Winter means fewer visitors, time to look back and plan ahead. We can see the bigger picture more clearly and have time to clean up and organize things to make the next busy time easier. I’ve been revising our website, putting together a one page flyer to replace the current brochure, researching rabbits and mushrooms, and finishing toys. I still struggle to communicate clearly to people comingfrom many different perspectives who we are and what we’re doing at the farm. I enjoy opportunities my work here gives me to keep learning and doing and always having more questions. I enjoy colors as I paint wooden arches Zach has cut and sanded or cut out felt for dolls Joanna sews. I have hopes for this year–family days revived, simplicity circles begun, new trails developed, helpful information shared with people trapped in the consumer culture, volunteers who are helped as they help us.
Decades ago I was a member of The Memorial Society of Maine, an organization dedicated to helping people through decisions that must be made when someone dies. Recently I looked for a similar organization here in New York and found that the old memorial societies are now Funeral Consumer Alliances, that there are several in NY but none for Oswego County, and that NY is one of only 8 states that requires the employment of a funeral director for even a simple cremation. After receiving permission from the national FCA, I’ve printed some pamphlets and put them with other resources at our local library. So many people are daunted by the school systems and medical systems from whom they need services. The decisions that must be made at the time of death are made more difficult by grief and exhaustion. I hope in some small way to make those times easier.
Often Catholic Workers host round table discussions. I’ve never attended one but I think they might be similar to what I hope to offer in forming a simplicity circle. That’s just a small group of people working together toward more satisfying and sustainable living and away from consumerism and competition. People may join because of concerns about social justice or the future of the planet or economic uncertainty. They may be looking for more community or peace of mind or sense of purpose. Often visitors comment on the peace they feel here. People come looking for solutions to problems, answers to questions, alternatives to systems they experience as destructive or draining. My hope is to gather a few people for ongoing discussion and support as we all seek to live more simply and fully.
I see two things that seem contradictory: people find satisfaction in helping; finding people to help is hard. I remember the high school boys who enjoyed working with their hands and spending their spring break week helping with real work, the local boy who wanted to help fix someone else’s bike after Zach fixed his, the kids whose favorite part of the summer programs was not exploring but helping with the work, elders who enjoyed snapping beans or shelling peas for me to can or freeze. I remember how much I wished last year for more help when we were stretched thin. I remember so many visitors who said they’d be back to help again but never came. We’ve learned to plan the work so that what must be done can be done by the three of us and other projects can be pursued when we have help. There are so many different jobs–ones that could be done with an elder, with young children, with a large group with lots of energy. I’m learning to ask for what each person is able and willing to give, not to daunt or discourage. Sometimes it seems easier to stop asking, to do it all ourselves, but that ignores the goals underlying the daily and seasonal work. We are perennially looking for people to build community with us–sharing the work and the gifts of the land, bringing their questions and experience to a simplicity circle.–by Lorraine
Family Day at the Farm
We hosted a family day on the Tuesday of winter vacation. Rain kept us from getting out to walk in the woods or play in the snow, but the fifteen children (ages 2 to 13) and the adults who brought them enjoyed the indoor activities and going out to see the rabbits and chickens. This was the first visit to the farm for all of these participants and we’re hoping some of them will be back in the green time.
Comments from participants–
We learned about the event at Christ Our Light and we looked it up on the Internet.
I enjoyed watching my children try new activities.
I learned a new game, double digit.
I liked playing with the squiggly track game.
I had fun playing with the crocodile.
We made our own pretzel and a birdhouse.
The instruments made by hand are absolutely fantastic
I enjoyed helping my son build a birdhouse!
I enjoyed the challenge of putting a wooden puzzle together.
We came curious to see what SFF is about and are leaving very excited to come back.
I want to see the goats in the spring.
I and my family will be back in the spring and summer.
Can we come back?
We have had a very easy winter so far but even so the new building has been very helpful in keeping the routes out to the goats and chickens free of snow. In late November I finally got the springs installed on the second overhead door on the new building and wired the lights on both floors. I didn’t get the outlets wired till mid-December. Now the building is essentially complete, though there are still a few more things to do like finishing installing wire mesh on top of the walls to keep birds out of the loft and making railings around the stairwell. In December I went to an auction at a closed furniture factory in Williamstown and got some rolling tables and warehouse carts very cheaply. I have put two of the warehouse carts to use already to hold lumber and the rolling tables are up in the loft of the new building where the planer and jointer are now located. The sawmill building loft is now filled only with lumber for sale and that means I can have 7 stacks and still be able to move around. This means I am able to have a stack for each species of lumber that we have. January was a good month for lumber sales and I am hopeful that having a larger supply of lumber in the loft will help with sales through the rest of the year.
Late last summer the drywall enclosure around the old masonry chimney in the house cracked open on one corner and when I looked inside I saw that the chimney was badly cracked. In early February I brought the dump wagon over onto the front lawn, made a wooden chute to reach it from the top of the outside stairs and began taking the chimney apart. When I replaced the shingles on the house in 2006 I had taken the chimney down inside the attic and covered up the hole where it used to come out since the outer part of it was in bad shape at that time. The chimney had not been in use since 2001 when the furnace was found to be unsafe and was removed. It took a whole day to get rid of the chimney but I think it was time well spent. I don’t know what was holding it up since many of the blocks were cracked on all four sides and were very crumbly. Before spring when we will start having people staying in the house again I will need to patch the holes in the floors and ceilings where the chimney was and to work on the pieces of walls that have now been exposed. On the second floor inside the chimney enclosure I also found and removed the bottom few feet of a hanging chimney made of soft clay bricks. At some point there had been a wood stove in the front upstairs bedroom that was served by that chimney.
I am hoping to finally get the new floor put into the house kitchen this year. The large planer that I bought a number of years ago has had some problems that I think are not worth fixing and I am looking for another one to buy. I have 100 pine 1×6 boards to plane for the floor and the little planer that I use for furniture and toy parts and such is not going to be happy about having to do that much lumber. Once the lumber is planed I will use the shaper which the farm bought a few years ago to make the boards into tongue and groove flooring. Another thing that needs to be done this year is to jack up the house porch and put new piers under it that go down below the frost line.
Over the years we have been here we have moved away from burning oil and into burning wood for all our heat and hot water needs year round. This year there are a few things that need to be done in the boiler room and woodshed area. The first is to rebuild the wall of the woodshed with all of the loading doors. The wall has been deteriorating and the doors are not working well. I will redesign the door layout in a way that I think will make it easier to use. The chimney in the boiler room is also starting to have problems and we will need to look at it closely and decide whether to try to repair it or to replace it with another masonry chimney or a metal chimney. I will need to get some advice on the best way to proceed. We are also planning to remove the oil boiler which has not been used since 2012. It would need a new gun to be operable and we don’t anticipate needing to use it enough to justify that expense, especially given its age and the likelihood that it is rusting away inside. Having it out of there will give us a lot more room and make it easier to access the back of the wood boiler.
First rabbit litters are due in March. Building more cages and hoping to raise more this year and soon to have rabbits for others interested in breeding and raising them.
Barley is due to kid at the end of the 3rd week of April or 2nd week of May.
Inoculating new shiitake mushroom logs in March. Found some good information this winter and hope to get more reliable production and eventually sell inoculated logs.
