While much of the world is worrying about the bottom line, the focus at the farm is trying to keep from extremes. Through the days and through the seasons we seek to balance work and rest, availability and boundaries, giving and receiving. Even the view others have of us and of the work tends to polarize–either seeing the life as idyllic or as grim, seeing us as either saintly or deluded.
The work and rest balance has become easier with practice. The Sabbath book a visitor left with us has helped us see things we had missed. Experience makes the work easier as we learn from our mistakes. We’ve stopped planning work based on promised help that may not materialize. The backlog of urgent repairs has dwindled to a list of routine maintenance. From the beginning the practice of morning prayer provided balance for the day and the slower pace of winter allowed us to rest up from the growing season. We’ve added some winter work–making toys and cheese and syrup as well as running the sawmill and building storage into the barn where we live. We’ve found rest opportunities in other seasons with Zach’s annual biking and camping trip to the Adirondacks, Joanna’s visits to Quaker gatherings, and family day trips each spring and fall.
The balance between hospitality and boundaries affects that of work and rest. We try to be clear about what the farm offers–an alternative to consumer messages and virtual reality, an opportunity for manual labor and learning basic skills, and the natural beauty of woods and fields and starry skies. The challenges are inevitably attached and include rising before seven, working beyond fun to weariness, getting dirty, washing in sulfur water, encountering biting insects and prickly plants. Communicating all of this to campus ministers and youth leaders who want to bring a group but don’t want to limit the numbers, do basic work at the farm, have any of their consumer culture challenged or recognize their own neediness is difficult. Other visitors encourage us to stay open–families looking for a place where children can sled and explore and help, individuals looking for a place to learn about farming or sustainability, anyone wanting to stop and think and willing to work. Some visitors find a balance here while others find an extreme which they visit briefly and then feel they deserve something extravagant to compensate for the simplicity.
Balance is crucial to our stewardship of the land. We take firewood and logs (often from blowdowns or trees beginning to die) and leave snags and brush piles for shelter and openings for new growth. We tried to share the fields with snowmobiles, asking neighbors who wanted a place to ride to stay in certain areas and leave others for skiers. Finding the fields were rutted all over when we took a first time skier out, we put up ropes and no snowmobiling signs on the openings from the road. Hunters ask for and receive permission to hunt turkeys in May and deer in autumn. Each year a man stops in and asks if it is still ok for him to shoot squirrels out by our “pig nut tree”. I’m still not sure what tree that is but the answer is always yes. The coyote hunters pose a problem. They come in the winter and they stay on the road in their pickup trucks while their pack of dogs run the woods hunting coyotes. After the first winter of this hunting we heard no coyotes and it was a bad year for woodchucks and rodents. Coyotes haven’t ever bothered our livestock (not even young piglets kept across the road), but domestic dogs running loose have killed chickens and worried the goats. And winter is a hard enough time for all wildlife without packs of well-fed dogs running unsupervised through the woods. We tell these hunters their dogs are not welcome on our land, and we’re still trying to understand the regulations and voice our concerns as the DEC clarifies the policies governing such hunting. Some of our visitors are shocked that we allow hunting at all, and some of our neighbors are outraged that we prefer skiing to snowmobiling and that we see coyotes as part of the balance of nature.
Balance is what we offer in a world where so much is out of control. The fresh vegetables and herbs we send to the local soup kitchen provide a balance to the packaged foods they get from other sources. The toys we make for refugees are insignificant compared to the obstacles they face, but perhaps their simplicity and beauty can balance some of the confusion and ugliness. We try to give a balanced picture of our work, but responses tell us that some still see us as grimly hanging on while others perceive us as carefree escapists from the hard realities. We are grateful to those who help us keep a balance in our bank account, to those who encourage us when we feel defeated, and to those whose prayers fill the gap when we lack wisdom or strength. We help each other keep balanced best when we are aware that we both give and receive.
Maintenance by Zachary
This winter I have caught up on a few leftover tasks from last year and done some planning, but I have not done some of the larger projects that were on my list. I have made doors and a front for the set of kitchen shelves that hold dishes. This will help them to stay cleaner and it was a way to try out our cabinetmaking methods and materials before moving on the the larger projects in the kitchen. It is our plan to change the layout of the counters in the kitchen when we make the new cabinets, so we will be putting them together in the shop and then moving the completed assembly into the kitchen all at once.
Our last rental trailer made its departure in early January. It was sold in December but the weather did not allow it to be moved for a while. In the spring I will have some final cleanup to do at both of the trailer sites that were vacated last year, but it will not be too hard. It has been very nice this winter not to have to worry about the trailer furnaces and roofs and such.
We took some toys to our refugee contact in Syracuse in December, and I have made a few more since then. Now we are able to send toys down there at any time of year, so we will no longer have to accumulate them till Christmas each year. We also made a specially requested dexterity test board which will be used with adult refugees to help prepare them for jobs.
Lumber sales have continued to be fairly brisk, both hardwood and softwood. It is often interesting to find out what people do with their lumber. One of our customers buys oak and makes shoes on a wholesale basis for cows with injured toes. One bought some pine to make a rolling chicken coop. Another buys 1×3 pine to make crates to ship air compressors and has a friend who may be placing an order in the spring for several hundred boards to be used in making scarecrows.
Last summer and fall we were not able to sell all of our hay, which was a first for us. A neighbor came and bought 50 in November, and early in February the last 150 were bought. We had more interest in hay this winter than we had during the summer and fall, so it seems that we would likely be able to sell hay again at this time of year. We are looking at where we can store more hay through the winter months. We can get 400 bales in the new hay shed, but that puts the machinery out in the weather again. We may end up adding a wing on the back of the new barn at some point.
Spanish Apostolate Retreats by Lorraine
The Spanish Apostolate Advent Retreat was held at the farm just after the last newsletter went out. At that time we were expecting a larger than usual group with some new folks from Utica being added to Deacon Sweenie’s regulars from Fulton and Syracuse. As so often happens, it didn’t turn out quite as expected. Snowy weather and work requirements kept the regulars from attending and reduced the Utica contingent to six. But it turned out well. The newcomers were mostly women with close connections to each other and enough English to talk with us beyond the point where Zach and I become helpless in Spanish. So instead of depending on Joanna to translate, we were all able to converse with only minor difficulty.
David found, as he has noticed before, that a smaller group can lead to deeper sharing. Between the retreat sessions led by David, our guests were very interested in the farm. They not only wanted to go out and see the goats, but they also wanted to try their hands at making the dolls Joanna sews for refugees. Each woman made a doll to take home as well as taking a pattern and instructions. Lorenza runs a day care and we gave her a set of dolls with furniture as well as several other of the toys we make for refugees. They were also interested in our winter garden where we grow greens and our indoor worm bin for winter composting. They agreed to write for the next newsletter and were eager to come again to visit. As they left one woman wrote in our guest book, “I have understood that to be happy one does not need much, only love. To serve others one does not need to be of the same religion nor to speak the same language; we only need to love in God.”
We didn’t get anything for the newsletter but were not surprised since we have heard from different women from the group asking for prayers for medical and family problems. We did have a visit before Christmas from a couple of the women along with the husband and daughters of one of them. The children enjoyed sledding and the mother borrowed my snow pants (much too long) and went to join them briefly after watching from a window. The husband cooked a delicious supper with a little kitchen help from Joanna while I helped the women and girls fold brightly colored paper stars. Zachary gave Rosa a quick guitar lesson and we all sang carols–some in English and some in Spanish. The seven year old confided that she had been afraid it would be boring when her mother told her about coming to the farm but that it hadn’t been at all and she was looking forward to coming again.
I hope we’ll see some of these new friends again April 1-3 for the Lenten retreat and that the family and others will be back to visit in the green time.
Bullying by Joanna
I began to think about the problem of school bullying as we talked with a high school group from an affluent community. Some students were distressed by the put-downs, rumors, verbal and physical humiliations that they witnessed regularly at their school. Others said that bullying wasn’t a problem; the only kids who got harassed were the kids who deserved it, who were obnoxious, who didn’t even try to fit in. But one of these students added, when asked about intervention, that of course no one interfered when bullying occurred, because interfering was a sure way to ‘get the target put on you’. Apparently showing a concern for kindness or fairness counted as ‘not even trying to fit in’. I worried about this, but summer was coming on and we had a lot to do, and I let it slip out of my mind
This fall I was back at our local high school with my Stop and Think! sign and I overheard an adult urging a student to go back to her classroom. The student, on the verge of tears, said she couldn’t; a fellow student had started a rumor about her, it had spread, people gave her looks and said filthy things about her, she couldn’t take it any longer, if she hit anyone else or left the building on her own she’d be in serious trouble, and she couldn’t call her mother to pick her up early, because her mother was already in trouble at work for having left early to pick her daughter up on other days. I understood viscerally for the first time how trapped students can be. Once I started asking about bullying I heard stories everywhere. A student said it is just miserable being a girl in high school; you can be mocked for not having sex, but if you do have sex you’re branded a slut and discussed explicitly and endlessly.A grandmother told how her granddaughter got off the bus every day and sprinted for the bathroom because she didn’t dare to use the bathroom at the school. An administrator said that kids arrive at school fighting mad because of obscene or insulting messages about them that their classmates have spread electronically.
