During the winter months we take time to look back at where we’ve been and what we’ve done, to look forward and plan what we hope to do, to look inward and remember and listen for what we’re called to do in carrying it out. Thirteen years ago, during our first winter at the farm, we found words for our mission--to live an alternative to the consumer culture, a life based on the Gospels and Catholic Worker principles. Over the years outreach has taken different forms--hosting student groups of volunteers, hosting migrant workers on retreat, teaching schoolchildren about gardening and nature, making wooden toys for refugees, sending fresh farm produce to a local soup kitchen, and building wheelchair ramps. Focused on our mission, we’ve sought to live sustainably, to keep our balance, to learn basic skills, to use the resources of the land well and to welcome others into our work and our life.
When we came to the farm in 2001, the number and size of groups coming to volunteer was declining from the time of John and Joan Donnelly (see memorial article below) Crises in the country and in the Church cut back the numbers further and we focused more on the farm and the local community while still welcoming groups and individuals willing to help, wanting to learn. With the changes in the country, Deacon Sweenie hasn’t brought migrant workers for retreats now for a couple years and we haven’t had a student group since 2010. Some youth leaders liked our mission but their young people were too busy to come while others didn’t want their students challenged by an alternative way of living. We kept doing the work as we saw it and tried to stay open to whoever might come to help and be helped. We’ve just scheduled a youth group from a Unitarian Universalist church in Wisconsin to come the last week of July. A young man who came with a group from St. John’s HS in 2006 is now a campus minister in Ithaca and plans to bring a group of college students after graduation in May.
Outreach requires someone with time to make a connection. The summer programs worked as long as there was someone at the local elementary school willing to help locate children who could benefit and help them sign up. The Family Days worked until people got too busy to come. Making toys for refugees still works because Hope is willing to look at any new toy idea and tell us whether it is suitable or not and to distribute the toys we make. Sending produce to the soup kitchen and to the senior meal site works much better since we asked if someone could pick it up. We save time not having to deliver and the people who come to pick up enjoy that connection with the farm. Hosting volunteers, whether individuals or groups, works for us and for them when we take time to become clear with each other instead of making assumptions based on experiences with others. We had hoped that the weekly simplicity circles we hosted last year during Lent would lead to some longer term involvement by local people but that hasn’t happened. This year we invited families to come and make simple toys during the February school break and had some folks visit the farm for the first time (see Making Toys with Families below). We’ll keep living this alternative and inviting people to share it, hoping that both we and they will learn to choose more wisely.
“We find ourselves in competition with people and institutions who offer something more exciting than we do. But our task is the opposite of distraction . . . the question is not how to keep people busy but how to keep them from being so busy that they can no longer hear the voice of God who speaks in silence.” Henri Nouwen--The Way of the Heart
Remembering John Donnelly
John Donnelly, who lived and worked at St. Francis Farm during the 1990s, passed away on December 14, 2013. We arrived at the farm after John left, but we appreciated his encouraging notes and all the love and labor he had put into this community. Tom McNamara, who lived and worked at the farm from 1995 until 2000, wrote the following reminiscences of his time at the farm with John. Tom left the farm to join the Capuchin Franciscans and is now a priest serving a rural parish in Honduras.
I remember the first time I met John and Joan at Nazareth Farm, a rural outreach farm in West Virginia established by the Diocese of Syracuse in the 1970’s. They were quite a pair, dressed in denim, sporting colorful handkerchiefs, singing God’s praises and speaking of their desire to work with God’s little ones in rural parts of West Virginia during their retirement. It was only after I moved to St. Francis Farm in 1995 that I realized that they were the same couple that I had met years before, recruited by Father Ray McVey to help spearhead a similar ministry in northern reaches of central New York State.
John often spoke of his beginnings on a family farm in Lounsberry, NY near the PA/NY border where he learned to raise the food they ate, in gratitude to God, with as little disturbance to the environment as possible. His desire to inculcate these values would remain with him all his life. He enjoyed raising crops like wheat, and grinding it to produce bread to help the poor become more self sufficient, but found that the realities of our economy did not always permit this.
He was a very intelligent man, enjoyed reading, discussing ideas in the Catholic Worker style but would often admit that he felt pressured perhaps since his youthful admission to Cornell at the age of 16. He was so talented that his analytic abilities were often called upon, perhaps too often, at the farm to help a family think through a crisis, fix a leaking water pipe, rebuild a motor, or design a sturdy house. He and Joan had hoped to work with Father McVey, and Father Ted Sizing a good long time, but Providence had other plans with the death of Father McVey in the mid 1990’s.
John and Joan delighted in hosting high school, college, and parish groups that would visit the farm on a regular basis to assist in this labor of gratitude. The insights and healings shared in our liturgies and parking lot prayers would sustain and challenge each of us. The intersection of the town appropriately named “Richland” and that of Orwell, would be the place where many of us were graced to help raise those beautiful crops and to help bring about the reign of God in some small way. John would often reflect on the image of a farmer’s hands when we were praying. His orientation to the tools, the land, and the ethos of the project was legendary. Remembering the large spoon Joan would use in her introduction brings a smile to my face as I recall her no nonsense approach to communal life. She would also delight in praying “...the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy...” I think of the two of them every time we friars meditate on Psalm 65 in our morning prayer.
There were plenty of inconsistencies in our life together and we passed through some difficult times as well. But amid the memories of wind driven snow piled over our heads, black fly season, firewood chains, community dinners, starry nights, and tears in the chapel, we found that it was the song in our hearts, the fire in our belly, the desire to do something to give back in gratitude for all that we had received from God, that created that little place along the Wart Road where many of us were changed to become the people we are today. In gratitude for this gift, we can sing together along with Joan and John right into eternity the words of Isaiah 54: Though the mountains may fall, and the hills turn to dust, yet the love of the Lord will stand, as a shelter for all who will call on his name, sing the praise and glory of God.
Making Toys with Families
This helped me learn how to make something myself and showed me I could teach others.
This was a good time. I liked that I could make it myself. When I needed help they helped me. It was fun to find out how it worked.
I liked making toys. It was hard to put the straw in and the wire.
My hands got greasy--it was fun!
It was cool how soft the wood got when we rubbed it.