Forming a simplicity circle at the farm this spring with others who would like to cut back on consuming, to work less, rush less and find more time for community and connection with nature.
We now have a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/stfrancisfarmcommunity/, where we post announcements of volunteer opportunities and upcoming events as well as quotes and pictures. We welcome suggestions to improve this.
St. Francis Farm and area community organizations will celebrate Screen-Free Week by hosting free non-electronic family-friendly activities during the Pulaski school’s spring vacation, April 25-30. This is our ninth year of local organizing, and new groups join in every year.
Members Of One Another by Joanna
Lent is upon us again, the time of facing the death and darkness within us and around us and preparing for the coming of new life. This winter I’ve been very aware of the darkness–long nights and short gray days, fear and division. I hear fear and suspicion of “those people” in news stories and campaign speeches. I also hear friends and neighbors, people I respect and care about, saying things about “those violent Muslims” or “those dangerous immigrants” or “those vicious Trump supporters.” I know and love people in all those groups.
I keep coming back to one of my favorite Bible verses: “Therefore, putting aside the lie, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, because we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25, emphasis mine). I keep trying to understand what would help us to live in accordance with this truth. I don’t have clear large-scale answers. I think of what Peter Maurin wrote about the Catholic Worker trying to create a society where it is easier for people to be good. Part of St. Francis Farm’s work is to make it easier for us to see our membership in one another.
We have guests from very different political, religious, economic and ethnic backgrounds. Personal relationships seem to be an effective antidote to prejudice. When people express fear of Muslims I think of the young woman who spent a day volunteering in our garden. She was fasting for Ramadan but still worked circles around her non-fasting classmates, and as she worked she talked about her hopes and plans. She’d come from Bangladesh to study medicine and planned to return to do public health work. When people express fear of immigrants I think of Miguel and Octavio and other migrant workers who lived as part of our family while recovering from injuries incurred as they worked to earn money to feed their families. Even while recovering they helped us as they could, patiently taught us their language, shared songs and stories and prayer with us. When people express disgust toward Trump supporters I think of our gentle neighbor who works for a local charity, takes care of various relatives, and comes sometimes to walk in our woods and take plants home. I don’t agree with his politics but I can’t dismiss or disrespect him. I’ve seen others at the farm forming connections across divides. I remember a group of students from a Catholic high school and a group of young migrant workers who spent an evening together with us. They regarded each other with some trepidation during dinner, but over soccer afterward they thawed and began to laugh together. Later that night when the migrants told their stories the students knew they were listening to real people like themselves, not scary foreigners. I’ve watched guests from very different religious backgrounds meet each other warily, find common ground as they share work and meals, and end up seeking out each other’s company.
We take time to lay aside our assumptions, worries and distractions and listen for the still small voice. During the summer, when much of my work is outdoors and I’m listening to bird songs or talking with whoever is helping me, I find this easy. In the winter I listen to the radio as I scrub or sew or sand during the day, and I check Facebook in the evenings when it’s too cold to go outside and walk. Sometimes this helps me to understand what’s going on in the world and in the lives of my friends and relatives. Sometimes it just feels overwhelming: there are so many fragmented stories that arouse emotional reactions without giving adequate context, so many arguments in which opponents talk past each other. Our divisions are painfully apparent, and there isn’t a context of relationship or a spiritual grounding to call us back toward unity. Beyond a certain point I get too tired and frustrated to think clearly or pray meaningfully about what I’m hearing. I’m grateful for Screen-Free Week coming up again, for a time of media fasting and deeper listening. (See ‘In Brief’ section below.) I’m trying to remain mindful about how I deal with news during the rest of the year. I’m grateful for our practice of beginning each day with silent prayer. In that silence I try to step back from the fear-filled noise in my mind, pray for all the other frightened and distracted people who are also seeking God and goodness in their own ways, and turn toward the Spirit of truth who makes us one.
Wish List–Maria’s story
We used to include a list of things we wanted/needed at the farm but haven’t for a while because so often the things that would be on it are odd or we only want a little. Mostly this late winter I am wishing for people to share the work, to ponder hard questions, to enjoy the simple gifts of the farm, to help me see the parts I’ve overlooked. Maria Kurowski has been that kind of person for the past several years.
It was years after her daughters Anita and Melinda began spending time with us that I got to know Maria. I’m not even sure how it began. I remember her coming to sing with us in the chapel during Christmas or on the hill around a fire. She took some of the plant divisions I was always trying to give away and brought me divisions from her gardens. She brought bags of maple leaves she’d raked up in the fall and Joanna fed them to the goats through the winter. When I was overwhelmed with milk and didn’t have time or energy to make another batch of cheese, Maria would take a gallon and make her own cheese. (Plenty of people would take cheese, but what a blessing to find someone who would make it.) Maria came in the spring for wildflower walks and brought her telescope for star-gazing on summer nights. She picks up the newsletters every quarter and distributes them at Christ Our Light where she works in the office. In recent years, Maria has become our gleaner. When we’ve finished canning beans and don’t want to pick anymore but they are still bearing, Maria will pick and use them or share them. She’s taken vegetables to share at her church when sending them to the soup kitchen and giving them to visitors still leaves a surplus. She sews beautiful cloth bags to hold some of the toys we make for refugees. This winter we helped her plan how to make better use of her limited garden space and this spring she’ll take aged sawdust and rabbit manure to enrich her soil.
We’re hoping others will find the farm and become friends as Maria has. In March Joanna will start planting seeds in the greenhouse. In April she’ll be starting work in the garden. Zachary will be tapping trees soon and making syrup in March and April, then getting in firewood. Lorraine will have perennials to divide and share and could use help in herb and flower gardens in April and May. Spring means woodland wildflowers, frog choruses, returning songbirds, and woodcock displays. Trails will need work and fences will need repairing. We wonder who will discover the farm this year and what we’ll learn together.
The past couple months have reminded me how many things are beyond my control and how different what comes often is from what I expected. After an unusually warm March, I anticipated an early spring, but what came was an unusually cold April. After the well-attended Family Day in February, I looked forward to folks returning in the spring but it was all new people who came to the events we had scheduled during Screen-Free Week. Just when I’d given up on finding others willing to form a simplicity circle, Kelly (see article below) read about them, wanted to try one, and brought others to join us.
By now I should have learned just to enjoy spring and its surprises, without expecting it to arrive at a particular time or in a particular way. The frogs began calling in March and the buds were all swelling, but the cold came back before the leaves had really opened. We bred the rabbits earlier than last year, hoping to time the litters so that the young would be starting to eat solids just as the first wave of new spring green was emerging. Three of the four planned litters arrived, but there was a gap when it was too warm in the greenhouse to grow wheat out into fodder and there was still very little forage growing outside. The chickens moved out into their summer quarters but the grass was slow to get started in their run so often they’ve been confined to their coop and compost area. April was dry so that the woodland wildflowers were slow to grow and salamanders hard to find.
My hope is always that visitors will enjoy the farm–and that some of them will help with the ever-present work. So I was pleased about all the new people who came in February partly because there were so many children old enough to be real help and who seemed to have some inclination to come back and volunteer. During Screen-Free week we scheduled a couple work days. A mother with an infant and two young daughters came to the first and helped plant potatoes and pick rocks before going for a walk and trying out the long swing by the pond. No one came to the second when the weather was better. A mother with a 3 year old girl, a 9 year old boy and his grandmother, and the folks who came for the simplicity circle all enjoyed our nature walks.
