by Bob Bartell
I first visited St. Francis Farm in the Fall of 2007. Since then, I have returned to visit each year. I continue to learn new things, think about new ideas, and enjoy the life the Hoyts allow me to be a part of.
I remember how nervous I was the first time I arrived. As I drove down the road and the farm came into view I considered driving by and going home. Stopping the car and getting out to meet these new people was something I had to force myself to do. Thankfully, the Hoyts noticed my nervousness, put me right to work, and were very kind and friendly. As we sat around the dinner table that night, holding hands and giving thanks silently, my nervousness had not disappeared but a balance was provided by a feeling of gladness. I wrote about the experiences of my first two visits in the December 2008 newsletter and I certainly don’t experience the same nervousness now. I do continue to experience a lasting and meaningful joy.
Each visit I have learned something new…whether in the garden, forest, kitchen, workshop, barn, chapel, orchard, pasture, or canoe. That learning which comes through being welcomed into the life of St. Francis Farm resulted in a deep and lasting knowledge…a wisdom, I suppose. I consider the Hoyts to be admirably wise people and the life they live the same. When I am there, I am in a place. Not a momentary visit on a journey to another destination, not a chance to observe and glean information, not a retreat from something, but a location alive with care and thought, creativity and honesty, contentment and peace. There, I continue to find real, right work. Work for the whole body, soul, and spirit. Some of it is physically demanding: turning compost, tossing firewood into a wagon, digging a ditch, and dragging logs. Some of it allows for good conversation and an immediate sense of the necessity of good food: gathering vegetables from the garden, helping with feeding and processing rabbits, gathering berries and mushrooms, picking and processing apples and hazelnuts, helping with canning and drying, feeding and moving the pigs. Some of the work has allowed me to be part of activities I normally would not encounter: helping to build a barn, using a sawmill, milking goats, putting up fence, making cheese, and driving a tractor. What I have experienced is work that is fulfilling because it is tough, necessary, creative, communal, and honest. This work is what I have carried back into my own place.
My visits with the Hoyts have helped shape my beliefs concerning the necessity of and fulfillment provided by purposeful thought and communication and the desire to take true stock of my life and make choices of health and honesty. I initially came to the Farm at a time in my life when I was searching for direction and truth. I wanted to consider what choices I was making and how they influenced the world around me, and to learn about the possibilities and ways that others had found meaningful. My visits to the Farm have been particularly helpful in answering and generating new questions in regards to the physical work of a homestead and also the interpersonal work of cultivating open and productive communication. I enjoy hearing about how the Hoyts work at communicating with each other and visitors and I have been encouraged to use a more direct and honest communication in my life at home. I return home from each visit, not just with the factual content of new information, but with the deeper feelings of meaning and direction.
These deeper feelings are made possible by honesty. All my visits to the Farm have been honest experiences. I have never felt pressured to perform or conform to some prior expectations. The questions I want to ask, I feel comfortable in asking, and thankful for the responses. Each visit I have been encouraged to bring up any areas I’m interested in learning about and there is invariably something going on that has been enjoyable and beneficial to be a part of. I have often thought about how easy it would have been for me to have missed out on all this if I had given into my fearful nervousness and driven by that first visit. I’m thankful I chose to stop and think and experience a life lived full of sense and sanity. I’m thankful for the life that exists at St. Francis Farm.
by Bob Bartell