Our mission statement commits us to living an alternative to the consumer culture. This includes economic self-sufficiency and sustainability, living more by gifts given and received and less by buying and selling, etc. But at the root of these more visible practices is the essential but easily overlooked practice of stopping, stepping back from pressures, habits and assumptions, and making a deliberate choice. We try to create space for mindfulness in our own lives and to invite others to do likewise. It can be difficult to extend this invitation in a way that doesn't just become another part of the noise, another demand on people's already strained attention.
For 5 years I visited the high school every month with a sign that said STOP AND THINK and a table full of materials to help students critically evaluate the sales pitches coming at them from military recruiters and commercial and political advertisers. Most students ignored the table. Some read signs as they went by. A few stopped to take materials and talk about the choices they had to make. I noticed that many of them seemed to doubt whether they had meaningful choices. Many of them felt stuck because of the difficult economy, or because of their own academic or personal challenges. I talked about possibilities that were still open to them. I've stopped visiting the high school this year because new security policies have made it harder to access students, but I keep looking for ways to let people know about the choices they have.
Many of our guests at St Francis Farm seem to feel as stuck as the high school students. Those from less affluent places and backgrounds feel trapped by the lack of jobs or credentials; those from more affluent backgrounds feel trapped by student loan debt or by the assumptions and expectations of the people around them. Other guests are waiting hopefully for a remunerative, admirable, exciting, popular and easy life and work that will give them everything they want so that they don't have to choose. I keep
thinking of my favorite folk saying, which I have heard variously described as Spanish or Persian in origin: Take what you want, says God, take it...and pay for it. This is what I wish people would understand. We really do have choices; much of the time we can choose what we want most deeply, what matters most to us. We really do have to choose, and there is always a price to be paid.
We need to create inner quiet in which deliberate choice is possible. Stepping back from the distractions of electronic media can help with this process. A never-ending stream of commercial ads tell us that we ought to be happy, successful and popular, that we are currently unhappy and insignificant, and that our deficiencies can be remedied if we buy Product X. An intermittent barrage of political ads tells us that we ought to be free, secure and prosperous, that we are now oppressed, endangered and impoverished, and that these ills can be remedied if we vote against Candidate Y. Even if we don't completely buy the message of any particular ad, we are apt to be influenced by their shared message that what we have and are is not good enough, that we need to grab something right now to make it better. Before we came to St. Francis Farm, when my family still had a television, we noticed that on the rare occasions when we watched commercial TV we got much more irritable with each other and dissatisfied with life in general. Various studies have shown links between TV-watching, depression and difficulty in concentrating.
Even apart from ads, the high speed and fragmentation of digital information can become overwhelming. I'm on the e-mail list of many Good Cause organizations which write regularly urging me to donate to meet this urgent need, sign that very important petition, write to this legislator... Too often, instead of researching issues, praying about them and taking time to write real letters and to change my way of living, I sign petitions or send form letters with a mixture of guilt and resentment, just trying to empty out my inbox enough so that I can see if anyone has written me a real letter.
This will be our 7th year of organizing free community Screen-Free Week activities. Screen-Free Week is a 7-day fast from recreational electronics and a chance to reconnect more deeply with ourselves, our neighbors and the natural world. After this fasting period it may be easier to come back to using electronics in a limited, focused and mindful way. One of our WWOOF volunteers last year used her week at St. Francis Farm to step back from texting and social media connections. She said that she felt more relaxed, thoughtful and self-aware as she stepped back, but also felt disconnected and worried a bit about all the unanswered messages that were building up. After returning home she wrote about being more clearly aware of what she valued in her fast-paced, hyper-connected life and what she missed from her slower time, about trying to balance breadth and depth.
I also wonder whether the more deliberate pace at which we try to live makes it harder for us to connect with people whose lives accelerate year after year. But slowing down and focusing is the only way I know how to keep myself centered and sane rather than anxious and scattered. It’s also the only way I know to do the small, unspectacular, long-term work of maintaining a sustainable working farm. Even here the growing season can feel quite full and rushed. I enjoy its satisfying physical work, varied guests and delicious produce, but I am grateful for the winter slow time which allows us to step back and consider what’s working, what’s problematic, what new projects would fit constructively with the work we already have in hand. This winter
I’m reevaluating my grain-growing efforts and taking another look at my garden priorities, given limited quantities of time and fenced space. I’m trying to figure out why the goat who isn’t pregnant has dropped her milk production so much this winter and how to manage animals in the increasingly erratic and dramatic weather that accompanies climate change. We’re also looking at other ways of raising meat for ourselves. We might be able to raise rabbits with many fewer purchased inputs than what pigs require, but we’re still trying to figure out how this would affect what we grow, how we compost, how we manage the hayfield and set up the barnyard. Here in the slow time we’re able to look at how each part of our work can be made to fit into a coherent whole.
There is a big difference between having many choices and making a choice. Making a choice— declaring what is essential—creates a framework for a life that eliminates many choices but gives meaning to the things that remain.
--Plain and Simple by Sue Bender
Locally weʼre observing Screen-Free Week during the school vacation, April 14-19. The official international dates are May 5-11.
This winter I have finally gotten around to putting the old kitchen in the farmhouse back together. We do not have any plans to set it up as a kitchen at this time, but it could be done if it was needed again someday. It is the largest room in the house and will be useful for work or meetings during the warmer months. We’ve been slowly gutting the room since 2005 and just never got it done to the point of rebuilding. This winter I removed several layers of flooring down to the original pine boards, but unlike the rest of the house where the original floors were in good shape, these boards have many rotten spots. I jacked up the side of the floor which had sagged several inches and braced it from below. I spaced out the ceiling joists evenly and insulated the walls and ceiling. Most of the wiring was good and I replaced a few sections. As I write this the drywall is hung and taped and by the time this newsletter goes out the walls should be painted and the window and door trim put up. The floor will need to be covered with new wood. In January the farm bought a shaper which I found on Craigslist close by and at a very good price. This will enable us to make tongue and groove edges on the boards from our mill. I am looking at making a solar kiln to dry lumber this year as they are quite simple to build and operate. My hope is to mill some pine in the spring and dry it in the solar kiln, cut the tongue and groove with the shaper and install it on the kitchen floor sometime over the summer. This would be a good test project to see how hard it is to make flooring from our wood and whether flooring is something that we should sell in addition to rough cut lumber. I opened up the mill in early January and sawed 500 board feet or so of maple logs that I had brought out in November but the snow has been too deep for me to get out to the woods with the tractor and bring out any more logs.