I started researching, and I realized that this bullying is very widespread and is reinforced by many aspects of adult culture. Bullies tend to be among the most popular students at their schools. Students describe picking on other students as a quick and easy way to gain status and consolidate friendships. In their book And Words Can Hurt Forever James Garbarino and Ellen deLara write that “Research reveals that some of the most intense bullying that takes place at school comes from dominant social groups… The larger culture beyond the school rewards those who succeed at all costs. Jackson Katz, school and military consultant, notes that ‘The bully is a kind of hero in our society. The concept of power we admire is power over somebody else.’ ”
Often bullies target students who are perceived as different in some way—disabled, gifted, poor, gay/lesbian, or nonconforming. Sometimes the bullies describe themselves as decent people who are just trying to quash or get rid of the kind of kids nobody wants to have around anyway. And in the aftermath of so many school shootings some students fear others who aren’t trying to fit in, believing that their difference makes them likely to turn violent. Fear and disparagement of people who aren’t like us is hardly confined to schoolchildren; it characterizes a lot of supposedly adult political discourse.
Many students report bullying others, or being bullied, because they don’t have the right stuff—brand-name clothes, bags etc. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, since young people see an average of 40,000 commercials a year, mostly telling them that they’re not smart, sexy, popular, happy or worthy, but they could be if they bought the right product. In the foreword to Susan Linn’s book Consuming Kids Penelope Leach writes, “Soft drinks, toiletries, makeup, sexy lingerie, violent videos and computer games (and personal computers and bedroom TVs to play them) are being marketed to children from preschool age up, with a completely cynical disregard for their well-being or that of the parents who have to withstand or accede to those cries of “All the other kids have one…”, knowing that the ‘wrong’ schoolbag or outfit really can reduce a child’s social standing and popularity…”
It is disturbing to realize that violence among young people stems from basic choices that we have made as a culture. But it’s also hopeful, because it implies there is basic work that all of us can do to help young people to become more resilient and respectful:
Build competence. Students are more able to cope with being harassed if they are focused on music, or a sport, or a volunteer project, or anything that gives them some measure of their ability other than the opinion of their peers. I remember Eddie and Kyle, who spent time with us after their father was arrested for beating his wife and children. Eddie had started knocking his mother and his siblings around. We could tell from their remarks and the things they played that they figured being a grown-up man meant that you got to be the scary one instead of the scared one. But at the farm they wanted to help with things. Kyle raked leaves and harvested carrots and asked if we’d call him Trooper Kyle if he did a really good job. Eddie came in looking proud after helping Zach grease the baler. When Zach decided to help my mother snap green beans Eddie looked shocked, but then he swallowed and said “If Zach’s snapping beans, I’ll snap beans.’ Those two boys began to see a way of being grown up based on skills and helpfulness rather than bullying.
Build community. Some former bullies told interviewers that they wished they’d had a chance to work along with students from the less popular groups and get to know them. Community service projects seem particularly effective in this—when there’s a task that has to be done well on someone else’s behalf, and students need each other to complete it, they are more apt to be able to see past their prejudices. And building intergenerational community is important too. Students are much more apt to handle bullying constructively if they have at least one adult whom they trust to listen to them and help them. Unfortunately, many students don’t have any such adult. Several affluent Catholic students told us, “You have to remember, we’re basically raising ourselves.” It’s hard for young people to do this well without the help of a more mature perspective.
Practice faith. We all need to remember that we’re connected to something larger and deeper than ourselves, our fears and desires and the pressures that surround us. As Bo Lozoff writes in Deep and Simple, “The presence of God can be practiced anywhere. . . Our spiritual journey is to drop every barrier, every addiction, every bit of pettiness, gossip, greed, pride, and delusion, which blocks us from seeing how holy everything already is… It’s important to keep our big view simple, and to pass such a simple view on to our kids. They desperately need a Bigger View than television, malls, and the salaries of their favorite athletes and movie stars…Our kids may be deeper if we treat them with depth. Our kids may be deeper if we are. No guarantees, but they’ll certainly have a better chance.”
Competence, community and spiritual practice are basic to the alternative to the consumer culture that we’re trying to live here at the farm. We are still trying to figure out how to invite people into this alternative.
Learn more at http://www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/kids/, http://jodeeblanco.com/survival.htm, www.stopcyberbullying.org, andhttp://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/bullies.html and in We Want You to Know: Kids Talk About Bullying by Deborah Ellis as well as the books quoted above.
There’s an article related to this one on my blog at http://livingasifthetruthwastrue.blogspot.com/2011/02/marketing-meanness-and-possible.html#comments and there are some further ideas and resources from various people in the comments section.
Living an alternative
We’ve been here almost ten years now and the thing that has changed the least is our concept of the mission: living an alternative to the consumer culture. People often assume that the mission is “serving the rural poor” by which they sometimes seem to mean making sure everyone has whatever stuff is being advertised this season. Groups have stopped coming to the farm because their organizers didn’t want them experiencing an alternative or questioning their own consumption. But as we try to learn more about bullying and as we listen to young people trying to find their way it is clear to us that an alternative is needed and that the farm has much to offer. Here people can work with their hands, make simple toys, eat healthy food and experience the reality of the natural world.
For the third year Joanna is organizing activities among various agencies for Turnoff Week/Screen-Free Week, April 18-24. Evening nature walks will be offered again at the farm from 6:45-8 pm Monday through Saturday. The walks are timed to begin while there is still light enough to see the spring wildflowers and to end with the singing of the peepers and the courtship flights of the woodcock.
The farm will have a table at the Family Fun night at Lura Sharp Elementary School in Pulaski on March 24. Families will be invited to visit the farm, to help with the work or walk on the trails. Children will be able to sign up for our Growing Season Summer Program held in July and August. This program is alternative in several ways. Instead of being supervised by people paid to amuse them, children help with work for which no one is paid. Instead of being in large groups in classrooms and on playgrounds as they are for so much of the year, children are in garden and field and forest with a few other children. This year we will also hold family days structured like the summer program but held at other times and allowing opportunities for all ages.
We’ve found Mary Pipher’s book The Shelter of Each Other and Bo Lozoff’s book Deep and Simple helpful for people thinking about alternatives to the consumer culture. We are down again to one copy of each book and would welcome more copies to give away. We are also looking for small cloth bags to hold toys having many pieces.
Reflections on a decade by Lorraine
We first saw the farm in April 2001 and then came to stay the second of July. In those ten years Joanna and Zach grew up fast and I learned a lot including when to stop lifting or pulling or trying to do just a little bit more. When I read my journal entries from our time of seeking I am very grateful for how we were led and for those who built and tilled and prayed here before us. Our first winter, the first opportunity to stop and think, we attempted to clarify the mission of the farm and the root was clear–to live an alternative to the consumer culture based on the gospels and Catholic Worker principles. Over this decade the consumer culture has continued to manufacture needs and sell the promise of meeting them. My reading and conversations over the past months strengthened my belief that an alternative is sorely needed.
We’ve learned so much by setting to work and learning from our mistakes. Our first year we struggled to shape raised beds in the garden, to get in enough wood for the winter, to fix the seemingly endless stream of things that were broken. The basics of gardening we already knew but the climate and the weeds were often unfamiliar and the scale was larger than what we’d done before. And it was here that we learned to save seeds, raise pigs and goats, and grow mushrooms. Mike Resig rescued us in the firewood department several times, bringing a crew and cutting all day often in bad weather, teaching Zach to sharpen the chain saw and giving money to buy a new saw so that so much time wasn’t spent trying to fix the old one. Dave McWilliams came when the pump died in the well house, a furnace quit in a trailer, our boiler wasn’t circulating properly. He not only fixed things but he taught Zach to fix them so that now we seldom need outside help and miss his stories told at our table.
Practical knowledge and the skill of working with one’s hands is often missing in our highly educated society, and part of our alternative life is sharing what we’ve learned and giving others the opportunity to work with their hands. Zach has helped visitors make twig furniture and musical instruments, taught them how to sharpen saws, split wood, run the sawmill. Joanna teaches visitors to milk goats, save seeds, make compost, and grow a variety of vegetables. This spring she researched container gardening so we can help Fr. Tony Keeffe grow vegetables on his deck where he can tend them. Visitors join me in canning and making cheese and take recipes for that and for hummus and pesto. I’ve shared divisions from my herb garden this spring with an Amish neighbor, a girl who came to our sunset nature walks and one of our Directors. I show visitors the worm bin where I make compost year round, explain how we use the vermicompost and how to set up a bin. Zach provides a bag of shavings from the planer for anyone who wants to start a worm box of their own. Visitors can make toys to take home or to go to refugee families and build birdhouses for their yard at home or the fields here at the farm. Our mission isn’t to teach people these skills but to live and work in ways that are sustainable and satisfying, but because we’re here doing them and are willing to share there is an opportunity for those who want to learn.
