Each January we look back at what we’ve done and try to discern a way forward for our mission of living an alternative to the consumer culture. The ways we do that have evolved over the years since our arrival in 2001. Some changes were made by our decision and others by circumstances beyond the farm. Our commitment remains and the needs persist as does the difficulty of communicating and making constructive connections. We still seek to make the farm accessible to children and elders and people who face various obstacles. Having been told by so many visitors through the years how peaceful they found the farm, we try to maintain that spirit of peace for ourselves and whoever comes.
Ting and her son Kevin first visited in the fall. Kevin, almost 2 years old now, loved sitting in a leaf pile. His mother enjoyed walking the woods and field paths. In January they came on a sunny day to go sledding for their first time and when it is too cold to go outside Kevin enjoys playing with blocks and wooden trains inside. Through Ting Joanna heard about the Pregnancy Care Center in Pulaski and met a woman there who is interested in visiting with her sons and thinks others at the PCC would welcome opportunities to enjoy nature with their children.
This is the first winter in over 10 years that we haven’t been making wooden toys for refugees. Joanna took puppets made by Toni Hall and wooden toys we’ve made to the PCC. The woman who received them was especially pleased with the ‘acrobat’ which she said would be helpful to her son who had some difficulty with hand-eye coordination. We had been told the same thing by another mother a couple years ago and offered to help her or the school therapist she mentioned make the toys, but she didn’t get back in touch. Having someone with time to make the connections is essential to meeting needs. Hope has been that for us with the refugees. Loss of such connection ended the Growing Season Summer Program that we ran from 2006-2011 and the family days at the farm we hosted from 2011-2013.
Because we believe the farm can help with real needs, we keep reaching out. Joanna met David, a peer counselor with a health program working with substance abuse disorders, at her community meetings. He would like to bring people to help in the gardens and walk on our paths during the green time. Heather, who visited several times last year, works at a L’Arche house in Syracuse and hopes to bring a group from there for a day visit this spring. The L’Arche community made a pilgrimage to the farm in 2005 and spoke of smaller groups coming again but we lost contact as personnel changed. A van from the Brady Faith Center in Syracuse brought young people on their way to a boat trip on the St. Lawrence in our first years here. These visits were never scheduled, but the women in charge told us that the stop at the farm for a picnic and tour were a highlight of the trips. We encouraged them to arrange visits when they had more time and we were prepared but that never happened. This winter after listening to a radio program on the limited access inner city kids have to nature, we tried again to contact the Center. Soon the slow time will give way to the green time—we pray that whoever finds their way to the farm will find a place of peace.
This winter people have asked if we’ll have enough firewood to keep warm here in the barn. Mostly we are able to keep the barn in the low 60s, which feels quite warm compared to the first couple of years when we sometimes could only get to the mid 50s. The main woodshed is will be empty by the end of February but there is a pile of extra wood in the new barn which should see us through the really cold weather, and then we can start burning wood we normally use in the summer for domestic hot water. Ten years ago when we had our timber sale our consulting forester told us the volume of firewood we use was not being replaced by regrowth in our woodlots. As I recall his standard calculation was that an acre of mature woods produces 1/4 of a cord of firewood per year, but we realized that our situation is very different. Commercial firewood production only uses wood 6 inches and larger in diameter, while we burn everything down to 2 inches. The forester also did not count the hedgerows and other areas where we cut firewood that are not considered to be forest land for his purposes.
We also get some of our firewood from slabs from logs I cut at our sawmill, but when a log is sold all of that is lost to the landowner, and becomes a by-product that is sold by the commercial sawmill. Having our own sawmill lets us use each tree more efficiently for lumber and firewood. The other benefits of having the mill include selling lumber to provide a substantial part of the farm’s income, offering wood for sale locally to people who have small businesses or are working on their own houses, and bringing people to the farm who become interested in other things we’re doing.
Since the writing of the last newsletter I finished putting the log arch together, and then had to make a heavier boom to lift the logs since the first boom was made from an old piece of pipe that wasn’t strong enough. The new boom is made from the frame rails of an old tractor and is much stronger than could ever be needed. I used the arch enough to know that it worked well and could lift the logs right off the ground, as I had hoped. Since the new year because the snow has been too deep to allow the tractor through, but in the spring it will go back to work. I sold the crawler I had been working on for the past few years which I had intended to use for log skidding. It was not as useful in the snow as I had hoped and needed continual work to keep it going. I think the arch will be much more useful and easier to maintain.
We inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom spawn in each of the past two springs, but won’t start more this year since we still have logs started last year left to sell. We’ve been having much more reliable harvests from our logs in the past couple of years after changing the variety we grow and going to an outside storage system that keeps the logs from drying out. We sold a lot of logs in late 2016 and early 2017, but fewer more recently. When we can find a market for them the shiitake logs are quite a good way to raise money, but like everything else the level of demand is impossible to predict.
This winter I have been able to spend more time in the workshop, where it is nice and warm. Since we are no longer producing wooden toys for refugees as we used to in the winter I have begun to make sumac tree slice coasters and twig style nightstands with the intention of selling them online to support the farm. I used to make these things in my evenings and other free time and sell them on my own behalf, but since my musical instrument business has expanded to fill my free time I had let the other things lapse. Our newest board member, Sarah, has come to learn more woodworking skills. She is a very quick learner and has helped with replacing a window and making a bookshelf and a banister among other things, and has gotten some practice with different tools. I enjoy working with someone who is able and interested in learning to do things.
In December I cleaned out rusted metal fragments along the cutting edge of our snowblower and welded in a new piece of sheet metal, and in January I had to replace the auger chain and idler sprocket. It’s an old machine but it still gets the work done and lets me keep the sawmill open through the winter. Sales at the sawmill have been good overall this winter, and I have done more custom sawing of other people’s logs. In December one of the main shaft bearings failed and I had to replace the pillow block too, so I wasn’t able to run the mill for 10 days or so. The bearing had held up for 10 years of use, so I guess it was not surprising that it finally gave up.
In January we had a very strong thaw with temperatures up to the 50s and then an overnight drop into the low teens. Part of the sawmill driveway flooded over a foot deep and backed water up into the wing where the big tractor is parked. The morning after the cold arrived I found that the snowblower sitting in about 6 inches of water and the tractor in about 4 inches. Luckily it hadn’t frozen solid yet so I moved the tractor to higher ground so it wouldn’t get frozen in with the snowblower. I will have to try to think of a way to improve drainage in that area.
Late in January when we had a good crust on the snow I went up on the hill and burned the pile of rotten boards with nails in them that has been growing again over the past couple of years. I am very glad to finally have it gone completely, and in the spring I will go over the ground again with a magnet to pick up any last nails I may have missed.
In February on a warm day I brought down an old trailer frame from the hilltop and made some minor welding repairs to it and fitted a wooden platform to hold the 275 gallon tank that we use to hold water for the pig in the summer. I had gotten the trailer for $25 at an auction in the fall, but hadn’t taken the time to work on it then. I won’t need it till May or so, but it’s nice to get things done ahead of time when I can.