This winter has been colder than any in recent years. During one week in January we were not able to keep the temperature up to 60 degrees but most of the time it has been warm enough inside. We have burned quite a bit of firewood but we have enough in reserve to get us well into spring, and I can cut some dead wood then if we find ourselves short of wood for domestic hot water over the summer. There has been a lot of snow to plow this year, but so far both tractors have kept running well. We had to shovel the roofs of most of the buildings the week before Christmas but have not had to do it again since then. The heater in the well house quit working in January but Joanna noticed it when she went up to get some potatoes out and we were able to put in a new heater before it froze in there.
I bought 6 more sap buckets and am planning to tap a couple of trees over near the pig area this year. This winter has been cold and snowy enough that it could make a very good sap flow in the spring but everything still depends on the weather. The sugar house has all of the firewood I will need to boil sap this year and is ready to go once I make a couple of small changes to the chimney. Getting out to tap the trees may be a challenge this year.
This year I finished putting drawer slides and new drawer fronts in the kitchen here in the barn. I had done most of them last winter but did not finish before spring brought other priorities.
Thanks to Maria Kurowski who just brought by another batch of lovely cloth bags with drawstrings to hold some of the toys we make for refugee families. We use them for doll and furniture sets and for the balancing crocodiles. We would welcome donations of fabric and/or others willing to sew bags.
Thanks to those who support us by their donations and prayers. We are grateful for cards and letters received during the slower time and look forward to more visitors as the season turns toward the green time.
In January we updated our website--you can see it at www.stfrancisfarm.org. This year we added a section on making choices to the Stop & Think page, added book recommendations to the Readings page, updated the Farming and Woods Work pages with what was done in 2013 and added new photos throughout. We post upcoming activities on the Home page through the year.
Farm Economy by Lorraine
After 13 years, I still find it hard to answer questions about how the farm works economically. Our mission statement puts it this way: The grace of God, the generosity of supporters and the bounty of the land provide the foundation for the community. By their commitment and unpaid labor the full-time residents maintain buildings, work the land and welcome visitors. Guests volunteer their labor and share the simple gifts of the farm. I remember the first winter when we had to borrow money to pay the taxes and wondered whether we’d be able to keep the farm open. It’s been a while since that has been a worry even though over the years we’ve lost various sources of income--trailer rents and payments from groups hosted and donations through the summer mission program.
Year by year, we’ve needed less money as we’ve learned to work with the land to provide more of what we need. We give away the food we grow that is more than we need. Spring and fall I divide perennials and give away the extra plants. People offer payment sometimes for vegetables or flowering plants or shrubs or the birdhouses we help them make. Campus ministers or others wanting to bring groups ask about payment. I try to explain that we don’t sell food or plants or the opportunity to spend time at the farm or to do or make things here. The farm is supported by donations and anyone who values what we offer can support our ability to continue offering those things. A gift economy instead of the familiar market economy.
What worries me this year, with a late spring and everything to be done at once, is energy. We had one volunteer early in April who wasn’t very happy or helpful and left early. Another, expected at the end of April, had asked to stay “through the season” but never came at all. The children who came during Screen-Free Week were very helpful in the greenhouse and one came back on a warmer day and helped Joanna set out onions. We put considerable time and thought into communicating with people who want to come stay at the farm and volunteer, and sometimes they come and are helpful. Often it is the unexpected help from local visitors, from young children or elders or families, that is actually helpful. We’re still working on how to be clearer with live-in volunteers before they arrive. We keep looking for local folks to come during the growing season when any extra pair of hands is both help and encouragement.
The encouragement is as important as the actual work done. Visitors who enjoy the farm and see the beauty in it, who find satisfaction in working with their hands and meaning in an alternative to the prevailing consumer culture, help us keep our mission clear. We find it harder to remember and keep our focus when we have visitors who are bored by nature, reluctant to work with their hands, and indifferent or hostile to any alternative way of thought or life. We’re often told that we are planting seeds, and I try to remember it. But when I’m feeling frazzled by a difficult day or guest I imagine all the seeds being eaten by birds or choked by weeds and I hope that someone is remembering to pray for us and for whoever comes.
The land continues to support us in various ways. Selling lumber and hay replaces some of the income we used to get from trailers and groups. Firewood cut on the farm heats the house and the space and water in the barn where we live. Sawing our own lumber makes building and other projects affordable. In addition to our gardens we forage for wild food--ramps and fiddleheads, berries and mushrooms. Less tangible perhaps is the benefit of walking the fields and woods, watching a pair of orioles build their nest, waking to birdsong, falling asleep to the frog chorus, singing around a fire, feeling refreshed by breeze and rain.
Over the years we’ve been generously supported by donations from visitors and from others who’ve never seen the farm. I still don’t understand their motivation in giving but we are grateful for the life and work these donations make possible for us. We are still committed to being stewards of this place and to listening and learning and teaching and helping as we’re able. Over the 13 years we’ve been here, the noise and hurry and hype of the consumer culture have increased. Stories we hear on the news or from visitors tell us that parents are still looking for alternatives to screen-time for their children, that there is growing interest in healthy eating and local food, that people yearn for meaning and quiet and connections. Whatever seems discouraging or destructive or beyond our control is not beyond the grace of God, as near to us as our breath. I pray for clarity and grace--for us and for all who come.
When we are in community, many things that we think we must buy in the marketplace suddenly become available free of charge. --Parker Palmer, The Active Life
Most of us get almost all the things we need by buying them; most of us know only vaguely where these things come from and not at all what damage is involved in their production. We are almost entirely dependent on an economy of which we are almost entirely ignorant.--Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, Community
We must achieve the character and acquire the skills to live much poorer than we do. We must waste less. We must do more for ourselves and each other. It is either that or continue merely to think and talk about changes which we are inviting catastrophe to make.--Wendell Berry, What Are People For?
During the Pulaski school's spring vacation, April 14-19, we facilitated the district's seventh annual Screen-Free Week celebration and invited our neighbors to stop using recreational electronics and take more time to connect with themselves, their neighbors and the natural world. Several families attended free non-electronic activities hosted by various community organizations.