That reminds me of our first years and of Sr. Louise who used to call much of our work “relationship therapy”. Her work at Rural & Migrant Ministry of Oswego County was as a family therapist and she had the training and experience for which I was grateful often over our first years. She also saw the value of people who had no formal credentials but were willing to listen and able to keep calm in the midst of conflict. I remember her confidence that listening and modeling another way of handling conflict would make a difference, and I also remember how long it took and the sometimes surprising results. Over and over in that first year people asked us how long we were staying–were we committed to a year? two? But my sense was that relationships with people and caring use of the land would take much longer than a year or two and that I would stay as long as there was enough support to keep the farm open or until I felt called to other work in another place.
A widower who has come this winter and spring to play fiddle with Zach and share a meal and stories with us had another term for what we do–neighboring. Telling about his boyhood, he spoke of time spent sharing work and food and music and then said wistfully, “We were always neighboring, but folks don’t neighbor anymore.” People ask about our programs, but what we have to offer is presence. We simply live here, taking care of the land and buildings, growing food and working up lumber and firewood, taking time for whoever comes along. For some of the Spanish Apostolate retreatants that can mean having someone with whom they can practice their English without being snubbed or ridiculed. For someone who has been ordered by the court to do community service, it can mean an opportunity to work alongside someone else who isn’t paid, to learn a bit and take home vegetables like any other volunteer. The relationships are mutual, communal instead of commercial. We enjoy the widower’s fiddle tunes, some of which he wrote himself, and he enjoys the home-grown, home-cooked food and conversation. Neighboring.
Ten years ago everything and everyone was new to us. But now when I mail out the newsletters the names are familiar. Some have faces and voices attached from visits. Others I know through letters, something of family and interests and struggles. So that now I not only know that some of the readers are praying for us, but we know their needs and can pray for them. I thank all of you who’ve provided financial support to keep the farm open, who have prayed for us and our guests, who have taken time to visit and write.
Think about your own life: which moments mattered most? Didn’t most of them entail being involved in something larger than yourself? Either out in the hugeness of the natural world, or working together with those around you toward some common end, often for no material gain?—from Deep Economy by Bill McKibben.
Maintenance by Zachary
This spring has been quite wet and it has delayed many of the projects I had meant to have done. It is May 18 as I write this and I still need a couple of daysto finish getting in next winter’s firewood. Last year I was done with firewood over a month earlier, but the ground has frequently been too soft to get into the woods with the tractor. I have been sawing up logs that were still left in the yard after the snow got too deep last winter and logs brought by other people, and at some point I will have time and suitable ground conditions to bring in more of our own logs. Joe Chairvolotti, a forester with the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District, visited recently. He looked at a couple of sections of woodlot with me and gave advice on deciding what trees to take and what to leave.
Early in the spring the solar fence charger was working to keep the goats in their pasture but by May the shock was too weak to be effective. At first I thought the problem was caused by an insufficient ground, and then I thought maybe it was a problem with the charger. I set up about a 20 foot pole with a ceramic insulator on top by the pasture fence and ran a wire from there over to the top of the pole barn and down to the plug-in fence charger that runs the goat yard. That didn’t work either, so I got a roll of new wire and some new insulators and replaced the whole pasture system and the overhead line from the pole barn and now everything is working fine. We have been running the goat pasture for years with reused insulators and old reused wire from the former cow pasture and there were too many splices in the wire and too much rust on it. I am still finding the balance between avoiding unnecessary expenses and realizing when something is no longer worth trying to fix. I have fenced an additional section for pasture on the steep hillside above the garden.
The majority of the debris from the sites of the two mobile homes that were removed last year was loaded in dumpsters last fall, butI found enough more to require several trips to the dump with the tricycle over the past few weeks. At this point the sites of the trailers are cleared and have been graded, though there is still more trash in the woods near them that I will need to pick up soon. In late March I found an inexpensive used box blade on Craigslist in Oswego and we were able to take the hitch off and squeeze it into the back of the car for the trip home. I have only used it so far to grade the trailer sites, but I am very happy to have one of our own. We rented a box blade last spring to work on the gravel road that goes to Unity Acres, and I found it very helpful in moving gravel and dirt up out of the ditches and back onto the road where it belongs. I am sure that this one will be equally helpful when I have time to get back to work on the road. At this time the road is in stable and passable condition, but there are several things that I need to do to get it back to what it should be. The biggest part of the job will be digging about 100’ of ditch in an area where there is not room to get the tractor in. The ditching is especially important both because of the amount of rain and snow we get and because the hills are so steep out in that part of our woods.
We needed a new boiler door frame and we found out that the frame is only available as a package with the door. The door seems far more secure and tight fitting now than it has at any time since we came to the farm, and we figured that a 19 year old boiler probably was due for some new parts anyway. The heat from the door being open melted the insulation on some of the thermostat wires and burnt out a couple of stepdown transformers, but a knowledgeable neighbor helped me figure out the problem and fix it. The roof of the main barn in which we live has developed a number of intermittent leaks over the past few years and it seems that the majority are caused by the old tin vent cap on the peak of the roof. This cap runs most of the length of the barn. I am planning to remove it and put down a strip of roll roofing to cover the peak. Ventilation will likely be provided by three vent stacks and some small end vents in the walls according to my current plan.
I am hoping to add a wing to the back of the sawmill/tractor building this summer or fall if time permits. This will enable us to get all of the machinery under cover or to store more hay for winter sale. The back side of the building has salvaged metal roofing from the old pole barn that blew over and it has several leaks which I have not been able to fix, so I will replace that metal too while I am building the new roof. Total cost for the job should be around $600 to buy the metal and the treated posts, and the rest of the lumber will come from our mill.
The lawn tractor that was donated to us in 2004 has lost compression in the engine and has been temporarily retired until we find a used engine for it. We have a push mower that works fine and is in some ways more efficient because of the odd layout of our lawns.
Agriculture: A year of grace by Joanna
Looking back at my June articles from other years, I see that I’ve written over and over about difficult weather, mistakes and careless work of my own, lessons learned, and gratitude for the things that worked well anyway. This year the garden is still far from perfect, but things have been easier, and I am grateful for that.
The spring came late and cold, but once the weather turned warm it stayed that way, allowing the peas and greens and asparagus to grow unchecked, and saving me time spent covering and uncovering tender new growth on frosty nights. The peas are tall enough to need support now, we have plenty of asparagus and rhubarb and greens to eat, and by the time this newsletter reaches you I hope we will have radishes for ourselves and greens to share with the soup kitchen. None of the grapevine canes winter-killed this year, so I can prune more or less according to the system set out in our pruning guides rather than trying to compensate for dead canes. And the warmth and rain of the spring have brought a flush of mushrooms on our cold-season shiitake logs and unexpected volunteers from logs that seemed to be played out last year. We’ve just started soaking the first warm-season logs inoculated last year, and I hope those will produce well.
Our tomato seedlings are thriving again this year, now that I’ve learned the importance of using the right soil mix and of watering sparingly and from the bottom. We’re growing more of the somewhat blight-resistant Juliet tomatoes (which are also good for drying) and trying some new varieties: Rutgers, an older hybrid with good disease resistance, and Plum Regal, a newly developed hybrid that is supposed to resist late blight well and also have heirloom-quality taste. The company that developed Plum Regal was kind enough to send free sample seeds when I wrote to ask where I could buy them. We’ve been able to share tomato seeds and seedlings with neighbors, and we’ll put one of the Juliets in a bucket for Father Tony’s container garden. Eggplants, peppers and brassicas are also off to a good start in the greenhouse, and we will set them out before the usual frost-free date given this year’s mild weather.
We have a goat kid again, after several years of unsuccessful attempts. I think our breeding efforts were successful partly because we used a buck rag to induce and test for heat, and partly because we were able to take Shasta to be bred at a farm just a few miles up the road. The nearby farm is owned by Barb Fuller, who came some years ago to learn about goatkeeping; now she has a thriving goat dairy with resident buck. Shasta gave birth to Cloud and her brother Patch on a chilly wet afternoon in mid-April. Both kids seemed all right the next day, but Patch died that night. I watched Cloud anxiously for the next few days, but she continues to grow and thrive.