Joanna’s Farm Report
The snow is deep, the days short, and I miss the outdoor work which I enjoy during the other three seasons. But even in the fallow time I’m aware of all the new life waiting to emerge when the conditions are right.
The lettuce, tatsoi, kale and chard in soil boxes in the greenhouse are growing again after going into stasis for the coldest, darkest time. Garlic, asparagus, strawberries, herbs and other perennials sleep under the snow, which has stayed on the ground since November and protected them from constant freezing and thawing. Come April we’ll have herbs and flowers to divide and give away.
Our seeds have arrived from Fedco, and I’m scrubbing plant pots; in the first week of March I’ll begin planting onions, peppers and eggplants for the summer garden. I’m already starting new sweet potato slips from the tubers we grew last year from the slips Sarah VanNorstrand gave us. Besides the usual vegetables, I’ve ordered extra seed for cover crops and perennials. This year I hope to plant the rest of the weedy slope that lies below the garden proper but inside the garden fence with perennials and self-seeding annuals that make good rabbit feed.
We’ve kept two young doe rabbits and a young buck through the winter in addition to our proven buck and two proven does. We’ll begin to breed them in February, hoping that when the first kits arrive in March the worst of the cold will be over and by the time they’re big enough to need a lot of food we’ll have fresh stuff to cut for them again. Through the winter we’ve been feeding the adults on carrots from the garden, dried willow from the stream bank and fresh wheatgrass grown hydroponically in the greenhouse. We’ve kept selecting animals that grow and breed well on natural feed. We’re stockpiling rabbit manure to spread on the garden in spring—this boosts the fertility of the soil, and I wonder if it’s contributed to the increased disease resistance I noticed in our plants during the very wet summer of 2017. I enjoy being able to cut more weeds and buy less feed, spread more manure and buy less organic fungicide.
The hens we raised on natural feed and without a heat lamp starting in spring 2015 are still thriving. They kept laying through most of the winter so we’ve had to do much less egg-buying than we expected. We’re figuring out whether or not we need to order new chicks this spring. Lorraine just heard from a homesteader who says that naturally raised hens tend to keep laying much longer than their commercially-raised contemporaries.
Our younger goat Amada is thriving, and we’re expecting kids from her around April 30. Our older goat, Dora, had a difficult kidding last spring, and while she seemed to recover at the time her appetite and her milk production have been unreliable since then. I tried switching her back from whole grains to commercial premix and she ate happily for a while but then went off feed again. She’s still eating hay and willow consistently and grain intermittently and she doesn’t seem uncomfortable or sick, but we’ll look for a more reliable producer come spring.
Screen-Free Week (by Joanna)
Our mission at St. Francis Farm is to live an alternative to the consumer culture. This includes stepping back from advertisements and inducements to market ourselves, instead taking time to savor life’s free gifts and listen to the still small voice within. We try to do this year-round, but the annual Screen-Free Week celebration sharpens our focus. Screen-Free Week is an international holiday which began as TV Turnoff Week. This will be our ninth year helping groups in the Pulaski area coordinate free non-electronic activities.
Lately I’ve heard more public discussion about the problems of screen-time. Most online content is designed to keep us staring and clicking so that we’ll see more ads. Wespend more and more time in a state of distraction—neither focusing sharply and thinking critically, nor resting our minds and allowing our creativity to surface. This perpetual distraction takes a toll on us.
Social media divide us as much as they connect us. Chains of clickbait lead us to increasingly polarizing political content. Politics aside, we often look at others’ glittering images of their lives, feel envious and depressed, and post our own glittering images…
The barrage of ads increases our dissatisfaction. Ads, commercial or political, often exacerbate our underlying anxiety or dissatisfaction, and then promise that we’ll feel relief if we buy Product X or vote against Candidate Y. Whether or not we buy the particular message, we tend to buy the underlying message that we’re not okay.
Electronic diversions also take time and energy away from talking with people, reading books, making music, praying, walking in the woods or looking at the stars. Most of those activities aren’t advertised, so they get crowded out by other activities that clamor for our attention.
Here at the farm we make a space where people from different backgrounds can work together, find common ground, walk, pray, read, and savor the goodness that is already present. We’re pondering how to invite people in without becoming another noisy distraction. Back when student groups came here we asked them to leave cell phones behind. We don’t ask that of volunteers now, but we still invite them to be mindful. Some volunteers decided to limit the time they spend on electronics at the farm; they found that both disconcerting and freeing. We invite our neighbors and readers to experience this freedom as well. International Screen-Free Week is April 30-May 6, but here in the Pulaski area we’re observing it during the school break week, April 23-28. We’ll offer sunset nature walks and daytime volunteer opportunities at the farm, and we’re helping organize a barn dance at the Half-Shire in Richland, called by Sarah vanNorstrand. Game nights, craft projects, hikes and more will happen around Pulaski/Richland/Orwell. There’s more information (oddly enough) on the web at www.screenfree.stfrancisfarm.org
In observing the present state of the world from a Christian point of view, one would have to say: It is a disease. And if I were a physician and someone asked me “What do you think should be done?” I would answer “Create silence, bring about silence.” God’s Word cannot be heard, and if in order to be heard in the hullabaloo it must be shouted deafeningly with noisy means, then it is not God’s Word; create silence. Everything is noisy…even the most insignificant project, even the most empty communication is designed to jolt the senses, to stir up the crowd… And we humans, we clever fellows, invent ever new means to increase noise… The means of communication have been perfected, but what is publicized with such haste is rubbish. Oh, create silence. Kierkegaard, Provocations
Life is increasingly unstable, inconstant and hectic. Too much information and not enough meaning, too much happening and not enough time to process it. —Mary Pipher, The Shelter Of Each Other
Spring arrived late all in a rush bringing wildflowers, migrating birds, visitors, and a definite end to our slow time. Winter keeps many folks away but with spring Hope gets back for supper and conversation. We’re able to bring Marge to the farm without worrying she’ll be too cold in our barn or slip in the parking area. She enjoys the goat kid and rabbit litters, marsh marigolds and trout lilies. She walks with me around the pond and helps cut up seed potatoes for Joanna to plant. Ting comes with her son and her mother-in-law who is visiting from China. We walk along the woods road and around the pasture pond, looking at the wildflowers and listening to the frogs. Even Kevin, just turned 2, helps pick up pine cones and drop them in a bucket to clear them from the lawns. They all help plant potatoes, Kevin trying to use the shovel but finding it too big for him to handle. Alex, who came to the farm each week back when he was 8 or 9, comes by one afternoon with a 2-year-old niece, wanting her to see the animals and the toys. He points out things he remembers helping do twelve to fifteen years ago—the greenhouse we built and the oak tree he planted with Joe Morton.