Here at the farm we offered sunset nature walks every weeknight. The first few days were cold and wet, but late in the week the weather cleared, the first wildflowers bloomed, the wild leeks grew vigorously, the goat gave birth, and people came out to enjoy all those signs of spring and to ask greenhouse and garden questions. On 4/17 two families came in the morning to build birdhouses, help us pot up seedlings in the greenhouse, and look for salamanders in the woods. It was a small but very focused group, and the adults who visited said they enjoyed the quiet and concentration they experienced here. The children were interested, helpful, and pleased at what they were able to make and do. One came back on the following week to visit the goat kids and help Joanna in the garden; others spoke of coming back in the summer.
Quiet time, natural beauty and manual competence all help to build clarity and confidence, but they are easily crowded out by the fast pace and constant distraction of life in the consumer culture. We're doing what we can to keep a space for them.
From May 19th to the 23rd we were joined by campus ministers and students from the Catholic communities of Ithaca College and Cornell University. The campus minister who arranged the trip had come a decade ago when a sophomore at St. Johnʼs High School. We enjoyed seeing him again, hearing how his life and thinking have developed, and having such willing helpers in the garden and on various maintenance tasks. Quotes from the participants about their experience are below.
St. Francis Farm is markedly alternative to the consumer culture, my experience here has shown me that such an alternative is possible. In my daily life, there is much I can do to live more simply, sustainably, and justly and St. Francis Farm has given me the opportunity to learn the skills I can take home to make such changes.I have experienced this [alternative] by eating & using products here on the farm. Most of the wood we used was harvested on the farm. It was fantastic.
Staying at St. Francis Farm has made me think about the value of making things rather than buying things--food of course but also toys, cards and furniture are made here, and this has helped me reflect on how disconnected I am--physically but also emotionally and spiritually--from the labor behind the objects I use, and has encouraged me to see ways to make and reuse more things. I really enjoyed doing labor that occupies my body but gives me a freedom to think or to just relax my mind.
I enjoyed learning to do skills that aren’t ordinary. Learning to build a bench so I can make one for my backyard instead of relying on the consumerist culture.
I loved to see the results of the work we did, knowing that everything is done with a purpose and a reason. I find that work to be fulfilling and enjoyable, and that everyone is needed and has a purpose to be here.
I tend to get overwhelmed in group settings and I generally don’t enjoy spending days on end with people, even though I am aware that it’s more normal to spend time with other people than to just be alone all the time so I was anticipating anxiety about possibly feeling suffocated or being around so many people. However, being at St. Francis Farm made it really enjoyable to spend time together because they made everything feel very organic. I really like that we pray in silence together because it feels like bonding with each other on an individual level-- this bonding made togetherness desirable in an unexpected way.
This spring came late so I was not able to get to the woods and start cutting firewood till the middle of April. Because of the long cold winter we burned more firewood than ever before and while we didn’t run out we did burn all of the wood that had been intended to be used during the spring and summer months for our domestic hot water. When there was a crust on the snow I cut down some small dead elm trees in a swampy area by the road and moved them out to the road with a sled. Once the snow finally melted the firewood cutting went pretty fast and now the main shed is full again and I will just have to cut some small amounts as the summer progresses to replace what we are burning. I have also been cutting logs and taking them to the sawmill and now that it is warmer we are getting more lumber customers.
In March we ordered some aluminum signs that say Property Boundary Line and have St. Francis Farm added in smaller lettering. We have put them up now around most of our boundaries and hope that they will prove to be a longer lasting method of marking the boundaries than the paint which we had put up about 12 years ago which was fading away.
The maple syrup season was not good this year; we had 30 taps and got 24 quarts of syrup whereas last year we had only 25 taps and got 34 quarts. I am hoping to find some more sap buckets before next spring so that we can tap more trees and be able to more reliably make as much syrup as we want. The evaporator is working very well and I am hoping to open up the wall where the firewood for it is stored and move the firewood stack outside the old concrete slab on which the sugar house is built. This will make it easier to work around the evaporator.
This year I thought the pigpen was all ready to go but when we put the piglets in they were so small that they could squeeze through the six inch mesh and we had to spend quite some time in catching them again. I added some chicken wire to the inside of the main fence wire and they have now been in there 10 days without getting out again. Once they grow a little bigger I will be able to remove the chicken wire and move the pen as I normally have.
This year the hay will be later maturing and that may be good since we often do not get enough weather to get it dry until it is somewhat grown past the best quality. The haying equipment is all ready to go except that we are planning to do some work on the hay wagon deck which is deteriorating. I am still planning to build a solar lumber drying kiln this spring but I have not yet begun to get the materials ready. I have replaced the pump on the pressure washer which I mostly use to clean logs before they go into the sawmill. Late last fall I bought a lawn tractor and a walk-behind mower at an auction and have gotten both of them working. We have been doing all of our lawns with a push mower for the last two or three years and have had some ongoing problems with reliability, so now we will be able to do the job faster and have some options in case a mower breaks down.
I have not yet returned to work on the former kitchen of the farmhouse but at this point it just needs to be touched up with joint compound and painted. This is on the list of possible rainy-day jobs for the group which is coming next week.
Now that the weather is warming I am hoping to get back to work cleaning out the pond. Last year I got most of the sticks and logs out but only got a small start on the sediment on the bottom. I am hoping that this summer will be a bit less wet than last year so that the water level will drop a foot or two which would make it much easier. I am also waiting for low water to be able to replace the culvert that runs into the upstream end of the pond. Last year the water stayed too high all through the summer and fall and I didn’t get it done.
In late winter we decided to try raising rabbits this year and as soon as there was a crust on the snow I cut down a couple of pine trees and slid the sections out to the road on a sled. We ordered cage wire and clips and when they came I built the first three cages. In early April I built a 6x8 shed and put the cages in it. Joanna has described the rabbits we ended up buying in her Agriculture article. The rabbits are now on my twice daily feeding round along with the pigs and chickens.
The snow lingered for a long time this spring, as it did last year, and even after the garden was clear to plant the days stayed cold, windy and wet. Peas, greens and potatoes went in two to three weeks behind their usual schedule, and the peas and greens were slow to germinate (though I took more care this year not to start them in beds that had been planted to allelopathic cover crops) and slow to grow. Our eggplant,pepper and tomato seedlings also grew slowly because of the limited sunlight and low temperatures, but they stayed bushy and healthy. Then in early May the temperature turned warm and everything grew rapidly. The asparagus started growing on time and had to be cut several times each day, and the first-planted tomato seedlings grew large and root-bound. The shiitake mushroom logs that we inoculated last spring also began to bear.
