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Final Edition–April 2022
Transition update by Joanna
This is St. Francis Farm’s last newsletter. I will miss this place and this work. I am grateful for the twenty-one years we’ve had here, for the help we’ve had in dealing with the complexities of closing down, and for the good work that will go on here after we are gone. Refugee and Immigrant Self-Empowerment (RISE) has agreed to receive the land and use it for their Syracuse Refugee Agricultural Program (SyRAP), which provides training and land access for farmers as well as community garden space. Their work is described more fully in Lucy’s article below.
When we realized that St Francis Farm Community’s work was ending and we needed to turn the land over to another nonprofit, we had two hopes for the land: that it would continue to be used as a sustainable resource, and that it would be used by/for people who were sometimes denied access to resources. We reached out to the Onondaga Nation and the Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust first, and then in late summer 2021 to various other organizations, including one that works with refugee farmers—but unfortunately not to SyRAP, because we didn’t know about them. As the months passed many groups expressed interest but none felt able to take on the land.
We have seen the land as a rich resource in this money-poor community, but its resources don’t always register with groups used to looking at everything in terms of money. Many organizations saw potential liability issues and were daunted by the cost of hiring someone to do the land-work and run programs. The lawyers who gave us a free hour of consultation said that nobody in the nonprofit world wants land these days, that money is the needful thing. But they also referred us to the Central New York Community Foundation, which referred us to RISE, and RISE’s people saw the richness we had seen here. SyRAP staff have returned several times to walk in the fields and woods, look at the orchards and the sawmill, watch our sugaring process, etc, and it’s clear that they are used to feeding soil and keeping land healthy and productive. They’ve also been interested in what we can tell them about the wildlife here.
In this time when so many people are displaced, I am especially glad that this land will go to refugees. I am grateful that I can leave this beloved place in good hands and go to a safe and good place where I want and am allowed to be. I think of the people who have to leave their beloved places in haste and fear, seeking refuge in places where their welcome is uncertain and where the language and the laws as well as the climate and the manners are unfamiliar. I hope that this land will be a good grounding and healing place for SyRAP farmers. I hope, also, that our neighbors and the people who supported the work of St Francis Farm will make them welcome.
We’re still working through the legal process of transferring the land. When our last newsletter went out I was feeling daunted about that. I’d reached out to the Office of the NYS Attorney General following the directions given on their website and I’d gotten no response. The lawyers said it might take months to get our plan of dissolution and transfer of assets approved, and it might take longer if we didn’t hire lawyers with personal connections to the Attorney General’s office. But they also let me know that instead of reaching out to the state Attorney General’s office directly I needed to contact a local office, and they gave me contact information for assistant Attorney General Timothy Mulvey. When I contacted Mr. Mulvey it turned out that he had known and admired Father Ray McVey, and he was very understanding of our wish to hand our assets over to another organization that did good work without having to spend a lot of those assets on legal fees. He answered my many questions patiently, acknowledged that various parts of the free information offered on the state website were outdated or otherwise incorrect, and gave me the correct information. He also approved our plan to transfer our assets to RISE within two weeks of my submitting it. I am very grateful for his time and patience. He is the only outside official who has to approve the transfer, so now we can give the land to RISE once they have completed some paperwork from their end. The rest is just a matter of filling in official forms after we actually transfer the property, which will happen when Zach and Lorraine are ready to move into their new home.
I will be gone by then. From May 27 to mid-August I will be at Koinonia Farm in Georgia as a summer intern; if all goes well I can apply for a yearlong internship at the end of that term. Before I go I will help Lorraine tend our very limited plantings here, and I’ll clear and cover crop the rest of the garden beds so they’ll be in good shape for SyRAP’s community garden next year. I’ll also finish assembling documents about St Francis Farm to submit to the Catholic Worker archives at Marquette University.
Two of the local community projects I started will continue after we’re gone. Elizabeth Weimer of the Office for the Aging will convene the Pulaski Community Services Task Force, where representatives from county agencies, schools, law enforcement, nonprofits, churches, and volunteer groups meet monthly along with interested community members to discuss attempts to meet the needs of struggling folks in northern Oswego County. Shawn Doyle of the Rural and Migrant Ministry is coordinating community Screen-Free Week celebrations this year. I am grateful for their work.