Screen-Free Week went well even though no families with children came to the farm. On Wednesday, April 25, Sarah VanNorstrand, our newest Director, worked with us to host a family dance at the Half-Shire Historical Society in Richland. She and Bob Nicholson called traditional dances while Eileen Kalfass, Zeke Smukler, and Zach played fiddle, guitar, and banjo. We had to coax some people to join in the dancing but all seemed to enjoy it once they got started. The callers and musicians, whom Joanna and Zach already knew from contradances in Oswego and Syracuse, had supper at the farm before the dance and I enjoyed meeting them. Various people expressed interest in doing this again.
On Friday a couple from Liverpool and three women from Camillus came for a sunset nature walk having heard about it from the Empire magazine. Hepatica and spring beauty had just begun to bloom. We found a group of newts just transforming from the eft to the adult stage at the end of the pasture pond and red-backed salamanders under stones along the woods paths. Several woodcocks were calling as dusk fell and the avid birder in the group was pleased to get a good look at one when they began to fly before the dark had thickened. Sharing the farm with those who enjoy it helps us to see and appreciate it anew.
Sarah took perennial herbs and flowers I had divided and brought me a couple from her gardens. Then on Saturday Mike and Alice Littler came and took a van load of shrubs, herbs and flowers. Mike has come before to pick up bikes and parts for a community bike repair group in Rochester and has admired my gardens as they bloom through the seasons. He was looking forward to adding more color to his yard and I was happy to divide plants that needed it and not have to dump any behind the mailbox.
Looking ahead, Stephanie, a WWOOF volunteer who has been working in Silicon Valley but is looking for a new direction, is scheduled for two weeks in June. Jim, a retired engineer looking to get his hands dirty and do something useful, is scheduled for 2 weeks July into August. Nate, who spent a week with us last summer and wrote for the September newsletter, hopes to come back for a visit in July. We could still use local help maintaining old trails and making new ones, weeding and planting and harvesting. –-by Lorraine
This spring has been slower and later than usual in arriving, and everything is a bit delayed. Our maple sugar season was unusually long; I set taps on February 14th and the last boil was in mid-April. On a Monday in late March I was boiling sap and while I was in the kitchen chopping onions to freeze the sugar house caught fire and burned down. By the time I got there the fire was too well established to be put out. We already had made 7 gallons of syrup by that time, of the 8 or 10 we usually try to make. I cut some trees in the pine plantation that afternoon as part of the ongoing thinning process and by the end of the week I had rebuilt the frame and put up the roof of the new sugar house. The following week I put up the cupola and covered three of the walls, but now I have not worked on it for several weeks and it is still uncompleted. It is slightly larger than the old one, and is built on posts set in the ground instead of being bolted to the concrete slab like the old one. The slab measures about 8 by 12 feet and is almost the only remaining vestige of the old dairy barn that used to be there a long time ago. The new building is 10 by 12 feet, which will allow more room for storage, and has an insulated metal chimney which I hope will prevent fires from happening in the future. I also bought a new pan, since the old one was damaged in the fire. I had thought about replacing the old pan before as it was not entirely satisfactory, but this incident gave me a reason to do it. The evaporator itself was undamaged.
This winter we burned all of the wood in the main woodshed and the backup woodpile out in the new building, but we had enough to get through. I had filled the auxiliary woodshed with heavy firewood last year, and that turned out to be a good thing as we still had some fairly cold weather after the backup wood was gone. Normally that wood is supposed to last through the summer but this year it’ll run out earlier. I’ve begun stacking pine slab wood in the winter chicken coop to be burned later in the summer, by which time it will be dry enough. I am planning to redesign the auxiliary woodshed this summer so that it will no longer have an almost-flat roof. This will involve some unusual geometry where the two woodsheds meet, but given the locations of the buildings there isn’t a normal-looking way to do the job. I wasn’t able to start cutting firewood this year until late April as the snow lingered in the woods later than usual. I finished filling the main shed in early May, and will rebuild the backup wood pile over the summer as I am cutting hardwood logs at the sawmill and need a place to put the slabs.
Lumber sales at the sawmill have been spotty this year, but we do still sell some. We’ve sold a couple of nightstands locally so far. I only ended up getting three completed this winter but I hope to make more when time permits. They’re a good way to use up some of the lumber that nobody wants at the sawmill, since they’re made from pretty short pieces. I also sold some hickory firewood to someone who uses it for smoking meat. Hickory seems to be worth a bit more than other species of firewood. We have a lot of areas where trees of poor quality should be thinned out to allow better trees more room to grow, and we have more firewood in the woods than we need for our own use here.
We bought some day-old chicks again this spring and my mother designed a coop for them to move into once they got big enough in April. Our old chick coop was built low to the ground and moved around a compost bin, but the new one is built above a compost area, and the only part that has to be moved regularly is the grass run, which is quite light. The chicks are doing well and will stay in this coop until they start to lay and in the fall they will move into the larger chicken coop. We got our piglet in mid-May, but this year it was only 5 weeks old and was able to squeeze through the holes in the wire fence on the main pigpen and escape twice. I have built a smaller movable pen out of pallets with some old chicken wire to cover the gaps between the boards, and the piglet has not been able to escape. In a few weeks once it has gained some size I will put it back in the regular pen.
Farm update (written May 16) by Joanna
This spring has brought the usual mix of frustrations and delights. Some of the frustrations come from my mistakes; some are beyond our control, and likely to increase year by year as the climate grows less stable. The goodness also comes from sources beyond our control or comprehension, though we are learning to work in a way that makes it easier for that goodness to bear fruit.
Most years I plant peas and early greens in late March when the snow comes off the garden, and potatoes in mid-April when the dandelions bloom. This year the snow melted off in April and the dandelions didn’t bloom until early May. Peas, lettuce and spinach are still very small, and we didn’t have asparagus until the second week of May. But the greenhouse vegetables are thriving. We’re enjoying salads with lettuce from the greenhouse pots and the cold frame. I’ve transplanted kale seedlings out. Pepper and eggplant seedlings are already getting big for their pots, but I can’t set them out until June when we’re reliably frost-free. I planted three successions of tomatoes as usual, started putting them outside to harden off in the warmish weather of mid-April, and had to bring them back into the greenhouse for one cold week. Some older leaves died of sunscald and windburn when I put them back out, but their centers are live, dark green and growing fast. I transplanted the biggest seedlings out in early May and covered them during frosts. The weather turned dry so we set the drip irrigation up early.
Last year our goat Dora gave birth to two dead kids and one live one. I had to pull them all out and she was miserable. Remembering that, I was nervous about this year’s kidding. But on May 2 our goat Amada gave birth to one live and flourishing kid, a doeling we’ve named Stripe. At first Stripe’s legs seemed too long for her to manage, but she’s figured them out now and spends much of her time practicing sideways hops and fancy kicks. Our two experienced mother rabbits gave birth to healthy litters in early April and they’re all growing well. The first new mother to give birth this season had her six kits in the nest box, not on the wire, and she fed them well. The next new mother bore ten kits just before the weather turned much warmer; apparently the combination stressed her immune system. She stopped eating and developed other symptoms. We pulled her cage out of the main rabbit shed in case she was contagious and offered her immune-boosting herbs. She gradually regained her appetite. The kits were undersized; we lost 2 to underfeeding, 3 more when I took off the front of their nest box too early and they crawled out of the box and then out through the wall of the cage, which they were still small enough to fit through. She’s feeding the last 5 adequately. We’re finally able to feed all the rabbits all the green stuff they want—usually that begins in April too, but the late spring delayed things.