Whenever someone new comes and enjoys the farm I see what has become familiar in a new light. Maria has come for several wildflower walks–early enough to see the hepatica and again when the trillium had begun blooming. And Kelly has come back repeatedly for her favorite walk along Trout Brook.
Reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods has reminded me how much children gain from time in nature. We see it whenever we take families on nature walks or have them help in the garden. For a few years we made that connection with our Growing Season summer program. This spring a leader of a local 4-H group has contacted us about bringing children to the farm to learn about gardening and for nature study. I keep hoping we’ll be able to develop connections that last over time. Gardens and nature are hard to appreciate in one encounter. What I enjoy most are the ways the light and the plants and the song change over the course of a day or a season, but those things are hard to schedule for a group. At the same time we’re inviting people to work and walk we have to keep fending off people looking for a place to ride their ATVs and dirt bikes. We don’t mark the farm boundaries with No Trespassing signs, but we don’t want the noise and erosion and other damage caused by such vehicles. We explain what people are welcome to do here and what they are not when we can catch up with the riders and talk to them.
I’m grateful for the birdsong that wakes me each morning, for evening light on new leaves, for the work of the farm that frames our days, for others who come and share these gifts. My prayer–for us who live here, for all who come, for you who read this–is for clarity and grace. –by Lorraine
Remembering the Peacemakers by Joanna
Joe Morton, peace worker, professor and longtime friend of St Francis Farm, passed away on April 7, 2016. A celebration of his life will be held on June 18, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. in the Athenaeum at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Baltimore MD 21204. We’re grateful for his work, his example and his support. We will miss him.
Joe was a small boy when his family left Hungary just ahead of the Nazis and immigrated to the US. As a young man he served in the Army but was never in combat. He studied philosophy, taught in and then chaired the philosophy department at Goucher College, and founded one of the first Peace Studies departments in the country there in 1991. He took part in the peacemaking work of Jonah House, Viva House, Peace Brigades International, Witness Against Torture and many other groups.
Joe’s involvement with St. Francis Farm began before ours. In 1999 five people from St Francis Farm joined Voices In The Wilderness’ march from Washington DC to New York City to protest economic sanctions against Iraq. The marchers stopped in Baltimore, where Joe met them and decided to visit the farm. After that he visited several times a year, bringing books on peacemaking, Native American philosophy and spiritual practices as well as produce from the Baltimore farmer’s market and a rich fund of stories.
We first met him in spring 2002, when we had been at the farm less than a year and were still trying to understand the place and work. He wrote for our newsletter, pitched into our work, told us stories about the farm’s history as well as other peace communities, and kept coming back to help and encourage us. When we discovered that we had to incorporate the farm in 2003, Joe joined our rather unconventional Board of Directors and stayed on the Board for the rest of his life. His experience and his attention to detail were great gifts.
Some of our favorite memories of Joe include:
Singing around the campfire with him—his tunes were sometimes hard to follow but his delight in music was delightful and his repertoire of songs amazingly varied.
Time in the workshop making a rocking fox for his granddaughter.
Sitting outside in silent prayer with him early in the morning. Afterward he smiled and said, “Who would have thought three Quakers and one agnostic ex-Jew could make the sun rise?” His presence in the silence was warm and deep, and he introduced us to Bo Lozoff’s book ‘Deep and Simple,’ which we now give to people who come to us trying to work out some kind of spiritual practice.
Watching him plant an oak tree, working and talking with a neighborhood boy who craved time with men who were kind and sturdy.
Seeing his growing friendship with Miguel, the first migrant worker who stayed with us while recovering from an injury. Miguel and Joe had some difficulty in pronouncing each other’s names, but they worked and sang and laughed together and came to like and respect each other. When Miguel was recovered and looking for paid work he went back to Maryland with Joe, who always had more garden work than he had time for. Later they came back to visit us together.
Talking with him about different ways of working for peace. Since Joe was involved in public protests against militarization, torture, the death penalty etc. we wondered whether he’d find our work tame or irrelevant. But he spoke to us often about the radical nature of stepping back from the consumer culture, and the ways in which such lives made a peaceable world more possible. When we were worried about whether we were reaching enough people, whether we were really making a difference, Joe reassured us that it was enough for us to live as sanely and peacefully as we could and to keep a door open for others. He believed, and helped us to believe, that good work need not be spectacular or even measurable.
As we were gathering our recollections of Joe we learned of the passing of another peacemaker who worked both quietly and spectacularly. Father Daniel Berrigan, priest, protestor and poet, passed away on April 30. Many of you who read this may know more than we do about his rich and varied peace work, teaching students from difficult backgrounds, working with AIDS patients, and, most famously, engaging in nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear armament, staging protests which led to prison time, public consternation, and the inspiration of many activists.
Our connection with him was tenuous but we valued it. His books, especially ‘No Bars to Manhood,” helped me to start thinking about the questions of collective responsibility and living an alternative which eventually led me to St Francis Farm. His brother Jerry, who passed away last August, was likewise a man of prayer and peace, and also a friend and supporter of SFFC. Father Berrigan came to visit us in the summer of 2003, while he was visiting Jerry in Syracuse. I was excited and also very apprehensive, wondering if he would reproach us for not engaging in public protest and doing prison time in the face of so many deadly injustices carried out in the name of our government. It wasn’t like that. He took an interest in the gardens and the animals. We sat together in the chapel, prayed in silence, and talked about the slow hard work of caring for people and trying to live as part of a more just and merciful society.
We’re grateful for Joe and for Father Berrigan, for their presence and their witness, their courage and their gentleness. We pray for all the people who miss them now.
“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere. I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. … I was interested in trying to do it humanely and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.” —Father Daniel Berrigan in a 2008 interview
I discovered St. Francis Farm in the fall of 2015 through a flier in my local library. The flier connected with me because of its reference to simplicity. At the time, I had begun to notice and get rid of some of the many distractions and possessions in my life. I was eager to visit the farm and learn more about its inhabitants, however, I was nervous about the religious element at the farm. Listening to news about religious extremism had made me associate strong religious belief with intolerance.
Despite my fears, I reached out to Lorraine at the farm, and we set up a date. On the day of my visit, I nervously turned into their driveway, and was met with warm welcomes from Joanna, Zachary, and Lorraine Hoyt. During lunch, I was amazed to learn that a lot of their food came from their own land and was made from scratch. Before this, the only people I knew who did this were the Amish. I was given a tour of the farm and was interested to see how each family member’s talent was expressed as a role on the farm. Each role was equally important in maintaining and running the farm. On this day, I was also introduced to their walking trails, their greenhouse, their goats, their gardens, their chickens, and their chapel. Needless to say, all my preconceptions about the Hoyts disappeared when I realized how tolerant and kind they really were. After this visit, I felt very lucky to have met such people.