Thank you, all of you who have supported St Francis Farm with volunteer help and donations, letters, and prayers so we could live an alternative to the consumer culture here and be present to our neighbors. These twenty-one years have been a gift to me. I look forward to carrying my learnings and questions from this place into a new life at Koinonia. I hope that you also are finding support and guidance as you follow your callings. I hope and pray that the next keepers of this land will be helped and sustained as we have been.
The Holy Spirit is at work not only in durable institutions which last through the centuries. He is at work also in ventures that have no future, which have always to be begun again.– Jacques Maritain
Introduction to RISE and SyRAP By Lucy Spence
My name is Lucy, and I am the Program Director of the Syracuse Refugee Agricultural Program (SyRAP), a program of Refugee and Immigrant Self Empowerment (RISE). We are delighted to be moving on to the land at St Francis Farm. SyRAP has been searching for land to call our own for some time now and this offer from Lorraine, Joanna and Zach came at the most opportune time. Although significant changes are coming for both the land and our program, we believe that great things will emerge.
RISE started in 2004 as the Somali Bantu Community Association. This ethnic community-based organization was born out of the common need of Somali Bantu refugees to have collective assistance with tutoring their children who were just starting out in the United States school system. From what began as living room meetings, RISE expanded to a physical location in 2012, and in 2014 grant funding allowed RISE to begin to hire part time staff members. Since then, RISE has expanded even more, realizing that refugees and immigrants from different countries all required the same services post-resettlement.
Now RISE has five different programs that operate many different services. The case management department works with clients to help find employment and fill out complicated paperwork for citizenship, social security, etc. Case management also oversees a program to aid individuals with home buying, car buying, starting a business, etc. The care management program assists clients with chronic illnesses in navigating the convoluted healthcare system in the US. The education department serves elementary aged children up through college-aged young adults with summer camps, after-school tutoring, empowerment programs, learning English as a new language and more. Most recently, RISE has opened a resettlement department to begin offering resettlement services in addition to these post-resettlement services. RISE was able to assist with the recent refugee crisis unfolding from Afghanistan by resettling 50 individuals and will soon be receiving more cases. Last but not least is the agriculture program.
RISE and St Francis Farm are in frequent collaboration as we continue to work on making this transfer official through the spring and early summer. Currently our goal is to transfer the program onto the land for the 2023 growing season, to ensure proper planning time for a successful first season at this new location.
As we make plans for this land, we have some programs that we plan on continuing and other activities that we are looking forward to starting. We will continue to have incubator plots of land that farmers can grow on and provide improved support to individuals electing to ramp up production to increase sales. The mushroom production, maple syrup production, and use of the apple orchard will be continued by staff members and farmers in the program. While these are areas that we have not delved into before we are looking forward to exploring these agricultural activities alongside SyRAP farmers.
Up to this point we have not had the permanent land with a live-in caretaker necessary to have livestock. The program participants are ecstatic at the opportunity to have their own meat goats and laying hens at the farm. This ability to allow farmers to farm exactly what and how they want is moving the SyRAP program more in line with our mission of helping people improve their own food sovereignty in a culturally appropriate manner.
Lastly, a goal at this farm will be to increase marketing opportunities. The way this will be done is still being explored, but we are looking forward to being able to sell produce to both the refugee and immigrant communities of Syracuse and the US-born population in the area. Please be on the lookout for how to support this venture in the future if you are interested in purchasing local, naturally grown vegetables. If you are interested in learning more about RISE, we will be having our annual fundraiser virtually on April 28th. More information can be found here or by going to the RISE website refugeeandimmigrant.org.
Other ways to learn about and support RISE’s work:
Volunteers are welcome to help RISE with farming projects, either at St Francis Farm or closer to Syracuse. In addition to financial contributions, RISE could use donations of newish baby items for refugee families. To help in either of these ways, contact Lucy Spence at email@example.com
There’s a sign-up form for RISE’s newsletter on the home page of their website. If that doesn’t work for you, contact Lucy at the address above.