We’ve also been enjoying wild foods that I didn’t have to plant or water or tend. The fiddleheads came up prolifically in early May; we harvested enough for several good meals, but they were too far grown to eat in less than a week. The wild leeks grew large enough to harvest in early May and are still good. We feed some raw to our goats to keep parasites down, and add others to our stirfries so we can savor their fresh sweet taste.
What Good News? by Joanna
St. Francis Farm’s mission is to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles as an alternative to the consumer culture. It’s uncomfortable to invoke the Gospels now, not because Christians are being persecuted, but because Christianity is being publicly invoked by powerful people across the theological spectrum to justify the worst excesses of the consumer culture and to attack people who are already struggling.
President Trump has brought a new prominence to what its detractors call the Prosperity Gospel. Paula White, head of his evangelical advisory committee, urged people to offer their first day, week or month’s worth of earnings in the New Year to God (by donating them to her ministry), promising those who obeyed that their prosperity and power would have life and be resurrected. Joel Osteen, who has praised the President, told Oprah “There’s a belief that… you’re supposed to be poor and you’re supposed to show your humility. I don’t see the Bible that way… Jesus died that we might live an abundant life… I can’t be a big blessing to other people if I’m poor.” This Gospel says that God’s taking care of everything. The world is just. Faith and goodness lead to wealth and success. All we have to do is enjoy what’s ours. The stuff we consume comes from God, who wants us to have it. We don’t have to consider how our wealth is related to other people’s poverty or how our consumption affects the created world. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said “The biblical world view… is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind,” and contrasted this to the godless Left who want to refrain from using what is obviously ours. He advocates extracting fossil fuels as fast as we can and removing safety standards. This ignores the Biblical assertion that the earth is the Lord’s, and that the Lord created all living creatures, blessed them and called them good.
Another problematic version of Christianity is proclaimed by people with a very different view of the world. Some of these call themselves the Church Militant, wresting the phrase away from its original sense. They don’t believe that the world is safe and just. They believe that our cherished traditions are being attacked by the Powers of Darkness. The self-styled Church Militant group’s stated mission is to fight the devil and spread the true (Catholic) faith: “Christians were born for combat,” they write. The balance of stories on their site suggests the Devil is chiefly at work in LGBT people, Muslims and immigrants, and God wants us to exclude those people and all those who defend them. President Trump’s booster Steve Bannon proclaims a similar message, arguing that “the Judeo-Christian West is in a crisis” in which capitalism, national heritage and Christianity are under attack. Commentator Pat Buchanan expands on this: “The European and Christian core of our country is shrinking… America is locked in a cultural war for the soul of our country.” He sees this war going on elsewhere in the world as well, saying “Poles fall on their knees to pray to the Virgin Mary to spare them from threats of an Islamic future,” and describing the arrival of Muslim refugees as “the invasion of the continent along the routes whence the invaders came centuries ago.” Evangelical Franklin Graham says that care for refugees isn’t a biblical issue, and that Christians must guard against Muslims infiltrating and taking over our Christian nation. They ignore how Muslim immigrants help their Christian neighbors, how both great harm and great good have been done in the name of Christianity and also in the name of Islam, and how our nation’s violence and greed contribute to the violence refugees flee. They also ignore Biblical accounts of how Jesus and his parents were refugees, and how Jesus’ death was sought by religious leaders trying to protect the purity and safety of their institutions.
The militant gospel and the prosperity gospel glorify people in power. White says that God raises up leaders, and that God will silence every tongue that speaks against his chosen leader Donald Trump. Graham says that authority is ordained by God and should not be questioned, and that Black Lives Matter protesters are disrespecting God’s authority by failing to submit unquestioningly to the police. They correctly quote Romans 13 and other passages. They ignore Jesus’ and Paul’s deaths at the hands of the Roman authorities, Moses’ example of civil disobedience, and the prophets’ example of challenging rulers.
The Prosperity Gospel and the militant Gospel give different accounts of poverty, but they unite in glorifying wealth. Osteen says that faith brings wealth and people stay poor because they haven’t learned to have real faith and claim God’s blessings. In this version of reality, structural injustice is irrelevant. Poor people will get rich if they ask God in the right way; the rest of us aren’t responsible for them. Christians from many denominations claim that wealth comes from good character and positive attitudes, while poverty comes from bad character and defeatism. From there it’s a very short step to saying that we shouldn’t help people in need because they’ve brought their troubles on themselves. Some Christians quote “He that works not shall not eat,” ignoring what Jesus said about coming to us in the hungry (and also ignoring the fact that some people work hard but don’t earn enough to live on). Bannon explains that capitalism and Christianity naturally work together for the divine purpose of creating wealth; he ignores “Woe unto you who are rich…” He and Buchanan express concern for poor white Christians born in the US and say that we must help them—by excluding poor people of other faiths and ethnic groups who might compete with native-born Christian whites for jobs. Apparently poor people of non-European descent (like Jesus) and people born outside the US (like Jesus) are not our responsibility.
At bottom, the ‘good news’ of both theologies seems to be that God wants us to preserve our power, possessions and privileges. The Prosperity Gospel urges us to revel in our personal good fortune. The militant gospel urges us to band together with People Like Us to preserve our privileges against vulnerable people who are Not Like Us.
But I believe that Jesus’ words and life call us to let go of our possessions and privileges. To give freely. To see God in neighbors and strangers. To acknowledge and remedy our own harmdoing before we try to correct others. To love and forgive enemies. To die to ourselves. The good news I believe is that God loves us and God remains in us and with us, always. This means that Christ lives, suffers and dies in every person hurt by our injustices. It also means that Christ lives in us, bringing strength and compassion in our sufferings, bringing the chance of repentance and forgiveness in our wrongdoing, bringing joy.
This Gospel is still proclaimed across the same wide range of traditions as the Prosperity Gospel and the Militant Gospel. Pope Francis wrote in The Joy of the Gospel, “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills… To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own,” and in The Church of Mercy, “Ours is not a joy born of having many possessions, but of having encountered a Person: Jesus, in our midst.” Evangelical public theologian Jim Wallis writes, “Where is Jesus in your celebration of a ban that denies shelter to refugees and rejects our Muslim neighbors around the world…? Jesus taught us that when we welcome the stranger, we are also welcoming him (Matthew 25), and the Bible tells us that in the Spirit all divisions are conquered (1 Corinthians 12),” and also “When the voice of God is invoked on behalf of those who have no voice, it is time to listen. But when the name of God is used to benefit the interests of those who are speaking, it is time to be very careful.” Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “Our God is a God who has a bias for the weak, and we who worship this God, who have to reflect the character of this God, have no option but to have a like special concern for those who are pushed to the edges of society…We must be where Jesus would be, this one who was vilified for being the friend of sinners,” and “When we see others as the enemy, we risk becoming what we hate. When we oppress others, we end up oppressing ourselves. All of our humanity is dependent upon recognizing the humanity in others.”