We intended to breed one goat last fall and keep milking the other doe for another year, as usual. But I learned after the last newsletter went out that Shasta, our through-milking doe for this year, had a uterine infection, couldn't be rebred and shouldn't be milked, though she was otherwise healthy. For several weeks we drank store milk. In early April we sold Shasta to someone who wanted non-milking goats to eat brush on his land and we bought a new goat, Dora, who had recently had kids for the first time. She settled in more easily than other goats we've bought. Poppy was due to give birth on April 15 when the weather was particularly cold, wet and wild. She finally went into labor on the 17th as the dark was coming down. The first kid, a doe we called Dally, was large, and required some assistance; the second, Dusk, also a doe, came quickly and easily. Both doelings are growing and thriving, and we’ve had enough milk to make more pressed cheeses. Despite the year’s cold slow start we’ve been able to rotate the goats betwee n our three pastures instead of having to take them out to walk. This year we’re experimenting with establishing living fences. We’ve planted willow, blackberry and rose close together just outside the current fence line. We’ll add grape and hazel this fall, and once they’ve grown and intertwined for a few seasons we should be able to take down some sections of the wire fence and use the living fence both to contain the goats and to provide some of the browse that’s good for their digestive systems.
We’re also experimenting with raising rabbits for meat. We’ve enjoyed having our own pork, and we’re growing piglets again this year, but this requires us to buy piglets each year (which can be difficult) and to buy a lot of commercial feed (which is of questionable quality, often unsustainably grown, and increasingly expensive). We should be able to breed our own rabbits and to feed them largely on plants we can gather or grow on the farm. A couple of online forums offer advice and troubleshooting on natural feeding. Early in April we bought one Silver Fox buck (a heritage breed, supposed to do well on a natural diet) and two New Zealand does (a common large meat breed). They were used to eating pellets but took readily to eating twigs, brambles, grasses and forbs as well.
Sometimes I am frustrated by the erratic weather and other challenges. Sometimes I remember to be grateful for the fresh food, satisfying work and ongoing learning opportunities that farming provides.
Most of the newsletter was written early in May and then we had a group from Ithaca College and Cornell (see pictures and quotes above). With that group Joanna prepared beds and planted, weeded and mulched established beds, set up the drip irrigation and turned compost. Zachary added wood storage space to the side of the sugar shack, re- decked a hay wagon, replaced the fencing for the rolling chicken coop, put up trim in the house kitchen, and made a bench like the ones we have by the pond. Students also dug up areas for Lorraineʼs new herb seedlings and finished the rock edging along the border in front of the barn.
Both the rabbit does we got in April kindled this week--each had 8 kits.The rabbits are eagerly eating all the green stuff we take them--dandelions, burdock, grass, vetch, and various brambles and branch ends.
Tom MacNamara is coming to visit next week for a few days and then our out of town Directors will be at the farm for the annual meeting May 31.
We had a message from the youth probation officer we know about someone needing to do community service and will get back to her next week. Also have someone from NYC wanting to come for a week in June.
Yesterday we put up an ad to sell the goat kids and this afternoon someone will pick them up. Theyʼll go to a farm that wants to start raising Boers (the kids are Alpine x Boer).
August is full to overflowing. My salad bowl that held just a mix of greens and soft goat cheese in May now has added to those sweet onion and green pepper, cucumber and tomato. The flower and herb gardens that looked so spare in spring are crowded and blooming--and also weedy as I spend more and more time in the kitchen dealing with the abundance Joanna keeps bringing down from the garden. I pick nasturtiums for the table every day and flowers for our rooms each Saturday and large blooms for the chapel when the previous batch start to droop. I am aware of the long list of things we meant to do this season that are still undone and of the accumulating list of things to be decided or researched when “the slow time” comes. As the ragweed blooms, my eyes and nose begin to flow and my energy to ebb. All this makes writing for the September newsletter more challenging and I always hope to get summer guests to write, giving me a break and readers a new perspective. This year that didn’t work out.
One of my jobs is communicating with people before and during their visits. Since visitors come from many different perspectives, I need to listen well and speak clearly. Some visitors find this a refreshing change while others feel threatened. This season we started using an application for overnight or longer volunteers that includes questions about physical or mental health issues that may affect the ability to work or live in community. We’ve seen that manual labor, regular hours for meals and sleep, the beauty of nature and time for prayer can help someone struggling to regain balance. Joanna’s experience of anxiety and compulsion enables her to listen well, to comfort or advise. But we are not health care professionals and sometimes we aren’t able to make a constructive connection. When we realize that we are neither helping nor being helped, we need to tell the person without blaming and to let them go without guilt. This summer that happened with a volunteer who came in June hoping to stay for the summer. I hope he remembers that he can come back when he’s more ready or that he finds what he needs in another place. We try to remember that the person who passes out of our lives is still in God’s hands, to pray for them and let go of fretting over them, and to not become apprehensive about the next arrival.
People sometimes assume that the folks living at St. Francis Farm will naturally be Catholic. We make it clear before anyone comes to stay with us that we are a Quaker family. Our practice of gathering for silent worship/prayer each morning is accessible to those from various traditions and to those without any spiritual practice. We’ve had people in the chapel with us reading from the Book of Mormon, the Book of Common Prayer, the breviary, and the Bible. People may be praying the rosary or writing in a journal. Some are interested in Quakers and we give them things to read and answer their questions as they come up. This summer we had a couple visiting who asked questions only as a launching point for explanations and proofs of the superiority of Catholicism. When I realized how important it was to them to evangelize, I told them as gently as I could that if they were the only Catholics I had ever met, I would have a quite negative view of that faith, but that we had met many of their fellow Catholics here about whom we felt quite differently. They asked if I could tell about them. So I told them about Tom MacNamara. He was kind to us from the first confusing summer when he came to visit and I burst into tears when he asked me some simple question up in the garden. During that and subsequent visits and in letters, he helped us find our balance in this place even while he was moving into new community through formation as a Franciscan. We saw that same kindness in his ministry to migrant workers and his habit of starting community gardens that brought together neighbors formerly divided or hostile. I told them about Jerry and Carol bringing their brother Daniel Berrigan to visit. Joanna had read some of his books as a teenager, admired the commitment to peace and disarmament which had led him to civil disobedience over and over again, and feared that he would feel that we were ducking the hard work of peacemaking and taking an easy way out with our gardens and goats. He came with another priest from his order, seemed to enjoy his tour of the gardens and livestock, said “I was very young” in a self-deprecating way when Joanna mentioned having read his books. Clearly his commitment to his work hadn’t faltered, but he seemed very open to those who worked for peace in other ways. When we were talking about our different work and lives in the chapel, Mark Capone remarked on the peace he felt and suggested a prayer before leaving. He gestured across the circle to the two priests and said merely, “Father . . .” We all fell silent waiting for one of the priests to pray, but the silence only deepened as it does sometimes in Quaker meetings. That rich silence and the shared spirit of our various callings bound us together and the memory is still bright.
