Winter gives us an opportunity to slow down and take stock. We spent the first week of January looking back, looking ahead, looking within, as we have each year since we came to the farm. Planning is harder as the future seems more uncertain. I find myself struggling to keep my balance, needing to go back to the basics and at the same time make room for others who find the farm an oasis in a divided and hostile world.
The soil improves year by year even as climate change and the erratic seasons make gardening more challenging. We’ve caught up on repairs, and the building Zach has done over the past few years makes our work easier. The sawmill has provided lumber for our needs and income from sales. Other income is down and for the second year in a row expenses exceeded income. (In December we had to replace the car we’d bought used in 2009). The farm economy isn’t easy to understand. The land and the work done by us and other volunteers provide much of what we need. People donate things that we then don’t have to buy. We give away the produce beyond what we can use and don’t charge people for the help they need. People often offer to pay for these things and visitors sometimes ask if we accept donations. So we’re putting a donation box Zach made up in the front room and letting our readers know that the farm still needs financial support.
The deepening divisions–political, religious, economic, and social– in our world distress me. The voices on each side get shriller, the positions more deeply entrenched. We’ve tried on our farm Facebook page and through Joanna’s community group to bring people together to listen to each other and find some common ground, but we’ve failed. A few weeks ago I came to the parable of the sower and Jesus quoting Isaiah, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” It is so easy to see where others have closed their minds and hearts, but of course I am blind to my own blindness. I need others to show it to me, and that won’t be done by force or shouting.
Simple things hold me steady while I wait for more light and a way forward. Each day begins with a half hour in the chapel–praying, meditating, listening, waiting. Since November Rita (and more recently sometimes Jo-Ann) has been joining us Sunday mornings. Each day we walk if theweather permits. Winter work is partly cleaning and organizing,updating our website and filling out IRS paperwork. We’ve been making toys for refugees even while we wonder if they will still be arriving. The colors of the rainbows and dolls, the smoothness of the wood, the scent of the beeswax finish are all satisfying. The daily chores provide a reassuring rhythm to the days. Joanna and Zach tend the livestock and stoke the boiler. I grow fodder and tend the worm box that makes compost for spring seed starting. I bake bread and prepare meals from what we grew and froze or canned or dried last growing season. We share what we have with visitors, listen to them, pray for them, make music with them. It all seems so small and we wonder if it is enough. When I feel uncertain and helpless, it is good to remember the words of Micah the prophet, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercyand to walk humbly with your God.” —by Lorraine
I first visited the farm in mid-October with my friend Jo-Ann McVey, who had been there many times in her past because her uncle was Father Raymond McVey who started the Acres and also St Francis Farm many years ago. First Jo-Ann took me to the Acres, taking me inside the chapel there, and walking around the grounds. We then took the mile walk through the woods to visit St. Francis Farm and meet the Hoyts. Jo-Ann had not been to the farm in very many years so we spent over an hour visiting, Jojo getting updated on all the changes that had occurred since her uncle had passed. The Hoyts told us the story of how they came by the farm and what they do.
I asked if they had silent meetings on Sundays. They said they worship every day, but Sunday worship is an hour long. They were very happy to have me share their Sunday morning walk and prayer/ worship/ meditation time.
I had recently visited a few Quaker meetings, and when I first found out the Hoyts were Quakers I was very happy, as I’ve been studying a bit about these folk who have been involved in social activism and doing good for others, often silently and humbly, since the 1700’s. I like their openness to allowing others to find God in their own way. Personally I value all religions, not holding to any one. While the Hoyts follow Christianity, they also read and respect other religious traditions, seeing the common ground between them and their Christian faith.
It was early November when I began coming by on Sunday mornings to sit in worship (as they call it). We sit in silence for one hour and I love it! We may read to ourselves but for me it is the sitting together in the silence that I find so supportive. I have been meditating for over 40 years and I relish this time with those who also believe in listening within and being present for truth to reveal itself. Sometimes after, Lorraine reads something from the Bible that often feels supportive to the times we are living. We then visit. Recently they gave me an auto-harp. I don’t read music but it is a very easy instrument to play and I love being able to pluck out the chords while learning an old Carter family tune.
Arriving on Sunday morning, we first usually go for a mile walk, down the road if the snow is too deep, otherwise through the woods that lead to the creek. It feels like a nature sanctuary, with brooks, streams, a pond, trails and trees of all kinds on 180 acres of land. I’ve been told I am welcome to come walk the land anytime.
Jo-Ann and I visited on a Saturday a while back and I recently went again on a Monday. We were shown the toys that they make for the refugee children in Syracuse. Because these children come to our country with very little, they need to have some things to call their own and enjoy. Joanna showed us how to sew the body of the little dolls that are then given to the children. Nothing will make you feel better about your life than when you are doing something to help make another’s life better. On that Monday visit, I came to sew the dolls and to talk politics. These are very trying and difficult times our country is going through. It feels good to discuss the world’s events with informed and knowledgeable folks. I feel grateful to have their friendship right now, as like minds and hearts are stronger together. I benefit greatly by listening to their view on the world and how we try to understand and use our time and skills to benefit others.
The Hoyts offered to loan me books from their extensive library. Since I’ve been interested in social activism, and trying to understand what’s happening in society, they lent me The Shelter of Each Other by Mary Pipher. I already loved Mary Pipher and saw her at Manlius Pebble Hill school, back in the mid 1990’s. They also lent me Desmond Tutu’s book Made for Goodness. I highly recommend both books for understanding our culture, the injustices we meet and how to stay rooted to what is needed and true.
So much more to say about the farm, and what they do to extend themselves to people in the community. I want to touch on Zachary’s talent as a builder of musical instruments, guitars, banjos, violins, cellos, mandolins and probably others I don’t know of. Joanna is the wordsmith and has written a historical novel. So don’t pass up the chance to come visit these folks and see what they do here. And if you ever get the invite to have lunch–home cooking, fresh bread…..do it! This is a wholesome place; goodness abounds here; so do creativity, kindness, music and laughter. I look forward to warmer months where I can participate in more outdoors activities…. and learning…..so much to learn here on St. Francis Farm.
This winter has been a fairly slow time in my areas of work, so I have had a fair bit of time to work on toys for refugees. In December the farm bought a newer car. Joanna and I were going to drive together to Seneca Falls to get it but when we set out the old car began to overheat. Our friend Dennis from Redfield very kindly agreed to take me down there that same day, and also came in January to help make toys in the shop. I am very thankful for his help, and have enjoyed getting to know him. The new car was not able to be inspected because of an emissions problem, and a very helpful person on eBay told me that the catalytic converter was covered under a recall. It took almost a month to get the new one put in but in mid February the car finally passed inspection.
Also in December I built and installed an overhead door in the back wing of the sawmill building. It is built around a set of hardware from a door that I got free on Craigslist back in the fall, in exchange for removing it from the building where it was. The panels of the old door were not in good condition but the hardware was still good. It took me a while to get the door figured out, partly because the roof is sloped above the door, but it seems to be working now. The door opens easily but in order to close it I have to stand on the bottom panel to add weight. The springs were meant for the original door that was heavier than the new panels I made.
In January I replaced the stovepipe on the boiler, which was rusted away in places even though it is less than 5 years old. I was able to route the pipe in a more direct way now that the oil burner and its pipe have been removed, so it will be easier to access when I need to clean it out. I began to build a frame for a roof over the slab cutting area at the end of the sawmill. Progress has been slow but there’s no hurry, so I will plan to get it done in the spring. I set the posts before the ground froze and put up the beams and the first rafters, but lately the weather has been less than ideal so I have not been working on it. I got the planer I bought last spring ready to work in January and am very pleased with it. It seems to do a good job of planing and it’s much faster than the little planer for doing larger jobs.
I’ve also been working on the house kitchen again. It’s been in progress since 2005. In January I finally painted the walls and began planing the replacement lumber for the floor, and early in February I got the tongue and groove machined into the flooring pieces. During the late winter I hope to install the new floor along with the remaining window trim and baseboards. It will be nice if I can finally get the old kitchen off the agenda.