Nature Notes by Lorraine
Woodland wildflowers bloomed in a short burst, starting late and fading as the trees leafed out. Trout lilies were especially plentiful and marsh marigolds keep spreading into more wet spots. We saw lots of steelhead trout in the little tributary stream (and saw lots of fishermen from April into May). Joanna spotted a mink running along the far side of the pond before the leaves came out and saw a barred owl close up one evening when she was out gathering ramps and fiddleheads. On an early morning walk I met a raccoon in the gap where the path turns from the field across the end of the pasture pond. We heard the first spring peepers and wood frogs in mid-April and then they went quiet in the cold. When the peepers started again they were soon joined by other frogs, even the bullfrogs chiming in by mid-May. We’ve heard at least four woodcocks displaying at dusk within a short distance from the barn. I look for nests, but try to remember that if I can’t find them, perhaps predators won’t either. Robins have 5 nests tucked around buildings and under equipment. Bluebirds, tree swallows and wrens are nesting in the boxes we put out. Kingfishers have been patrolling the pond and stream. I spotted an oriole nest high in a big cottonwood on the first day of Joan’s annual visit from Maine. We saw scarlet tanagers, various warblers, sparrows, woodpeckers and finches. We enjoyed the songs of thrushes and glimpsed blue herons and wood ducks visiting the pond. I’ve seen more hummingbirds than usual, looking for flowers that have been slow to bloom.
Another summer finds me trying to balance my Mary and Martha roles and performing neither to my own satisfaction. The harvest comes in unevenly, scheduled and surprise visitors arrive, more rain falls in one week than in the previous month. While the temperature doesn’t get as high as some summers, the nights bring slight cooling and with persistent poor air quality I feel like there’s never enough oxygen. World and national news is discouraging or alarming. Zachary has poison ivy and all of our eyes itch now that the ragweed is blooming. I struggle to reach the peace that visitors so often say they find here.
We’ve had three volunteers stay with us this summer. Stephanie, a software developer in Silicon Valley, came for two weeks in June to learn about growing food and work with her hands. I think she enjoyed her stay even though the work and ‘nature’ were not quite as she had imagined them. Jim came in July (see his story below) for the only wet week we had all season. He helped strip and store the willow that had been hanging to dry in the loft and helped Joanna catch up some in the garden. I was especially grateful for the work he did clearing the stone steps and overgrown areas around the stream and pond, work that had been on my list since spring. Nate, who was here for a week last year and wrote for the September 2017 newsletter, came back for a week at the end of July. He works fast and well, help especially welcome pulling weeds after the wet week. He enjoyed the fresh food and cooked meals after spending the earlier summer hiking and camping, but he mostly skipped the evening Bible study he had requested and avoided conversations with us about his way forward. I felt that we failed him, but couldn’t figure out how and tried to remember he’s in God’s hands, not mine.
Most weeks Donna still comes for a ‘lesson’ and singing with Joanna. She can’t get around as easily to look at the gardens and the animals as she could before, but she says the flowers are blooming and butterflies coming to the garden we planted for her a year ago. Marge still enjoys a walk around the pond and sitting on the porch swing shelling peas or sorting herbs with me on her weekly visits. Late in Nate’s stay, a boy we hadn’t seen in almost a year came by just before dark and asked for help with his bicycle. Zach dealt with the bike, and while we accepted his reasons for being afraid to go home, we talked him out of starting out on a long journey in the dark. Joanna called some places she knew from her Community Task Force meetings, and eventually the boy went to a safe house for teens.
Maria, our gleaner for several years, sold her house this summer and is moving to Rochester. When Kevin Ballou showed up to buy some lumber just after I’d finished freezing all the peas we wanted, I asked him if he would be interested in picking vegetables to take. (He and Billie Joe lived in the last of the rental trailers before moving to a house in Sandy Creek, and he came back a few years ago to can tomatoes with me.) For the past month they’ve come to pick peas, then beans, and also to take whatever extra produce has accumulated since the soup kitchen made their Tuesday pick-up. They remember the farm warmly and enjoy being here. Kevin, who enjoys hunting, may be able to reduce our woodchuck population. I look forward to sitting down with the Ballous in the slow time and hearing more about the ten years they lived on the farm before our arrival.
I wish the nights were cooler, my sunflowers taller and the brook fuller. I wonder about Octavio and Julia and so many others who entered our life and hearts for a while—where are they now and did they find the work and peace and meaning that they sought? But I need to be present to what is here now—to see the bee balm and cardinal flower blooming along the stream where I had given up on it, to hear Donna laugh, to listen to Marge’s memories, to taste ripe Cherokee Purple tomatoes, to smell the lavender as I weed the herb garden. I need to be still and wait, even when I do not know how to pray, so God can open me to whoever and whatever comes next. –by Lorraine
James Reader’s Story
One of the aspects of the Catholic Worker Movement that I have taken an interest in over the past few months is agrarianism (defined as a social or political movement designed to bring about land reforms or to improve the economic status of the farmer). After reading an article in the May 2018 edition of the CW newspaper entitled “Look Back to the Land” by Eric Anglada along with some essays from author Wendell Berry (also referenced in the article), I wanted to seek an opportunity to personally experience the agrarian lifestyle within one of the affiliated CW communities (also listed by state in the same edition of the paper). Searching for a farm that was within a half-day drive from my home, I came upon a listing for St. Francis Farm in Lacona, NY that was described as an alternative to the consumer culture, sustainable farming and forestry, and ministry of presence. Intrigued, I checked out the website listed for the community and envisioned a working retreat where I could exercise body, mind and spirit. I made arrangements for a one week stay in July, looking forward to reconnecting with the land through the sweat of my brow and the work of my hands.
Looking back, my time at St. Francis Farm and with the Hoyt Family – Lorraine, Joanna & Zach, was filled with manual labor, conversation, prayer, reflection and faith sharing. As my stay unfolded, I was filled with an increasing sense of humility. Awed at how the family uses the land to sustain the majority of their needs (including their livestock) as well as the needs of others. Virtually nothing goes to waste which in itself is a testament to the respect that this family has for the land and everything that it provides. I found that just being here and embracing my humility presented an unexpected opportunity for me to participate in a kenotic experience – a means of letting-go and detaching myself from the wasteful consumer culture that exists today as well as an awareness of my dependence upon it and the realization that in addition to being a consumer, I am also being consumed by this culture. This in turn resulted in an increased sense of meaning and purpose to every facet of the work being done here every day regardless of how critical or menial a particular task may be.