Visitors still often encourage us, even though they are not always the ones we expected. None of the folks who wanted to spend the season here came and stayed and no one came when we sent out invitations to families who came in the spring and said they’d like to come back. We’ve had day visitors, had a very helpful volunteer through WWOOF the week I was writing this, and have other visits scheduled before September when this newsletter will go out. Please pray for us, as we do for you and for our guests, for clarity and grace to meet whatever and whoever comes each day.
Summer is the time when we’re most likely to see old friends and have new visitors at the farm. One of my jobs is to show newcomers around, and as I am also responsible for handling all the bounty Joanna brings down from the garden, I offer surplus produce to all comers. I enjoy seeing the farm anew through other eyes and having enough to share.
It’s good to see old friends who haven’t been to the farm as much recently as in earlier years. Mark Capone came with his daughter and Bob Belge stopped in the next day. Maria Kurowski came and picked beans in late July when I wanted some time off from canning for my birthday. Mike first came several years ago with a friend buying tractor parts and then came to get bike parts for R Community Bikes and to bring us skis. This August when he came to pick up bike parts he went fishing and was pleased to find plenty of “brookies” in Trout Brook. He took garlic and brought us our first sweet corn of the season.
Danny likes to walk at the farm whatever the season or weather. He came in July and helped us clean garlic and took that and other vegetables home. He had enjoyed my pale purple irises in bloom and took some when they needed to be divided in mid-summer and then brought me white ones from his garden.
Shirley, who was on our Board a few years ago, brought Noah, who had just finished his first year at Ithaca College and was looking for an alternative for next year. They helped in the garden, joined us for morning worship and sang with us in the evening. Noah had heard about the farm from one of the college students who had come in May and Joanna had met Noah’s mother at a Quaker gathering. We hope he’ll be back to spend some time with us again.
Irene used to bring her husband to visit when he needed help to get around, and now is brought by her daughter-in-law who likes to go see how Joanna’s garden is growing. Irene likes to sit by the flower garden and hear the birds sing or watch the butterflies landing on the coneflowers. I enjoy a chance to stop and sit and share a bowl of strawberries or glasses of iced mint tea.
Gary visited late in July and wrote us this note afterward:
I enjoyed my day with Zachary at the mill cutting wood for your future kitchen floor and hearing about the farm. I envy him his trip to the Adirondacks with his hand made canoe and hope he will have some pictures to share. Sharing lunch with you and enjoying food grown on the farm was delicious and relaxing.
At our church this year we have been reflecting on the message of: “Live this life and do whatever is done in a spirit of loving kindness.” On my short stay at St Francis I saw this being taken out into the world. My first knowledge of St Francis Farm was when Zachary built a ramp to my sister-in-law’s home so that her husband Nate Giromini at Sandy Pond could have easy access with his wheelchair. You live sustainably, share food with others, make toys for less fortunate children and educate people about where food really comes from.
Thanks for this time of peaceful relaxation and refection. I hope to see you again on future trips to New York.
Leigh volunteered through WWOOf in August, the week before Zach left for his trip into the mountains. She helped Joanna get caught up in the garden--weeding, harvesting, spraying, pruning, and turning compost. The week was cold and wet so she enjoyed time in the kitchen canning and drying tomatoes and making pesto and cheese. She was a fast learner at milking and running the sawmill. We were grateful for such good help at a time of year when we’re weary. I hope she enjoyed her time out of the city in spite of the cool rainy weather.
In June Jim Doan put 40 hives of honeybees up on what used to be the site of a trailer next to the orchard. On a recent visit he brought us honey and told us that a bear had taken apart a couple hives--first we heard of bears on the farm. He looked with Zach at bees that had moved into the corner of our barn but didn’t have time to get them out. Our friend Jerry Higby, who comes to do woodworking with Zach, has a brother who keeps bees and was happy to take these away for us.
Bob Bartell will be back for his annual visit the last week of August. We always get good help when he visits, as well as good book recommendations and conversation. We think he’ll enjoy the musical instruments Zach has built or bought this year. The last day of his visit Mary Sopchak is scheduled to arrive for a three-day respite from the city and a change from her usual work. I’ll be glad for extra hands in the kitchen to can tomatoes, freeze peppers, and start processing the first apples.
When I first arrived at St. Francis Farm in the Spring of 2006, I felt a mix of excitement and trepidation at what the week would bring. My high school experience had just begun to feel meaningful that semester and the idea of spending time away from school with some friends was just too good to pass up. Despite my enthusiasm, the anxious part of me wondered just how ready I was to open myself to a new way of living – would I be able to let go of my worldview? With hindsight, and a return to the farm earlier this summer, I can say that my time at St. Francis Farm has given me the courage to constructively criticize our consumer culture and live a life in line with my values.
As a high school student, the experiences that stick out most vividly were the opportunities I had to work with my hands. Whether it was learning how to garden with Joanna or constructing a trailer with Zachary, my hands picked and planted, gripped and tugged with an effortless zeal. This is not to say the work was easy – I was exhausted at the end of each day! – but that it was fulfilling. Anytime we watch television, listen to the radio or even read the newspaper, someone will find thirty seconds to try and convince us to buy a new product and all I kept thinking about that week was how directly the Hoyts take on the challenges of daily life versus how common it is in “modern society” to find a middleman to solve your problem for you. I left the farm that week resolving to live my life differently and it was not until years later that I realized what an impression St. Francis Farm had left on my life.