This winter was pretty quiet, and we made progress on some of the things that need to be done before we go. I didn’t cut a lot of lumber, but I did have some maple from a tree that the town cut down along the roadside. It’s one that we used to tap for maple syrup, but in recent years half of the top had died and partly broken off, so it was a danger to traffic. Early in January when the ground froze I was able to skid the logs to the mill, and I cut some of them into boards then and some in March. Now we have some maple and a little ash left in the loft, and I will try to sell what remains before I go so it’s out of the way for the new people.
We tried to make syrup for a last time this late winter and early spring, but it was by far the worst syrup year we have ever had. I think the problem was with the weather. It seemed to either stay above or below freezing day and night for periods of several days at a time, so very little sap was produced. As of this writing at the end of March we have produced about half of what we would in a normal year, and the season seems to be coming to an end.
The snow came late and melted early this winter, though the temperatures were more sustainedly cold than usual. I didn’t even get the snow blower put on the tractor till early January, and by mid-March almost all of the snow was melted. This made things easier in some ways, and means I can get a quicker start on outside work this spring. There is much less outside work for me to do here this year than usual, because the new people are not planning to continue burning wood in the boiler, so there is no reason to fill the woodshed. This normally takes me about 2 weeks worth of good weather, so it will be nice not to have to do that. The rabbit equipment has been sold and between that and not refilling the woodshed and the emergency wood pile in the new building there is a lot of room free in the outbuildings.
I didn’t go to Piercefield to work on the house from late November till mid-March, when I went up for a day to finalize the site plan for the workshop and get started on a few things. I’ve been buying materials that I’ll need for repairing the house when I could find them available cheaply and storing them here, till I get going up there again. I have not been able to find a mason to repair the foundation but a very kind person who has been a friend of the farm for many years has advised me that I can probably do it myself, and how to go about it. The electrician who was going to put in a new service entrance and panel has faded away, so I am going to do that work too. All of this means less money spent, but more time. I bought a retired mini school bus in an online auction and will be using that to transport materials during the repair phase, and to move our belongings when the house is ready to live in. During the next few months I am planning to travel back and forth each week to work on the house up there for a few days at a time, and to come back and do whatever needs doing here. I don’t anticipate any large projects here, just caretaker type of jobs like mowing the lawns and the garden paths, continuing to clean up and sort out accumulated messes in the outbuildings, and making some new convertible benches/picnic tables to replace the rotting ones.
Our time here is rapidly drawing to a close, and the place will be used for a new and larger mission. I’m very glad that Joanna was able to find a group that was interested in using the land and the buildings, and I hope that they will find what they are looking for here. Certainly there is a lot of potential to do a lot of different kinds of things here, and I hope that a larger group can make a more full use of it than we have been able to in our time. The woods and fields and streams are also very beautiful, and I hope that the people who are coming will have time to enjoy them.
Hope and Gratitude by Lorraine
We’ve been here nearly twenty-one years and written over eighty newsletters, so what can I say in this final one? I’ve enjoyed meeting folks from SyRAP and look forward to seeing them more before I leave. I’m looking forward to a very last spring at the farm and hoping my energy holds up for the work ahead in these next few months. What words could express my gratitude for the blessings we’ve found here?
RISE wanted the farm to grow SyRAP, their agriculture program. But Lucy also came this winter and picked up toys and books for their work with children and blankets, dishes, etc for their refugee resettlement work. Zach took bookcases down to the RISE office in Syracuse, and other things will be taken where they can best be used. I’m pleased that so much can be passed on instead of discarded. And I like to think of refugee children coming to enjoy nature and helping grow food.
Spring started early, allowing me to clear old growth in my herb and flower gardens a bit at a time in March. Winter has returned for a few days, but when the temperature rises and the snow is gone, it will be time to start dividing perennials to share and to take with me to Piercefield. I’ve started some seeds in the greenhouse and we planted a few snow peas and snap peas in the garden and greens in a cold frame. I’m only going to plant one bed in the garden, limiting myself to what I can tend once Joanna is gone and Zach is often be away working on his house.