There are still some failures and frustrations. The early spinach didn’t germinate well, and later spring sowings usually bolt before attaining much size; I’ll try for a fall crop. I have neglected the strawberries in my focus on the vegetables, so I don’t expect much from them this year; I need to decide whether I have time to tend them properly, or whether I should give up on them. We’ve had less outside help this spring than last (though we have volunteer inquiries for summer), and all three of us get stretched as we try to keep up with our work. There are still good things that we enjoy but don’t have to tend. We’ve been eating a lot of wild leeks as usual. This spring we ate ostrich fern fiddleheads for the first time and enjoyed them. I am grateful for the food that comes by grace, and for the weather that makes our work easier, and for the learnings of the past ten years.
Community Notes by Joanna
We’re clear about what we have to offer–an alternative to the consumer culture, basic skills, a place of natural beauty, neighborliness. There seems to be a hunger for that in the local community. In April the county’s new Child Protection Advisory Council facilitated an open discussion about how to make communities safer for children. Participants talked about the times they remembered when neighbors actually knew and helped each other, when people of different classes and backgrounds came together in churches, in 4-H, in the Grange. Now, they felt, most families are isolated in their houses, with their screens, and it’s hard to form the relationships that allow for counsel and help in hard times. Here at SFF we try to encourage community activities and relationship-building, but sometimes we are puzzled by the gap between people’s expressed wish for these things and the difficulty of getting them to actually follow up and participate. Other community organizations have the same difficulty. Still, we make some progress.
Several local groups joined us in organizing community activities during Screen-Free Week in late April. There was a good variety of volunteer projects, art classes, reading activities, walks etc. The weather was cold and wet for most of the week. We’re told that quite a few people showed up for indoor events. Most of our sunset nature walks were rained out. On Friday a young woman who often stops by the Stop and Think table at the high school came for her first visit to the farm. On Saturday she came back with her mother, younger brother and sister. We found wildflowers and salamanders and all kinds of insects and watched the woodcocks flying. The younger girl said, “Who wouldn’t like nature if they knew there was this much going on in it?”
At the end of May the high school organized a belated Earth Day celebration. I set up a table with nature photos, feathers and skulls and owl pellets, quotes about local economy and living an alternative, and samples of some of the toys we make for refugees. Quite a few young people stopped by to look and talk and play. I went home with toys in need of repair, a couple of names of people interested in hearing about future farm events, and a considerably reduced stack of farm brochures. I hope we’ll see some of those folks at the farm.
Nature Notes by Lorraine
Another spring, this time staying winterish until late April and then going from snow-dusted fields to black flies in less than a week. The rain has kept me from spending as much time out observing. But as in other years the wildflower display began with hepatica and moved through trout lilies and trillium into violets and jack-in-the-pulpit. The orioles returned at the end of the first week of May. Tree swallows and bluebirds were already back fighting over nest boxes. Catbirds sing their copied repertoire from thickets along the road or stream edge. I found a snag where the red-bellied woodpeckers had excavated a nest hole before the leaves came out. For several mornings late in April our breakfast entertainment was hooded mergansers displaying on the pond until a pair of geese would fly in and drive them off. The first really warm day I put in the screens and opened a couple third floor skylights and that night had another raccoon come in from the roof, knocking out the screen. Now I keep the skylights only half open, trying to figure out how much room a raccoon needs and what one is doing on the steep barn roof anyway. The robins have nests in the pole barn and a pine tree. Barn swallows and phoebes have nests in the sawmill barn. Someone is taking yarn from the wire basket I hang by the clothesline but I haven’t seen who–light colors are preferred and the dark ones dropped on the lawn. The woodcocks have been doing their courtship flights at dusk for a couple months and the ruffed grouse have been drumming from the woods edges in a couple places for a couple weeks. Green frogs and bullfrogs have just begun calling in the pond and we still hear peepers, toads and tree frogs on wet evenings.
We write the September newsletter in mid-August when we’re stumbling down the last stretch of the summer and the time for stopping to see how it went has not yet come. Zach is in the Adirondacks biking and hiking and camping rough and the Unity Acres picnic is just ahead. The summer program is finished and Sr. Louise has visited and Tom MacNamara will be here for the weekend. In late July my sisters and aunt called on my birthday and asked what was new. All my news is old–the rains came after a dry time, the beans are canned and the tomatoes are just starting, the nests are empty and a young heron is learning to hunt around the pond edge. My summer days are always changing and always the same. I tend the flower and herb gardens. I handle the harvest that flows in from the garden. I show day visitors around and answer their questions and respond to the calls and letters from people looking for something and thinking St. Francis Farm might be it.
Sometimes I grow weary as the produce of the farm keeps flowing into the kitchen, but as I work I listen to the news of floods and droughts, famines and refugees fleeing them, and I know that the abundance is a blessing. I start each day by deciding what I’ll cook and what I need from the freezer or the garden. I pick the herbs I’ll want early and also pick nasturtiums to add a splash of color and a spicy taste. I wash and spin lettuce, sort out ripe cherry tomatoes and maybe hard boil eggs for the salads we have at lunch. Then I look at how much milk is accumulating and make cheese for us or the soup kitchen, call Maria to see if she’ll take a gallon, perhaps tell Joanna to put the evening milking into the pig bucket instead of filtering. Depending on where we are in the summer I shell peas for freezing, snap beans and can them, pick over basil and make pesto, dry or can tomatoes, chop and freeze peppers. Cucumbers and squash beyond what we’ll use this day are bagged and refrigerated to be sent to the soup kitchen or home with the summer program children. When they accumulate faster than they’re going out, we call Judy at the senior meal site or Maria to take them to church. Nothing is wasted, not even the trimmings from the vegetables I’m processing and preserving. Pea pods go to the goats, tomato skins to the chickens, the rest to the compost bucket or my worm box.
Because Joanna is often out of sight in the big garden and Zach in the woods or fields, I am the one on hand to greet drop-in visitors and answer the phone. Because the farm is different things to different people it may take me a bit to figure out what any given caller or visitor wants. Sometimes it’s just someone to listen or a chance to look around and ask questions about sawmills or goats or gardens. One Saturday when I was shelling peas on the farmhouse porch a man with two young children drove in holding one of our brochures and asked, “Are you open?” The children enjoyed visiting the animals, tasting raw peas, feeding the fish, swinging by the pond. They left each clutching a bunch of lavender tied up in a ribbon. The man thanked us and said that it was hard for a single father to find places to take a 2 year old and a 4 year old. It doesn’t always go so smoothly. A woman stopped by with her 13 year old son. She wanted him to volunteer, to have something to do this summer when he was too old for summer recreation programs and too young to get a job. He was sullen and didn’t want to help in the garden. His mother was disappointed by his lack of enthusiasm and distracted by two younger children. Another woman called, wanting to come here for vacation with her two children. She had typed “catholic vacation farm” into her computer search engine and found St. Francis Farm. These interruptions are a regular part of my days and I try to figure out as I listen to people or show them around what it is they are seeking and to be clear with them about what we have to offer.
I am indoors more than either Joanna or Zachary, but I get out to pick, to hang laundry, to weed and water and deadhead in my gardens. When it isn’t too hot I sit outside to shell peas or snap beans, my binoculars in my lap beside my bowl or basket and my ears attuned to the birdsong and the rustlings in the foliage. Saturday mornings I cut flowers for each of our rooms and for the chapel–from lilacs and lily-of-the-valley to peonies and roses to sunflowers and cosmos. When it gets too hot and the flowers fade too fast, I fall back on bunches of lavender put in a vase without water and left to dry. In late June and early July I make dozens of lavender sachets, weaving ribbon through the stems to enclose the fragrant blossoms, and send them by Hope to refugees in the city.
Inside I often listen to the radio as I work. So much upheaval and pain and confusion in the world. I am glad to have this work for my hands and to have work and the bounty it and the land produce to share with whoever comes along. I remember Peter Maurin’s words written in another time of insecurity– “The thing to do right now is to create a new society in the shell of the old with . . .a philosophy so old that it looks like new.” –by Lorraine
Joe Kruse’s Story
Throughout this past week at St. Francis Farm I have enjoyed spending time looking at my hands, watching calluses slowly take shape, small cuts and scrapes appear, and my skin grow tough and hard with work. My friend Ruthie and I are traveling this summer to different intentional communities and we have stayed here for one week. Just before our trip, I graduated from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, and for four years my hands worked their hardest at a keyboard shaping ideas and concepts into essays and term papers. I realize now that my hands and I, despite enjoying our intellectual work, were not whole. Something was missing. Coming to St. Francis Farm has provided a synthesis for the incompleteness. Here bodies and minds are put to work equally. Conversations led to our questioning of taken for granted systems while our bodies worked hard for a world where those systems fade away beneath gardens and fields of grass. During the day I learned to milk goats, bale hay, make cheese, and weed properly. I learned how to pace the planting of a garden, to build a foot bridge, to use a sawmill, and to build a pig pen. I saw with my eyes and felt with my hands an alternative to capitalism and American consumerism. At night we talked for hours about the ideas that fuel the farm. We critiqued and sought to understand a culture soaked in fear, hate, and greed. We hypothesized a different world full of basic goodness, dignity, and love. At the farm we put to work both our bodies and minds. We made whole something that our media-frenzied culture often seeks to separate. At the farm visitors gain the practical skills and intellectualism necessary for both imagining and constructing a simpler, better world.
