I’ve been rereading Peter Maurin’s “easy essays” and listening to economic discussions on the radio and thinking about the economy of this farm. The Catholic Worker movement began in the depths of the Great Depression with Dorothy Day providing its voice with the newspaper and Peter Maurin proclaiming his vision of farms where workers would be scholars and scholars would be workers. For seventy-five years their work and vision has endured and now it seems more apt than ever.
In Maurin’s “Three Ways to Make a Living” he writes of stealing, begging and working. After saying that the former options violate the laws of God or man, he turns to work, which is against neither. Then as now there were many out of work and his essay ends:
that there is no work to do.
There is plenty of work to do,
but no wages.
But people do not need
to work for wages.
They can offer their services
as a gift.
That is the heart of the farm economy. Zach observed a few days ago that while we don’t get paid, we don’t have to worry about being laid off. And when people ask us what we need, the answer is most often “more hands to help with the work”. The work done provides food and firewood, buildings and toys, a place of peace and beauty.
Work to provide for basic needs was half of Maurin’s vision for Catholic Worker farms; the other half was education or clarification of thought. From the early 90’s St. Francis Farm hosted numerous groups of college and high school students who came for a week to learn and to serve the rural poor. In recent years visiting groups often describe the experience as valuable but very challenging, different from what they had expected. As we try to communicate clearly so expectations more closely match reality, fewer groups from far away come to the farm. More local folks come to help and to learn, and we still welcome groups or individuals from around the country or the world to work and learn with us. Maurin’s “Professors of a Farming Commune” describes that experience:
Professors of a Farming Commune
do not look for endowments;
they look for manual labor.
Professors of a Farming Commune
do not tell their students
what to do;
they show them
how to do it.
Professors of a Farming Commune
do not enable their students
to master subjects;
they enable them
to master situations.
Professors of a Farming Commune
do not teach their students
how to make
they teach them
how to realize
Over our years here visitors and concerned friends have raised the question of security. I have told them that security seems to me sometimes an illusion and sometimes a given, but always something that either no one can assume or all can trust. During this time of fear, whether of terrorists or economic crisis or environmental disaster, the life we’ve chosen seems easier to explain or defend. The farm is little affected by the crisis and has its own abundance and experience of simplicity, community, local economy to share with people looking for security and meaning. We carry on our simple work that Peter Maurin described as
“creating a new society
within the shell of the old
with the philosophy of the new,
which is not a new philosophy
but a very old philosophy,
a philosophy so old
that it looks like new.”
Think about your own life: which moments mattered most? Didn’t most of them entail being involved in something larger than yourself? Either out in the hugeness of the natural world, or working together with those around you toward some common end, often for no material gain?--from Deep Economy
by Bill McKibben (2007)
My Visit to St. Francis Farmby Mary Follett
Last Fall I had a chance to spend a few days at St. Francis Farm. Tramping through the fields and woods, watching the birds, listening to the water flowing in the stream, swinging in the swings Zachary had hung, and having the opportunity to try to get milk out of one of the goats (I had a goat at home on the farm I grew up on.) I was still able to get milk and Joanna quickly finished. It was wonderful to experience those childhood memories again.
In college I lived in a Co-op and part of our duties were helping in the kitchen. They were fun because they were shared just as we were invited to share with meal preparation at the farm. The meals are a real treat---delicious fresh vegetables simply prepared; fresh goat's milk and goat cheese; and Zachary's apple pie.
In the afternoon, I had a chance to browse thru some of the materials they use when working with the children in the community. It was interesting to imagine how exciting the children's visits to the farm must be. We spent the evening singing hymns and sharing life's experiences---getting quite a few laughs during that time. We saw pictures of newly hatched baby birds in the nest, flowers at their peak in the Spring, and other beautiful wildlife discovered at opportune times.
Life is close to nature at St. Francis Farm. The Hoyts constantly keeping up with modern technology and sharing their experiences with us all.
Mike Clark wrote about his weeks at the farm for our listing with WWOOF:
St. Francis Farm offers an alternative to the norms of our modern society. If you are looking for a model that offers a way to make a difference by living simply and with meaning, then this is a great place to explore. You will be living and working with a pleasant, hard working family--3 of the kindest people I have ever met. They offer the opportunity to learn as much as you want about small scale farmsteading. From starting off your day with the silence of reflection to the hearty morning meals where each day is planned out, the rhythm of the day is set. While I was there I was involved with timber harvesting, milling logs, raising a barn, working in the vegetable garden, peeling apples for canning and freezing, grinding rolled oats for flour, canning tomatoes, milking goats, learning to make soft goat milk cheese, the fine art of driving a tractor, and tending to pigs and chickens. The work is hard and tiring and the meals are hearty and delicious. The best part of the farm is that the family is working as hard as you are each and every day. For someone interested in a homestead model that is really working and wanting to learn many of the necessary skills that a successful homestead needs, I highly recommend St. Francis Farm.For more information on WWOOF see “Resources’’ below
Be Still and Knowby Joanna
Our mission is to live an alternative to the consumer culture and to help others simplify their lives. One important aspect of simplicity is slowing down enough to know ourselves and our communities, to pay attention to the natural world, to be still and know God. We’re encouraging our neighbors to do this during Turnoff Week, April 20-26, a nationally organized opportunity to unplug the television and stop using recreational electronics and consider what is really desirable and valuable. We’re working with local community groups and churches to spread the word about Turnoff Week and to organize alternative activities. We’re happy to help others who would like to organize Turnoff Week observances in their communities.
Turnoff Week, first observed in 1995, is organized by the Center for Screentime Awareness and sponsored by the National Education Association, American Medical Association, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and various churches. The premise of Turnoff Week is that people don’t realize how much control electronic media have over their lives until they step back. The Center for Screentime Awareness writes, “We recognize that TV, computers, and other video technology are here to stay. But we are suggesting that our nation’s habit of some seven hours per day is unhealthy for us as individuals and as a society. And we’re suggesting that by cutting way back on our screen-time, we can all enjoy many rewards... [People] can’t be truly “media literate” unless they can step away from the screen and see it in the bright light of reality.”
Though our life at the farm deliberately excludes TV and limits screen-time, we notice how electronics fill many people’s lives and crowd out basic necessities. Local families who say they can’t afford decent housing or school supplies have cell phones, video games and cable TV. Visiting students who say they don’t have time to eat real meals, get enough sleep, pray, read books or get involved in community projects watch TV and visit YouTube daily and talk incessantly about their favorite video clips and commercials.
The crowding out of essential things may be the most obvious effect of this culture’s electronic addiction, but it is not the only one. As people spend more and more time passively watching other people do things they do less and less themselves; they lose competence and the sense of community that comes from shared work and play. As they spend more time with quickly changing electronic images they find it harder to slow down enough to observe the seasons changing or get to know the local birds and plants. As they grow accustomed to sound bites they find it harder to concentrate on complex issues. As they grow accustomed to commercials they find it harder to accept that some of their problems will not have quick and easy solutions.
These concerns prompted us to organize Turnoff Week activities. We’ve already made connections with people from the local public library, high school, health center, churches and community groups. Together we’ll put articles in the local newspaper, speak at the school and distribute Turnoff Week information to students. We’ll also offer community activities including craft classes, volunteer projects, nature walks and game nights. We hope that participants will find some real-life activities that satisfy them and will perhaps continue to take one day each week or each month for these activities.