Often all we’ve been able to do seem like such little things, and as my energy dwindles what I do gets even smaller. But then I remember how what others called little things were such blessings through these years. The meals that Hope brought when I was tired of cooking, her stories and her connections with refugees. The letters that came with words of encouragement or understanding. The practical help with the everyday work. Brother Tom’s visits—his help in understanding the ‘farm economy’ and history, his practical knowledge of pruning and welding. Dave MacWilliams fixing so many things that were broken and teaching Zach how to do the repairs himself. Times when, facing a difficulty I didn’t know how to handle, I hoped someone was praying for us and knew that they were. So I will keep doing what I can and trust that God will supply what is needed.
Please keep praying for us and for those who come after us, that this farm will continue to be a place of peace and blessing. Come for herb or flower divisions, or come to help in the gardens and maintain the paths, or just to say good-by. So many people have entered our life for a little while and then lost touch. I’m glad to be done with writing the newsletter, but I like getting letters and answering them. Thank you for your prayers and support and for sharing your lives with us.
Excerpts from Pope Francis’ Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 26 September, 2021:
Our “we”, both in the wider world and within the Church, is crumbling and cracking due to myopic and aggressive forms of nationalism and radical individualism… And the highest price is being paid by those who most easily become viewed as others: foreigners, migrants, the marginalized, those living on the existential peripheries.
The truth however is that we are all in the same boat and called to work together so that there will be no more walls that separate us, no longer others, but only a single “we”, encompassing all of humanity…
Today’s migration movements offer an opportunity for us to overcome our fears and let ourselves be enriched by the diversity of each person’s gifts. Then, if we so desire, we can transform borders into privileged places of encounter, where the miracle of an ever wider “we” can come about….
I invite all men and women in our world to make good use of the gifts that the Lord has entrusted to us to preserve and make his creation even more beautiful… In order to ensure the proper care of our common home, we must become a “we” that is ever wider and more co-responsible… Ours must be a personal and collective commitment that cares for all our brothers and sisters who continue to suffer, even as we work towards a more sustainable, balanced and inclusive development. A commitment that makes no distinction between natives and foreigners, between residents and guests, since it is a matter of a treasure we hold in common, from whose care and benefits no one should be excluded.
Keeping In Touch
We’ll keep the firstname.lastname@example.org email address for some months after the farm closes. New posts will appear regularly on our Facebook page, and occasional updates on our website homepage, until Joanna leaves in late May. We won’t renew St Francis Farm’s website next year, but former site content will still be available on the Wayback Machine. To access this, visit web.archive.org and type stfrancisfarm.org into the search bar.
We’d be glad to hear from you after we’ve moved into the next stage of our lives. Here’s how to reach us:
Joanna’s email address is email@example.com. During her internship (at least from May 27 to August 14) paper mail addressed to Joanna Hoyt at Koinonia Farm, 1324 GA Highway 49 South, Americus, Georgia 31719, will reach her.
Lorraine and Zachary will move to Piercefield at some point this summer. They already have a post office box there, so mail addressed to PO Box 168, Piercefield, NY 12973, will reach them. After they move Zach’s cell phone, 315-405-1901, will be fully functional (it doesn’t get reception here at St Francis Farm.)
Nature Notes by Lorraine
Late in the winter Joanna and Zach walked at first light while I waited for fuller light so I could watch my footing. They saw mink several times (I only saw the tracks), an otter , and a fisher which Joanna was able to identify from the brief sight of him and from the tracks. We see mink or their tracks quite often, otter only rarely, and this was our first fisher.
We enjoyed frequent but light falls of snow, decorating every tree and weed and staying clean and white to glint in the sun and reflect the moonlight. At least a few bluebirds stayed through the winter, the robins are back and huge flocks of blackbirds have been flying over, but we’ve only seen one V of geese flying high and headed north.
Wood frogs and peepers were calling before the end of March and woodcocks were displaying around the March full moon. The cold and snow this last week of March has temporarily silenced them, but we expect to hear them again soon and to find the first wildflowers in the woods.
(Note: the wildflowers have started now and more bluebirds have returned)