier to keep them on fresh grazing thanks to the movable fence squares that Zachary built with help from the April group. Our pigs, Chub and Grub, are growing well and eating everything we give them; they’re the easiest ones we’ve had so far.
I’m grateful to the people who have helped me keep up with this work. The summer program students this year helped willingly and attentively with the work, and several said that was their favorite part of their time here. We always started the days with weeding, which would otherwise have overwhelmed me. Later they cleaned garlic (which would have been a very long job with fewer hands), and those who had been attentive helped me pick basil and put in succession plantings of greens. After that we were able to take time to explore with them without feeling hopelessly behind on our work. Alicia, who wrote the article on page 2, came several times to weed, pick, plant and talk with us; her help and company were delightful. Melinda Kurowski from our Board spent a day with us right after I came back from the Quaker gathering; she helped me catch up with harvesting and weeding, shared conversations about work and worship and wholeness, and went home with vegetables to eat, garlic to plant and with materials to set up a worm bin for indoor composting. Bob Bartell, who wrote ‘A Pivotal Time of Help and Hope’ for the December 2008 newsletter, came back for his fourth yearly visit after Melinda left. He helped with weeding, picking, canning and apple processing. I was still feeling behind on my work, and was amazed at how quickly I was able to catch up with his help. He reported on the thriving community garden at his church, gave suggestions about organic fungicides, asked about crop rotation and cover cropping and took seed garlic back with him.
I am not clear about how to heal communities or the earth on a large scale, but with patient work and attention and grace I see our garden soil and our relationships with neighbors and guests growing richer. I just need to keep going, keep paying attention and learning from my mistakes, keep giving thanks for the goodness that’s already here.
Nature Note by Lorraine
When chickadees began competing with tree swallows for the nest box by the pond, Zach built a new box to chickadee specifications which I hung far enough into the woods to deter wrens. It didn’t get used this year but the chickadees did raise young in the box by the pond, wrens moved into boxes built and hung for them in a couple different places, and six oriole nests were built in sight from our buildings.
In early June I turned from working in the flower garden to head into the barn and heard a hissing off to my right. I turned and saw a skunk with two young coming down from the field into the parking area. I backed off, called to warn Jo and Zach not to come running down for anything from the garden for a bit, and got my camera from the barn so I was able to get a few pictures (from a safe distance) before the skunk nudged her youngsters across the road and down over the stone wall.
In late July I was enjoying a welcome cold front on a Sunday afternoon and watching kingfishers around the pond. A frog jumping across the small stream alerted me to a predator, and I was expecting a northern water snake to emerge from the moving tall grass. The mink who stepped out was as startled as I was and the young one with her dove and disappeared into the water as she did into the growth on the bank before I could use the camera beside me on the bench.
As I write this in mid-November we are coming to the end of our growing season and the end of the liturgical year. Yesterday I put up the paper for us to list our blessings for the litany we’ll read on Thanksgiving. This newsletter will reach its readers during the first week of Advent, when we’ll be preparing for the arrival of an unusually large group for the Spanish Apostolate Advent Retreat.
Recognizing the gifts that have come to us and giving thanks for them is an antidote to greed and also to despair. The beauty and the bounty of creation are not earned but are richly satisfying. When we slow down enough to appreciate what we’ve been given, we realize that we have all that we need–we don’t need to grasp but can share these unearned blessings, the good and perfect gifts that come from above. No one is entitled by their goodness nor unworthy through their faults. We can all receive the bounty from our Father with joy and gratitude.
This year Advent begins three days after Thanksgiving. We’ll hang up our banner with its dead stump and green shoot as we acknowledge our disappointments and the dead ends of our lives. The gap grows ever wider between the haves and the have-nots. Prisons are full, old wars go on and new ones threaten, hate and violence are loosed on the helpless and the different. More of earth becomes desert, more ocean is dead, toxic waste piles higher and there is pressure to weaken environmental protection in an effort to grow the economy. Our own small struggles to be clearer or kinder or wiser or stronger have not led to clear victory. We’ll light the first candle for Hope, remembering the promises, what is, and what is not yet.