These are small steps, and I also am susceptible to the wish for quick and spectacular success. But the only way back toward healing and growth that I know is very slow, small-scale and everyday. And it begins with slowing down and seeing what is real. “Be still, and know that I am God.”
For further information see “Resources” below
..in our modern society the constant background noise of the electronic media is perhaps the greatest deterrent to hearing God’s call in our lives.--Melissa Fisher & Jonathan Pyle
We have had an unusually long and unbroken winter thus far, which has created some difficulties in doing the maintenance jobs I had planned. Having the new barn to work in has made my jobs much easier and more pleasant than they would otherwise have been, especially in a winter like this. The old red wagon has had all of its wood replaced. It is now being used to store bits of wood to be burned when we make maple syrup this spring, and I plan to use it to hold slabs and scraps from the sawmill for removal to the woodshed. I am planning to put the summer chicken coop in for some work once I can get through the snow. I am planning to rebuild it completely from the axle up, and I am hoping to make it lighter and stronger. The coop has been in service for seven years now and has been damaged by winds on a couple of occasions. We built it largely from wood salvaged from snowmobile packing crates from a dealer in Pulaski. That was a good and inexpensive method at the time, but the wood has not weathered well and now we have our own supply of lumber from the sawmill.
Keeping the tractor in the barn has helped make plowing the snow easier as the tractor stays dry and is easier to start. The front-end loader that we bought for it has made snow removal much easier than our old method using a back blade, and we are able to make higher snowbanks. The town of Orwell kindly came by with their big loader a couple of weeks ago and cleared out a lot more space in our parking area. I have just rebuilt the carburetor and cleaned out the radiator of the tractor, and I will need to do some work on the brakes soon. That will involve removing the rear wheels which will be a difficult procedure as the tires have been filled with calcium chloride solution and each wheel therefore weighs several hundred pounds.
We have recently been bringing the hardwood lumber that was stacked outside into the loft of the new barn and stacking it there where it will really dry thoroughly. I have been edging the lumber that was not finished as we go so that it will take up less room. The table saw transmission cable has broken off inside and I am going to convert the saw to belt drive, which is a much better system anyway. To replace the cable would cost about as much as the saw is worth, but we have pulleys and I think it should be a fairly easy alteration. I am looking forward to starting to saw logs again when the snow melts far enough to make that possible.
In December we made toys for the refugee center which we delivered on the 18th. One new toy in particular was popular with the staff and we will make more this year. It is a series of ramps with a little articulated wooden car that rolls down them and makes a rattling sound. It is also a good way for us to use up some of the little scraps of wood that are left from other projects, because each toy needs seven little ramps.
We have been having some trouble again lately with our wood boiler and it seems to require further cleaning of the air vents. I am hopeful that eventually we will be able to figure out what is needed to get it to work more reliably. I have had, for the first time, to put a heat tape on one of the pipes in the basement of the farmhouse. It was freezing up and partially blocking the flow in the main water line that runs to the barn. I’ve had a little more work to do on the furnace in one of the trailers on the farm, but it seems to be doing better now. We only had to shovel the trailer roofs once so far this winter, which is unusual in my experience. It has been cold, but we’ve not had as much snow as in some years.
Bits & Pieces
Website. We’ve just done the annual revision and added links to new photos, to Unity Acres, and to the national Catholic Worker site. Also from the Visitors & Volunteers page there is a link to our summer program for children, Growing Season. We welcome your comments and suggestions.
Bad news/Good news. Shortly before Christmas our car was totaled when hit by a pick-up truck in Pulaski. No one was hurt and we were grateful to Steve Dickhout for driving down to rescue Zach and to his mother Loretta for loaning us her car until we found a replacement for ours. Communicating with the insurance companies was frustrating. We were unable to rent a car because we don’t fit neatly into any of the boxes, but we were able to buy a 2004 Subaru to replace our 1998 one and spent only a little more than what the insurance paid.
Help. Lorraine is looking for plants for her landscaping projects: sedums, artemisia, butterfly weed, butterfly bush. Joanna would like newspaper to put under mulch in garden paths. We could use more cross-country skis,poles& ski boots to share with neighbors and guests. We’re always looking for help with all aspects of the work. We are grateful for the prayers that sustain us and for the donated money that purchases the things we can’t make or grow. St. Francis Farm is a tax exempt non-profit corporation--let us know if you want a receipt.
Resources. More of Peter Maurin’s Easy Essays are available at the Catholic Worker website, along with a listing of CW communities and other useful pieces on CW philosophy and history. Their web address is www.catholicworker.org
Mike Clark (see article on page 2) encouraged us to become a host site with Worldwide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF, www.wwoof.org ). They offer opportunities for travel, volunteer work and learning about sustainable agriculture.
More info on Turnoff Week (see article on page 3) is available through the Center for Screentime Awareness, www.screentime.org, 202-333-9220, & the Center for Media Literacy, www.medialit.org/reading_room.html
Winter has its own beauty--the contours of hilly fields under snow, black branch patterns edged in white, ice lace borders on the brooks. When the daylight is short, snow reflects moonlight, even starlight, and shadows lie stark. One night when I stumbled down to the boiler room to put in wood at 2 a.m. the setting moon caught in the icicles covering the garden room window so that they glittered like a cluster of candles. When the crust is hard with a little powder on top, we put on our skis right outside our door. We ski our regular loop, about a mile up hill and down, through the gaps in the stone walls from one hayfield to another. If the sun shines, the snow sparkles as if strewn with diamonds. Then sometimes we take to the woods or the low swampy places we seldom can explore. We see tracks, some familiar and some mysterious and hear chickadees and pileated woodpeckers. When we get back to the barn, we’re warmer and somehow less tired than before we set out.
Spring came early after what already felt like a very long winter. We set taps earlier than last year and planted peas earlier. The orioles were back early and the geese showed up on the main pond with four goslings on May 9. Every spring just when I want to be out looking for wildflowers and listening for frogs, many tasks suddenly need to be done immediately and visitors drop by more frequently. Sometimes life seems to be one long string of interruptions. Then the time we spend in prayer reminds us that we’ve already been given all that we need and brings the blessings of this life and work into focus.
For two weeks at the end of March and the beginning of April we had guests brought to us by Deacon Sweenie, a mother and 12 year old son from Mexico City. We had a chance to practice our Spanish and to rethink our assumptions about the differences between American visitors and those from other countries. These guests were bored without television, accustomed to much more meat and sweets than we eat, and not able or willing to help much with the various work we were doing. The boy enjoyed various toys we had brought with us or accumulated over the years, and mother and son flew kites one warm and windy day, a first for both of them. Another first they enjoyed was going out through the fields by moonlight to listen to spring peepers the night they started calling. They found the days we rejoiced in as warm quite cold, and they left just before winter took one last swipe at us, dropping six inches of snow on our newly planted peas.