I left the farm with an indelible impression that I still find difficult to put into words. Nor can words adequately describe the dedication, work ethic, simplicity, faith and love which the Hoyt Family exhibits day in and day out with respect to the land – flora and fauna – and its ability to sustain all of our needs. To truly understand this alternative to our consumer culture, one must witness it in action as I and countless others have done at St. Francis Farm – and why I look forward to returning again.
I will, however, leave you with some words, which I believe best summarize this alternative, from the Essays by Wendell Berry in his book Citizenship Papers:
Money does not bring forth food. Neither does the technology of the food system. Food comes from nature and from the work of people. If the supply of food is to be continuous for a long time, then people must work in harmony with nature. That means that people must find the right answers to a lot of questions. The same rules apply to forestry and the possibility of a continuous supply of forest products. People grow the food that people eat. People produce the lumber that people use. People care properly or improperly for the forests and the farms that are sources of those goods. People are necessarily at both ends of the process. The economy, always obsessed with its need to sell products, thinks obsessively and exclusively of the consumer. It mostly takes for granted or ignores those who do the damaging or the restorative and preserving work of agriculture and forestry… What I have been talking about is the possibility of renewing human respect for this earth and all the good, useful, and beautiful things that come from it… The respect I mean can only be given by using well the world’s goods that are given to us. This good use, which renews respect–which is the only currency, so to speak, of respect–also renews our pleasure…from stewardship of the land to hospitality to friends and strangers… Our reward is that they will enrich our lives and make us glad.
Enough by Joanna
Last year we had abundant rain, large harvests and little plant disease. This year’s harder. The garden isn’t all I hoped it would be. It’s good enough.
The early spring was cold and snowy, but once we got into the growing season the rain stopped and the temperatures soared. June was hot and dry. In the first 3 weeks of July we got a total of 1.2” of rain, with heat and drying winds. We used drip irrigation all day every day and still fell behind. The lawn turned brown and brittle, the pastures grew sparse, and I had to scavenge for rabbit food in shady edges. As the wild plants dried up, animals honed in on my watered garden. Chipmunks ate peas, green beans and tomatoes. A woodchuck opened a hole inside the garden fence and ate our sweet potato plants and some of our carrots and lettuce. I shoved ammonia-soaked rags down its burrow and blocked the entrance several times before it finally gave up.
We still had good early harvests. Our new strawberry beds bore richly while Stephanie was here helping us in mid-June. We were still harvesting asparagus when the peas began bearing. We froze 20 quarts of peas, ate some fresh, and left the rest for Kevin and Billie Joe.
Plant diseases throve in the damp air and dry soil. Some garlic had fuzzy mold on its outer wrappers. The inner wrappers and cloves were still good. We set it aside to use quickly, and we have enough good garlic to plant and store. The bush beans had some kind of blight. I pulled the worst affected plants and thought we’d lose the rest; we bought a half-bushel of beans from the Amish to can. I pruned septoria-spotted leaves off the tomatoes.
Then the rain came. In the third week of July, when James was here to help, we got over 3 inches. Since then we’ve kept getting small rains; I don’t have to water most days. The bean plants perked up. We’ve canned 28 quarts, all we want; Kevin and Billie Joe picked some to take home, and now we’re sending beans to the soup kitchen. Many tomatoes cracked, but they kept ripening. We’re canning and drying tomatoes, hoping to get all we want before fungi kill the plants. Cukes and squash bore heavily in the dry season thanks to frequent drip irrigation and they’re still bearing well. Greens are thriving—we’ve had lots to eat and share. We’ve been freezing eggplant and will start freezing peppers. Onions are sizing up.
The rain came too late for the wild raspberries and many of the wild blackberries. I picked 3 gallons of blueberries to freeze at the local u-pick, and I’m still getting some wild blackberries (5 quarts so far.) We’ve frozen all the apples and canned all the applesauce we want, and Zach has started making cider.
Early in June we sold Dora and bought a younger goat. Nan (short for Rocinante) is a tall skinny doe who matches us. She settled in nicely with our other goat, Amada, except that Amada ran a fever. The vet said Amada might have caught pneumonia from Nan, who might have caught it on the long trip between her old farm and our place. Antibiotics cleared that up. The goats have also had trouble with mange and worms as heat and humidity stress their immune systems. I’ve used herbal treatments; the mange is gone, the worms are under control, and we still have enough milk to use and to make cheese for ourselves and the soup kitchen. The rain has refreshed the goat pastures as well as the weeds we feed the rabbits—both goats and rabbits seem to be glad of the change. I am glad of the rain too, and I am grateful for the people who help with the work, enjoy the food, and help me see this place through new eyes.
Maintenance by Zachary
This summer has been busier than I had anticipated. The barn we live in was built with arched laminated beams so the roof is a continuous curve. The shingles on the front side were put on in the late 1990s before we arrived, and Dan and I shingled the back in 2002. I have been monitoring the shingles on the front side and planning to replace them when they began to deteriorate, probably in the next few years. This spring we had a couple of small leaks in the chapel on the back side of the roof, and I found that even though these shingles were not as old they were starting to curl up at the edges and allow water in through the nail holes. I spent about 6 weeks working on the back half of the roof from June into July. We had a lot of dry weather which helped with the roof but was hard on the gardens and other growing things. Last time I shingled this roof I had help from Dan on the lower sections, and we only had to put shingles over the existing roll roofing. This time I was working alone except for one day when a visitor helped, and I had to tear off the old roofing down to the wood deck, put underlayment over it and put on the new shingles. Our local lumberyard was having a sale on shingles, and they delivered them. I hauled the more than 4 tons of old roofing to the dump in the trailer. I’ll keep an eye on the shingles on the front, and am thinking of replacing them next summer. It’s good to replace them before they begin to leak, but there’s also no sense in replacing them before it’s necessary. We have all the scaffolding and ladders that are needed to work on the roof, but it’s slow going.
During the roof saga I took a couple of days in June to bring in our hay, which is not hard since we only need about 150 bales for the year. With the dry weather it was easy to get the hay in, but the grass was much shorter and thinner than usual so I cut a larger area to get what we needed. After the roof was done I started cutting the rest of the fields, which we do once a year to keep them from growing up to brush. I was just starting around the edge of the second one when I ran over a sharp stump that punctured one of the rear tires on my tractor. At first I couldn’t think how that bush had gotten cut at an angle like that, but then I realized that I must have cut it last year with the hay mower which pushes woody plants over and then cuts them. I will need to remember to stay a bit further away from the edges of the fields with the tractor when cutting. The tires on that tractor were old and somewhat rotten, from sometime around the 1950s or 60s, and I had gotten 8 years of use out of them after I bought them on a parts tractor, so they didn’t owe me anything. The tractor now has new rear tires which I hope will last a good long time. I mounted the first one right away and the other one will have to wait till I have more time in the fall.
Lumber sales have been good this summer. While I was working on the roof the loft got pretty nearly empty but now I have had time to partially restock. I’ve been cutting dead and dying trees this summer in areas that are easy to reach. Once I get caught up a bit I’ll start working in more remote parts of the woods again.