Andy and Mary Anne generously gave us a trailer load of kitchen cabinets from their house in Oswego where they were having some work done, and I have already installed a row of upper cabinets in the garden room and a base in the shop, and we still have a few left to put somewhere. They’ll come in very handy to store things and keep the dust off.
In early February Joanna and I shoveled the roofs of the house and some of the outbuildings with flatter roofs because we had gotten a lot of snow. The other buildings cleared themselves of snow when we got a warm rainy day. We haven’t had this much snow at a time in recent years. I have just completed some hanging shelves for the greenhouse that will hold the seedlings for the garden. For years we have been putting in a temporary shelf each spring above the soil boxes that hold the winter garden, but now we have a separate shelf in each of the four windows that can be pivoted up to the ceiling when not in use. I have brought in some cherry lumber that I cut last spring and it is acclimating in the workshop. I am planning to make a new dining table and possibly a countertop from it during the rest of the winter and the early spring.
Catholic Worker Farm Gathering by Joanna
On the third weekend in February I bused out to Platteville, WI, for the fourth annual CW farm gathering, (my second ), which was hosted by St. Isidore Catholic Worker Farm. We discussed the small, slow, persistent work of growing food, building soil, and strengthening local economy and community.
Brian Terrell (from Strangers and Guests Farm in Maloy, Iowa)described Peter Maurin’s vision of CW farms and ‘agronomic universities’ finally coming into its own.Many of us find farm work growing more difficult and more urgent as the climate changes and the weather becomes more unstable. During our gathering there was no snow on the ground, temperatures were in the upper 50s, and many of the Midwestern farmers worried about whether plants would break dormancy too early. One roundtable discussion focused on the weather changes we’re seeing and the techniques we’ve learned to deal with them. Some farms are experiencing consistently hotter weather, others increasingly extreme temperature fluctuations. Some are learning to deal with heavy rain, fungal diseases and flooding, others with drought or with unpredictable changes from very wet to very dry weather. We’re all cultivating resilience—building soil, landscaping to preserve moisture, diversifying what we grow and when and how we grow it. We also talked about why we still value farm work: the flavor and nutrition of home-grown food, the need for an alternative to food systems which exploit farmworkers and erode topsoil, the satisfaction and wholeness of manual work and attentive connection to the land on which we all depend.
It helps me to hear from people who’ve lived further into this alternative to the consumer culture. One roundtable discussion was led by Regina Bambrick-Rust of the White Rose Catholic Worker in La Plata, Missouri. They seek to live without depending on fossil fuels. They carry water and live by daylight and candlelight and without a car in a very rural area. This demanding change brings a deepening sense of presence. I have experienced something of that in our much smaller steps toward living an alternative here at SFF.
The farm gathering also offers an opportunity to exchange practical skills. I learned from Alice McGary (from Mustard Seed Community Farm in Ames, Iowa) and other participants in her roundtable about seed saving for more resilient crops, I’m thinking about season-extending techniques used by Barb Kass and Mike Miles (of Anathoth Community Farm in Luck, Wisconsin), and I’m looking forward to getting recipes from Brian Terrell and Betsy Keenan (both from Strangers and Guests Farm) for their goat-milk mozzarella and feta. Some other people at the gathering were interested in what we’re learning about forestry and about feeding animals on whole grains and home-grown feeds instead of commercial mixes.We’re assembling a directory of farms open to teaching different skills.
The skills of living together intentionally are also important, and difficult, in this contentious time. Ashley Hand (farming and working with various CW-compatible groups in Iowa) talked about helping with the Meskwaki tribe’s Food Sovereignty Initiative, which gathers, grows and preserves traditional foods while strengthening community bonds. Becky Bishop (of the Bitterroot CW in Stevensville, Montana) talked about a local interfaith partnership helping homeless people. That group’s members, who came from different religions and different parties and whose views didn’t always align, were able to come together to do vitally needed work in their communities. I also found our gathering a hopeful sign. We were a widely assorted group, some old friends and some strangers to each other, with very different personalities and basic assumptions. There were moments of frustration or confusion, but we still enjoyed discussing big questions, singing and dancing together, praying together, and cooking and cleaning up after delicious meals. I hope we can keep strengthening this ability to work together in our home communities and in our world.
We need to make the kind of society where it is easier for people to be good. –Peter Maurin
St Francis Farm and other local community organizations will celebrate Screen-Free Week by hosting free non-electronic family activities during the Pulaski school’s spring vacation, April 17-22. In this time when so much hostility, political and personal, gets spread on electronic media, we hope that people may enjoy spending time with diverse neighbors in person. This is our tenth year of organizing, and new groups join us every year. Contact Joanna if you’d like to learn more or get involved.
We’re expecting our first rabbit litters late in March, and new litters every 2 weeks after that. Our goat Dora is due to give birth in the last week of April.
Joanna will be planting seedlings starting early in March. Let us know if you’d like to plant with us and/or talk about planning your garden. Lorraine will be dividing perennial flowers and herbs in April and May and will have plant divisions to share.
Zachary set taps in our sugar maples on Saturday, and the sap is running fast; we boiled syrup on Monday and again on Wednesday. This is an unusually early sugaring season.
When Joanna and Zachary were growing up without going to school, I had to fill out forms for the state about their education. In answer to a question about our number of school days, I said that if they were breathing they were learning, and if they died I would inform the state. We’re all still breathing and this spring has provided several lessons, not necessarily of my planning or choosing.
Robins have persisted in trying to build a nest on the top of the shelves in the entry where I keep some tools for quick access. The top shelf is about chin height and between the door into the barn and the one out into the parking area. Over and over I’ve been startled by a bird flying up close to my face as I hurried in or out. Dozens of times we’ve removed a muddy partial nest only to find another begun the next hour or next day. Zach put a small shelf under an overhang nearby and we tried moving some of the nest material there, but the robins didn’t take the hint. They haven’t rebuilt now for 3 days and I’m hoping they’ve found another spot they like, but they made me think about persistence and stubbornness.I remember times I’ve been discouraged when something I thought was a good idea just wasn’t moving forward and wonder what guidance I might have been missing.
I tend our herb and flower gardens and in spring I divide many of the perennials. Visitors who admire whatever is blooming through the seasons are invited to come in spring to get plant divisions. This year an Amish neighbor and a woman who found the farm through Facebook came for culinary and medicinal herbs. A man who came to buy four shiitake logs took various bee plants, and one of our Directors took plants for early spring bloom. Renee helped us dig up plants at the farm to make a butterfly garden for Donna who has been admiring our gardens and enjoying the butterflies during her weekly visits over two years. When people offer to pay for the plants I tell them that I needed to divide plants to keep them productive and if no one wants the extras they are tossed into the ditch behind the mailbox. My Amish neighbor told me she’d been taught that plants grew better if you gave something for them, and I told her that I thought perennials had a lesson to teach about the importance of sharing, that left undivided they die out in the center. She ended up bringing us butter, sharing that was satisfying all around.
This spring has reminded me that planning well and working hard are no guarantee of success. Unexpected warmth in mid-winter is followed by a cool spring and last year’s drought by flooding and more rain to come. My schedule for breeding rabbits to have litters born after the cold and to coincide with lush spring growth worked well last spring. But this year we have just 2 litters of the 4 or 5 expected. The woodland wildflowers bloomed late and the trees leafed out early. A volunteer whose application looked good and who wanted to come for two and a half weeks in May was neither helpful nor congenial. I was tired and discouraged when he left after 4 days. I try to recognize what I can do and what must be left in God’s hands, remembering to savor the light, the many shades of new green, the surviving goat kid, the fleeting beauty of trout lilies, the first asparagus.