So we started April with the return of cold and snow and with the discouragement that always comes when we have guests who don’t enjoy being here. The snow soon melted and the greening commenced. Hepatica bloomed in the woods and daffodils in our gardens. Two young women who work at one of the L’Arche houses in Syracuse came to spend their day off at the farm, helping in the gardens and walking in the woods. They enjoyed the work and the wildflowers and the meals and conversation and went home with herbs for the garden they were starting. In spite of an error in the announcement in the local paper, we had a few folks from the local community join us for a sunset walk during TurnOff Week. They had time to build birdhouses, listen to the frog chorus, enjoy the trillium and find salamanders before the clouds rolled in with the thunder and hail. Fr. Tony invited us to be his guests at the Unity Acres 40th anniversary celebration where we would meet the authors of No Problem, the book about Fr. McVey. We rode from Unity Acres to the state fairground on a school bus along with men and staff from the Acres and other folks from the north country. Tom McNamara had come for the celebration and had time for an overnight visit with us at the farm.
So we were no longer discouraged but a little tired and hurried with the spring garden work late in April when the youth probation officer called. She had a couple high school boys needing to do community service and wondered if we had work for them. We did! The first boy came after school and was courteous and helpful and very quiet his first day. His parents came to pick him up at 6 and his father saw the stilts leaning on the barn wall. By the time he’d tried them out (said it was 40 years since he’d been on stilts) and we’d all chatted they left seeming more relaxed and we headed in for supper. While we were cleaning up we heard voices in the doorway and there were Steve and Loretta, Fr. Jones and Peg. They had headed into the woods from Unity Acres to look at the trillium and ended up walking the more than a mile to the farm--a first for Peg. After they had rested and we’d finished our clean-up, we decided to accompany them back for our evening walk. They invited us in for their evening tea and cookies and by the time we started back to the farm with Steve, the stars were coming out and a quarter moon gave us just enough light to see our way along the woods road. In the middle of the woods the barred owls began calling, first from one side of the road, then the other.
Now it is mid-May and the boys will soon have completed their hours. We are grateful for their help and they seem to find the work more enjoyable than they had expected. They’ve asked lots of questions and learned new skills. I don’t know if we’ll see them at all when they have satisfied the court. I don’t know when we’ll next walk and talk and laugh with the folks from Unity Acres or when the young women from the L’Arche house will be back. But I know that help we’ve had this spring has freed up time for us to help out some of our elder friends. And even though some expected help never materialized, a few students from LeMoyne College are coming next week after their Habitat service trip was cancelled. And one of the men who came for the sunset walk is coming back tonight with his youth group to build birdhouses. Day by day my prayer is answered--that those who need this place will find it and that we will recognize the help we need when it comes. Even if it is not what we expected or thought we wanted. --by Lorraine
Ben Thivierge from Le Moyne College
When Beth and I read about St. Francis Farm we were expecting to be working hard and diligently in the fields and barn for long hours in the blazing hot sun. (Well, at least I was.) Upon arriving, we were set right to work (no rest for the weary), helping out, at first, in the garden weeding. From then on, we were only asked to do what we could, helping in any way. Sometimes we felt like we were barely doing anything, but looking at the bigger picture, and as Lorraine pointed out to us, we gave them the time and the chance to work on other things.
Beth and I felt at home here--as if we were two more members of the family. We helped with the tasks of the day as well as in the daily life, as in setting the table and cleaning up after meals. The Hoyts informed us of their routines, such as the way they perform Grace, though we were encouraged to say Grace our own way if we wished. The rhythm and agenda of the farm warranted some adjustments from us. The day started near dawn and ended a few hours after dinner. To me, a college student, pushing my wake-up time back into the early morning hours proved to be a bit of a challenge, but I did make it to morning prayer on time.
The farm has an atmosphere of tranquility with its farmhouse, barn, garden and goats. There is work that needs to be done, but there is something in the air that makes a person step back and relax. It may be that there is just a constant list of things to do, but there is a somewhat relaxed timeline on when things actually need to be done. To me, this means that there are no hard deadlines that if missed would cost me my job, but when something needs to get done, it is done. After coming off of the last couple of weeks of school, with final exams and papers due, it was nice to step out of the constantly moving world into a place going at whatever pace was necessary. Without the hustle and bustle that was my “normal” life, I was able to step back and look at myself in relation to the world around me. Morning prayer allowed me to reflect on myself and begin the day with those findings in mind, while Nature itself opened my eyes. I was able to look at a large variety of wildlife that live so close to the farm, whether on the grounds of the buildings, in the pond or stream and in the fields. Many birds I knew, but had only seen once or twice before. Now I was looking right at them, perched less than two feet away.
This week has been a true retreat to me, getting away from the rushing world to a place without counted time. I didn’t have to think about how much time I had to sit by the pond and read or about a time limit to weeding the garden. Working with my hands and using tools I don’t use every day put me outside of my comfort zone. I had to think about what I was doing and hope that I didn’t break or harm anything. It gave me the time to really look at what and who I was and how I viewed the world around me.
Ben, a student, and Beth, a campus minister, spent May 19 to 22 at the farm after their service trip with Habitat for Humanity was canceled. We’re still trying to figure out whether and how the farm works for groups and other visitors. What felt like the crack of dawn to Ben was an hour after we were up and a couple hours after dawn when I would have liked to be up but was just too tired. The work feels insistent to us but without arbitrary deadlines, many others see it as optional. We’re still seeking a balance, for ourselves and guests, between stepping back from the rat race and stepping up to the challenge of this life.
This spring has been unusual in that I have not had a major project. This has left me with more time to do small jobs like building a grape arbor in the garden and repairing the fence around the goat pasture. The main shed was full of wood by early April, thanks to the pile of firewood logs that the loggers left behind the woodshed for us. I saved the logs that I thought might have some value to saw into lumber, and I have been working on them when time has permitted. The majority of the logs that I saved were beech, along with some oak, maple and hickory. Beech and hickory are not commercially marketable as saw logs, but they both make very pretty lumber and I have already sold some. I have brought out some basswood logs from a tree that blew over and sawn them up, and there is another load of them waiting for me in the woods. I have sold a little bit to woodcarvers, who like basswood because it is very soft and light. I have some other trees in the woods that are either downed or standing dead that I need to remove and saw into lumber as time permits. I have some logs from Unity Acres from which I will make framing lumber and clapboards for some projects they are doing. I have never made clapboards before, and I expect it will be an interesting learning experience.
This May two 15 year old boys were sent to the farm by the probation office to do some community service. They came on alternate days after school, and they were a great help to us at this time of year when we have so much to do. They helped me saw lumber and one of them also built a screen door and rebuilt a hay wagon with me using hemlock lumber that was left over from the barn construction. Now we will have two functioning wagons to use for this year’s hay. I also have rebuilt the summer chicken coop from the axle up and made it lighter and easier to handle. We originally built it in 2002 from lumber that we salvaged from snowmobile crates that we were given by a company in town. The crate lumber was not of the highest quality, but it was free and it worked for a while. Now that we have the mill we can saw lumber very inexpensively and we have better lumber to work with. I am planning to make a wagon to carry saw logs or firewood and to which we can attach the old winch that I bought at an auction last spring. I am hoping to use thewinch to bring logs out of areas which are not accessible by tractor. I have not been able to try it out yet because it needs to be bolted to something heavy enough to stay put and which affords enough clearance to be able to turn the handle of the winch, which is quite long.