In early June I built a new outdoor shower out of lumber from a fallen aspen tree and put together a new solar hot water coil. This time I put a coil of black hose inside an old window unit and put a back on it, unlike the old coil which was just a piece of black plastic pipe on a frame. The water gets hotter with this system since it’s enclosed under glass, and though there is a lot less capacity in this coil than the larger old one it provides enough hot water for a shower since it has to be mixed with cold water to be comfortable. It also retains heat longer. The old coil would be back to ambient temperature within 20 minutes of the sun leaving it, but this box will retain hot water for at least a couple of hours. Also the new coil can be placed at ground level at an angle to point toward the sun, while the old coil had to be up on the roof to get enough heat.
By the time this newsletter gets printed I intend to remove the porch railings on the house and redo the bottom part of the columns. During September and October I have several projects to get done that were set back by the roof job. ARISE has asked me to build three ramps in this end of the county, and I also need to complete the sugar house, repair the boiler chimney and rebuild the back woodshed roof before the snow gets here.
This fall September stayed hot and humid, October turned cold and wet, and November is continuing the same. We took one golden day in the Adirondacks, paddling the Moose River and picnicking on its banks. We fitted in the outdoor work as well as we could and got out for walks in the brief periods when the sun shone or the stars were visible. While natural disasters pile up and refugees flee from wars and famine, our country and even our churches seem unable to agree on basic facts or work together to solve problems. Trying to keep my balance in the chaos of this time, I read a quote from St. Francis— “What is it that stands higher than words? Action. What is it that stands higher than action? Silence.” So I take heart in the work of the farm, the blessings that can be shared, and the silence where all of it rests in God’s loving hands. Joanna keeps bringing in the harvest and we take some to the Community Cupboard in Pulaski, send some to the soup kitchen in Lacona. Zachary takes a basket of farm produce to the man who needed a wheelchair ramp and help with odd jobs. Our gleaner is especially glad to take garlic for its health benefits as well as flavor. Another friend takes herbs and vegetables to juice now that he can’t eat much solid food. In glass jars I make tiny woods gardens with Christmas fern, partridgeberry, sweet woodruff, various mosses and colorful fungi on twigs—one for me and one for Marge.
Visitors still find the farm a place of peace. Some walk with us, enjoying the sound of the brook and discovering hidden corners of the farm. Donna likes to sing country songs while Joanna plays guitar and Zach plays banjo. Marge borrows books and enjoys nature walks and fiddle tunes. Emily plays the cello for us. Hope brings supper and stories, takes home elderberry pie and ricotta cheese. Sarah compares gardening notes with Jo and gets woodworking help from Zach. Sam and Stella, here to pick up a washtub bass and a marimbula Zach had built for them, shared lunch and stories about their ministry in Tennessee. Kelly stopped by with stories about her summer interning on a farm in Oregon and plans to help with community gardens and train to do literacy work. Nate writes from Missoula that he’s discovering the joys of working with his hands to earn his living and is visiting Bitterroot Catholic Worker Farm to help out on weekends. Tom wrote from NYC that he’s planting our garlic in his reclaimed garden and that he shared my jar of dried lavender and balsam fir with a woman in emotional distress. “Do few things but do them well, simple joys are holy,” Francis of Assisi tells us.
This year again we count our blessings, what we’ve been given and what we’ve been able to give. As the days grow short and the wind rises and the rain mixes with sleet and snow, we are aware of mistakes made, opportunities missed, the puniness of our efforts and abilities. In the midst of the darkness, Advent begins, reminding us “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” ~ Francis of Assisi —by Lorraine
Sedan Chair and Chariot by Marge
It gives me a great deal of personal pleasure to have the opportunity to write about a most enjoyable experience at St. Francis Farm. I will pluralize the word ‘experience’ because it has occurred several times, and I’m beginning to feel as though I should invest in a tiara or a turban at least to justify the way I feel.
Not long ago, (sounds like the beginning of a fairy tale) my good friends at the farm put their heads together and devised a sedan chair. At least that’s what we called it. This chair, a canvas affair, was mounted about midway between two long poles (which may have been stilts). My two lovely friends Joanna and Zach positioned themselves, one at each end between the poles, and as soon as I seated myself properly, we ‘lifted off.’ I think I may have let out at least a moderately loud ‘whoop,’ for I did feel like I was part whooping crane! But what a lovely ride! Of course, previous to my visit to the farm Zach had been industriously mowing the perimeters around and through areas for our passage. I couldn’t help but feel as if I weighed at least 500 pounds. It was quite laborious for them I’m sure, but the smiles never left their sweet faces! God bless them both.
It seems that an accumulation of various odds and ends were being saved for who knows what, and sure enough an ‘ingenious craftsman’ one day retrieved from this collection an old axle with a pair of wheels with tires, a long hollow pipe, and who knows what else. So with much labor, pondering, measuring, cutting and welding the chariot was born.
It was a very comfortable arrangement with a padded back on the seat. The arms are very sturdy and were made with new lumber and sanded to a satin smoothness and there is even a foot rest. The long pipe runs along under the arm of the chair and extends for maybe eight feet or so—then a shorter piece is welded on at a 90-degree angle and thus serves as a steering device for the Charioteer himself!
And what a lovely ride through the beautiful forest—past ponds and along streams and beautiful growing things. I feel as though all this was shared with me as a gift, for me to keep and remember for always. I was and still am and always will be overwhelmed by the loving care and time.
Community and Connection by Joanna
St. Paul reminds us that “we are members one of another.” I believe this, though I am discouraged by how often we forget this and do each other harm. November’s short gray days make it easier for me to focus on what is wrong in my soul and my community and my neighborhood, and the cold wet weather drives me inside to work near the radio with its constant reminders of suffering and injustice. But Thanksgiving reminds us to look at the things that are true, honest, just, pure and lovely, and Advent reminds us that the light shines in darkness and is not extinguished. In our midwinter reflection time we may discern ways to foster more constructive connections.
At monthly meetings of the Pulaski Community Services Task Force, people from different local helping organizations come together to talk about our work, the resources we’re aware of, and the needs we don’t know how to meet. So many problems seem intractable: the lack of emergency shelters, of long-term affordable housing, and of public transportation; the lengthening wait times for people struggling with mental health issues; the rapidly rising rate of addiction. We make progress in small ways. Often some groups are trying to get the word out about their services while others offering similar services are swamped with requests for help; people from those groups consider how they can share the load. Connections made at these meetings have helped me find actual help for neighbors struggling with high medical bills or with mental illness. I don’t know if we can find ways to work together on any of the larger issues that continue to frustrate us all.
This November my usual discouragement with the news has been compounded by the fear-mongering language around the election. People all across the political spectrum agreed that something shameful and terrible would happen if the Wrong People won. I am ashamed of my country treating asylum seekers as menacing invaders rather than neighbors in need of help, and ashamed of the spread of ugly racial rhetoric. I am afraid of the disasters caused by escalating climate change, afraid of the increase in hate crimes, and afraid of how easily we believe that the people who disagree with us are not only wrong but also evil and inferior.