Peter Maurin said, “College Professors are specialists who know more and more about less and less and if they keep on specializing they will end by knowing everything about nothing.” St Francis Farm provides a solution to this problem that Maurin so characteristically described and that I felt throughout my final years at college. Many college students and professors understand the systemic injustice in our country and wish to see it undone. But our culture often does not combine work and skills with intellectualism. A society molded around consumption and capitalism has stripped people of the ability to physically and mentally work for an alternative. St. Francis Farm exists as a possible solution; where ideologies, work, and love can meet.
For this reason and many others I have immensely enjoyed our time here. The Hoyts have been incredibly gracious, communicative, and hospitable hosts. We will never ever forget the joy and love surrounding this place.
Ruthie Cole’s Story
In the past week that I have been staying at St. Francis Farm I have been overwhelmed with education and awareness of a lifestyle I knew very little about. I joined my friend Joe on this trip of exploration and simplicity, traveling to different intentional communities and Catholic Worker houses. I knew the trip would bring opportunities of hard work in the name of service, experiences that would challenge my lifestyle for the better, and time to grow spiritually. I am so glad St. Francis Farm was one of our stops as it offered all that I was expecting and much more.
In one day of work, I learned as I tended to a variety of tasks on the farm . I learned the reasoning for all I was doing, and was encouraged to ask more. As I weeded the vegetable garden, hilled the potatoes, built a bridge from wood milled on the farm, milked the goats, moved hay and much more. I was amazed to see how intertwined the community’s resources are. There was very little waste, everything has a purpose.
While each day here has been a lesson on gardening, animal tending, and simple living our work has been accompanied by wonderful conversation. We have discussed personal and global matters, and in voicing our different perspectives, my eyes have been opened to a much broader view of our society today.
An element of the farm that has been very encouraging is their balance of the work and their spiritual life. In each day there is time to rest, to worship, and to reflect. While the farm requires continuous labor and mindful work, we also stop to literally smell the roses, or see the baby fawn in the field, or watch the snapping turtle lay her eggs. The Hoyts have an incredible way of finding the beauty that surrounds them here and sharing it with others, whether it be in the fragrant flower arrangement in your bedroom to greet you or in a flavorful meal made from food they’ve grown.
While here I was able to learn about a simple lifestyle, how a family lives as a community, and how to live a life of spiritual enrichment. While I am still not sure what a life of spiritual enrichment might mean for me, I have learned a great deal in seeing how the Hoyts succeed and prioritize that in their life. For these and many other reasons my stay here has delighted me. I count myself grateful for the experiences and the relationships gained.Update on Joe and Ruthie:
Joe and Ruthie wrote their articles for this newsletter in June at the end of their week with us. Since then we have heard from both of them about their plans that developed in the course of their summer travels. Together with one or two friends they want to start a Catholic Worker house in Minneapolis or St. Paul this fall. An excerpt from Joe’s letter–“We plan on sharing a common purse, having round table discussions and an open meal about every other week, printing a newsletter (of course), starting an afterschool program that focuses on teaching kids basic gardening skills and creative types of playing that are alternatives to video games and TV, and keeping a room in our house open to individuals looking for a place to stay for a period of time.”
And from Ruthie’s-“Here are our hopes for our house: We live very simply, So we will resist consumeristic trends as much as possible! (I know for me, I learned that I wanted this in my life from my time at your farm)”
Daisy Lopez’s Story
Summer brings a refreshing time for many–students anticipating a break from classes and adults hoping to carve out time for travel, rest or reflection. I took the opportunity to spend time at St. Francis Farm and I took away more from my stay than I anticipated. My mother’s stories of her childhood visits to her grandparents’ farm in Puerto Rico have always intrigued me. Her happy memories of connecting with family and nature drove the initial steps to start a volunteer trip. I was eager to experience a setting that leaned toward a simpler lifestyle of using available resources rather than a lifestyle of constant consumption of material goods. After conversations with my friend, Lizette, we decided to venture out about 5 hours from New York City and put our free time to use. We found St. Francis Farm from searching through numerous WWOOF listings and once we read the mission of “a community providing practical assistance, prayerful presence and a place for reflection to help others simplify their lives,” we knew we had found the right place.
We arrived on a Monday and were welcomed by Lorraine, Joanna and Zachary. I came into St. Francis understanding the mission but completely unaware of the happenings that would occur in the next few days. I was pleasantly surprised. The days we spent were full of experiences and education. The walks of the 180 acre land cured our detachment from nature and showed us new plants and wildlife throughout our stay. Our understanding and appreciation as we became more aware of our surroundings intensified as the days progressed.
During the week, Lizette and I spent time learning some Quaker history, attending to the garden, milking and feeding their beloved goats (Shasta and Poppy), making goat cheese, berry picking and watching the friendly relationship between our hosts and nearby Amish neighbors develop. Working in the garden with Joanna I learned more about gardening, weeding and growing than I could have imagined. It’s all a meticulous, therapeutic and beautiful process of watching empty land turn into a display of strawberries, garlic, dill, onions, etc. Throughout our garden talks I also recognized their mission was correct but they hadn’t done themselves justice. Their 10th anniversary at St. Francis Farm was approaching and when I heard of the obstacles and usual learning curves of starting any new venture, it was obvious Lorraine, Joanna and Zachary did not shy away from the unpredictable future. Instead, they put all their dedication and faith into continuing their work and service. They donated fruits and vegetables to the local pantry, involved themselves with the local school district, hosted migrant workers and led educational camp/volunteer opportunities for students of all ages. Informally they each filled multiple roles of social workers, teachers, managers and community leaders to inspire others. We should all be so lucky to find a calling that always feels true to who we are
The work was harder than I had estimated, but a sense of accomplishment came from learning new tasks and eating meals that had been directly handpicked from the garden and surrounding farm acres. Every meal highlighted the seasonal crops and was a variety of fresh meats, eggs, bread and cheese. It was also a welcoming change to consider afternoon breaks and meals as a time to actually rest and connect. Lunch and dinner conversations of current events, stories and intimate memories of the past 10 years made Lizette and me feel like true members of the family.
Thank you Lorraine, Joanna and Zachary for introducing me to a world where people aren’t connected just as family who work and live together but as a group of people who genuinely enjoy the company of one another. It has inspired me to look ahead and work diligently to find satisfying work that will influence others in the same positive way. Much appreciation is given for your kindness, perspective and teachings.
Maintenance by Zachary
In early June we had a week-long visit from Joe Kruse and Ruth Cole who were very helpful with a number of projects, including repairing the pig pen and haying. They also helped us replace the old wooden bridge across the small stream by the pond. We had built it in 2005 to replace the one that was here when we came. The new bridge is built on a metal frame that we had salvaged from an old collapsed camper trailer that was in the woods on the farm. It is my hope that this bridge will last longer than the previous incumbents. The frame had been in use for a while in a wagon for hauling firewood but it was not really heavy enough and it had been sitting on the hill for a few years, so I was glad to find a use for it. The bridge is only used for foot traffic, so the frame will be more than strong enough.
We got finished with hay by the middle of July this year. We have sold over $1,000 worth so far and have almost as much stored in the shed to sell when we can. This year we had several customers who bought hay off the fields and came and picked up the bales themselves, which is far less work for us. I hope this fall to have time to add a shed to the back of the new barn which would enable us to store more hay for winter sale another year. In the middle of the haying season I had to spend a couple of days and about $200 working on our haybine, which needed two new drive belts, a chain and some bearings and such. It seems to be happier now, although the first time I reassembled it I left out a key on the main drive shaft and I had to take it all apart again.
In July our Amish neighbor Eli brought a crew and disassembled the silo that had stood behind the main barn by the driveway since 1958. He had been planning to come and get it for a couple of years but had not had time till now, since they are building their farm from the ground up. I am very happy to have the silo gone, since we did not use it and it would presumably deteriorate and become unsafe at some point. I hope that it will work well for them once they have time to get it set up at their farm. We did not take any pictures of the task in progress because the Amish do not approve of taking pictures of people.
On the same day I removed the remains of the old waist-high trash bin under the edge of the boiler room corridor roof, enclosed the area with full-height doors and put in a shelf so that we can store most of our trash cans and cardboard barrels. The new arrangement should keep things drier and give us more space to store empty barrels without them being in the way. I hope that it will also be easier to open during the winter, but I won’t know if it is better or not until the snow comes.