I have done a little bit of work in the house this spring, replacing the toilet in the downstairs bathroom and the knob on the upstairs front door. I still have not done any work to clear up the mess in the kitchen and whip it into shape, but someday soon I hope to get to it. I am working on a pulley clothesline that hangs between the back porch of the house and the end of the new barn, but I am having trouble finding a line that is strong enough that it doesn’t sag excessively. I hope to have the new clothesline ready to use soon, and at some point we may remove the old clothesline poles from the back yard of the house. I have just purchased a used high-wheel push mower to use around the edges of the lawns and over by the pond. We have a good mower, but it has small wheels and a tendency to get stuck easily in rough places when we tried to push it on our bumpy lawns. I am planning to build a new and larger garden shed sometime during the summer or fall. Our current shed is a former chicken coop on skids that we dragged into place in 2002, and it is quite decrepit.
Farm and Economyby Joanna
Our mission at St. Francis Farm is to live an alternative to the consumer culture. This includes going without some conventional forms of financial security. As the economic system becomes less stable this alternative begins to appear practical to more people. We don’t have jobs to lose or investments to worry about. We’re able to grow or make many things that we need, and to share some with our neighbors. We’ve learned to enjoy ourselves without spending money. We try to make this alternative accessible to others who are becoming disillusioned with the consumer society. And we still have a lot to learn ourselves. I’ve made some mistakes with this year’s garden that are reminiscent of the problems I see in the wider economic system.
We ordered our seeds at the usual time, early in January, but Fedco (our Maine-based supplier, specializing in heirloom vegetables and sustainably grown seed) was already out of red onion seed. Their vegetable seed sales were up by 20%, with many people placing orders for the first time. Many seed companies report similar increases in orders as more people plant ‘recession gardens’. We were pleased that most of the onion seeds we purchased for the last growing season still germinated and grew vigorously. And we were glad to know that more people are starting gardens. This spring we’ve talked with several new gardeners, including the L’Arche volunteers who came to help in our garden and took herbs and onion seedlings home and the man who called saying he’d found us in the Yellow Pages under Farms and wanted to know when to plant potatoes. We’ve heard that Tom McNamara and Bob Bartell are expanding community gardens in their area (and that the seed garlic we gave them last year is growing well.)
In mid-April we were invited to participate in an Earth Day celebration organized by the Pulaski High School. Students cleaned up sections of the town in the morning. The afternoon was supposed to include a teach-in on environmental policy. The scheduled experts canceled at the last minute, and Zachary and I went as emergency backup speakers. Zach talked about bicycling and tricycling instead of driving, and allowed several interested students (and also the superintendent of schools) to try his cargo tricycle. I talked about how local eating can save money, reduce greenhouse emissions, provide safer and tastier food and build competence and community, which may be the most valid form of security we have in hard times. Some people spoke to me afterward about their interest in starting gardens. One was a new teacher at the high school who would like to involve her students in growing vegetables for school lunches.
Our own garden has had its ups and downs. The weather warmed late in March, the garden emerged from the snow and I planted peas, lettuce and spinach. Then the cold came down again and we had several inches of new snow. When this melted the peas and greens came up thickly. Too thickly, in the case of the lettuce. In theory I believe in the importance of space and know that more isn’t better, but I don’t always act as if I know it. Last year I didn’t plant enough lettuce to share much with the soup kitchen. This year I wanted to have plenty, and I didn’t think about giving each plant enough space. The plants got off to a slow start because of overcrowding. After I thinned them they seemed to be taking off and I thought we’d have some to eat in a week or two. The weather was wet, mild and conducive to growing. Then in mid-May we had a 28-degree night. I was out early in the morning to thaw the leaves with water before the sun hit them, but most of the largest plants lost their best leaves anyway. Lettuce is usually frost-hardy, but the abrupt change in temperature was hard on it. We also lost some good shoots on the grapevines I had just pruned, and the first emerging potato leaves went black. As the climate changes and the weather becomes more volatile it will be more complicated to grow spring and fall vegetables. We’re thinking about row covers, cold frames and other solutions.
My tomato, eggplant and pepper seedlings are small and spindly again. Last year we had this problem, and I thought I knew what to change: the soil mixture we used was nutrient-poor and I thought adding worm castings to the plants earlier and spraying on more fish emulsion would solve the problem. It didn’t. This year I finally checked the fine print on the package of the mix which the local ag supply store had recommended for seed starting. It said, “Not recommended for plug culture or acid-loving plants.” Our seedlings are alive and growing, but slowly. I think they’ll catch up once we put them outside, as they have done in other years. But it’s frustrating to realize that I’ve grabbed at quick fixes for a problem instead of looking carefully at the basics. It’s the same behavior that troubles me when economists talk about manipulating our economy back into growth without stopping to consider whether the system is fundamentally healthy.
There is still plenty to be thankful for. We’ve been eating asparagus since late April and rhubarb and shiitake mushrooms since early May. Our onion seedlings were unusually vigorous this year and our garlic is growing well. The June-bearing strawberries we planted last year have spread, and their blossoms survived the freeze. The potatoes are putting up new green leaves and we’ve set out healthy brassica seedlings. Carrots, chard and radishes are up. And the garden itself is in better shape than usual. A year into our experiment with no-till culture the soil is still soft enough for easy planting, holds water well during the dry spells, and is packed with worms, especially in the roots we left in the ground from last year. It’s also freed up time for me to weed and to mulch paths, with help from visitors. Amahl didn’t have a kid after all, but both our goats are still producing plenty of milk for our use, for goat cheese to send to the soup kitchen, and for Tam and Ham, our Tamworth piglets. Our four hens are providing us with all the eggs we can use.
And then there are the good things that grow without our tending. We’ve been using the roots of the wild leeks that grow in the woods for a couple of years; this year we started adding their tangy leaves to stirfry and frittattas. The wild strawberries are blooming, and before the next newsletter comes out we’ll have wild raspberries and blackberries to harvest too.
I try to do what I wish other people would do: pay attention to my mistakes and learn from them; stop fretting about frost and other things I can’t change; and give thanks for the growth and goodness that remain.
Nature Notesby Lorraine
I have thoroughly enjoyed this spring. We heard the great horned owls calling frequently in March and I hoped they might be nesting somewhere in the hemlocks along Trout Brook. At the end of March the peepers and wood frogs started calling. In April we figured out that the funny buzzing noise that we heard when we went out to listen to frogs wasn’t some very large insect but the woodcocks. The buzzing peent is the prelude to courtship flights in which the males fly upward in spirals, very fast and with their wing-feathers making a whistling sound. The descent is accompanied by a soft twittering and then the buzzing begins again. Since this display doesn’t begin until early dusk, it is easy to miss, but the birds seemed unconcerned by our presence and sometimes landed quite close to us. The woodland wildflowers were prolific this year--hepatica and spring beauty, trout lilies and trillium. We found lots of tiny blue flowers(slender blue-eyed grass) we’d never seen before on the dry hillside where we’re trying to encourage wildflowers and any plants that attract butterflies. The birds like the new barn and Zach has to share it with barn swallows and a pair of phoebes nesting high up in the rafters. A hummingbird and a young tree swallow have wandered in and needed assistance getting out. I know of three oriole nests within sight of the barn, a yellow warbler nest by the bus turnaround, and a catbird nest in a bush overhanging the small stream right beside the road. Bluebirds have young in at least two of the boxes we put out and swallows in another four. Zach found a turkey nest with 13 eggs under a downed tree in the pine plantation. The steelhead have been running in the little stream out front from March through May.