Since my first visit, I have come back many times to help out, to chat, and to walk. I have helped Joanna plant peas, plant onions, and milk goats. I found these tasks to be very calming, and they gave me a feeling of purpose and helpfulness. The conversations I have had with Joanna and Lorraine are what really stand out to me. Through their open-mindedness and genuine kindness, they have helped me recognize a lot of the rifts in my life. They have helped me find direction when I have been completely lost. More importantly, they have opened up their home and created a place for not only me, but also for anyone who is in need of alone time, a place to be heard, or something else. They have taught me how special it is to be present in your surroundings and listen to other people. Before meeting the Hoyts, I did not understand a fortune cookie that I once received that stated: “By listening, one will learn truths. By hearing, one will only learn half truths.” I now understand the fortune cookie’s quote, and can point out a family that embodies the meaning of the quote to its core.
In a world with so much noise and so little listening, it is very easy to feel isolated and not understood. St. Francis Farm is a place where you will find the opposite. At St. Francis Farm, silence is sacred and healthy communication is abundant. The farm is a place to stand still and realize how connected you are to nature and to other people. After visiting St. Francis Farm for the first time, I described the farm to my mom as an intersection between the turbulence of the mainstream and the clarity of simpleness. The Hoyts do not close themselves or their lifestyle off from other people. In fact, they open up their farm to people of all different backgrounds. As a child and as a teenager, I was constantly told to not talk to strangers. The Hoyts have showed me the power of reaching out and opening yourself up to people who are different. The powerful things I have learned from talking to the Hoyts and working at their farm have changed me immensely. I now have more faith in my convictions and who I am, and, more importantly, more faith in the goodness and potential of other people. I find that there is so much fear in this world, in myself, and in other people. It is a lot easier to pass off another person or experience as “strange” or “dangerous,” and to build a shell around yourself than to meet that person or experience head-on. When I think of this, I am reminded of a quote I once read that says, “When you protect something, the thing you are keeping safe decays.” The decision of the Hoyts to open up their homes and themselves to other people is an extremely powerful one, and I, along with many others, are extremely grateful for this decision to choose this more challenging route.
We had an early spring so the maple sugaring got started earlier than in the last couple of years. The sap ran well at first but it stopped earlier than usual so we still ended up with 9-1/2 gallons, the same as last year. I had the wood storage full and burned almost all of it to make the syrup, so this year I will put in a larger percentage of hardwood so that it’ll last if we have a better season next year. The wood was dry enough that I was finally able to get good evaporation rates most of the time so I didn’t have to keep boiling so long into the evening.
In March Bob Bartell came for a visit and helped with the ongoing John Deere crawler project. We got the winch taken apart and repaired and also were able to take the crawler for its first short trip since I replaced the axle over the winter. He also helped with making sheet metal pans to go under rabbit cages and bringing in logs from the pine plantation to the sawmill.
We didn’t burn all of the wood in the main woodshed this year so I moved what was left to the front and I was able to begin cutting firewood early. Once I had the area by the doors empty I jacked up the roof slightly and removed the entire southwest wall and the doors. I replaced the wall with a beam and a couple of 6×6 posts and made three double doors to replace the original two double doors and a single. This makes it much easier to load wood in since there are no more pieces of wall in the way and the whole side of the woodshed is doors. Filling the shed went quickly since I had a lot of tops on the ground from trees that were cut to go to the sawmill.
I sold my old 18” planer and just bought an old 15” planer which is all cast iron and much simpler and seems to be in working order. I need to put in proper wiring for it and then I will be ready to use it as soon as I have time. The first job for it will be preparing the lumber for the floor in the old kitchen in the house. The front porch on the house needs to be jacked up and to have foundation piers put inbelow the frost line. Miguel helped us a lot with the house in 2002 when we were new here, and he jacked it up then but in Puerto Rico where he came from they don’t have frost heaving like we do here so he just set it on blocks like it had been before. My hope is that by doing it better this time it won’t have to be done again for a while.
Also in the house I repaired the areas in the two upstairs bedrooms where I had removed the old chimney and painted the ceilings, walls and floors in those rooms and the hallway. They are ready now for the first overnight visitors of the year who will be coming in mid-May. I replaced the PVC piping to the upstairs bathroom, which had been leaking again, with PEX pipe. I have removed the old oil tank from the house basement and am planning to clean out the other detritus that is still lurking down there and replace the basement stairs which have rotted again because of periodic flooding.
This spring I graded the areas of the gravel road where I dug the ditches out last year with the trackhoe we had rented for the new building project. Last year was busy so I had just left the material in the road. The chickens are now moved into the old rabbit shed with a compost yard and movable run of my mother’s design added to the back. They seem happy in there and it is easier not to have to move the whole coop every day or two as we used to. I have made some new rabbit cages and racks to hold them. Now that the rabbits are in the new building there is much more room to grow more of them. I have put wire over the windows so that they can have them open when it warms up, and I have covered up all of the openings I could to keep birds from getting into the new building. A couple of swallows got in while I was working on the woodshed and they flew around and around the loft but wouldn’t leave. I finally had to add a small window that could be opened so I could let them out. In March we inoculated 60 logs with shiitake mushroom spawn. I put up an 8×14 enclosure for them which is designed to keep most of the sun off them but allow some airflow. It is attached to the back of the sawmill building near where there is a garden hose spigot for when the logs need to be soaked.
Agriculture: A Season of Surprises by Joanna
After the Paris climate change conference we’ve heard reports on how governments and NGOs need to support farmers in learning to grow food in increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather. We’ve been much more mildly affected than people in other parts of the world, and even of this country, but we’re still challenged by the weather’s fluctuations
This March was warm. The eggplant and pepper seedlings started at the beginning of the month throve. Kelly and I planted peas during the third week in March. I planted our first succession of tomatoes indoors the following week (later than last year, since last year the tomatoes were too big for their pots well before we could set them out). That week the weather turned very cold. April stayed cold. The tomato seedlings germinated and grew slowly. The first batch were delayed but healthy, the second were stunted when I set them out in the sun when the temperature was acceptable but the wind was excessive. April was also very dry, so I had to water the peas, early greens and asparagus; we had hard freezes so the hose sometimes had to be drained and disconnected. The peas came up patchily.
The garden keeps growing. I’ve coddled the third batch of tomato seedlings, keeping them in the greenhouse on all but the mildest days. They’ll be late but they’re growing well. I bought seedlings for an early succession. The pea harvest may be staggered, but I’ve planted extra beds to make up for early losses. It’s still cold for May, but we’re beginning to harvest asparagus and by the time you read this we should have lettuce and greens from the garden as well as the greenhouse. The onions which Kelly, Maria and Melinda helped us plant out survived many freezes and are starting to grow again. Root crops are coming up and potatoes should be up soon. We’re thinking about ways to improve our resilience next year—more widely staggered planting dates, more even planting depths, attention to wind—and in the meantime we’ll enjoy what grows and pay attention to what needs to be improved.
At the beginning of May we hadn’t found a piglet to raise. On May 6 I went to the feed store for oats and found that Zach had left a message asking me to get pig starter. We picked Placid up on May 7. She’s settling easily into her new home and enjoying the whey left over from our cheesemaking.
Our new goat Barley had two possible kidding dates, April 23 and May 14. On the 23rd she seemed to be straining to position kids, but nothing happened. On May 11 her udder filled. I checked on her at 12:30; she wasn’t in labor. I checked again at 2; her kids were standing up and trying to nurse. Millie the doeling and Milo the buckling are thriving, and we have enough milk to make cheese for the soup kitchen.