During the 16 years we’ve been trying to live an alternative to the consumer culture, that culture has become more all encompassing. The widening divisions between and within political parties, social classes and religions as well as the concern with image fostered by social mediacan leave me feeling discouraged and disconnected. Now, more than ever before, I am grateful for our practice of beginning each day in prayer. As Thomas Kelly reminds us, all we really can do for anyone is to bring them into the presence of God and leave them there. To do that we must keep returning to that presence ourselves, however many times we are distracted and stray. –by Lorraine
Agriculture: Patience, Persistence, Grace by Joanna
Look ahead. You cannot complete the task. Neither are you permitted to lay it down. –The Talmud
Farming requires both persistence and patience; we have to work hard and smart and then accept that weather and other things are outside our control. Climate change increases the unpredictability. This spring has been a reminder of how little we understand and can control—and how much still grows and is good.
We had another warm February/March followed by a cold April and early May. This year I started the tomato seedlings earlier, remembering how last year’s seedlings grew slow and stunted after a late start in cool weather. This year’s tomatoes (and peppers and eggplants) grew fast in the greenhouse, and I started putting them outside to harden off. It snowed on May 8, and the seedlings stayed inside for several days; when the weather warmed and I put the seedlings back out some developed windburn and sunscald. They look odd but they’ll recover. I set the largest tomatoes out mid-May, put a covering frame over them and prepared to protect them against frosts. Later successions will stay inside until the weather settles. Peas, spinach, lettuce, onions, radishes, carrots and parsnips are up and growing; I know they can handle the cold. I mostly remembered to plant them at slighter and more even depths than last year, which has helped them to germinate all at once. I’ve set out chard and kale seedlings, and we’ve begun to harvest asparagus. These plants all survived the snow. The potato shoots were just barely emerging and have died back; more will grow. The newly transplanted strawberries are thriving; they’re not supposed to fruit this year anyway, and their leaves can handle freezes. The grape leaves opened in the warm weather and froze in the cold—the vine will live but we probably won’t have fruit this year. The apple blossoms weathered the cold. They’re lovely now, and we’re hoping for a good apple harvest.
Last year the weather turned dry right after we planted things, while it was still cold enough to freeze the hose. This year it rains and rains (and, occasionally, snows) so watering hasn’t been an issue. This is good for the early greens and asparagus, and good for replenishing the water table after last year’s drought. A little more sunshine will be good for the gardener’s mood. The pasture and the places where we cut greens for the rabbits are growing quickly and lushly in the rain.
We’re going to try growing sweet potato vines for the first time this year. Our friend and new Board member Sarah van Norstrand (see article on page 6) gave us some home-grown tubers. We set them in pots of wet soil and jars of water to see if they’d sprout (directions for how to start sweet potatoes vary widely). Most rotted. One has put out a fair number of shoots which we’ll soon be able to break off, root, and plant out. If they thrive I’ll enjoy eating the roots and the rabbits will enjoy the greens.
One of our rabbit does who bore good litters for us last year had kits who are five weeks old now, growing fast and thriving. The other proven doe failed to conceive. We bred 2 young does for the first time this year. The first had kits and did well with them for the first few days. Then we had an 80-degree day in the middle of what had been a cool season. The doe stopped eating, and stopped making milk. We figured out what to offer to get her eating again, and she’s all right, but she lost the kits. The other new doe had kits a week ago. Two died; the other seven are thriving.
Our goat Dora went into labor in the evening of April 27, her due date. Her labor is always slow and non-textbook so I was slow to realize something was wrong. By the time I knew she needed help it was too late to reach the vet directly. I left a message with the answering service, waited a while, and then tried to reach in and help with the birth myself. The first kid was very badly positioned, and I was only partly able to correct this before delivery. That kid and the next one to be born (unaided) were dead on arrival. I was upset, and so was Dora. But the third kid slipped out easily, sat up and began to squall, and his mother stopped acting distressed and started to clean him up. Then the vet arrived, checked that there was nothing wrong with Dora that time and antibiotics couldn’t fix, and left us a series of injections to give her. The kid, Tres, is now three weeks old and thriving, and Dora is eating well, acting calm, and giving us all the milk we need and enough so we’re sending goat cheese to the soup kitchen.
Despite the difficult weather we’ve had visitors and volunteers helping in the garden. We asked one volunteer to leave early because he didn’t seem able or willing to focus on working attentively and not breaking the plants. The others have been good help and good company. I’m grateful for Renee Tougas’s help and company on her four-day visit (see her article on page 4). I also enjoyed JoJo McVey coming for the day to help me put brush in for the peas, hunt for fiddleheads in the woods and talk about faith, nature and family.
We had a good harvest of fiddleheads, and the wild leeks are still coming in. This is the other side of the unpredictability of growing things. Sometimes we work and don’t get what we worked for. Sometimes we get lovely things we didn’t have to work for. Even in the garden the growth comes by grace as much as by our work. As Wendell Berry writes in Sabbaths,
Harvest will fill the barn: for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat,
And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours. The field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.
When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day and finds it good.
This spring I read the book “The Long Loneliness” by Dorothy Day and was introduced to not just her amazing life but the Catholic Worker Movement. I googled “Catholic Worker Movement” and discovered St. Francis Farm, a few hours from my home in Montreal. As I read about the farm my curiosity and interest grew to visit for myself. I had a four-day window in April that was perfect on my end. I submitted my volunteer application and was delighted to hear back that yes, I could come at that time. So I put it on the calendar, double checked that my passport hadn’t expired, and started to anticipate my “trip to the farm.”
I went to the farm to have a “farm” experience. I desperately need to get out of the city on a regular basis to be in touch with nature – rolling farmland, wooded creeks, the absence of traffic and instead the cacophony of spring peepers – these are things my soul craves. Though I cannot follow these principles in the city to the extent I wish, I esteem sustainable living practices such as growing your own food, raising your own meat and milk, heating your home with wood. And in spite of regular walking and biking, seasonal hiking and cross-country skiing, my body grows soft. Volunteering at the farm provided an opportunity to connect with these aspects of being human: my need for nature and physical engagement with the land.
More importantly for me however, being at the farm provided the opportunity to nurture the essence of being human – living in community, serving one another, and engaging with each other’s hearts and minds. The depth of my experience at the farm in these matters, specifically the spiritual and intellectual conversations I shared with Joanna while we worked together in the gardens, far surpassed my expectations. I realize not everyone visiting the farm will be explicitly seeking this kind of connection. Lucky for you Quakers do not proselytize but show a lot of respect for different faith traditions and lifestyle choices. But if you want to have searching conversations for how to live as a spiritual being in a physical world you’ve come to the right place.
Of pedagogical interest to me was the family’s homeschooling experience and history. Zachary and Joanna were unschooled in the best application of that philosophy of education. They were set loose on their interests, taught to think critically through reading and dialogue, and given real world responsibilities in which to grow skills. To experience the fruits of their education, to be the recipient of their competence in farming, woodlot management and building construction, and to learn from Lorraine, an experienced homemaker and homeschooler, to be on the receiving end of their generosity of spirit was a gift.My work experience at the farm included digging and helping to transplant perennials and lilacs to a neighbor’s garden; weeding and planting the farm garden with potatoes, radishes, onions, and carrots;and transplanting peppers, eggplants, and tomato seedlings into larger pots. I also helped Joanna tend to the animals, feeding the rabbits and chickens, moving the goats, and mostly watching Joanna milk the goats since I was inept at that job! All of this work was made most enjoyable by companionship and open-hearted conversation.
The idea of a spiritual director, an ancient Catholic and Orthodox tradition, is quite popular in the online faith communities and discussions I find myself in these days. I’ve been fascinated by the idea but unsure of where to start and questioning the necessity of a spiritual director in my life, outside of the discipling relationships I have in the community of believers to which I belong.
I am cautiously curious about the idea of meeting with a spiritual director, which as I understand it, is having a safe place to be spiritually vulnerable, to say “I’m questioning this, I’m seeing things from this perspective, how do you see it?” without worrying about the attachments and expectations within my own spiritual community. The farm does not advertise as providing spiritual direction, but my heart was in that space, and it was what I found in the three days of conversations, working, and eating together. I didn’t know how desperately hungry I was for this kind of connection and opportunity until I was feasting on it.