Later in July I finally replaced the ventilation system for the attic of the barn. I removed the old vent which ran the full length of the peak of the roof and replaced it with three rotating hot air turbine vents and a louvered vent in each end wall. I put a layer of roll roofing down along the length of the ridge of the roof in the hope that it will stop some of the leaks which have developed along the upper part of the roof over the past several years. We have not had a lot of rain since the change was made, so I am not sure yet how much improvement may have been made, but I am hoping it will be something.
Bob Bartell came for a visit late in July and helped me with some work in the kitchen of the farmhouse on one rainy day. The kitchen is now almost completely gutted, and we will get it finished someday, I hope. Bob also helped put in a new goat pasture that is built right onto the pole barn where the goat shed is located. The new pasture on the hill that I built in the spring was equipped only with electric wire and the goats learned to crawl under it, so we took it down. Woven wire field fence made a more solid barrier for the new pasture and we ran the electric wire on the inside to keep the goats off the fence.
ARISE of Oswego County emailed us that they were looking for volunteers to build wheelchair ramps in our end of the county. I planned and built a ramp in Sandy Creek in the first week of August and hope to get back to ramp building by the end of September if I can get to all of the jobs here that need to be done before winter. ARISE has a backlog of ramps that need to be built and they have funding for materials, so labor is all that is needed.
Agriculture by Joanna
One of the students who participated in our Growing Season summer program this year came back from blackberrying lamenting about a scratch on her thumb. I said yes, scratches were uncomfortable, but this one was shallow and wasn’t bleeding, and it should feel better soon. She asked mournfully if I used to get scratches when I was younger. I showed her my very scratched arms and legs and said I still did, and it was still uncomfortable, but I liked to be outside and I liked to pick berries, and getting scratched was the price I paid for that, and I thought it was worth it. She looked surprised, said “Me too,” and ran off to take a turn on our long-roped swing. I remind myself of this on days when I feel tired and frustrated. We’ve had some difficulties with this year’s garden, but we still have a lot of good food and a lot of good work for ourselves and our neighbors and guests.
I continue learning from the difficulties. When the weather turned dry in June and July I spent a lot of time watering and some things got slowed down. The beans and the cucumbers, which were watered by drip lines, started early and bore prolifically, so that we’ve had all we wanted for ourselves, the soup kitchen, the summer program kids and anybody else who would take them. We’ve bought and installed drip lines for some of our other beds. Though the onions died early and small because of mildew again, we got more out of them than last year. I’ve figured out what kind of mildew we have and taken steps to try to stop it coming back next year. Earlier in the season we had trouble with septoria on the tomatoes and mildew on the grapes, but I was able to deal with that with pruning and symbiotic bacteria. The grapes responded well to pruning, grew beautifully and set lots of fruit for the first time. Unfortunately a flock of birds ate about half the seedless grapes before I put nets on. Next year we’ll cover them earlier. We’ve also had wildlife eating a few of our tomatoes and cucumbers. So far they’ve left enough for us. I forgot about planting fall snow peas until about two weeks later than the ideal date. They’re up and growing now, and if the frost doesn’t come early we should get a decent harvest. I’ll put fall planting dates onto my garden calendar during the slow time.
Some things are blessedly unproblematic. We froze plenty of shell peas and enjoyed edible-pod peas for fresh eating. The basil flourished; we have already frozen all the pesto we need and we’ve had plenty to share. The garlic, which the summer program kids pulled and cleaned with us, was larger than usual; we’ve saved the best heads to plant next year, so it should keep improving. This fall we’re thinking of inviting families in to plant garlic with us and take seed garlic home for their own gardens. We’ve had cherry tomatoes for fresh eating and Juliets for drying since July, and we’re starting to can larger tomatoes. This has been our best year yet for eggplants, both our usual super-early Swallows and a larger variety called Galine. In spite of hot dry weather we’ve had plenty of lettuce to eat from May up to now, and should keep having it until the frost comes, thanks to regular watering and succession planting. In spite of my neglect the strawberries gave us a satisfying harvest for the first time in years. We’ve frozen all the blackberries we want, and we still have plenty to eat and to give away. Now the first apples are coming in; the little trees that I kept pruning after giving up on their older neighbors are bearing good-sized apples, and the wild old trees have plenty of good but small fruit.
We’ve had volunteers who lightened my load and found the work satisfying as well as tiring. Joe and Ruthie helped me to get ahead of the weeds, offered thought-provoking stories and questions, and reminded me of the satisfaction of shared work with tangible results. Daisy and her friend Lizette pitched into various tasks enthusiastically. When I apologized for the amount of weeding we were doing Daisy said she found it therapeutic, and I think she meant it. They spoke of the value of knowing where their food came from. I find that satisfying too, when I stop to think about it. Melinda Kurowski and Bob Bartell came back to visit and work with us; I’m grateful for their help and for the chance to get to know them over the years in this place where so many people come and go. During some sessions the summer program kids have been quite engaged in helping us weed, pick basil, save and plant seeds, harvest and clean garlic. Some of them have gardens at home and ask questions about how they could make those work better. All of them seem pleased and proud to take home vegetables that they helped to grow. When we’ve felt overwhelmed with vegetables and short on time to pick them Maria Kurowski, Melinda’s mother, has helped us with the harvest and taken extra vegetables to share at Christ Our Light parish where she worships and works. I’m grateful for her company and her time. I am grateful, too, for our guests’ delight in the food and the work and the beauty of this place, which reminds me that in spite of failures and frustrations I am grateful to be here.
Lorraine is collecting the metal ends from cans of frozen juice. She wants to use them to make markers for trails we’re developing on the farm.
Zachary found the power screwdriver he had bought at an auction a great help when building a wheelchair ramp and is looking for a back-up for use on future ramps.
Memories of summer 2011
–The very young fawn Zach saw in the tall grass behind the tractor he was backing to hitch on the rake in June. We all got a look at it before it bounded away bleating like a new-born kid.
–The grey fox that appeared at the end of the bridge one late afternoon in July. The two pups ran across the bridge and the adult was as surprised by the meeting as Lorraine sitting quietly by the pond.
–Going out to watch the fireflies along the little brook just before bed in the deep of summer when there is barely enough dark to rest in.
–Joanna and Zachary and Bob Bartell playing harmonica trios one evening in the chapel
–The taste of the first ripe fruit or vegetable as they came into season
–sitting on the hay wagon on the hill and watching the sunset
–watching Amish men and boys with their work teams and wagons taking down and hauling away the silo
One thing hasn’t changed over the decade we’ve spent at the farm–our understanding of our basic mission as living an alternative to the consumer culture that surrounds us. An alternative seems sorely needed in these times of confusion and anxiety. Some folks who come to the farm are consciously seeking a more spiritual or sustainable life while others are only curious or aware of feeling hurried or worried or vaguely dissatisfied. At the farm we offer what we’ve been given–work for our hands, slow food, the peace of woods and water, space in which to be still. Through these last three months we’ve had opportunities to share these things with a variety of visitors.
While we were sending out the last newsletter we had a WWOOF volunteer who spent two weeks with us. The help was timely and the music was good in the evenings as he played fiddle or mandolin with Zach’s banjo and Joanna’s guitar. This theology major had just graduated from college with lots of theory and was looking for a way of life that could give his beliefs practical substance. Also in September we hosted a group of seniors from ARC of Oswego County for a day trip. The person arranging the trip said they’d like to see as much of the farm as possible, help us with some work, and have a picnic lunch. We were also told that participants would need places to sit and rest if they walked any distance and that one might be in a wheelchair. We were a bit nervous but we loaded all our lawn chairs into a garden cart that we could take along wherever we walked with this group. They arrived around 10 on a sunny morning and after a name game and restroom stops, we headed up to the garden. Our ground is uneven and one man was using a walker and when we got up to the garden everyone wanted to sit for a bit. But they enjoyed being in the garden. Some were able to pull up spent bean plants and bolted lettuce to take to the goats and chickens. The animals we depend on for milk and eggs delighted these visitors as they ate from their hands. Then we went inside and sat around a table shelling out peas and beans for next year’s seed. While we worked we talked and when we heard they like to sing, Zach brought his banjo and sang a couple songs with them. The wooden toys we make for refugees were noticed and the visitors had a good time trying them out. Then it was out to the picnic tables where I added cherry tomatoes and lettuce with goat cheese to the lunches they had brought. All such simple things and yet we had a letter from the organizer saying it was the best community outing the group had ever had, partly because they had been given the chance to help.
October 8 we held our first family day at the farm, inviting people who had been in the summer program or come to Spanish Apostolate retreats to come with their families to work and play. We were planting our last bed of garlic and these visitors helped with that before taking garlic to plant at home. They also helped clear beds for cover crops and dig potatoes and surprised us by how much they got done before we stopped for lunch. They had brought lunches and again we added tomatoes, herbed cheese, and nasturtiums for a taste of the farm. We had a golden day for the picnic and the walk that followed, through fields and into the woods along a bluff above Trout Brook. We dug up plants that needed dividing in the herb and perennial gardens and everyone took divisions home to plant. From the youngest who was seven to a grandmother who was 70 everyone had a good time.