Throughout these weeks the society around us is engaged in a frenzy of advertising, buying, wrapping, and worrying about–gifts. Charitable organizations struggle to provide for those who lack the basics and to fend off inappropriate donations without offending donors. It can be hard to find the time to stop and discern what the real needs are and what we have received and can freely give. Whatever our gifts, may we offer them in the Spirit and at the guidance of the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. –by Lorraine
Increasing numbers of people have come to feel that love can be measured by the quantity and cost of the gifts they receive or must give to others at these holidays . . . Stop buying gifts and instead offer a gift of time to help your friends with whatever your skill–painting their house; helping them with carpentry or plumbing or child care, teaching their child to pay a game or a musical instrument, or . . . The list is endless once you detach from the need to endlessly consume and once you begin to imagine the gift of your time as far more valuable than “stuff”. The gift of your time also. . . does not accentuate the differences between those who can and cannot afford to buy material goods. –from Hope in History vs. Consumer Addictions, an article by Rabbi Michael Lerner in Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?, the 2010 Advent/Christmas resourcefrom Alternatives for Simple Living, www.simpleliving.org
Maintenance by Zachary
The firewood for next spring and summer is all in. The farmer who owns the field to the north was kind enough to let us cross it once the corn was picked and I brought out about 5,000 board feet of logs from the woodlots across the stream over the course of four days. There is more that needs to be cut, but I can’t get it until the ground either dries out or freezes, so I may not be able to do more this fall. The bulk of the wood is white pine but there are also some hardwood logs. The trip from the sawmill yard to the area where I’m cutting is about a mile and includes some quite steep hills that I have to climb with the logs. I was very grateful to have a whole week of fair weather in the middle of November which dried the ground out well enough that I was able to get in there without tearing up the ground in the neighbor’s fields. I used both tractors to do the job. The farm’s tractor stayed up in the woods for a few days and loaded the logs on the wagons and I used my tractor to haul most of the logs back to the farm. I have been starting to saw the logs into lumber and I have enough to keep me busy for a while. I’ve had a few orders for custom lumber and I’ll leave the rest of the pine to saw until I have a customer with a specific need. This year to date we have sold over $2,500 worth of lumber and custom sawing services and we have about $600 in orders to be filled in the next few weeks.
We had planned last winter to remove one of the remaining rental trailers on the farm over the summer as it was becoming too hard to maintain. The tenants were gone by September and I found a buyer on Craigslist who was looking for a trailer to move up to Gouverneur. The whole process from finding the buyer to the trailer being gone only took about a week and then we hired a dump trailer to put the trash in. The occupants of the other trailer told us in October that they had found a house to live in, so after they had moved out I removed the old enclosed porch and sheds from that trailer and this time we hired a dumpster to put the trash in. We couldn’t get a 15-yard dumpster so we got an 8-yard one and used some of the old sheathing to build the sides up. As it turned out we still had more trash left, so we had them bring the dumpster back and put it outside the farmhouse kitchen which needed to be completely gutted. We were just barely able to get the rest of the trash from the trailer and from the kitchen all into the dumpster, and when we were done it was piled about eight feet high. The trailer is still waiting for a buyer, but we have had some inquiries and it seems likely that we’ll be able to sell it either this fall or else in the spring.
The kitchen was insulated in 2005 when we were working on the house, and the wiring is mostly good. I need to jack up one side of the kitchen a bit and then we will hang drywall and repair the floor. We decided to remove the ceiling and insulate and drywall directly to the rafters. It will be a good project to work on in the winter, and we have most of the materials already in the house. Another project for the winter will be replacing the leaking spool valves and some of the hoses on the front end loader on our tractor. We can get the parts quite cheaply from a surplus dealer in Nebraska, and I will have to learn how to hook it all up.
In October l began to dig up the drain for the pot sink in the kitchen because it was partially blocked. Bear from Unity Acres came when we were part of the way through digging and helped us dig and gave us advice on how to set it up so it would work better. With his help we were able to get it done that evening. We had some drainage gravel left over and I re-dug the runoff drain by the front door and put in a drain in front of the pole barn by the goat pen. I have completed the doors and siding on the new hay shed.
It’s time now to finish up making toys for this year’s Christmas distribution at the refugee resettlement center. We’ve added two new toys this year, a set of stacking arches in rainbow colors and a wooden steamroller. We’re still making felt doll sets with branch furniture, wooden animals and vehicles, zigzags and mancala boards as in previous years.
Agriculture by Joanna
The fall has been long and mild, but as I write this in the third week of November the growing season is nearly over. I’ll miss the color and the taste of fresh vegetables, and the satisfying physical work; I’ll also enjoy having a little more time to read, write, rest and think. Looking back over the last part of this growing season I’m grateful for what we’ve grown, what we’ve learned, and how we’ve been helped.