We started the season with 6 rabbits; five litters later we have 44 rabbits, and the weather has warmed enough so we have plenty of fresh food for them.
Visitors and Volunteers
May has a few scheduled visits. Joan, a friend from Maine, arrives for her annual visit on the 16th. Our first wwoofer of the year is Saki, a young woman from Japan who is a student in Ithaca. She arrives on the 23rd and may stay for a month if she doesn’t find it too strenuous or isolated. Bob Bartell will be back for a short visit from the 26th to the 28th. He usually comes in August but I’m always telling him the farm is loveliest in May. We’ve had other inquiries from prospective volunteers but only one other scheduled, another Japanese student who will arrive July 11. I keep hoping for local people to come, not just for family days, but to walk and work with us through the season. We could use the help and encouragement and I think the farm is better enjoyed by those who become more familiar with it over time.
I keep finding robin nests tucked at the edges of buildings. A pair of ravens has set up a territory on the farm and has a nest in the red pine plantation. I can hear the young begging but the adults don’t like me getting too close. The orioles are back and, while I haven’t seen any nests started yet, I hear and see lots of clashes over territory. Kingfishers are disputing territory around the pond and along the small brook. Bluebirds have claimed 3 boxes and tree swallows are using another 4 while the wrens are unwilling to stick to the houses hung for them and sneak sticks into any box they find unguarded. Opossums tried to set up housekeeping in the top of the sawmill building and were evicted. The leaves are opening fast, the woodland wildflowers fading, and the orchard in full bloom.
Summer has never been my favorite season and this one has been complicated by drought. I catch myself whining and worrying and have to bring my focus back to all that’s good. This year we’ve had longer term volunteers so that we’ve had help through most of the season, and there have been more local first time visitors. Discernment following a request to host a group week brought clarity on why that doesn’t work well for us anymore.
In July a Canadian Catholic school contacted us about bringing a group of students for a week. They were thoughtful, were looking for a place where their students could work with their hands and be helpful, not just “have an experience.” They asked when in our year we could use twenty or so people for a week. At first we thought we’d just talk with them about cutting the size of the group since we have learned that groups that large are hard for us to manage constructively. As we took time for discernment, it became clear to us that group weeks no longer work. We often could use help–a group of people for a day or one or two people for longer term. But a large group of people longer term is more disruption than help since there aren’t enough of us to supervise effectively. There are many things we do that one person can help with and learn about at the same time but that are harder with several people. We also realized that the core of our mission, living an alternative to the consumer culture, becomes diluted when the visitors outnumber us. What we eat, how we work, how we relax are all changed. For years now hosting groups has not been the main financial support nor the basic mission of the farm. We’re grateful to finally have clarity that hosting them occasionally disrupts our other work and drains our energy.
This change has allowed us to be more rooted in the local community as people realize that the farm welcomes them, not just groups from “away”. Our local gleaner has been away much of the summer and the farm has looked less inviting as the drought lengthened, but we’ve had various visitors, many of them seeing the farm for the first time. I taught people how to make lavender sachets and had help shelling peas, snapping beans, cleaning garlic. Ashley, who first visited and volunteered in 2013, is back with a new friend. Hay customers asked for a tour and then sent relatives to see the farm, help with garlic, and take plants next time I divide perennials. A new neighbor who took a while to decide to stop and see the farm has since come to help and has brought friends and relatives to visit. A man interested in Zach’s business of making musical instruments came to see his shop and wants to learn more about gardening and herbs. We still hope to build more long-term relationships with local people who share some of our interests and goals, who will help with the work and enjoy the beauty and the produce of the farm.
It’s often hard for me to see what summer visitors enjoy about the farm when it is so parched and hot and weedy. I miss the birdsong and looking for nests. The excitement of the first blooms has given way to the task of deadheading. The brook is reduced to a barely audible trickle. But walking before the sun is up I see does with fawns and savor ripe blackberries. I watch for snakes on the stone walls, frogs at the pond edge, butterflies in the flower gardens, dragonflies patrolling the field paths. We often walk together at sunset and I get out again just before going to bed to look for fireflies in the brushy edges where dusk settles first. Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace bloom along the roadside in spite of the drought. Our salads that in spring were lettuce, radishes and goat cheese now include peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet onions fresh from the garden. Still so much to be grateful for if I keep my eyes and heart open.
I listen to news of wildfires or floods, fleeing refugees and embattled communities, contaminated water and corrupt officials. This election year seems to bring out fear and contempt toward variously defined “others.” I’m grateful for the habit of prayer each morning–even when I feel too tired or distracted to focus or listen well. Somehow, in spite of the world’s trouble and our weakness, people speak of finding peace here. We pray for peace and grace for you and them, trusting that when we are weary or discouraged someone is praying for us. –-by Lorraine
Grace in a Dry Time (written Aug. 10) by Joanna
This has been one of our more difficult growing seasons. The cold spring turned to a hot summer, but the weather has stayed very dry. We had less than 2” of rain in July. The stream and the pond are low, the lawn is dead, the goat-pastures are short and sparse, and the farmers are fretful. We’re focusing our water on the garden. We bought extra drip irrigation lines and we’re running the drip system 24/7 except when we stop to hand-water vegetables less suited to drip tape. So far the well is holding up.
Despite the difficulties we’ve still had good harvests. We froze 26 quarts of peas, ate plenty fresh, gave some to the soup kitchen, and then invited neighbors in to pick peas and take them home; when people didn’t take us up on this we fed the vines to the goats. We’ve nearly finished canning green beans and we’ve started freezing peppers and pesto and drying tomatoes. I’m not sure how we’ll do for canning tomatoes; they’ve been slow in ripening, and the garden is infested with chipmunks who like to take one bite of each large tomato that ripens. They’ve also been gnawing some of the potatoes but have left plenty of new potatoes for us. The cukes and squash have been prolific, and we’re giving them away to all and sundry. The garlic in the drip-irrigated bed was decent-sized; the rest was small, but we still have enough for ourselves and some to give away. The long-delayed onions are finally sizing up with drip irrigation and long warm days.
I’ve had more garden help this year than ever before. Saki and Wakako (see articles below) spent a total of 12 weeks with us, and they spent much of that time in the garden. This means that even in August the garden is not overrun with weeds, the tomatoes are properly tied up instead of sprawling on the ground, we’ve kept up with the unusually large amount of necessary hand-watering, and I have been able to take work time for berry-picking and spend my rest time actually resting. (Some of the wild berry vines have dried up, but we’ve still been able to freeze 23 quarts of berries. I love berrying and feel guilty about going to do that while my helpers stay behind and weed, but the helpers have made it quite clear that they prefer weeding to dealing with scratchy brambles.) I’m grateful for the help, and for the chance to talk about culture, food, family, religion, politics and more while we weed. Local visitors have come to help us shell peas and clean garlic, to talk about farming and life, to suggest interesting recipes to us and to take produce home. We’re glad for these connections.