The second family day, November 12, participants made wooden toys to take home. We started making the toys to give to refugee families several years ago, and they often catch the eye of visitors. One boy in the summer program tried some of them on a rainy day and proclaimed them more fun than his video games. So we chose some that are fairly simple to make once the pieces are cut and offered them for a family day activity. Young and old enjoyed making them and playing with them. Lunch was inside this time and I had a pot of soup made with dried beans and tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and herbs from our gardens to offer along with more of the herbed goat cheese. After lunch the weather held for a walk through the pasture, along the woods road and back along the ridge through the woods. I had put out materials for Advent and about simpler Christmas celebration that we’ve distributed at the library and school other years. While Joanna and Zach played games with the children and the visiting men went back to the woods to pick up wood for walking sticks, I talked with the mothers about alternatives to the consumer hype and about the traditions that we’ve developed over the years. They took materials to use at home or in the Sunday school classes they teach. So as Thanksgiving comes round again, I am deeply grateful for our work, the bounty of the land, the beauty of wild places, the grace of song and story. I’m thankful for the opportunity we have to share this life with visitors. Deacon Sweenie will be leading a Spanish Apostolate Advent retreat the first weekend in December. I look forward to sharing their food and songs and stories once again. As always I look forward to Advent, beginning another cycle of hope and peace and joy and love. —by Lorraine
Articles from Family Day participants:
From Patty in Pulaski NY:
I knew of St. Francis Farm, and was given the opportunity to visit in its early days, with Fr. Tony Keeffe and Sr. Corinne Moske, but over time we lost track of this place until 2010, when Pulaski Elementary School offered my daughter a chance to participate in the summer program.
That spring my 9 year old brought me home the paperwork, and stories of a field trip she took to visit the farm. She was very excited about this program. As the time came for the bus to bring her to the farm, I wondered how she would like this new adventure and was a bit skeptical. This was not a virtual farm, this was real work, in summer sun, with weeds and bugs. I was surprised when she came home with her hands full of veggies, herbs and edible flowers, and a big smile on her face. . . she was hooked! As the summer progressed, my daughter taught me (not a gardener) about gardening. She was sad when the program ended, but taught me to plant our own garlic, and spoke often of her experiences at the farm. When spring came, we signed up for a second summer at St. Francis Farm.
What was the attraction? My daughter liked working with “the farmers” in the gardens. She didn’t care about the heat, bugs or weeds. She loved taking care of the goats, chickens and pigs. She let me know it wasn’t all work, and that they went on great adventures by the pond and in the woods. They climbed trees, hunted for frogs and salamanders and explored nature after their chores were done. At home she is a cook, and now has herbs drying in my kitchen and growing in pots. This experience has been far from the usual activities offered to school children, and she embraced it.
When St. Francis Farm offered their first family day, I was happy to have the chance to spend time with my daughter at this place she thought so highly of. I enjoyed my day, visiting with Lorraine, Zach and Joanna, and learning about the farm, their activities and purpose. They were gracious hosts, answering my many questions and patiently teaching us “non-gardeners”. (I sincerely hope their garlic grows ok.) I enjoyed meeting new families, working in the garden and walking in the woods. I came home refreshed from spending time at the farm, and noticed that I, too, had a big smile on my face.
Mi visita mas reciente a Saint Francis Farm (translation below text of Spanish article)
La primera vez que visite este lugar fue el ano pasado para el retiro del apostolado hispano y nunca me imagine como mi vida cambiaria despues de este encuentro tan lindo. Despues de eso volvi con mi familia y pasamos un dia fenomenal, mis ninas y mi esposo quedaron encantados al igual que yo. Nuestra ultima visita a St. Francis Farm fue a un dia familiar que la familia Hoytt nos invito. Fue un dia maravilloso lleno de cosas diferentes especialmente para nuestras ninas y los ninos de hoy dia. Fue un dia donde compartimos con otras familias y nos ayudamos mutuamente, el trabajo no fue nada pesado como pensarian algunos al escuchar hablar de ir a una finca. En esta finca todo es placentero y el trabajo parece ser tan simple como respirar; nosotros sembramos ajo, desenterramos papas, cortamos hierva, (nunca escuche a mis hijas quejarse de cansancio o de ir adentro o a ver la tv); nos sentamos y compartimos a la hora del almuerzo, cosa que casi nadie en la actualidad lo puede hacer por culpa de una vida tan ocupada. Ademas de compartir en el almuerzo tambien nos fuimos a caminar alrededor de la finca, es maravilloso como rinde el tiempo cuando las cosas se hacen en equipo y sobre todo con amor. Si vivieramos de esa manera creo que la vida de las personas fuera un poco mas facil de llevar, las familias estarian mas unidas, y los ninos no estarian tan perdidos en este mundo materialista y sin sentimientos, y sobre todo sin valor spiritual. Cada vez que voy a S. Francis siento cada vez mas grande el deseo de llevar este estilo de vida que considero es lo mas cercano a como vivio Jesucristo y como a Dios le gustaria que vivieramos. Le doy gracias a Dios por haberme permitido conocer a Lorraine , Joanna y Zack, ya que considero que son un gran ejemplo a seguir. Gracias por aceptar a nuestra familia en su hogar y Dios los bendiga siempre!
Con Muchisimo Amor; Rosa Longo
The first time I visited this place was last year for the Spanish Apostolate retreat and I never imagined how my life would change after such a beautiful encounter. After that I returned with my family and we spent a phenomenal day; my daughters and my husband were as enchanted as I was. Our last visit to St. Francis Farm was for a family day to which the Hoyt family invited us. It was a marvelous day full of different things especially for our children and the children of today. It was a day in which we shared with other families and helped each other mutually, the work wasn’t hard as some people might think upon hearing talk about going to a farm. In this farm everything is pleasant and the work appears to be as simple as breathing; we planted garlic, unearthed potatoes, cut herbs, (I never heard my girls complaining about fatigue or about being outside or wanting to watch TV); we sat and shared at lunchtime, a thing which almost nobody can actually do because of such busy lives. After sharing lunch also we went for a walk around the farm, it is marvelous how time is suspended when things are done as a team and, above all, with love. If we were to live in that manner I believe that people’s lives would be a little easier, families would be more united, and the children would not be so lost in this materialistic world, numbed to feeling, and above all lacking spiritual values. Every time I go to St. Francis Farm I feel a greater desire to lead this style of life which I consider to be the closest to how Jesus Christ lived and how God would prefer us to live. I give thanks to God for having permitted me to know Lorraine, Joanna and Zach since I consider them a great example to follow.
Thanks for accepting our family into your home and may God always bless you!
With much love,
We were invited by the Hoyts to a family day at St. Francis Farm in Lacona NY. It was very fun from the beginning to the end. The fun started as soon as all of the families arrived. We started off by playing a game to introduce ourselves. After we all knew each other’s names, some of us went to the garden and started to plant garlic with Joanna and one member of each family went inside with Lorraine to get more garlic ready to be planted. It was really fun to learn how to plant them. Some of us then went and started to dig up potatoes, the potatoes were fun to dig up too. When we were done with the planting some of us went to see the goats and feed them, they are really cute; after that we all sat down together by the pond for lunch. Lorraine shared fresh homemade goat cheese which I loved, we also ate some type of flowers which were kind of spicy but delicious. When we were done eating the kids started to swing on the swings. I thought it was very relaxing because the swings where right next to the big pond full of fishes that we fed crackers to. Then we went on a hike around the farm and in the woods. It was a lot of fun and really peaceful to walk around in the woods; we found a bunch of neat walking sticks, we brought one home and my dad sanded it and varnished it to bring it back to them next time we go. We also ate some yummy apples! Our family day at St. Francis Farm was very enjoyable and fun. That way of living is exactly how I imagine that my mom was raised, by the way she talks to me about the things she used to do when she was little and how she enjoys going to St. Francis. I would like to thank Lorraine, Joanna and Zach for being so kind and welcoming. We can’t wait until the next time we go to St. Francis Farm, I just love that Place!
Love, Rosie Longo (Rosa’s daughter)
Maintenance by Zachary
This fall I have gotten more done than I had initially expected, but there are still plenty of things left to do. I am very happy that the roof peak repair and vent replacement job I did in the summer not only stopped the leaks at the peak of the roof but also stopped all of the skylight leaks that we have been trying unsuccessfully to fix ever since we got here. In late August I covered the small, nearly flat roof of the small woodshed with aluminum flashing sealed with silicone and thus far it is holding up well. I also jacked up the near side of the pole barn and replaced the rotten posts with pressure treated 6×6 which should last much longer than the red pine logs which were originally used. We replaced the posts on the far side of the pole barn two or three years ago since they had deteriorated more rapidly.