Growing Season Summer Programby Betty Warren
Betty Warren lives nearby in Richland, is a retired teacher, and volunteered at the after-school program Lorraine coordinated at Rural & Migrant Ministry. We are grateful for her work in the garden, her help with the children, and her writing for this newsletter.
Recently I was invited to participate in a program for elementary students at St. Francis Farm. Twelve students selected by the school were bused to the farm on Tuesday and Thursday from July 14th to Aug. 13th. There they spent the mornings involved in numerous activities.
When the children arrived at 9:15 am, attendance was taken and it was off to the garden to do some work. Lesson to learn…farms are fun but there is work to be done too. Here the children assisted in pulling garlic, weeding various vegetable beds, mulching sunflowers, and spreading compost where needed. When the day’s task was completed we were off to the barn. Here we were needed in cleaning garlic. A very new task for myself! I did not think the children would be very enthusiastic over this task but much to my surprise this was actually one of their favorite activities.
Almost each day we would have to move the pigs to a new grassy spot for rooting. I was surprised to discover that the children looked forward to doing this. After the pigs’ house had been moved to its new location, everyone lined up around the side of the pen. On the count of three we would lift and walk the pen to its new spot. Lesson to learn from the children…when moving the pigs watch where you walk!
Next, it was off exploring! When was the last time that you took a walk in the woods or visited a pond? In this program I learned to slow down my feet and spend more time observing. Upon entering the woods, the children were challenged to find as many different types of ferns, leaves, mushrooms, plants, animals, as they could. Ever so carefully they turned over rocks or decaying logs to discover what might be under them. I have never seen so many ants and red-backed salamanders! Observing the objects of nature rather than touching them was the rule of the day. Magnifying lenses and books containing pictures of animal and plants accompanied us to assist with identifying.
One day on our walk, Zach led us to a place where a mother turkey had made her nest and hatched her little birds. Then we ventured to a spot where five trees had become one. The children took turns standing in the crotch of the tree and having their pictures taken.
Exploring at the pond led me to be able to tell the difference between a dragonfly and a damselfly. We used small nets to catch water bugs and other water creatures. I even tried to catch a turtle with my net but with no success.
After exploring, whether in the woods or at the pond, we would each sit quietly for fifteen minutes to listen and observe our surroundings. It was quite amazing to watch the children doing this. It was even a bigger challenge to do it myself. I recommend that you try it the next time you are outdoors, even if it is only on your patio. Just sit quietly and watch. Make a note of what you see. Take a look at the ground. What life can you find in the grass? You’ll be amazed!
If rain threatened, indoor activities were utilized. How many birds can you identify from their feathers? Can you tell the difference between a wing, tail or body feather? Can you draw a 3D bug? Can you make goat cheese? Can you build a wren house? These children did all these things.
As noon approached it was time for us to wash up, meet at the picnic table and have our lunch. During lunch the children talked about what they had done that day, what did they really like, what didn’t they like, what would they like to do that they haven’t done yet?
After lunch, we relaxed by lying in the hammock, swinging on the rope swing, feeding the fish, counting snakes or playing games. When we heard the bus coming everyone gathered their belongings including a bag of fresh vegetables that they had chosen for their family.
As the bus departed, it was time for me also to depart. But not before getting my own bag of veggies and warm thanks from Lorraine, Zach and Joanna for being there for the morning. But the thanks actually need to go to them for all their planning and organizing of activities for this program and their devotion to these children. But even more for the opportunities they gave me, the chance to relive childhood memories of the outdoors, to work and play with children again, for the veggies they so readily shared, and all the new information I learned about nature.
A Day in the Life--Augustby Lorraine
Last year I wrote about one day in our life for the June newsletter with the disclaimer that there was no such thing as a typical day. Because some readers found it informative and because I am short of ideas for the next issue and time is running out, I am going to write about this day--August 12, 2009.
I get up about 6, check the weather and email and head out to the pond with a mug of coffee. I am thankful for the cool of the morning after a warm humid day yesterday. Joanna milks the goats and by 7 we meet Zach in the chapel for morning prayer, the foundation of our day. While I make pancakes for breakfast, Zach feeds the pigs and chickens. Joanna chops apples from the freezer, warms up some maple syrup, sets the table. During breakfast we check with each other about what we plan to do, where we may need help.
Tomorrow is the last day of the Growing Season summer program. I have taken lots of pictures and want to send a CD with photos of the program and the farm home with each child. Joanna is trying to figure out how to keep the order of the pictures as we had arranged them, but the computer keeps sorting them in different ways. I’m also working on a memo to send to the Board of Directors about the annual meeting coming up in September. As usual, the computer is a helpful but often frustrating tool. Zach agrees to clean the goat pen so Joanna can get to work in the garden. I head out to weed a bit in the flower and herb gardens before the coolness is all lost. By the time I hang laundry in mid-morning it is already hot.
Jim Fuller comes by from Unity Acres with a chain saw that isn’t running smoothly and when Zach finishes the goat pen he takes it into the shop. He has a manual Mike Resig gave us several years ago and finds out from it that the carburetor isn’t set right. He shows Jim how to reset it and helps him with sharpening the chain, gives him a couple files to use. Joanna is bringing in vegetables, and I spend the rest of the morning snapping green beans for canning and making hummus for lunch.
Lunch is bread from Unity Acres with fresh hummus, big bowls of salad (mixed greens and cucumbers and tomatoes from our garden), bowls of beans and onions. Just as we finish lunch, Malcolm arrives. He has biked through from Unity Acres to see if he can help out over here. This is his third visit and it starts with him practicing guitar, asking Zach when he’s not sure about a new chord. Zach is fixing up a different guitar to send to UA for another man, Joanna is in the office burning the photo CD’s and I’m making envelopes for them in the waiting times of canning beans.
In a while Zach and Malcolm head out to the mill to saw out pine logs into framing lumber for a new garden shed. Joanna cleans out the greenhouse and puts the empty soil boxes into it so we can shut the whole thing up for these hot sunny days and kill off any lingering insects or their eggs. I can the final batch of beans for this year and check on things we need for the kids tomorrow. Malcolm heads back for UA at four, taking a couple cucumbers for a snack and a guitar to practice his chords and his strumming.
While I’m fixing supper and Joanna is doing the evening milking we notice that a boy has arrived at the pond again with his fishing pole. We used to bring him for visits under the Catholic Charities Child Respite program, but hadn’t seen him for years until his family moved into a trailer on Wart Road. We remember him as very difficult to reach but he clearly has good memories of the farm and communicates easily now. He accepts vegetables and even the advice that none of the fish in the pond are big enough to eat and that they aren’t apt to do well in his aquarium at home. He suggests that he could catch and release and describes how he does that. Sometimes he swings and he seems interested when we tell him about seeing the heron or kingfisher catch fish for their breakfasts.
I added to this through the day but didn’t finish it and now it is a couple weeks later and I don’t remember how we spent the evening. If it isn’t still too hot and we’re not too tired we often take a walk together after we’ve cleaned up in the kitchen. Then we read or make music and often go up to sit on our movable deck (the hay wagon) to watch the sunset or the first stars coming out. Then it’s time to shut the chicken coop (to keep out predators), stoke the boiler (to have hot water in the morning) and get to bed. I give thanks for the little things that filled the day, listen to the brook, pray for the children. Very soon I sleep.