The animals also are coping with the drought. The chickens are eating our bumper crop of Japanese beetles, which makes the task of beetle-picking feel less onerous. Our pig Placid is growing apace and not acting heat-stressed. Our new goat, Barley, gave plenty of milk soon after her kids were born but doesn’t seem a likely candidate to milk through the winter, so we’re looking to replace her. Our other goat, Dora, is handling the drought with aplomb. This year’s rabbits have grown faster than last year’s in spite of the steady heat, and we’ve kept finding places where we can cut wild greens for them. Barley’s kids and two rabbit does that we decided not to keep long-term as breeding stock were sold to a nearby family who want to grow more of their own food and were glad to have rabbits raised on natural feed. It’s good to know that there are folks nearby working on similar issues. And it’s satisfying to see how much good food and connection the land produces even in this stressful time.
The enclosure off the back of the sawmill building that holds the shiitake logs is working well. We bought a piece of shade cloth to cover the top . When winter comes we’ll probably have to take the shade cloth off since I don’t think it is strong enough to hold up the snow.
I was able to start cutting hay earlier than usual this year and most of it was done by late June. We didn’t get as much as usual because of the dry weather limiting the growth, but we have what we need and have sold some. I lost some that I had to bale earlier than intended because of a change in the weather forecast. Some bales got moldy after a couple of weeks in the loft and had to be used for mulch, which was a little discouraging. The largest field behind the garden just got cut and left on the ground to give the field a rest. The machinery ran quite well this year with very few breakdowns, and those that happened were pretty minor.
Lumber sales have been unusually slow this summer, so I have quite a lot stored in the loft which I am sure will go eventually. I cut a load of pine logs for someone in trade for some cherry logs. Cherry is often in demand here and we don’t have as many of them as other trees here on the farm. I also cut some 8/4 cherry from those logs to make a better top for the island in the kitchen this winter. The current top is 1” thick and it tends to warp with the changing humidity, so I think a thicker top will be more stable. I have not gotten the planer set up yet but I plan to soon. I recently brought out some aspen logs which I plan to saw into boards, let them dry and then cut them into strips for making canoes. I could try selling the strips to people who are building a canoe, and we have been thinking about making canoes (among other things) as a way to bring in money, in keeping with the tradition of Peter Maurin’s idea of crafts as part of the support of Catholic Worker communities. I have built a couple of canoes in my free time in 2014 and 2015 and it is not difficult, but it is time-consuming.
In the spring we bundled and dried willow branches for the rabbits to eat in the winter, and with the larger space in the loft of the new building we have more than we have had before. I have built a 4 by 8 foot bin in the loft to store dried feeds in and set it on a flat cart so it can be moved around easily. We have begun stripping the willow leaves off the sticks and I don’t know yet if the bin will be big enough. I have just been working on a new cider-pressing arrangement that will have a new frame for the press mounted on a cart with the homemade apple grinder on the other end. My theory it that I will be able to use it inside on rainy days and then take it outside when it’s time to hose it clean. The old frame was getting too loose to be able to take the pressure well, so it will be good to have a new frame that is bigger and is made to be more rigid. I won’t know if it works till the apples are ready, which won’t be till early September or so.
Another fall project on the list is to put a French drain along the wall of the barn we live in that faces the road. In heavy rain the water seeps under the wall and onto the floor, and I hope that I can get it to drain away instead of pooling there. It’ll be about 100 feet of trench, but most of its length will be buried in the rocks along the wall rather than having to be dug into the dirt, so that should make it easier to install.
I spent 6 weeks at St. Francis Farm. I am an exchange student from Japan, studying at Ball State University for one year. My major is English education in high school. Although I grew up in the city, I moved to the countryside where my university back in Japan is located. The area around my school is famous for rice farming. Since I wanted to have the experience which I can only do there, I visited a local village and participated in planting seedlings and harvesting rice. It was hard work. I had to keep slouching posture to put young plants into the soil so that my back and legs were sore for next few days. However, I couldn’t forget the lunch made by farmer’s wives which we had after working. We had home-grown vegetables and rice which were delicious. When I was in the city, I did not grow any veggies in my house but bought them at the store. I was moved that farmers can eat such tasty, fresh vegetables and rice. From that moment, I have been attracted by farming.
When I was looking for what I would do during this summer break, my friend who knew WWOOF and had done it before in Europe suggested I do WWOOF in the U.S. I wanted to do WWOOF with another Japanese friend of mine who also studies abroad in New York, so I looked for a farm in NY state and found this farm though I couldn’t come with her due to circumstances. People who did WWOOF at St. Francis Farm before commented on the WWOOF’s website that this is a good place to learn about organic farming and sustainability. The pictures on the website looked also nice so that I chose this farm. When I contacted her via email, Lorraine always gave me warm and kind words, even though I suddenly had to change my schedule. On the website, the Hoyts asked to work 6-7 hours per day and 5-6 days per week. Before coming here, I thought it should be hard work. Especially, now in summer, I was sure that there was lots of work in fields. I knew what I would do, but I could not picture how my life would go on this farm.
I found a balance between work and peaceful living at St Francis Farm. Here there is farming and hard work but you do not have to sacrifice other parts of life; there is time to enjoy nature and have peace. Hence, I imagined I would be a worker here. In fact, they allowed me to be a member of the family to enjoy nature. The most enjoyable activity was milking goats. It was my first time to milk goats. In the beginning, I was surprised how warm the goat’s body and milk were. I knew dairy products were made by cows or goats, but they are always cold when consumed. While this may be obvious to dairy farmers, it was new to me. I copied how Joanna did, but I could not get a drop of milk at all. I did not know how difficult it was to trap milk in the teat and squeeze it out. I am not as good as Joanna, but now I can milk in a shorter time. I used arm-muscles the most in a day when milking, but it was a fun time to interact with goats. The other things I enjoyed were driving a tractor and using a sawmill to slice timbers. I had never done it before, and I did not imagine that I could. Even though I scared Zach because of my bad controlling, it was one of the memorable experiences. Most of the time I was weeding the garden since weeds are quickly rampant in summer. I like this job because it seems like an investigation. At a glance, weeds and the vegetable we planted look similar, and roots are in a different place from where we can see the leaves. I felt great when I pulled out a whole root from the soil. During this job with Joanna, we talked a lot about politics, religion in the U.S. and Japan, or cultural difference between the two countries. It was exciting and fruitful time to discuss many topics with her. Thanks to Lorraine, I learned some recipes to cook and to make herb tea. Almost every day she makes fresh cheese from goat’s milk. It goes well with a salad. I will make hummus when coming back to Japan by her recipe. I helped her can beans we harvested to use in winter.
I enjoyed every meal with the Hoyts. When I lived with my family, I ate supper with all my family members. However, after entering into university, sometimes I had meals with my friends, but most of the time, I ate alone. Since I love sitting down at the table with people and sharing food, I was happy to have meals with them. Before having supper, we had a silent moment that we appreciate nature and food. In Japan, we say “いただきます(Itadakimasu)” / “ごちそうさま(Gochisousama)” instead of the silent moment, but, when eating by myself, I sometimes used my busy schedule as an excuse not to say these words. I again strongly felt that I must be thankful for nature because we cannot live alone. Every morning, I picked herbs from the garden to make tea. Every evening, I played the guitar and the fiddle which Zach made, and ate berries which Joanna picked wild. Each time, my mind was filled with peace. Although I am afraid that I cannot spend such time back in my school life, I will try to make room in my mind to have peace as the way of life here.