Once the repairs were caught up I had time in early September to start work on a 14×30 wing off the back of the sawmill barn. Once the roof was framed in I removed the old metal roofing from the back half of the existing building and covered the whole area with new which keeps the tools and lumber dry. The old roofing on the back came from the old pole barn and it leaked in spite of my best efforts. I just built and hung the doors on the new wing this week, and now all that remains is to put up battens on the cracks between the boards. The new wing will be used for storage of equipment. I have already put the hay rake in the back part. This is the first time we have been able to put it in a building since we got it at auction in 2003. The dump wagon, box blade and Farmall tractor will also go in the new wing. The doors open onto the driveway and will not have the problem of being blocked by snow sliding off the roof. A volunteer has installed proper wiring with a sub-panel and all of the outlets and lights we need through the whole building.
In October I put a small wooden ramp in from the causeway by the stream down to the lawn between the stream and the pond so that the ARC visitors would not have to go down steps. Only one of the visitors needed it this time but they will come back in the spring, and it is handy for the lawn mower and wheelbarrows. Later in the month I built a wheelchair ramp in Mexico after being referred by ARISE. They will let us know in the spring if they have more ramps to be built in our area, as it is not very handy to build them in the winter.
As we began to want heat I found that the stove damper in the house had stuck over the summer and that the metal chimney was starting to rust through and become weak. I replaced it with a new metal chimney which I had never done before, but I found it was not hard. The boiler system needed a new pump and I got help to alter the piping so that the pump fits better. Toward the end of October I finally rebuilt the stone wall around the large rock in the front yard that has ST FRANCIS FARM painted on it. The existing wall has been falling apart ever since we came, and my mother wanted to replace it with something more solid. We decided to use large rocks and scoured around the farm to find some that were suitable. The new wall averages about 18” high and is made from a single layer of rock rather than being stacked from smaller rocks as the old wall was.
In November after our neighbors picked the corn in their field they again very generously allowed us to cross their land to get to our white pine plantation on the north side of the stream. I spent about four or five days in there during a dry week and I was able to bring out most of the remaining marked trees, but there are still about twelve left to cut. I would have liked to finish but the weather turned wet and I didn’t think I could take any more wood out up the neighbor’s hill without tearing up the ground. I will either get in again after the ground freezes or wait till next year. I will be sawing up the logs over the winter as orders for lumber come in.Joanna’s Work
Just one week ago we set the clocks back, changing the daily pattern of dark and light. The daily pattern of my work is changing too as the garden dies back and I have more time free for other kinds of work. I also have more time to look back and give thanks, look ahead and make decisions.
The harvest was good. We didn’t get late blight on our tomatoes until the first week of October. Before the blight hit we canned 146 quarts of tomatoes and dried ten more. 230 pounds of potatoes and 4 1/2 five-gallon buckets of carrots are stored in the root cellar. 23 quarts of applesauce are in the pantry and 21 quarts of apples in the freezer. The squash, which bore rather meagerly during the dry season, picked up after we got more drip irrigation lines and laid some down on their beds. We had squash and other fresh stuff for the soup kitchen into October, and in November they still had some of our greens in their freezer. Our shiitake mushrooms also increased their yields in late summer (we don’t know why). Thanks to the cold frame and some temporary frost protection, we had enough fresh lettuce for salads every day until the second week of November. The mild fall also allowed us to harvest satisfying quantities of snow peas even though I had planted them late. We have some cabbage and brussels sprouts, but I need to fertilize them more heavily (and maybe do more to sweeten the soil) next year.
The garden is ready for winter. I’ve planted garlic with help from a young man who came to volunteer weekly while the weather was good, and from the folks who came to our first Family Day. The garden beds are mulched to protect the soil from frequent freezing and thawing. Maria Kurowski has brought us bagged leaves from her yard. We’re using some for mulching garden beds and keeping the rest to feed to our goats over the winter. In September our WWOOF volunteer, Sean, helped me mix sand and compost and fill pots and soil boxes in the greenhouse. Now we’re harvesting chard, tatsoi, kale, lettuce and basil from those containers, and we expect a supply of everything except basil until spring. I’m having some trouble with powdery mildew on the kale, but so far I’ve been able to keep ahead of it with pruning and organic spraying.
With summer’s end my community networking is picking up again. I’ve resumed visiting the high school with my STOP AND THINK sign, antidotes to sales pitches from recruiters and advertisers, information about work/apprenticeship programs, and anti-bullying resources. As usual, most students ignore my presence, some read the signs aloud as they go by, a few stop to read material but avoid eye contact, and a few come and talk at length about whatever is on their minds. In October the school held an anti-bullying assembly and training session, which I attended. They plan follow-ups. I’ll be interested to see what effect this has on the school culture as I see it from my post in the hall.
Now that things are slowing down at the farm we’re checking out library books again. On a recent library trip I noticed a display of military brochures promising adventure, career advancement, education, a chance to serve… I asked the librarian if I could make some of my information about the downsides of military service available in the same place. I worried that the librarian might frown on this request, since this is a fairly conservative area. But I had worked with her on other projects and knew how much she cared about the community’s young people. I explained my concern for the students who talk to me about signing up, whose expectations are either highly optimistic (many think it’ll help them get into well-paid careers, although returning veterans are more likely to be unemployed than those who haven’t served) or downright inaccurate (one said she’d been told that if she joined the National Guard she couldn’t be sent overseas). I received permission to post my material.
When the Community Service Task Force had its first meeting after the summer break only five people attended, and there was talk of ending the meetings. I suggested that we try one more time. I wrote to people who had been involved and then fallen away, asking whether they were still interested in gathering and how we could make meetings work better for them. Several people said that they were interested in the group, they read the minutes, they just didn’t always make time to come to meetings, but they’d make more of an effort to participate. Ten people attended the October meeting, and most came prepared to talk about the resources they had to offer, the needs they couldn’t see how to meet, and the questions they were facing. Several people were concerned about how to feed people–a couple of low-cost co-op groups have ceased to operate for financial reasons, and the number of people who are struggling to make ends meet keeps rising. I wasn’t the only participant who was interested in helping people learn to grow food for themselves and their neighbors. Our next meeting will be focused on food issues, and I look forward to seeing what collaborations may arise.
In all seasons my work is small-scale, unspectacular and persistent. I don’t achieve any grand results, but slowly the garden improves, the community network strengthens, and I grow more capable, less anxious, more aware of the grace that sustains me. In all my work I am grateful for the people who take time to help and to be helped.
Pigs And The Theory of Rational Self-Interest by Zachary
Every summer for the past nine years we have raised two pigs. A perennial problem has been how to get the food into the trough without the pigs pushing the bucket aside and spilling it. This year I made a small wooden wall which can be lowered close around the trough while the food is poured in and then raised to allow the pigs in to eat. This worked well and greatly reduced spillage. The pigs learned to lift the wall with their snouts and push into the trough, but they disliked the feeling of the wall resting on their backs, so they never got all the way to the food until I let them in. Frequently one pig would lift the wall, the other pig would rush under it and the first pig would then follow suit, allowing the wall to fall on both of their backs, whereupon they would both squeal and jump backward out from under it. This maneuver might be repeated three or four times during the 15 seconds that it took me to dump in their food. The result was a lot of noise and frantic activity and two dissatisfied pigs.
As I watched the pigs I thought of discussions of various economic ideas I’d been hearing on the radio. To the best of my understanding the theory of rational self interest holds that the greatest good can be most efficiently accomplished by each individual doing whatever is in his or her self interest. This theory can be applied to individual pigs as well as to individual persons. It is in the interest of one pig to lift a wall if it can get food faster by so doing. It is in the interest of another pig to move toward, and eat, food whenever possible. It is in the interest of the first pig to keep up with the second pig so that the second pig will not eat more than its share of a limited food supply. It is in the interest of any pig to avoid discomfort, in this case having a wall rest upon its back. It is not in the self interest of either pig to expend effort and feel discomfort for no result, but this does not prevent them from pursuing their immediate self interest over and over again with no apparent realization that the same unsatisfactory outcome will happen this time that happened at all of the other times.
cross country skis, boots, poles in any size for visitors
wooden beads 16mm and 8mm round, both with 1/8” hole (for dolls), and string for folk toys
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We live and work here as full time volunteers. Others support the farm by their donations, their prayers and their willingness to work with us. We are grateful for the generosity and grace that allow the farm to carry out its mission. We are a 501(c)(3) tax exempt charitable organization, so donations are tax-deductible.
How much money and time do you spend on buying Christmas gifts? Is this sustainable? stressful? satisfying?
Where were the gifts you buy made? What are they made from? How were the workers treated?
What unbought gifts can you give? Are there things that you can make? Can you cook for other people, fix things for them, babysit for them, listen to them, teach them to do things…?
Do you take time to rest, pray, tell stories, make music, and enjoy the free gifts of this season? How could you make space to be more receptive?