The weather during my visit was alternately sunny, warm, with blue skies; and chilly, wet, and overcast. In a word it was spring. Evenings were spent walking in the woods, visiting with Joanna and Lorraine in the chapel/library, and journaling and reading in my room. It was wonderful.A few things you can expect at the farm: the smell of woodsmoke in the air, early mornings, and physical work. You can expect to eat well. The food is hearty, seasonal, and plentiful. During my stay in April our meals included lots of cold storage and preserved vegetables, fresh goat’s milk cheeses, farm grown shiitake mushrooms, wild-harvested ramps and fiddleheads, a bit of rabbit meat and pork (both raised on the farm), beans and homemade breads.
My time at the farm felt too short and just right. It was intense for me on several levels, I dived deep into conversation with Joanna and Lorraine, I opened my heart and mind to learn, I worked hard. I fully engaged my heart, mind, and body in the experience. I had a sore shoulder upon my return home, but this was my own doing, as I was asked repeatedly while working if I was managing ok. Arriving home with a handful of book recommendations, dirty clothes, mud caked boots, and a small plastic container of goat’s milk cheese that I helped to make, I felt physically tired but spiritually energized and deeply grateful for this opportunity.
The weather this spring has been a little odd here, but we had a good maple syrup season anyway. This is the first year that we’ve actually made 10 gallons of syrup, one quart for each of our 40 taps. We were able to pull the taps a little before the sap turned sour since we got in on the early end of the run. The snow was deep at first but because we had such unusually warm temperatures in late February it melted fast. I tapped a few new trees this year, and stopped tapping a few that hadn’t produced as much in past years.
In February I made a new dining table to replace the one I had made 9 years ago. The old one was made from wood that was a bit too thin so the top would warp seasonally with the humidity changes. The new one is made from cherry from a tree that grew in the old cow pasture and was split in two by ice, which I cut into boards last year. The new table is slightly smaller but has a leaf that can be added so it is more adaptable to the varying numbers of visitors we have. I had hoped to also make a better top for the kitchen island counter but I did not get to that yet. I put the newly made tongue-in-groove pine flooring into the old kitchen in the farmhouse as planned, and completed the trim around the doors and windows. I’ll put a clear finish on the new wood and repaint the other floors in the downstairs of the house during May. We had a community service volunteer who came on 5 days for four hours each and was a great help with many tasks, including repainting some other floors in the house, splitting and loading firewood and moving mushroom logs. He also helped build a new cover for the summer chicken yard out of wood, which should last better and be easier to move than what we had before.
In March I cut down a large oak tree to make into more shiitake mushroom logs. We inoculated 72 oak logs and 8 sugar maple in late March and have begun to sell them. Last year we did a similar sized batch and sold some logs and kept some to use this year, and when we unstacked them this spring and leaned them on the walls of the mushroom enclosure before a heavy rain almost all of them spontaneously fruited without having to be soaked. A lot of the mushrooms didn’t develop their full size due to the cold temperatures, but we still got a large harvest and dried some as well as eating some as they came in. We’ll start soaking those logs in batches once it gets a little warmer, which we think should happen soon, though as I write this in early May we have a bit of snow coming down.
As the snow was melting I was able to get out to the woods with the crawler tractor on cold days when the snow froze again temporarily and skid some heavy logs out of a difficult area. I still have some more work to do on the crawler and the winch but it was nice to actually be able to put it to work and see what it could do. I’ll use it in some other areas that are hard to access with the wheel tractors later in the summer or the fall, once the ground dries up.
I cut almost all of this year’s firewood to fill the woodshed from wood that was left behind by the power company trimming crew last summer along the right-of-way where the power line runs through the woods. Less traveling saved time, but it was a bit of a challenge to sort the good wood out from the brush piles. The trees that had been cut down were all cut into lengths under 20 feet, and some of them were quite accessible to cut up with the chainsaw while others were buried in brush. The shed is full now and the emergency firewood pile in the barn has also been restocked. This year we needed all of it, but some years lately we haven’t used any, so it’s hard to guess how much will be needed.
We decided this year to divide the pasture behind the goat shed into two areas to encourage more even grazing. Now we have a small fence that runs across the pasture with a gate that can be set to either side so that the goats can go in and out to one half of the pasture or the other but not both at once.This seems to be working so far but we’ll have to see what effect it has on the quality of the pasture as the season progresses. I tore down the rotting grape arbor and built a new lower support frame for the vines. This will make it easier to cover it to keep the wild animals away from the grapes, and I hope it will also make it easier for Joanna to reach and tend them.
I had to rebuild the movable pigpen because the wood frame was starting to rot. I finished just in time to pick up our piglet on May 12. She settled in very easily and has been drinking up the whey we’d been accumulating from making more cheese as the milk supply increased.
Meet the New Director
My name is Sarah VanNorstrand, and I live just outside of Cazenovia, NY. I’m 30 years old, married to a wonderful person, and I make a living through a combination of traveling to call for contra dances and working on two different local farms. I grew up in an evangelical Christian household and attended church regularly. About a year ago, my husband, Andrew, and I decided to follow a friend to a new church in Syracuse. We’ve found a wonderful new place to worship and explore our faith and the nature of the world at Plymouth Congregational Church, which is part of the United Church of Christ. I’ve always been very interested in social justice and have been trying to determine how I can work to promote equality and compassion within the Church and the broader culture. I believe in the work that Lorraine, Joanna and Zach are doing at St. Francis farm. I think that in this moment, there is little that is more important than valuing simplicity, connecting with the natural world, and caring for our brothers and sisters no matter where they are from, what they do, how they look, how they identify, or even what they think (which for me is the hardest one of all). I’m excited to be a part of the workings of the farm, even if I’m not able to be involved in a day-to-day manner.
The grace of God, the land, unpaid labor, and donations are the basis of the farm economy. We’re grateful for your prayers and donations and welcome helping hands especially through the growing season. In recent years income that once came from hosting groups has come from selling lumber and some hay. This year we decided to only make the hay we need for our goats and rabbits. Instead we inoculated shiitake logs in March which we hope to sell before they begin fruiting in the fall.
Shiitake logs–$20 for 4”-6” diameter or $25 for 6” to 8”–all are 3 feet long.
Ash, hickory, and maple lumber–$1/board foot. Also sometimes have oak, cherry, or butternut for sale at $1.50/board foot.
The woodland wildflowers had a shorter run than usual this year as the cold hung on late but the trees leafed out early. But they were as lovely as ever–spring beauty, trout lily, trillium, violets, jack-in-the-pulpit. Now in mid-May they’ve faded but the birds are back and their dawn chorus wakes me at first light. I walk as the sun is rising, catching in the dewdrops and lighting up the blossoms on the apple trees. I see rose-breasted grosbeaks, orioles, and scarlet tanagers; I hear the wood thrush and veery singing in the woods. The flickers have made a nest hole in a half dead cottonwood between the sawmill and the well house. At dusk I’m out again to listen for the woodcocks displaying on the hilltop, at the edge of the orchard, in the long hayfield. Sometimes I hear the barred owls or startle a deer. Bats swoop above my head, feasting on the bugs that try to feast on me. The peepers are still calling, joined now by high toad trills and deep bullfrog rumbles. I go to sleep to their chorus as I wake to the birds.
August means canning tomatoes, starting to process apples, trying to keep up with deadheading and harvesting and not to get too far behind on the weeds. Ragweed blooming so my eyes are streaming and itching. Abundant harvests, delicious meals and plenty to give away to whoever comes along. The news continues alarming or discouraging and we see so many problems we don’t know how to begin to solve.