I stayed at St. Francis Farm for six weeks. Honestly, I planned to visit with my friend but I happened to come by myself because she had to change her plan. So, first I was a bit nervous to stay at someone’s house but I really had a wonderful time. I like gardening so working in the garden made me feel peaceful. I experienced milking goats, making a lavender sachet, canoeing by myself, making original herb tea, and using a lathe to make a wooden bowl. These activities were new to me and I enjoyed a lot.
One of the most attractive things is their circle idea. They grow food in the garden and eat them. Portion which is left goes to worms or sometimes animals. Pea pods become food for rabbits. Bones are fed to chickens. Animals provide food such as milk, eggs, and meat. Animals also enrich compost with manure. Compost makes rich soil and helps garden with growing food. I got surprised how things around St. Francis Farm go round and keep the cycle. In this world, people are likely to buy products at a store and throw away what they do not need. They burn or bury litter without thinking of the terrible effect on the environment, and then they buy new stuff. Unfortunately we have lost the sense of connection because of technology. We can get convenient life without knowing who makes products, who gets damaged, and who really supports our life. I do not think that everyone should grow their own food or everyone can do that. The important thing is to know the situation around you and behave with caring and concern. Experiences at St. Francis Farm will give visitors a sense of how they connect to the world.
In addition to such a wonderful circle, they taught me the way to enjoy the wild nature. A lot of plants which grow wild can be good for animals as food and even for human beings as medicinal herbs. Many flowers smell lovely. Various birds are fun to watch. Especially I got to pay attention to how a bird looks, flies, and cries, which I had never noticed. In this world filled with materials, we tend to forget how great the “original” is. Once people get away from what they have, they may realize the greatness of the nature which is there originally; such as how beautiful is the harmony of birds, frogs, and the stream, how many wild plants are edible or medicinal, how good the simple food is with its freshness. I do not want to deny technology but I think that knowing itself can make our life better.
These six weeks became an important experience for my life. I really appreciate sharing the St. Francis Farm life. I hope many more people will get a sense of connection with nature from visiting St. Francis Farm. Finally, I want to say thank you to Lorraine, Joanna, and Zach for all of their help and kindness, and asking a lot of questions about Japan and teaching a lot of things about America. Thank you for the wonderful six weeks!
Through the summer day visitors have come to help and learn and enjoy the farm. They’ve tried out our wooden toys and Zach’s musical instruments. They’ve sat by the pond and gone around to visit the animals and look at the garden. They’ve helped shell peas, clean garlic, and process apples. They’ve taken home vegetables and have helped us see the farm anew through their eyes. As fall approaches, we’ll be pressing cider, planting garlic, dividing perennials, harvesting root crops. Asters and goldenrod and autumn leaves will provide a late burst of color for us and visitors to enjoy.
In November the pace of our work slows as the season turns and the light dwindles. At the start of the new year we’ll review what we’ve done, plan for the future, ponder the questions that accumulate through the busier seasons. But we’re not there yet. Around us the voices get shriller, the divisions sharper. Joanna comes home from her community meetings and tells of more programs cut, grants run out, positions that are empty and won’t be filled. From Hope we hear of the plight of so many refugees. From others we hear fear of an influx of strangers who might be terrorists or carry diseases or take their jobs. We go out for walks and the brooks are full again after a dry spring and summer. Autumn leaves are bright underfoot. We listen to the geese and watch the moon rise and Orion climb the sky. I try to see the dark things clearly and still remember to count the blessings.
Sometimes what we do seems too puny to matter. Daily the news includes tragic stories of refugees drowning, starving, declared undesirable, driven out, herded into camps. On cold or wet days we’ve gotten back to making toys that Hope will take to refugee families. Marge brought a bag of lovely fabric scraps that I cut into rectangles and Maria sews into bags to hold a set of dolls or a balancing crocodile. Visitors like to sand or sew with us while we talk about their lives and ours and our concerns for the wider world. But when I’m weary or worried the few toys we make and the time spent with neighbors seem less than nothing balanced against the urgent need.
Each year more local people “find” the farm and wonder how they missed it for so long and why we don’t do more publicity. This year no one who came for our publicized family day in February came back later in the year. A couple who’ve come back found us through a relative who bought hay. An elder came after her neighbor recommended us when she needed help with some repairs. A girl picked up our brochure while volunteering at the library. A boy, just moved into the neighborhood, stopped by on his bike. A woman Joanna and Zach met at contradances has been joining us for prayer/meditation Sunday mornings. We show them our field and woods trails, give them garlic and cider and plant divisions, allow them to hunt and fish. They bring us canning jars and bushel baskets and venison. The farm is a place where all of us are both giving and receiving.
All of us are struggling or have struggled with something in our lives and sharing what helped us can help someone else. Sometimes we can connect visitors with people or programs that can meet needs that are beyond our abilities or experience. Other times the problems are clear but local resources are over-stretched or non-existent. People fall through the cracks for all sorts of reasons. Then I struggle to keep my balance, to count my blessings without losing sight of those who are in need, to remember the Light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome. Lighting the Advent candles and taking time for the silence keeps me from despair.
For if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness. Matthew 6:23by Lorraine
The Things That Remain: Agriculture report by Joanna
This has been a challenging growing season, with erratic temperatures and severe drought. I’m discouraged by the thought that we’re likely to have more seasons like these as we continue to destabilize our climate. I’m encouraged by the good food and good work which the farm provided even in this difficult year. This fall we harvested 220 pounds of potatoes, down from 290 last year. One bed of potatoes was half eaten by rodents. Our onion harvest was down by about 1/3, mostly because of the drought. We have enough for winter, but not so much to give away. Some other things grew well despite adverse conditions. We canned 119 quarts of tomatoes and dried 15, so we’ll have plenty for winter. We had plenty of cukes, squash, green beans and cherry tomatoes to send to the soup kitchen through September, and kept sending kale, lettuce, chard and herbs well into October. Our slow-starting eggplants came into their own in September and gave us many delicious meals.
Now our winter garden is thriving in the greenhouse. We’ve already harvested plenty of chard, kale and lettuce, and my mother is starting to grow fodder in the greenhouse as there are fewer greens outside. And now that the growing season is over the rains have begun again, the brooks are full and singing, and the groundwater is getting replenished for next year.
Cutting food for the rabbits was harder as the drought browned the fields, but the woods edges and garden paths provided enough. Our fall litters of rabbits grew faster than any we’ve had before. Our pig Placid also did very well. We’ve replaced Barley with a new goat, Amada, who seems more likely to keep milking through the winter. Barley was sold to some people who aren’t trying to milk goats for more than a year at a time. Dora and Amada have settled down together with very little head-butting. Our hens have recovered from their fall molt and are laying again.
We had a bumper crop of apples. We canned applesauce, froze apples, dried apples, pressed cider. The Amish family around the corner filled their buggy with boxes and bags of apples; the boy down the road took a big box home on his bike; Maria took apples home after helping us with our work. It’s satisfying to have plenty to share.