This summer I have not had a large project which required most of my attention, so I have been free to catch up on a number of smaller jobs. We have had a lot of rain at frequent intervals, so I had more trouble than usual with getting in hay. I cut one field very early in June, but I was not able to get it quite fully cured, so some of it got a little moldy. I cut another field later in the month when we had a good window of dry weather and was able to get all of that hay in dry. We saved some of that load for our goats and sold the remaining good hay as well as some mulch hay for a total of around $400. It took a couple of months to sell the hay this year. The quality and quantity of the grass in the fields continues to improve year by year as we mow the fields earlier before the weeds go to seed, and Jim from Unity Acres kindly came and helped us with the mowing again this year.
I finally built the cupola for the new barn in July. It helps to draw the hot air up through and out of the loft of the barn where the hardwood lumber is drying. I have sawn some cherry and maple from dead trees for our own use this winter in making some cabinets and storage in the barn where we live, and I am hoping it will be dry by the end of September so I can plane it and bring it indoors. I have a lot of hardwood lumber to sell which is stacked in the loft as well. Thus far this spring and summer we have sold $1049 in lumber. As of last Monday County Route 2 is closed for a bridge replacement job and Wart Road is the detour route, which means we have several times the normal amount of traffic going by. I have painted a large Hardwood Lumber For Sale sign to put by the road and am hoping that it will bring people in. I have a lot of other trees that have fallen in the woods to saw up when I have time, and it will be good to also have space to stack the lumber in the loft. Loggers left the woods road badly torn up. They have done one grading and they have said they will do some more work on it soon now that it has dried out somewhat. I have not been able to use the road very much to access the woodlots in that area, but I am hoping to be able to get in there this fall.
I have the red pine plantation almost completely cleaned out of the logs and firewood that I left on the ground when I was thinning there in January 2008. I’ve been helped by Bob Bartell, by Malcolm from Unity Acres, and by the summer program kids. I’ve been dumping the firewood in a pile where Unity Acres can get to it with their truck and bringing the logs out and sawing them into framing lumber for the new garden shed we are planning to build to replace the old one which is falling to bits. A neighbor from Orwell has been bringing loads of pine, spruce and hemlock logs and dumping them by the mill and I am sawing them out in exchange for half of the lumber. We have kept our half of the hemlock to use as siding on the shed, and have sawn most of our pine and spruce into clapboards for Unity Acres’ use in their building maintenance. Unity Acres also comes and takes away the slabs to burn in their outdoor boiler, which is a big help to me.
I did some work this summer on a porch for a grandmother in Pulaski who is taking care of her grandchildren. I put new tiles on one downstairs bathroom floor here in the barn before the summer program began. I have replaced a section of the bathroom floor in one of the trailer homes on the farm, and I need to do some additional work on the septic system of the other trailer on the farm soon. The new barn wiring is still not done, and I want to make a better set of stairs to reach the loft in place of the current stairs that I spaced too widely for most people. I have been mowing an area inside the garden fence that is not currently under cultivation, and we have put down some rubber sheets on other areas to kill the weeds in preparation for future planting. I am planning new compost bins for this fall, and we have been given some pallets with which to build them. I have several welding jobs that we are going to have done by a man from Pulaski who has a portable welder on a truck and can come and do them right here.
It’s been an up-and-down growing season. Sometimes I look at the garden and see a long list of disease problems, pests, rampant weeds... But when we send vegetables to the soup kitchen or home with children I’m pleased and proud of what we’ve grown. I am trying to fret less, to see clearly, to learn from my mistakes, and to be content.
The wet weather has fostered diseases. The squash has been struck by powdery mildew and the beans by a nameless mold. I didn’t do well starting tomatoes this year (see last quarter’s agriculture article), so I bought one bed’s worth of greenhouse tomatoes as well as planting out a bed and a half of our own. The greenhouse plants started bearing earlier than ours, but they were heavily infected with septoria spot. We just started to can and dry tomatoes in the third week of August. In the fourth week we began to see signs of the late blight that has been wiping out tomatoes throughout the Northeast. I’m trying to control it with organic copper dust, but I don’t know how much we’ll be able to harvest. Pesto may also be in short supply; the basil I started in the greenhouse throve, but the later direct-seeded planting didn’t germinate well at all, and I didn’t check on it in time to start replacements. We’re freezing what we can from our smaller basil patch. We’ve had plenty of squash and cukes to eat and share in spite of the mildew, and we’ve canned all the beans we need in spite of the mold.
Some things still come easily. Our lettuce is thriving in the cool weather, and we’ve been sending it to the soup kitchen from June through August as well as eating plenty ourselves. We pulled the garlic earlier than usual this year; the heads were already large but still had plenty of leaf-wrappers for long-term storage. Our onions and potatoes also have sized up well with all the moisture. And the wild berries have been plentiful; we’ve frozen 27 quarts of blackberries and black raspberries from the edges of the hayfields, and we’re still picking blackberries.
The animals are doing well. The plentiful rain has meant good grazing for the goats. We sold Nikita, our elderly Saanen, to a man who’s new to dairy goats and wanted an easy milker. We bought a new Alpine from the farm where we got Amahl back in 2005. Shasta is more vocal than I like, but she’s also gentle, healthy and an excellent milker. Tam and Ham, our pigs, are growing well. We were down to four hens and inquired about buying layers locally; we didn’t find anyone with pullets to sell, but a nearby family donated a laying hen to us and took time to tour the farm and talk with us.
The farm work feeds us, and it also makes it easier for us to help and be helped by our neighbors. The summer-program kids weeded beds, planted seeds and pulled and cleaned garlic, and then took vegetables home to their families. We needed their help, and I think they enjoyed helping as much as they enjoyed the fresh produce. Betty Warren came on her own to help with weeding as well as helping lead the summer program (see her article on page 1.) Brooke Parker came from Utah through the WWOOF farm apprenticeship program and spent 2 weeks helping with farm and garden tasks and learning about sustainable agriculture. Bob Bartell (who wrote an article in the December 2008 newsletter) came back for his third visit, helped me with the garden and goats, updated us on the expanding community garden at his church, talked about our several ways of living an alternative to the consumer culture, borrowed books and took more garlic home to plant. Melinda Kurowski, music therapist and SFF Board member, comes at intervals to pray with us, help us with gardening and discernment, walk in our woods and take goat cheese and vegetables home. We send vegetables and cheese with the soup kitchen volunteers, and they bring us bread. We are grateful for another season of gifts given and received.
Bits & Pieces:
The annual meeting of the St. Francis Farm Community Board of Directors will be held on September 21. Shirley Way, administrative coordinator of the Alternatives to Violence Project NY, will be joining the Board at this time.
We have had numerous responses to our listing in the WWOOF directory, but so far only one person has come and she stayed for 2 weeks. We have another WWOOF volunteer coming for the 3rd week of September and a volunteer who found us through the Catholic Worker website coming that week too.
We still get calls from campus ministers & youth ministers asking about bringing a group of young people, but somehow these groups never materialize. Three students who had summer jobs in the campus ministry office at Colgate Unversity came for a day to look at this as a site for groups. After helping at the garden and sawmill they had lunch and a walk though woods and fields with us. We’re still trying to understand what such groups seek and how hosting them fits with the other work of the farm.