In this summer that starts our seventeenth year at the farm, I am grateful–to be here, for those who were here before us, for old friends and new and neighbors who’ve come to visit and to help. Three of them wrote articles so I only have to do this short bit and my nature notes. Tom McNamara (see article below) came back as he has every year but one. He helped canning and weeding, took seed garlic and a couple shiitake logs, sang and prayed and ate with us. Nate and Tom Roemer (see articles below) each came for a week and helped us catch up and think again about what we’ve chosen. Jon came on his bike to garden with Joanna, work on his bike with Zach, make hummus with me and take vegetables home. Marge helped with garlic and lavender and learned how to make flower print cards. Heather came up from Syracuse (where she works in a L’Arche house) to help with canning and gardening and take home farm food. Maria came to glean what we didn’t have time to pick. Sr. Louise, family therapist at Rural & Migrant Ministry of Oswego County when we arrived, came with her cousin to the Unity Acres annual picnic and then came over to the farm. It is good for me to be here and have this work (however tired I get in August) and so much to share with whoever comes. –Lorraine
My Time at St. Francis Farm by Tom Roemer
When asked by someone what purpose a monk can serve in the modern world, Thomas Merton is said to have replied, “Monks are like trees who, standing silently in the darkness, by their very presence purify the air.” My brief stay at St. Francis Farm had such a purifying, rejuvenating effect on me.
Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary Hoyt have managed to nurture the development of a well-integrated farm organism here which seemed peaceful and vital, quite beautiful, which allowed a visitor like me to breathe it all in with deep appreciation, without distracting screens or screaming headlines. Each day had a steady rhythm to it, providing strength for meaningful, productive farm work and time for quiet reflection or thoughtful conversation. The Hoyts’ love for the place shines through the quality of the beautiful landscape, the nutritious and delicious food they produce and share, the amazing furniture, cabinets, toys, buildings and musical instruments they have fashioned from their own milled lumber, and the quality of relationships with their neighbors. I felt blessed to share in it all briefly–like a rejuvenating stroll through a pristine forest, with friends who are able to be quiet together.
A familiar farm visitor
Ever since I was young I loved the earth, gardening, and building things with my hands. With the encouragement of my older sister, I pursued studies and work in agriculture and ornamental horticulture eventually teaching high school agriculture in Chenango County, NY. It was a wonderful combination of cultivating the earth, scientific inquiry, and leadership development through both hands-on activities in our land lab that included barn and greenhouse, and an integration of math, English, and life skills.
I saw, however, that the standard university track highly promoted in our school system just does not work for many young people…even youth from “good homes.” I grew to see the futility of the school system to raise many young people out of a sense of hopelessness. They needed something more meaningful to work on, something that united head and heart and gave them a reason to get up in the morning. I saw that chasing the dollar, performing work just to put it on your resume, to get into a better school, to get a better job was leaving a huge gap in young people’s lives.
I was blessed with a background in the Catholic faith tradition that offered me an alternative. Having paid off my school loans and having a student teacher offered me the free time in which I sensed the Lord calling me to service and priesthood that drew me to St. Francis Farm Catholic Worker. Here I lived and worked with John & Joan Donnelly, Father Ted Sizing, and many other community members from 1995-2000. At the farm I had the opportunity to contemplate the writings of Dorothy Day and the social teaching of the Church and to implement them directly. I saw scripture come alive in the economy of the farm as it interacted with people’s lives and in creation around me.
The farm’s mission necessarily grows and changes over the years as times and circumstances necessitate. Now 17 years after having left the farm, I am blessed with the opportunity to visit the farm and the Hoyt family and see the many changes they have made–new buildings and systems that enable the farm economy, the divine exchange, to continue in new and exciting ways. We are able to engage a dialogue with difference that is key to sustainable life on this planet, conversations with our neighbors, and peaceful relations with all. It’s built into the Trinitarian life: mutuality in union, sharing without dominating or depriving others. It’s the fountainhead of life to which we have access through the most simple of activities…from a weed pulled to the washing of a dish.
Now if there were something I would share with a young person, I would say first, make sure you get some quiet time to sit and think and pray. Don’t be afraid of stepping out and exploring your faith tradition; keep seeking answers and speaking with wise people. Then do something that you enjoy with your hands; learn to build or make something; plant a garden. Engaging in these activities will cause you to ask questions and meet new people: you will find yourself naturally drawn toward activities in which your ancestors engaged. That’s a good thing. And finally, serve. Spending yourself in service of others will pull you into community of like minded individuals. Check out the local soup kitchen or thrift shop. In short, engage the works of mercy laid out in Matthew 31… basic human needs remain just that in any age. Looking for the Christ you might just find yourself. You will.
As an itinerant friar, I am moving again. From the retreat center in the mid Hudson Valley to the lower east side of Manhattan and Our Lady of Sorrows parish. It has served as a home for immigrants for 150 years, and now is mostly a parish of Spanish-speaking folks from the Caribbean. Though I was there 4 years ago, it will be an adjustment, a new challenge, as I exchange mountains for high rise apartment complexes. But I trust that the Lord who revealed himself to me over the years will continue to guide and keep me. Blessings to you in this late summer season. And stop and visit when you can!
Tom McNamara, OFM Cap,Our Lady of Sorrows Friary, 213 Stanton Street, New York, NY 10002
It is easier to feel sympathy for a man who dies of thirst than for a man who drinks himself to death. One dies at the hands of injustice, the other strangles himself. To save the first we must give him water— we must cover the Earth in springs and wells. To save the other we must somehow convert his soul—show him that his entire approach to life is mistaken, that there is a spirit in him that longs to wrestle with God, that the struggles of his life have meaning, that there is another way.
Of these two men, I am closer to the second. I’ve had a materially comfortable life challenged by doubts about the world and life itself. While I’ve not yet been in any desperate position, I’ve flirted with drug abuse, depression, anger at the world, hopelessness, meaninglessness, and the complex array of personal difficulties they generate. My family has prevented me from ever giving up hope entirely. Thank God for them. I could never shake the notion that my life mattered because they loved me no matter what. That’s how God loves us: on death row, in the whorehouse, defeated, diseased, broken, consumed by evil.
Nothing indicates the “depth of the disorder of the world” like juxtaposition. Here we are in America, so many of us literally eating ourselves to death, while hunger afflicts whole portions of the earth, whole sections of our cities. The relationship is symbolic: the rotund do not actually snatch food from the emaciated. But it remains true that some in this world suffer from too much, while others suffer from too little. This strange economy of material is reflected in an economy of spirit.
There is a story told by Abdalhaqq Bewley, a companion of writer and Muslim convert Ian Dallas: in the sixties, a couple of world-weary westerners go to Morocco in search of another way. They spot a shepherd on the outskirts of town and ask him where he has come from. The shepherd, a simple man, says “I come from God and to God I shall return.” It would be difficult to find such wisdom as this on an American university campus; it would be impossible to find it on Wall Street. Bewley doesn’t tell the story to show us that poverty correlates to wisdom. He means to show that before the onset of modernity— which creates the material conditions of global poverty and nuclear war, as well as the spiritual conditions of secular sentimentality— there was a world that humbly carried on its earthly work while orienting itself within a cosmos of truth and meaning that extended beyond birth and death.
This is, I think, a more general template of the “philosophy so old it looks new”. But it is not merely a set of ideas about the world: by its very nature this “philosophy” calls man to live in a particular way. (I have learned to be skeptical of great theorists whose theories do not make them live greatly!) I have been reading good stuff for several years now, nestling chapters written by Dorothy Day between benders. I somehow expected reading to have a magical effect on me: reading good stuff would make me do good stuff. But I did not understand how to get from idea to action. As far as I can tell, no words have the power to convey that wisdom. So I’ve carried on like a hamster on a wheel the last several years: wait tables, go to class, drink beer, go out to eat, read something hopeful, smoke pot, tell jokes, dream of a better way, repeat. This spring I realized that the contradictions between my ideals and my activities could not longer be explained away. In the evening, reflecting on the day, I could not make any sense out of what I had done. I decided not to go back to school (where I was working on getting my Upper Class Membership card). I decided to go for a long walk. I decided to look harder for another way.