It’s also satisfying to have helpers to share the work. Our friend Bob came back for an August visit and gave a hand with weeding and compost-turning. Lil and Dennis helped us harvest onions and process dried willow to feed rabbits in winter. Maria has pitched in in the garden and also brought us dried maple leaves from her yard to feed to the goats this winter. Marge comes regularly to help us with all sorts of produce processing (see her article below). I’m grateful for the help and for the stories and questions we share as we work together. When I listen to the news I could easily despair of how we treat each other and the planet. When I think about the day to day work here, and about the people we work and visit with, I am still aware of problems and pains and frustrations, but also aware of the goodness that remains.
This fall I have gotten caught up on a few jobs that have been waiting for a while. The first apples were ready in August, and I made a new frame for the cider press out of ash lumber. I reused the beam and screw from the original press. The new press is more solid, so it doesn’t creak and bend like the old one did. I bought a stainless steel tray to put under the basket and made a cutout in one corner so the cider can run into a bucket. I mounted the press on a frame with an old garden cart axle and wheels, and I mounted the grinder that I made a couple of years ago on the other end. Now I can press cider in the new building and then roll the cart out the door and hose it off. I have pressed much more cider this year than ever before because we had such a good apple crop in spite of the drought, and we’ve been giving gallon jugs to visitors.
Also in August I installed a French drain along the barn wall with help from Bob, who was visiting. We buried about 130 feet of 4” drain tile. I tarred the bottom part of the concrete wall near where the water sometimes would leak in, and it hasn’t leaked yet in the heavy rains we had this fall, though I won’t be sure it’s fixed till we go through the winter. I hope that the combination of sealing the wall and draining water away more rapidly will keep the leak from coming back.
In early September I replaced the shingles on the house porch roof, which had begun to deteriorate badly last winter. I had put them on in 2005 when we were working on the house, and the rest of the roofs on the house were done in 2006. The only difference I can see is that the porch roof was done with black shingles and the rest of the house with light gray, and I am thinking that perhaps the black ones absorbed more heat, or maybe there is another reason why they didn’t last.
Late in September I tore down the crumbling part of the boiler chimney that was above the roof line and replaced the half that is used by the wood boiler with new blocks. Inside the building the chimney was in good shape. In October I changed the plumbing for the boiler system, eliminating the line that went to the oil boiler and putting in a single large expansion tank to replace two small ones that had failed. I also put in valves so that I can shut off the expansion tank and the fill valve from the rest of the system when they need to be replaced in the future.
I have been selling some lumber, continuing to cut more, and doing a few jobs cutting up other people’s logs at the mill. One customer brought aspen logs and said we could have anything that didn’t make full length 1x6s. I used that extra lumber to make a new floor in the winter chicken coop where the boards had shrunk and cracks had opened. It was practice using the shaper we bought a few years ago to make tongue and groove cuts on the boards. I am hoping to make flooring for the farmhouse kitchen this winter. I bought a larger planer in the spring and this fall I finally set up the wiring so that I can run it out in the new building.
Before winter I’m planning to replace the wooden platform behind the sawmill where the sawdust accumulates, as the old one has rotted away and begun to break up, and also to make a new cradle to hold slabs at the mill so they can be cut up into firewood. A store in Pulaski gives away broken pallets so I got a couple of trailer loads of them and have used some to build a new sawdust storage bin on the old concrete slab on the hill, and some to build some new compost bins to replace rotting ones by the garden. I will need to put in more compost bins in the spring once the old ones are empty.
We had an unexpected crop of shiitake mushrooms this fall on the 60 logs that we inoculated in the spring. We’ve sold three logs so far and will sell some more if we can, and we cut 13 of the smallest logs in half so that we could bring then inside and soak them in a small tub for fruiting over the winter. As I write this we have only soaked the first four logs but they are all making mushrooms.
I believe it was during my first visit to SFF that I was introduced to creating freshly cut flowering lavender into beribboned little bundles of pot-pourri. A very pleasant pastime and a pleasing fragrance as well. But more important, the beginning of a wonderful on-going friendship.
My second visit found me sitting in a small sunny glade beside a singing brook with an inviting footbridge and a nearby pond which must harbor all sorts of creatures. Benches and chairs were arranged in a friendly fashion and in this sublime realm of unspoiled nature we set to work shelling peas. Working conditions such as these are what dreams are made of.
At other visits we cut up wee tomatoes and home grown mushrooms to be dried and later packaged. And we dusted off considerable crops of potatoes and onions, grading them as to size as we went along. Whatever and wherever the task, the company and the scene of action seemed to lend an air of celebration that I’ve never experienced before.
I haven’t exactly counted the times I’ve visited SFF, but it’s a very special place and each visit brings its own treasured memories. I wish I could have met these amazing and incomparable people when I was younger and would have been more help, but they, being the epitome of love and understanding, seem to have accepted my old and decrepit state and have even gone so far as to try to convince me that I have been some help.
Please realize that this is not an incidental statement, but those three lovely people, the Hoyts, know how to and set about making long lost dreams come true. To say thank you is vastly inadequate.
An addendum by Lorraine: We met Marge this summer when she called looking for someone to do some repairs at her home in Sandy Creek. Zach went and enjoyed listening to her stories and invited her to visit us at the farm.
Since then she’s joined us for work and lunch and brought us many items that she wanted to get rid of and we could use. We enjoy hearing about her life and seeing this place anew through her enthusiasm and interest. Whenever possible we take a break while she’s here and Zach plays a few hymn tunes or waltzes for her on his fiddle.
Meet the Directors: Andy Nelson
I was first introduced to St. Francis Farm by friends of my wife, Mary Anne Hogan. Mary Anne was a long time friend of Mary Maples and had also become acquainted with Barbara Steinkraus as a result of work with international students at SUNY Oswego. On one early visit to the Farm, I believe in the fall of 2009, Lorraine, Joanna, and Zach queried me about the names of fall blooming wildflowers. They expressed an interest in knowing the plants and animals they share the land with and in passing this knowledge and an appreciation of nature on to people visiting the Farm. A similar interest has guided and sustained me through an education in forestry and botany, a career in and out of academic biology, and into my retirement years.
My offer to explore and document the flora of the Farm was eagerly accepted. I made numerous visits to the Farm over the next few years and put together a collection of photos and information about the plants I found. As we got to know each other in the course of these visits I experienced increasing admiration and respect for the Hoyts and the life they have chosen at St. Francis Farm. When I was offered a position on the Farm’s Board of Directors I found it easy to accept.
The off-site Board Members meet annually with the core members to evaluate and review the performance of the Farm. We hear reports on the year’s activities, finances, and plans for the coming year. Consensus comes easily at our meetings. The focus is on the overall goal of sustainability and material self sufficiency.
As an off-site Board Member I visit the Farm as frequently as I can (though less often than I’d like) and share any of my own knowledge and life experience that seems relevant. There is usually some discussion of current concerns and participation in the day’s activities. St. Francis Farm is a comfortable place to be. I’m grateful to be included as part of the St. Francis community.
Thanks to all who supported our work with prayer and donations and to those who came and worked with us. Please contact us if you would like to change the way you receive our newsletter or if you need a receipt for donations made in 2016. Questions, feedback and suggestions are welcome as we conduct our annual review and planning session in January.
Winter visitors are welcome to walk, ski, sing, work, and worship with us. We’ll be planning next year’s gardens and have time to answer gardening questions. Visitors can help sew dolls or make wooden toys. We hope to facilitate discussions to promote understanding and build community in this time of deepening divisions. Let us know if you’d like to join us.