After high school, I attended Boston College and combining my lived experience with my newfound knowledge of social justice issues and Catholic social teaching, I devoted a year of my life to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps by working for a legal services agency in Mobile, AL. An important part of my life in Mobile with my JVC community was exploring the concept of simple living. We tried many different things that year to simplify our lives from not having internet in our house to making sure we ate dinner together just about every night. This experience of deconstructing our worldview, questioning all of our habits and finding more fulfilling ways to live was something I wanted to share with the students I now work with at Cornell University and Ithaca College. So I thought to myself – what better place to start that conversation than St. Francis Farm! My visit earlier this summer reminded me why the Hoyts and St. Francis Farm have such a cherished place in my heart. A fellow campus minister and I took five students to the farm in June in order to experience a new way of living. Each person had different reasons for wanting to go, ranging from wanting to learn practical skills to just wanting to spend some time outside, and so Lorraine made time each day to check in with me about how everyone was doing. Our meal times were a bit challenging because the students would revert back to talking about topics that not everyone could relate to but were much more open to deeper, philosophical conversation while working alongside Joanna and Zachary. As I tended to float around during the week and spend time one-on-one with the Hoyts, I could see how a smaller group could go deeper in conversation, but in just the same way that each student had a different reason for going, they each took something unique and personal from the experience. My hope was to light their hearts on fire with a passion for simple living and I have no doubt each of them picked up that torch.
The magic of St. Francis Farm truly does lie in the exemplary way that the Hoyts open their lives to anyone willing to come and listen. While it can be challenging to have those deep conversations on simple living and consumer culture with larger groups I can say, as a participant and a leader, that taking a trip to Lacona, NY forever changed my life for the better.
This summer I had few equipment breakdowns while getting in the hay but I could not find customers to buy it out of the field, which was the opposite of the situation last summer. I put 270 bales in the shed and we sold about 500 out of the field. Some fields were not baled and the grass was mown and left to break down and go back into the soil. All fields were cut by the third week of July, which is earlier than I have sometimes been able to finish. 100 bales of weedy hay went to Unity Acres for their pigs’ bedding.
Our pigs appear to be healthy and are growing, though not quite as fast as would be ideal. I cut back the encroaching brush and tree branches along the edge of the field through which their pen is moved and gained back several feet of space that had been lost gradually over the last 10 years. The pig water tote in the wagon has been working well and the larger capacity has meant that I have only had to fill it about every 8 weeks.
The rabbit shed is getting quite full as it now holds 5 cages. I bought a couple of pieces of sheet metal from which metal roofing is stamped and made each one into three manure trays to put under the rabbit cages. These trays worked out to about $12 each which was much cheaper than any commercially available option I could find. The trays are a little bit hard to maneuver in the space in the shed but it can be done, and we hope to have the rabbits in a more convenient space in a year or two. Our plan is to take down the majority of the pole barn (which has structural problems) and build a real building on that spot with an actual foundation and a more substantial frame. We will be able to reuse the roofing from the pole barn and we will sell the steel storage trailer which is currently under it. The trailer is 8’x40’ and because it is so long and narrow its usefulness for storage is limited due to the need to leave an aisle open for access. This project is slated for next year and we hope it will get done. The design for the new building will include a loft and will provide better storage space for hay as well as space for a larger number of rabbits and room to set up some of the lumber processing equipment where it is closer to the electrical service.
We had enough dry weather in early June so that I was able to dig up the causeway at the upper end of the pond and put in the culvert I had bought last year. I had thought I would find an old culvert buried in that area, even though it was not visible at either end, but I only found dirt and rocks. I guess the water must have been trickling through between the rocks. The new culvert should allow more water into the pond during times of year when the area above the causeway is flooded and this should be good for the oxygen levels in the pond water.
I went to a restaurant auction in Sandy Creek in May in the hopes of buying a newer version of our kitchen stove, but all of the equipment was sold along with the building. In July I found a stove on Craigslist with the same configuration as ours but made in 1986. I drove down to Madison with the trailer and bought it for $600. I had to do a little bit of repair and a lot of cleaning but now it seems to be in working order and I have moved it into the kitchen. We now have an oven that regulates its own temperature, which will be a great convenience at the times of year when we use the oven more. Also the new stove is much easier to keep clean since much of it is made of stainless steel. We were told that the old one dated from the 1930s but I do not know for sure. We will sell it once we are sure that the new one is working satisfactorily.
In May I put the coil of black water line that we made a couple of years ago to test as a solar hot water generator on top of the sugar house and ran a line to it from the outdoor spigot by the sawmill. I built an enclosure out of some leftover pine wood and put two valves and a 1.5 GPM shower head in it, and put a large flat rock on the ground. This makes an outdoor shower which has quite nice hot water on sunny days, but as soon as the sun goes away the water cools quickly. It is convenient for me because I am able to stand up straight in this shower unlike the ones inside the buildings. I should be able to use it from May-September or so, and if I can someday figure out how to improve heat retention it may eventually become a system that can be used to provide hot water to the house as we had originally intended.
I have been continuing to cut hardwood lumber throughout the summer when I have time. We are selling a fair amount but sales are sporadic so it is sometimes hard to maintain an inventory. A couple of folks have run the mill for a few hours this summer and have done a fine job with a little bit of help figuring out what to make from each log. I have built a pair of outdoor glider chairs that I had told my mother I would make some years ago out of some larch that we received in exchange for sawing some logs into boards. I have been putting them off for a long time but now they are finally done.
June and July can feel rather overwhelming in the garden. August is still abundant but things are beginning to slow down a bit. Several beds have been harvested and resown to fall crops--snow peas, beets and cabbage for us as well as field peas, oats, clover and buckwheat for the rabbits. This month I’ve also enjoyed volunteers who helped me catch up on weeding, spraying, staking and other projects.