On a whim, I shot St. Francis Farm an email. May I come by for a few days? And what a few days it was! Since returning home I’ve had a hard time explaining it to friends and family. It wasn’t particularly fun (nor was it un-fun). It wasn’t a “neat experience” (like studying abroad or traveling). I didn’t make any money. I didn’t learn any new skills. I didn’t learn any new lesson I could articulate in words. Mostly I just weeded. I pulled willow leaves off of branches for rabbit food. I ate healthy, home-grown, home cooked meals. I woke up at 7 and went to sleep at 10. I talked with new friends about all sorts of things (except TV shows). I washed some dishes, picked some peas, sprinkled some sawdust around a goat pen, went for a few walks, tried my hand at goat-milking and wood-splitting (and gained a great deal of respect for those who can do these things in the process!).
There were no fireworks, no strippers, no crowds, no all you can eat buffets, no booze and no cash prizes. In some ways, my visit to St. Francis Farm was the opposite of a visit to Atlantic City I once took. I was there for the week instead of the weekend. I spent nothing. I left feeling spiritually recharged instead of hungover. I don’t regret it in retrospect. I saw healthy, happy people living reasonably instead of hopeless, broken people caught up in an insane society. I discovered during my stay what it feels like to perform the various boring, mundane activities which sexy, revolutionary ideas (like the vision of Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day) call us to undertake; I discovered that I can live my days in harmony with my dreams. There is, after all, another way.
For friends reading this who have decided, like my hosts— like Lorraine, Joanna and Zachary— to do the hard thing and try to live an alternative life in the midst of a chaotic and unsympathetic world, do not forget how helpful it is to folks like me, folks who suffer from too much, folks who have ideas and are trying to find ways to live them.
I imagine such a life is difficult, mostly because it builds little walls between us and our old friends, our family members who look on us with confusion when we talk about going back to the land. The farms must get lonely from time to time. You endure these things in order to prove to the world that there is another way to live, here and now, that if you want to, you can take it up today. What hope that inspires we cannot know or measure, but I may claim some portion of it. The capitalists, the Marxists and the socialists are all alike in this: if you want justice you must wait for the world to arrive at it—take up your business, your gun and your ballot in the meanwhile. After five days on St. Francis Farm, I’m searching for a shovel, a pitchfork, or a ladle to take up. With persistence, a bit of “luck” and lots of good company, I may learn to more readily find joy in the work of living good.
This summer I finally learned to weld, which I have been putting off for the last 14 years. I have an old stick welder that was left to me by my grandfather, but he was taken ill before I was old enough to learn from him, and I have been thinking about welding ever since it was brought out here. I was uncertain whether I could learn by myself or if I needed to take an evening class somewhere, but the places that offer welding instruction are not too close by and I never got myself together to do it. Last summer Fr. Tom McNamara loaned me a book from a college course he had taken on farm welding which was very helpful, since it covered the exact kinds of things I was trying to do. This summer with the wiring in place for the welder in the new barn it was finally time to give it a try. I still have a lot to learn, but so far I have been able to make several repairs to wagons and farm machinery and they have held up under use. Being able to weld things myself has been fun, and it has also been a convenience and a cost savings over having to take things away to be welded or hire someone to come out to the farm to do it as we have before.
This summer we have had more shiitake mushrooms than ever before, 3 or 4 pounds a week. I don’t know whether this is because we are keeping them in a better environment or because of the new variety that we used to inoculate logs last year and this, but whatever the cause it has been a very nice outcome. We still have a lot of the logs that we inoculated this year to sell, and if last year was anything to go by we are more likely to sell them in the later fall or next spring once they have been proven to have fruited successfully.
Lumber sales at the sawmill have been good overall, but quite variable. I cut a large dead cherry tree out at the back of one of the fields in July and brought it out to the mill. The butt log is too big to fit in our mill so I will have to cut it in half lengthwise with the chainsaw, which is a job I have never tried before. We have a lot of ash trees that have died or are dying, and while we are selling some I will have to think about cutting some extra ash lumber and storing it out of the way somewhere before the dead trees start to rot.
In May I was contacted by the new Oswego County ramp coordinator at ARISE to see if I would build wheelchair ramps again. Apparently my name had gotten lost for a while during the transition. I built a ramp in Richland at the beginning of June and one in Redfield in mid-August.
I painted the floors in the downstairs of the house and put the polyurethane clear finish on the new wood in the kitchen. I still need to put in baseboards in the kitchen, but then it will finally be done. I put new handrails on the front porch steps and the outside stairs to the second floor during the summer.
In July I replaced the wooden parts of the footbridge over the stream on the way to the pond with the help of Nate, who spent a week with us and wrote an article elsewhere in the newsletter. The metal camper frame underneath was still in good condition, and I found a simpler and stronger way to put together the wood deck over it. I used ash and I think it should last for a few more years now.
I had to make a new wooden frame for the pigpen this year, as they tend to rot and become weak after a few seasons in use. This year’s pig has been doing very well so far, and is scheduled to be taken to be processed in early October.
Agriculture by Joanna
Earlier this year we had a visitor who said that in his ideal world there would be no work. I said in mine there’d still be work, but there wouldn’t be blight, potato bugs and hailstorms to wreck the fruit of the work. When I wrote my agriculture update in June I was feeling frustrated with erratic weather and difficult births. Since then I’ve had almost the sort of farming year I’d like in a perfect world.
The rain has persisted and the garden’s growing apace. (We’re lucky in having a level untilled garden with thick plant cover on high ground, so erosion and waterlogging haven’t been problems.) We froze peas and had plenty to give away; they kept bearing into late July. We just finished canning green beans; Maria has picked some to share with friends from church. The garlic harvest was good. We’ve begun harvesting early potatoes, though the main crop won’t come in until late September. We’re canning and drying tomatoes now. The pepper plants are thriving and we’v begun to freeze some. We’ve had a good supply of lettuce and other greens all through the summer, thanks to the moist and fairly cool weather. Cukes and squash are hanging in there despite some difficulty with squash vine borers and powdery mildew. We’ve been sending greens, beans, squash, cukes, garlic, herbs and cherry tomatoes to the soup kitchen along with goat cheese. Our fall snow peas are blossoming. Sarah VanNorstrand gave us some purchased sweet potato slips to go with our homegrown ones, and we planted them out in the old silo foundation, in compost harvested from the chicken yard. Their bed is now a mound of sprawling vines; the rabbits are enjoying the vine trimmings, and I trust that all that vegetative vigor is collecting solar energy to put into tubers.
We’ve kept getting healthy litters of rabbits from one old and one new doe, and we’ve saved some youngsters to breed next year. The wet weather has made it easy for me to find fresh plants to cut for them. The goats are also doing well; Dora seems to have fully recovered from her difficult kidding, her kid throve and was sold on to another farm, and both our does are enjoying the richness of the pasture.
I don’t have to plant or weed or water the wild berries, but I do enjoy them. The raspberries were sparse this year because of fungus, but the blackberries are large, sweet and prolific; I’ve picked and frozen quite a few from the edges of the hayfields, and we have Amish neighbors coming to pick the patch in the woods.
Last year we had excellent help for twelve solid weeks from the two Japanese students who came here through WWOOF. This year we haven’t had WWOOFers and I’ve had to scramble a bit to keep up with the work, helped by Zach. But we’ve had some delightful visitors who have helped me to remember that satisfying work is also a blessing. Nate and Tom Roemer(see articles on pages 4-5 and page 1) each spent a week with us and helped me weed and harvest and weed and plant and weed. Tom McNamara (see article on page 2) stopped for a shorter visit and helped us can and garden. I’m grateful for their help, for intense conversations across garden beds, and for seeing the work through their eyes, with renewed gratitude.
In this time when violence and threats of violence are increasing, when it seems harder and harder for people to agree on what’s real, I’m glad to have work that grounds me in the reality of the created world and gives me something constructive to do. It also gives me time to pray for the work I don’t know how to do, the people I don’t know how to reach and the wounds I don’t know how to heal. I hope all of you are finding practices to hold onto in hard times, and finding occasions for gratitude and grace.
This was a year for frogs–their choruses and calling went on well into July and now in August when we walk the field paths frogs of all sizes hop ahead of us in the wet grass–from tiny ones just graduated from tadpole status to large pickerel and leopard frogs. The pond has stayed high with so much rain, so high that the herons mostly avoid it and hunt along the little brook. While the frogs are plentiful, I’ve seen fewer snapping turtles, only observed one digging a nest back in June.