Tom McNamara is moving from Long Island to Manhattan, where he will serve as a parish priest at Our Lady of Sorrows, 213 Stanton St, New York, NY 10002, 212-475-2321, x 318. His email is still email@example.com
We would welcome donations of guitars etc. and also chain saws to pass on to men at Unity Acres. If these need work Zach can repair them.
Once again we have come around full cycle here at St. Francis Farm. Root cellar, woodshed, freezer and pantry are full, and in the slower time the basic pattern is once again clear. All of us are both helped and helpers. Both doing the work and taking time to enjoy the beauty are essential to keeping our balance. New beginning is implicit in the ending.
We’re grateful for the help we’ve had with the fall work. Heidi spent her vacation week with us in September, learning more about gardening and goats and enjoying the brightness of the night sky away from city lights. Barbara and Helen came for lunch and spent hours with us cleaning and sorting onions for winter storage. Maria brought us bags of dry leaves we’ll give to the goats through the winter months when they want something besides hay and grain. The youth probation officer sent us another boy who helped at the sawmill. Folks from Unity Acres came and took slabs and salvaged lumber, clearing out space for us and providing firewood and scaffolding material for them.
At our annual meeting on September 21 the off-farm directors gave us another perspective on the work of the past year and advice for what lies ahead. We welcomed Shirley Way to our Board. Fr. Tony Keeffe left the Board because of his health and Mike Huynh because of increased demands on his time since the birth of his son. Representatives from Unity Acres met with us on October 14 to discuss mutual concerns and find ways to offer mutual aid. Friends who will be leaving for the south before the snow deepens or who will not get up from Syracuse when winter comes have come to share a meal and conversation. Visitors often speak of the peace they find at the farm, and I remember how lost we felt our first fall and how roots have grown for us in this place over the years.
On a November Saturday six students from the Newman Center at SUNY Oswego came for the middle of the day. They helped with mulching, toy-making, and getting firewood from our thinnings to Unity Acres. They enjoyed the time outside, homemade bread and bowls of chili, the long-roped swing by the pond. Just before lunch Andrew arrived for his first visit after exchanging letters for several years. He was able to stay until Tuesday to work and worship, talk and sing, walk and pray with us. Now we’ll close up the house until the spring brings guests again.
Our November work is making toys and making cheese, cleaning garden tools and organizing the new garden shed, sawing lumber while the mill is still open. We get our walks in the middle of the day, when the sun is shining if possible. The woods were golden a month ago; now the leaves have fallen and bare branches make patterns against the sky. From the fields we can see right through the fringe of hedgerow to the next field and all the contours of the land seem clearer. Sometimes we go out after supper to walk when the moon is full. It is time to remember our blessings and then to celebrate Advent as we begin the cycle of another year.
Stop and Thinkby Joanna
Sometimes I struggle to describe SFF’s spirit and work in a way that makes sense to group members or other guests. Our work is small, unspectacular and multifaceted; I haven’t thought of a good sound bite to describe it. TV programs, advertisements, text messages, tweets flash past, grabbing attention and leaving little bits of information that don’t require much reflection or context. But real learning and mutual understanding require slowing down and looking at a larger picture.
In mid-October Jerry Berrigan visited us along with his sister-in-law, Deborah Rizzo. We shared a meal and then Jerry and I sat in the greenhouse while my mother gave Deborah a tour of the farm. I started making conversation, as I tend to do, without stopping to think. Jerry smiled at me, was quiet for a moment and then asked a question that brought us to a deeper level. I stopped, breathed, thought and answered. We talked then about the discipline of trying to find the truth and the discipline of accepting what we don’t know, about the difficulty of knowing when we can reach in and help another person and when we need to hold back and leave space for their own growth and healing, about fear and courage and faith and love, about living and dying. We spoke slowly, feeling for the right words for things too large to describe, and we left silences for the truth to sink further into us. I left that conversation feeling deeply renewed.
It’s easiest to reach that deeper place with the people we already know. Working in the garden with Melinda Kurowski or Shirley Way I fall naturally into conversation about prayer and life-work. Often shared work helps us make connections with guests who are new to us. The work requires attention and presence and gives something to focus on during what might otherwise feel like awkward silences. And it is different enough from some guests’ normal lives so that they stop and think again about what they have chosen and what it has cost them.
I seek similar encounters with young people at the high school when I visit every month with my STOP AND THINK sign. During the first two visits most of my material was about the aspects of military service which recruiters tend to gloss over, and about the other options available to young people who aren’t going straight to college. October 29 was the deadline for juniors to turn in an Opt-Out form if they didn’t want military recruiters to contact them at home. Eight kids signed up to opt out at my table; several others took information and said they’d think about it. Many took information about Americorps or paid apprenticeships. The high school principal said that information about Americorps was already available to his students, but most of the kids who stop by my table don’t remember hearing about it. They may have been going too fast to notice.
This month and next I’ll be encouraging people to rethink consumerism. In addition to the material from Alternatives and Buy Nothing Christmas that we have mentioned before I’ve found some helpful information on deconstructing advertisements and evaluating their hidden messages from the New Mexico Media Literacy Project (www.nmmlp.org, 505-828-3129). The Story of Stuff (www.storyofstuff.com, (510) 883-1055) offers vigorous and youth-friendly questions and stories about the true costs of consumption to the planet, to the people who work to make the stuff we buy, to the people who live near the dumps where that stuff ends up, and to our own souls.
A few students take the handouts I bring each time, and I hope they read them and think about them. But none of the specific information I bring matters as much as the basic invitation to stop and think. I think that is a hard invitation for them to accept. I find the constant noise and bustle of the halls disorienting, but the students are used to it. I see them constantly scanning the faces of the other students. Some seem to be posing with their makeup and brand-name clothing, waiting for approval; others hurry along with their shoulders hunched and their earbuds plugged in, apparently trying to avoid attention. I catch myself worrying about how they’ll respond to the woman with the bare face and nameless clothes standing behind her table and trying not to look nervous. I try to look at them calmly and clearly as Jerry looked at me, encouraging them to stop and look clearly for themselves.
This fall I have finally done some things that I have been meaning to do for a long time. I built a new garden shed to replace the former chicken coop that we had been using since 2002. The 12’x16’ shed is three times the area of the old one and enables us to have everything accessible without having to climb over piles of things as we used to do. The 12/12 pitched roof means that we will never have to shovel snow off it, and there is room on the inside to put lightweight things up out of the way when they’re not in use. There is a large door on the end with a ramp leading up to it so that we can store the lawn tractor and wheelbarrows, and windows in the gable ends let in quite a lot of light.
In September I tore down our old compost bins which had begun to rot away and built new ones. There are twelve new bins set up in two rows of six back to back, instead of the original nine bins in a row. This gives us more room for gates which allow access from the garden out into the hayfield. We will have to replace our bins every few years on an ongoing basis because we build them from pallets which rot after being filled with rotting vegetable matter for a while. Unity Acres lets us haul away the piles of leaves they remove from their grounds, and we have been using them for mulch.