Once again, the larger problem can seem hopeless, but some small lights are visible in the dark. This fall I joined an online group of American women committed to respectful dialogue. We came from different races, different classes and very different ideologies. Our conversations were often messy and uncomfortable—especially around race, immigration, and the Kavanaugh hearings–but they were conversations not shouting matches. When things became tense the moderators reminded us to listen, ask open-ended questions, and speak about the experiences which shaped our convictions. I don’t think positions were changed, but I think we managed to see the pain and the goodness in people with whom we disagreed passionately. Seeing this doesn’t resolve our problems, but it gives us a better basis for coping with them constructively. That online forum shut down soon after the midterms. Here at the farm we’re considering whether it’s possible to bring local people together for this kind of listening, discussing our differences openly while seeing and strengthening the light in each other.
This rainy fall has put me behind where I had hoped to be. ARISE asked me to build three ramps this summer while I was shingling the barn roof. In September I was caught up enough on farm jobs to build ramps. The first took a day and a half to build since the house was further off the ground so the ramp had to be longer, but the last two were easy one-day jobs. One of the ramps is for someone who lives alone, and I have gone a couple of times to do small jobs there and will go again to shovel the roof if we get a lot of snow this winter.
During October I got back to building the new sugar house, which I had begun in March. All I had left was to frame and cover the end wall, build the door and put in the window, put up the battens, fascia boards and soffits and build and install the cupola doors. Once the building was done I cut firewood to stack inside it for next spring. I got some ash tops from trees I cut a couple of years ago, and that wood should be ready to burn once it has been inside over the winter.
My other October project was to tear down and rebuild the auxiliary woodshed in the corner by the main woodshed. I built this about 12 years ago to store firewood for summer use in the boiler to provide domestic hot water. It had an almost flat roof because the main woodshed eaves came down to it on two sides and one of the other sides is the wall of the barn we live in. I have had trouble with this roof leaking from time to time. I redesigned the roof so that the top of it runs up to the top of the corridor roof of the woodshed, which gives it a 3/12 pitch or so. The main woodshed roof is still much steeper, but I think it should keep the water out much better. I also have built new doors and a new little piece of wall– the other three sides are still formed by existing buildings. As I write in mid-November I’ve begun filling the rebuilt shed and hope to have it full in another week or so.
While it’s been raining so much I have been cleaning up in the outbuildings, a fairly endless task that seems to be slowly making a difference. It was a pleasant surprise this fall when I took a close look at the boiler chimney and found that it actually doesn’t seem to need anything done to it, at least not right away. The clay flue has cracked where it sticks up beyond the blocks, but the damage doesn’t seem to extend down inside the chimney.
I had to take the chain saw to House Trucking again for engine work. It was rebuilt in the spring of 2011, but given how much work it does seven and a half years seems like a pretty good run. I bought a cheap piston and cylinder set online and put them in myself but was not successful. When I took it to House they were able to use that cylinder and just put in a higher quality piston. In August I bought a package deal of 5 Gravely two-wheel walk behind tractors and several implements. I have sold both of the walk behind sickle bar mowers I had bought before and am hoping to get two or three of the Gravelys running by spring. I think they’ll be handy for mowing in the orchard and pastures and for blowing snow.
Agriculture Update by Joanna
Through late October and early November I scurried to get crops in and beds cleared and mulched between showers. Now the rain has turned to snow, the harvest is in, the ‘winter garden’ in our greenhouse is thriving, and I have time to look back on the frustrations and satisfactions of the growing season and to give thanks.
When the September newsletter went out I was glad for rain after a dry spring and early summer. The rain spurred growth in both vegetables and funguses that attack them. The tomato plants died of fungal diseases, but not until we’d canned 81 quarts and dried 19 for ourselves and given lots of tomatoes away. The cukes and squash bore heavily and then succumbed to powdery mildew in September. Onions should sit in a dry airy place for two weeks after harvest, but this year high humidity hindered curing. We gave away or chopped and froze what needed to be used quickly and stored the others in the attic as usual. The bush beans had fungal problems, but we canned all we wanted, and Kevin and Billie Joe came and picked after that. We grew a mix of pole bean varieties on a net behind the new barn; those stayed fungus-free, and we enjoyed their different shapes and colors.
Some crops simply throve. We had all the peppers, lettuce, chard and kale we wanted for our own use and plenty to share. Three hundred pounds of potatoes are stored in our root cellar and pantry. We packed nine 5-gallon pails with carrots for the winter, sent carrots with all the visitors who were willing to take them, and sent the rest to the Lacona soup kitchen. This was our best year yet for broccoli; our new variety, Gypsy, tolerated weather fluctuations well, giving us good main heads and plenty of side shoots. The eggplant bore heavily in the sustained heat of August and September and kept going until we had a hard freeze. We ate eggplant sandwiches every week, put eggplant into stir-fries and casseroles, froze 44 eggplants, and gave eggplants to everyone who’d take them.
We didn’t get the rabbit litters we expected this fall; one doe wouldn’t breed in the heat, the other had only one kit. I’m not sure if they were suffering from heat sterility or if I’d let them get too fat. (It’s amazing how much weight rabbits can put on when they’re just eating fresh green stuff and hay.) I’m keeping a closer eye on their weights now and we’ll try again in spring. The goats’ mange has cleared up and they are giving us enough milk for cheese- making. Changing seasons affects milkfat and acidity, requiring me to adjust my mozzarella recipe—we had one batch of gelatinous ‘cheese product’ that was neither sliceable nor grateable, though it tasted good in lasagna. I asked advice online, and my last couple of mozzarellas turned out well. Bandit the pig grew well, though not quite as large as her predecessor. Our pullets started laying eggs late in August, and now we have plenty for our own use and some to give away. Even on days of pouring rain or wet snow the hens are out in the yard pecking and scratching.
I hope to improve some things next year, but overall I am grateful for good work and all those who have helped with it, for good food and for all those who have enjoyed it.
Please and Thank You
Please help us with our mailing lists–let us know if you want to change how you receive your newsletter (email or paper) or if you want us to stop sending it to you. You can also help us with our annual review and planning by providing feedback on our newsletters, website and Facebook page. This winter we look forward to hearing from our gleaners about their memories of the farm from the 1990‘s. We’d welcome your perspective on our mission and your stories of your history with the farm.
Thanks to all who have supported the farm with your presence, prayers and donations. Please let us know if you need a record of donations for tax purposes. We hope that, however you celebrate the holy days, you will take some time for silence, get out some nights to look at the stars, make some music with family or friends, light candles and tell old stories. You don’t need an Advent wreath or the ‘right’ color candles. We just need to stop sometimes and let the stress and hurry and worry fall away so we can hear the still, small voice saying “be not afraid”. “Lord, help me to live this day, quietly, easily. To lean upon Thy great strength, trustfully, restfully. To wait for the unfolding of Thy will, patiently, serenely. To meet others, peacefully, joyously. To face tomorrow, confidently, courageously.” –Francis of Assisi