Foliage has stayed fresh and green later into the season and the wildflowers (and weeds–is there a difference?) are prolific. Bee balm now blooms in many spots along the pond edge and brook banks where I started it from the big clump behind the white pine.
Fireflies were abundant in early July and we enjoyed going out to watch them at dusk. Bats have made a comeback after a few lean years and we’re glad to have them on mosquito patrol but wish they hadn’t tried to meet my sisters when they were staying in the house. We watched a black swallowtail caterpillar become a chrysalis and emerge a butterfly in July and now have a couple monarch caterpillars eating milkweed in the cage we’ve made for them.
Thanks and wishes
We’re grateful to all of you who’ve shared your time, skills, tools, money and prayers with us so that we can share what we have with neighbors and guests. We’ve been giving away copies of Bo Lozoff’s “Deep and Simple” and Desmond Tutu’s “Made for Goodness” to visitors searching for purpose, hope, and spiritual practice, and we could use some more copies to share. We’ve also been giving away some home-canned stuff, and while we have more then enough fruit and vegetables to share we’re running out of jars to put them in. Quart canning jars would come in handy.
Nearing the end of another year, I am thankful and weary, hopeful and worried. The news continues grim–more addiction and deaths by overdose, more senseless killings whether they’re called terrorist attacks or domestic disputes, more reports of sexual harassment and cover-ups and lies, more toxic partisan rancor. Thanksgiving coming up with its reminder of our blessings and its bittersweet memories of loved ones no longer with us. Then Advent with its light, but without the Spanish Apostolate retreats of our early years at the farm. Finally the slow time when we used to make toys for refugee families when our country still welcomed them.
Sometimes the needs around us seem overwhelming–so many who have lost their way or lost hope, lost jobs or health or loved ones. I am thankful for what the farm has to offer–meaningful work, abundant harvests, peace and beauty. A Chinese woman enjoys fresh vegetables and her toddler son enjoys the woods and field walks and sitting in a pile of autumn leaves. We carry an elder in an improvised sedan chair so she can enjoy parts of the farm that are too far for her to walk. Visitors learn new skills and there is some work for everyone, whatever their abilities and limitations.
As the days shorten and the dark and cold grow, I look forward to Advent and the lighting of the candles. I think about the angels who told Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds “Fear not”. Herod was afraid of losing his power and slaughtered the innocents. The religious leaders feared loss of their power and arranged the crucifixion. Fear still stalks our time, our world–fear of immigrants, of poverty, of falling behind, of losing respect or power. I catch myself caught up in fears. I fear growing divides and hostility, climate change and pollution and all the harm done to the earth. I am afraid of being too tired, not having enough help, not being wise enough to cope with whatever comes. I feel alienated from Christians who want “illegals” deported and resist welcoming refugees.Blaming someone else, seeing the darkness in them is tempting, but I know that the darkness–as well as the light–is in us all. I ask you to pray for us, as we pray for you. Look at the stars, light the candles and remember that Emmanuel is with us all. Listen to the angels–be not afraid.—Lorraine
The pimps, prostitutes and prisoners, the drug-dealers and the deranged, the illegal immigrants, the terrorists, the race baiters, the homophobes and haters–all are held in God’s loving gaze. . . With God’s eyes we see our enemies as they are–a bundle of incomprehensible hurts and hatreds, anger sheathed in human form. And we see them as they truly are–people made in God’s own image, with hopes, loves, laughter, blood, and tears like ours. —from Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
This fall we have had some heavy rains, including one that we measured at 5 inches in 24 hours. This caused the stream to flood over the causeway and into the pond higher than I have ever seen it before, and also turned the chicken coop into a temporary island. I am very grateful that the Town of Orwell replaced the two culverts that go under the road in 2016. Both had rusted through and were beginning to sag, but now they are working very well. The French drain and tar sealing along the bottom of the front wall of the barn we live in have also been working well, as we have had no puddles on the dining room floor since that was done last year. I do have a couple of new leaks in the roof above the chapel that I need to investigate once the rain stops.
We had a very good mushroom harvest this year, and had fresh shiitake until the middle of November. Many weeks we collected between 3 and 5 pounds of mushrooms, and many have been dried by Lorraine for winter. Last year we fruited some small logs indoors, and they worked well at first but got too dry as the winter went on, so this year we will probably just eat the dried ones and save the trouble.
We had another excellent apple harvest this year, though we do very little to earnit. The applesauce and frozen and dried apples are all done, and we have 30 bottles of cider in the freezer and are still pressing some more. Last winter the man who runs the garage in town where we take our car to be worked on saved two garbage bags full of empty milk and juice containers, and we have another person who brings us empty plastic bottles on an ongoing basis. I have been using the containers to give cider away to people who come by. They have all gone out once, and some have gone out and come back a few times to be refilled. It’s nice to have a use for the small apples, and the ones that would have gone to waste before we had the cider press.
This year’s pig got bigger than any pig we’ve had before, and was also relatively well behaved, with no escapes from the pigpen. It arrived in May and left in early October as usual, and while it was here it grew remarkably fast. The one pig we had this year had almost as much hanging weight as some of the pairs of pigs we had in years past.
In September I cut several of the hayfields again in the hope of discouraging some of the weeds. I won’t know if it helped till next year, but it only took a couple of days and it seemed like a worthwhile experiment. One wheel hub on the haybine broke apart during the job, but I was able to borrow one from the baler that fit perfectly and I found a used one online to put back on the baler.
Business at the sawmill has been good this fall, and I have been sawing up more lumber when I can so that we keep a supply on hand. I went to an auction early in October and bought an old high clearance trailer for $25. I have cut it apart and welded it back together to make a logging arch which I will be able to pull behind the tractor. It needs a bit more work before it will be ready to use, but my plan is to be able to lift logs completely off the ground instead of only lifting up the front end when I skid them. This should keep the logs cleaner and also not tear up the ground. I am having a lot of fun learning to weld, and this project will be a good test of how well I have done it.
The roof of the well house leaked in the back corner at some point over the summer, and this fall before the potatoes could be put away in there I had to replace the metal roofing on the whole building as well as the insulation and plywood in the back. I had put used roofing from one of the trailer houses that used to be here on the well house when I rebuilt it about 10 years ago, and now I have put new metal on it that should last for a good long time.
In early November I replaced the window in the pantry with help from Sarah VanNorstrand, our newest Director. The inner pane of the window had cracked last winter and we were afraid that it might fail completely this winter. I have dumped the rain barrel outside that window and put it away for the winter, so that any ice that forms on the roof will be less likely to hit the new window when it slides off.
Agriculture: giving thanks by Joanna
November’s coming in cold, gray, windy and wet. I’ve been holed up inside, preparing vegetables for winter storage and looking back with gratitude on an unexpectedly productive year.
With all the rain this year brought, I expected an explosion of fungal diseases. That didn’t materialize. We were harvesting tomatoes up until the frost killed them in mid- October; well before that time we’d finished canning and drying and started giving tomatoes away to all and sundry. Last year was our worst potato harvest on record; this was our best, 365 pounds, 140 more that last year’s, and we had very little trouble with scab. The peppers and eggplants also outdid themselves despite a fairly cool season—we did lose some peppers to fungus, but we had plenty to eat and freeze and share, and the eggplant simply throve. I’m not sure what made the difference. I’ve been amending our garden beds with sawdust and comfrey leaves; I’ve read that these contain antifungal compounds, and this year we had copious quantities of aged sawdust from the barn Zach built in 2015. I’ve also been adding lots of rabbit manure, a balanced slow-release source of nutrients, and I’ve heard that well- nourished and vigorous plants are able to fight off most diseases. Perhaps that’s true. Perhaps we just got lucky this year. Whatever happened, I am grateful.