The tomato blight struck early in September; I tried to slow it with pruning and with organic antifungal spray, but by the 13th we had pulled all our tomato plants. We got a decent harvest first; we have 131 quarts of tomatoes canned and 7 quarts dried. The squash and cukes also petered out in September, but we had beans, peppers and lettuce well into October, when we made the season’s last delivery to the soup kitchen. By then we had lettuce, kale, tatsoi and chard ready to harvest in the greenhouse. We’re still bringing beets and kale in from the garden. Katherine, our WWOOF volunteer from England, helped me dig up a decent crop of potatoes for the wellhouse/root cellar; they escaped the blight, though some had scab. Then the sump pump in the wellhouse broke down,releasing a lot of steam and water, and I had to bring the potatoes back to the house and spread them out to dry with some help from Board member Shirley Way. They’re back in the cellar now, along with an unusually large batch of carrots. The garden is about ready for winter now; I’ve covered almost all the beds with mulch to protect the soil and its beneficial inhabitants from excessive freezing and thawing. Thanks to the group from the SUNY Oswego Newman Center that helped with this. And for once I had plenty of good finished compost to put on the perennials and to spread on the beds of garlic which Sr. Mary Lou Seitz planted with me.
We’ve enjoyed an unexpected mushroom harvest. This spring we inoculated logs with two strains of shiitake mushroom spawn: a warm-weather type for force-fruiting during the milder part of the growing season, and a cold-weather strain that will fruit naturally in spring and fall. I expected that we’d start harvesting mushrooms next spring, but late in September the cold-weather logs started to fruit and they’re still at it. The warm-weather strain also started fruiting, but those mushrooms were small and thin; plainly the logs weren’t really ready yet. We’ve changed our shade and watering system so that the logs don’t dry out but don’t get forced to fruit early either. And we’ve gotten better information about how to manage the logs over the winter, so I hope this batch of logs will keep producing longer than the last ones.
Zachary found year-old hens at a good price on Craig’s List, so now we have eight Rhode Island Reds installed in the winter chicken coop. We gave our middle-aged hens away. We’re hoping for a decent supply of eggs even through the cold dark time.
We’re making hard cheese again. We won’t get as many cheeses made this year; both our goats are quite young, so we get less milk from them than from the ones we had before. But we may have better cheeses this year. Last year we kept having trouble with cracking and graininess and other problems that we eventually recognized as signs of overly acidic milk, probably caused by the length of time that our heavier milker had gone without kidding. This year we have a pH checker and have gotten some helpful information about how to alter the texture and pH of cheeses.
We’re grateful for the people who share their experience with us so that we can use our resources better, for the opportunity to pass some of what we’ve learned on to WWOOFers and neighbors and guests, for all the gifts by which we live.
Thoughts at the Year’s End
So many blessings throughout the year. People who help in the garden when it’s getting ahead of Joanna. People who sing with us around a fire or in the chapel. All the patterns that are so beautiful if we only take time to look–clouds backlit by the moon, sunlight on water, dragonfly wings, grasses and wildflowers at all their stages, the grain of the wood we make into toys, lichen on rocks, frost on autumn leaves. The harvest–shared and stored in root cellar, pantry and freezer. Health and strength and good work to do. Wise advice when we are stuck. Kind words and prayers when we are discouraged. The money we need coming in month after month. Return visitors who become friends, new visitors who delight in the farm and find in it a place to stop and think and work and pray.
People often seem puzzled by the farm economy, curious to know how it works and hesitant to ask questions about money. When we arrived in 2001, rental from five trailers and payments from visiting groups were the main support. We were also being invited to a few parishes to speak during the summer mission program and donations from those congregations supported the farm. The last of the rental trailers was vacated in October, we stopped charging a per person fee for groups several years ago, and we haven’t been invited to speak in a parish since 2006. We can do a lot with a little money since none of us are paid and the land provides resources. We still receive donations from individuals and from churches and other organizations. Our regular donors send letters that offer encouragement and connection. We are sometimes offered donations of materials that we can’t use or money for specific uses from people who don’t understand what we’re doing. (We don’t buy candy for children and we didn’t have a capital improvement project for which we could use $20,000 offered this fall.) We need a small amount of money regularly for fuels other than wood, for parts and feed and seed, insurance and postage, etc. More of that comes now from selling lumber and hay. We choose not to sell food and firewood, but we may begin to sell things made from wood.
We’ve given away all but one of the copies of The Shelter of Each Other by Mary Pipher and would welcome more copies. Also we would like to have copies of Deep & Simple by Bo Lozoff to share. We depend upon your prayers and welcome your thoughts about our work as we go into the time of reflection and review.