We hired a welder who came in October and did repairs for us on some of our equipment and assembled the frame for the new wagon I mentioned last newsletter. I put the deck on the new wagon a couple of weeks ago and used it for its first load of logs. We had a big hickory tree which had blown over in the woods and the road finally dried out enough so that I was able to drive in and load some of the logs and bring them out. The new wagon has a flat 8’x16’ deck, so I can use it for both logs and firewood. I finally cleaned up the piles of old salvaged lumber behind the pole barn and cut up most of what was left on them into short pieces and took them over on the new wagon to Unity Acres for them to burn in their outdoor boiler. Before we had the sawmill we salvaged all the lumber that we could from buildings that had to be torn down and reused it, but some of it had been sitting too long in the weather and began to rot. Now that we have the mill we can saw out new lumber for whatever projects we are contemplating, which is much better.
I’ve continued to peck away at the remaining pine firewood and logs left in the plantation after our thinning, and I hope to have it all gone before winter. The firewood in the back part of the plantation is going out into the end of the pasture to be picked up since I found I was unable with the tractor to pull a loaded wagon over the hill to the main gravel road that runs to the Acres. In May I bought an Allis Chalmers C tractor to repair, and I have been using it in the pine plantation since I got it running because it is smaller and more maneuverable than the farm’s tractor and fits between the trees more easily. Once this plantation is all cleaned out we have another couple of acres of red pine to thin and a lot of aspen to clear out. It is a big help to us that Unity Acres has their wood boiler and will come and take away the firewood that we can’t burn in ours.
I bought an old but functional haybine for $176 at an auction a couple of weeks ago, and I am anticipating that it should facilitate next year’s haying both by cutting a larger swath at a time and by crushing the hay after it is cut which makes it dry faster and is supposed to cut down on nutrient loss. I have been hoping for a while to find a haybine at a good price, and this one was cheap enough that it will pay for itself with less than a wagonload of hay sold. I will have to learn how to operate it, but I am sure it will not be any harder than other implements we have bought over the years.
From Illusion to Prayerby Lorraine
I am writing a couple weeks before Thanksgiving, and this newsletter will be received in the first week of Advent. With shortened daylight the pace of work slows and the questions accumulated over a busy season surface. Responding to campus ministers interested in bringing groups next year and to individuals wanting to volunteer forces me to try again to clarify the life and work into which we invite visitors. Our mission statement says that we live an alternative to the consumer culture, and we have described our life as seeking a balance of work and prayer. But what I am trying to do is to pray without ceasing, with Henri Nouwen’s understanding that the basic movement of the spiritual life is from illusion to prayer.
A visitor this summer asked me if most people come to the farm to help us out or because they need help. Another, learning that no one is paid for their work here, after a brief puzzled pause, said, “Oh, you’re independently wealthy.” Without meaning to be evasive, I often don’t know how to respond truthfully. We who live here full time are sometimes seen as giving to the community around us, but we are aware of how much is given to us--our health and strength, the land, the donations and helping hands that support us. Are we voluntarily poor or dependently wealthy? What we have and offer to those who come is the opportunity to serve and be served, to let go of the illusion that some only give and some only receive.
Basic work such as growing food provides an opportunity to pray, to move from illusions to truth. High school students have told us at the end of their week that they never realized before the work that went into growing food, preparing meals, cleaning up. They resolved to be less wasteful, more helpful and more grateful. Campus ministers have told us they wanted their students to feel good about themselves by “serving the poor”. Realizing the ways they depend on the labor of the poor and letting go of the illusion of superiority seemed undesirable. Other leaders want their group to have “a successful experience”, but the truth is that we’re not always successful. Sometimes tomatoes get blight and hay gets ruined by rain and we can’t “fix” the many problems around us. In June I made lavender sachets for the staff that work with refugees, knowing they were only a way of saying that someone is thinking of you and wants to share this fragrance with you as you face a hard time. In fall Hope took trays of onions and garlic to give to refugees at the Center for New Americans, a tiny gesture in the face of so much need but our way of welcoming the stranger with something familiar, a gift from the earth. Growing these things and sharing them is one way of praying.
When the work is done, or when the time has come for Sabbath and laying down what is still undone, prayer continues. People ask us what we do without television, without going somewhere to be entertained. We watch the sunrises and sunsets, the rain on the pond, the salmon running up Trout Brook, the light in the leaves, the flowering and going to seed in field and woods and garden. We watch stumps decay, moss cover them and mushrooms sprout after rain. We watch the moon rise, the starsappear in the darkening sky, flames leaping, coals glowing. Attention to the created world becomes prayer and praise.
At the end of the growing season, I am especially aware of cycles--day and night, summer and winter, growing up and growing old. While all of life can be understood as prayer, specific time is set aside for prayer each day and Sunday is set aside for rest and worship. The colder darker months allow more time for reflection and discernment. I get stiffer and tire sooner and do less of the lifting and shoveling, but stopping to rest also allows me to see the whole more clearly. At this time of year and time of life I am thankful for the rich rhythm, the beauty and the blessings of the sprouting and of the falling into the earth and dying. I look forward to once again lighting the Advent candles, telling the stories, anticipating hope, peace, joy, love.
The movement from illusion to prayer makes possible the movements from loneliness to solitude and from hostility to hospitality and leads us to the core of the spiritual life.
Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen
The movement from illusion to prayer is hard to make since it leads us from false certainties to true uncertainties, from an easy support system to a risky surrender, and from the many “safe” gods to the God whose love has no limits.
from Reaching Out by Henri Nouwen
When I wrote for the last newsletter our tomatoes were just beginning to show signs of late blight. By the time the newsletter got to you most of the plants had died. We got cherry tomatoes for drying from our blight-resistant Juliet plants, and we were able to buy canning tomatoes from Eli, our new Amish neighbor. Our potatoes escaped the blight but some developed scab in the cold wet soil. We still have enough in the wellhouse/root cellar to last us well into the winter.
The rest of the garden did well. The onion harvest was good and the carrots not bad. We kept harvesting green beans through September, lettuce into October and kale and Brussels sprouts into November. The mild fall also allowed me to weed and cover-crop or mulch all the beds before winter. This protects soil structure and beneficial organisms from the damage caused by repeated freezing and thawing and also keeps hard winter rains from leaching nutrients out of the upper layers of soil. We got leaves and pine needles for mulching from Unity Acres. We’ve been sending whey from our cheesemaking to UA now that our pigs are in the freezer. Our orchard didn’t produce as abundantly this year as last year, but we still have applesauce in the pantry and apples in the freezer.
Our ‘ winter garden’ in the greenhouse is off to a good start. We’re growing more kale, tatsoi and chard than we did last year, and we’re trying lettuce again. Starting the greens in mid-August allowed them to size up while the days were still long and we were able to start harvesting from thegreenhouse shortly before the outdoor greens winter-killed. The kale, chard and tatsoi in the greenhouse usually last well through the winter; we’ll see about the lettuce. Zach has figured out how to run grow lights over the soil boxes if we need help in the darkest part of the year.
We’ve borrowed a buck rag and gotten some help with goat breeding from our neighbor Barb, who stopped by to learn about goatkeeping a few years ago when her employer was downsizing. Now she has a thriving goat dairy in Orwell, a ten-minute trip from SFF instead of the hour I had been driving. I hope we’ll actually have kids from Amahl in 2010.
As we approach Christmas again, the first verses of the Gospel of John keep running through our minds. The Light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome (or understood) comforts us. The Word coming into the world that was made by him and not being known, coming to his own and not being received embodies all the sorrow of our blindness. Our prayer this Advent is that we will remember who made us and the world around us and be able to receive the Word that comes to us. Then may the light shine through us, may we give as freely as we have received.
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