The cukes and squash mildewed and expired early in September, after a short heavy harvest. The onions missed the mildew but my experiments with clump-planting some onions and growing some in partial shade (which I’d read that they’d tolerate) didn’t turn out well, so the harvest is OK but not all it could be. I know what to do about the onions next year, and I’ll keep thinking about the cucurbits.
Greens and root crops throve in the cool wet weather. We’ve packed ten five-gallon buckets of carrots in our root cellar along with our white potatoes, and we had plenty left over to give away. We just packed our first ever crop of sweet potatoes for winter storage. They look promising, though they haven’t cured long enough so I can taste them yet. The greenhouse is burgeoning with winter greens.
This wet year was good for pastures, so the goats and rabbits had rich fresh stuff to eat into November. I’d thought the wet weather might also lead to parasite problems, but we’ve been lucky so far. The rabbits are growing fast, and local visitors have enjoyed watching them. Amada is still milking well despite not having kidded since spring of 2016.
We miss our garden helpers from Japan who were with us for most of last summer, and our neighbors who used to come more often to help with the harvest and take home produce. We can still give away produce we’ve harvested, and we’re glad to do that. Some people aren’t physically able to help with garden work, some are busy and preoccupied, and perhaps we’re not good at inviting people in. We’ve still had good help and good company in the garden. Conor from New York City spent two weeks with us in September, helping me catch up on garden chores and prepare the greenhouse; now he’s volunteering and learning at another nonprofit farm. Heather from L’Arche in Syracuse helped us plant garlic and do other fall garden chores, took garlic back with her and planted it in the L’Arche garden. It’s encouraging to have good help. It’s also encouraging to know there are still other people interested in learning how to grow their own.
Grasping and Gratitude by Joanna
In prayer we discover what we already have…. We already have everything, but we don’t know it, and we don’t experience it. Everything has been given to us… All we need is to experience what we already possess. –Thomas Merton
I’m finding it hard to remember what we already have. I often struggle with discouragement in the short cold gray days of November. Now the news is full of fear, anger, pain and tragedy. I write letters, call my Congresswoman, donate, pray, and all of it feels inadequate. Often people come to the farm tired, discouraged and in need of more help than we can give them. I worry about them, and about the people we’ve lost touch with. I’m trying to steady myself, pray, and recognize how my frantic grasping at what appears necessary prevents me from seeing that what’s needed is already there. This fall two books have helped me to see this paradox more clearly.
Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness helped me see how our frantic grasping complicates out politics, and how we can heal by recognizing what we already have. She writes, “The world feels high lonesome and heartbroken to me right now. We’ve sorted ourselves into factions based on our politics and ideology. We’ve turned away from one another and toward blame and rage. We’re lonely and untethered. And scared. So damn scared.” That resonates with my experience. I have friends from across the political spectrum, and I’ve valued discussing thorny issues with them. This has gotten harder in the past year or two. Some of my friends don’t want to talk or think about politics because it’s all so ugly. Others speak stridently about those evil, ignorant people on the other side who are destroying our country. I often frustrate my liberal friends when I speak of the conservatives I love and respect, and vice versa. I’m also tempted to stridency or silence. When I hear people describing refugees as menacing and undeserving, I think of people I loved who found refuge here after fleeing terrible violence in their birth countries, and I want to answer harshly. When I hear people condemning welfare leeches I feel ashamed of receiving Medicaid, and I want to shame the people who’ve upset me. When my friends denounce people whom they fear, I want to bite my tongue and appear to agree so my friends won’t see me as one of the people they fear.
Brown says our growing polarization is based on two fundamentally good desires. One is the desire to protect ourselves and the people we love. The other is the desire to belong. The desire to protect can make us strident as we push back against perceived threats. The desire to belong can make us crave the camaraderie that comes with being united against some other group, and can make us increasingly reluctant to admit to differing with our group in any way. But when we demonize the people we perceive as threatening our loved ones, we make them feel threatened, which makes them more likely to demonize us and the people we want to protect. When we try to fill our need for belonging by piling into ideological bunkers, we have to censor the parts of ourselves that don’t fit in with the people around us. This leaves us anxious and lonely.
The solution, Brown says, is to realize that we don’t have to search frantically for belonging because we are all already deeply connected to every other human being: “even when we’re utterly alone, we’re connected to one another by something greater than group membership, politics and ideology… by love and the human spirit. No matter how separated we are by what we think and believe, we’re part of the same spiritual story.” When we remember that deep connection, our loneliness recedes, and we can find our way back toward a less angry and polarized world that is better for all of us.Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson’s book The Wisdom of the Enneagram has helped me to see how the same tension between grasping and gratitude plays out in my daily life and work. The Enneagram lays out nine different personality types driven by different basic desires which they sometimes pursue in ways that block their fulfillment. I recognized myself in two of these.
Type Ones want goodness and integrity in ourselves, goodness and justice in the world. This can lead to a high degree of honesty and dedication. It can also lead to an exhausting inner war against the parts of ourselves that shame us, to harsh judgments of other people, and to overwork. I see a lot of work needing to be done, and I throw myself at it. Sometimes I keep pushing when I’m so tired that I lose sight of what’s already working well, and end up creating unnecessary work. I see the injustice in the world, the greed and resentment in myself, and I try not to be part of the problem… and I let my desperate wish to be good get in the way of simply working and loving. This happened acutely in my struggle with obsessions and compulsions, and it still happens in more subtle ways. I am sitting with Riso and Hudson’s words: “Only if we are not obsessed with being right will we be able to find true righteousness—which is, after all, finding true balance.” This doesn’t mean giving up on justice or integrity. It does mean letting go of the illusion of control, accepting reality and letting God work through me. Sometimes it means stopping and knowing that God is working through other people to deal with the needs that aren’t mine to meet.
Type Twos want to be loved and loving. This can lead to generosity and compassion. It can also lead to a desperate insistence on doing more and more for other people in an effort to stuff a void we feel in ourselves. I see people struggling and I want to help them… for their sakes, but also in order to prove that I am a good and helpful person who deserves to be loved. That latter wish can lead me to overreach instead of seeing the other person clearly, to jump in to fix immediate problems myself instead of recognizing and building on the other person’s strengths. I am trying to attend to pondering Riso and Hudson’s words, “We cannot will ourselves to love ourselves or to love others. All we can do, paradoxically, is to recognize the presence of love in ourselves and others. … The love that we experience under these conditions is real and deep and quiet. It does not draw attention to itself. It is not demanding, nor does it keep accounts….It is full of joy because nothing can disappoint or frustrate it. Real love in action is unstoppable.”
As I listen to the news, as I work with neighbors, I am trying to practice real love and belonging, to recognize that they are already there. I hope and pray that you also may take time to recognize goodness at work around you and within you, even in these trying times.
Autumn brings its own beauty to the farm. A riot of colors–ripe peppers, the last tomatoes, carrots and beets and chard from the garden, saturated blue-violet monkshood, goldenrod and purple asters, maple and sumac leaves in every shade of orange. When the garden is empty and most of the leaves are down, red oak and yellow beach leaves hang on and gradually mellow down to brown. Frost outlines gone to seed weeds and grasses where flocks of small birds feed. With the leaves down, the stone walls that edge so many of our walks are again visible, moss and lichens providing welcome color as other colors fade. Moss, sweet woodruff, evergreen Christmas fern, and trailing vine and bright red of partridge berry set on a table in the chapel make a tiny woodland garden in a jar. The stars are bright and close on clear nights, seeming to be tangled in the bare branches of the trees. While the days are shorter, the light is richer with the sun lower in the sky. –Lorraine
Thanks and Wishes
We’re thankful for all of you who share your time, skills, money and prayers with us so that we can share what we have with neighbors and guests.St. Francis Farm is a 501c3 nonprofit, so donations are tax-deductible. Please let us know if you’d like a receipt for tax purposes. Also let us know if you’d like to change how you receive the newsletter (print or email), or if you’d like to be taken off the mailing list.
We could use more copies of Bo Lozoff’s book Deep and Simple and Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s Made for Goodness to share with visitors, as well as empty quart canning jars to replace full ones we’ve given away.