So far the harvest has been good. We’ve frozen 26 quarts of peas, canned 32 quarts of green beans, and harvested, cleaned and hung about 1,800 heads of garlic. Lettuce, chard, kale, squash, cukes, beans, onions, cherry tomatoes, herbs and goat cheese are going to the soup kitchen weekly, and we’re enjoying them here also. Our peppers are bearing well, though the eggplants are failing to thrive. We’ve just begun to harvest new potatoes, make pesto, and can and dry tomatoes. The wet weather has encouraged fungal diseases--some of our basil has a yellow rusty look, our nasturtiums have come out in brown and yellow blotches, septoria has hit the lavender and the tomatoes, and the tomatoes are also contending with early blight and gray mold. We’re doing our best to keep ahead of this with pruning and nontoxic sprays, some purchased and some homemade (milk and aspirin both have antifungal and/or immune-boosting properties). The onions, however, have escaped the downy mildew that decimated them in earlier years and are satisfyingly large. The wet weather has also worked well for our shiitake mushroom logs; most of the force-fruited logs have produced abundantly and we’ve had several flushes of mushrooms on the logs that fruit naturally after rain.
We got three rabbits early in April. Now that each of our does has had two litters we have thirty rabbits. We’ve finished weaning them from commercial pellets, though we still give them some store-bought oats. They’re also going through four or five five-gallon buckets of weeds and spent garden plants daily in addition to branches of willow and sumac. It’s satisfying to have so much free feed and to combine weeding/ground-clearing with feed-gathering. It also takes a while. Next year we’ll try to establish patches with a variety of good rabbit plants growing on them and cut them in rotation rather than wandering around to hand-gather everything. The kits are healthy and energetic but growing more slowly on this natural diet than the standard rate for pellet-raised kits. We think they’ll reach butchering weight by the end of August.
We continue to feed the goats purchased grain as well as pasture and browse, but I’ve stopped giving them purchased wormers; we read up on natural parasite control and found that onion, garlic and mustard were fairly effective. They seem to be working well so far and the goats enjoy them. We’ve been more deliberate this year about cutting nutritious weeds to dry for the goats as well as the rabbits to eat during the winter months.
Little by little we’re learning to waste less, buy less, and rely more on what we can gather and grow. It’s a slow but satisfying process.
Gathering wild food for the rabbits makes me more aware of the plants that I don’t usually notice except to remove them as weeds from my herb and flower gardens. We have several kinds of willow, some preferred by rabbits even when they look rattier late in the season. I’ve learned to recognize chicory before the blue flowers appear and prickly lettuce at all stages. I carry an extra bucket when weeding--one for weeds that go to the compost and one for purslane and pigweed and trimmings from my herbs that the rabbits will enjoy.
While putting in a culvert for the intake to the pond, Zach watched a mink with several young cross over the causeway and head into the undergrowth on the back side of the pond.
Joanna and I met a woodcock with young on the field loop and got a glimpse of at least one chick scuttling into the woods edge once we remembered to stop watching the mother’s convincing injured bird display. On one of my trips to the vegetable garden, I saw a hummingbird performing its dive display, usually flown above preferred flowers, over a bed of garlic.
We’ve heard the barred owls calling day and night all summer, sometimes near and sometimes in the distance, but we haven’t found a nest tree again.
The coyotes have been audible frequently through the summer. We hope they’ll help cut back on the population of chipmunks and woodchucks that have been nuisances in garden and hayfields.
The robins raised multiple broods in nests under the outdoor stairs on the house and I kept meeting fledglings in my gardens. I often found frogs sheltering among my herbs and flowers this wet summer.
“The practices of goodness--noticing, savoring, thinking, enjoying and being thankful--are not hard disciplines to learn. But they are disciplines, and they take practice. The habits that allow wrong to become entrenched--mindlessness, tuning out, inattentiveness, the busyness of doing to distraction, and the ungrateful heart--can take hold so easily.” *
Before Thanksgiving we put up a large sheet of paper in the chapel on which we write some of the many blessings of the year which we then read together between verses from the psalms. A year’s worth is too long for my newsletter article, so I decided to just write about last week.
On Sunday we took an after breakfast walk through the woods and found shaggy mane mushrooms at just the right stage to pick and cook for lunch. There are only a few kinds we recognize with confidence growing wild and this was our first opportunity to try these--delicious. More time in the chapel, the break from our usual routine of work, attention to gifts and grace instead of what needs to be done--all these make our sabbath time a blessing for which I am grateful.
On Monday Hope, our refugee contact and friend, came for supper. We all look forward to her visits and enjoy sharing stories and laughter and sometimes tears. This visit she was able to come early, was stressed from work and enjoyed some respite time in the chapel. Before leaving her there, we talked enough so I knew what we could give that could help with her work as teacher and counsellor. The farm is blessed with so many gifts and it is a blessing to be able to pass them on where they will be well used. I gathered up various kinds and sizes of paper, a few books, dice and counters and Cuisenaire rods. She took garlic for her students and a box of toys we’d made and described to Zach how she wanted dry erase boards for classroom use that could be made by cutting up a large sheet of melamine paneling into squares. We especially appreciate the way Hope is always clear about what she can use and what she can’t.
Tuesday morning Mary Kate and Colin arrived. They had called the day before to say they were traveling and visiting farms and would like to stop by. They were interested in everything--gardens, greenhouse, mushrooms, sawmill, rabbits, our syrup-making set-up, and the motivation underlying it all. They planned to drive on toward their next farm and camp in their pick-up, but decided to stay for supper. They shared sourdough bread and honey and roasted root vegetables and since I had been planning to use some leftovers to make a couple casseroles we ended up with an impromptu potluck and sat around the table talking so long that they decided to just camp where they were. So they were with us for prayers and breakfast the next morning and stayed to watch us weigh and sort rabbits and butcher one.
Tuesday afternoon Danny, a neighbor who has come to ski and walk and pick up plants for his yard, came to visit. He wanted a walk and time to relax after dealing with the aftermath of his elderly mother being scammed while he was at work. Joanna and Mary Kate and I went walking with him along the woods and field loop. The land is a blessing and all that is on it. We walked along the bluff above Trout Brook, looked for bird nests in the bare branches, enjoyed the last colors of the leaves. While the others went back to the garden, I got a glass of cider (the last batch Zach made this fall and another gift of the land) for Danny and sat with him by the pond. I can’t undo the scam or right many of the wrongs of the world, but I could and did listen for a while and then got back to the kitchen leaving Danny to listen to the brook and watch the light in the clouds and on the water.
Sometime last week Zach was cutting firewood and took a load to Bear, a friend who works at Unity Acres. The woods are such a blessing, not just for their beauty through the seasons but for all their useful gifts. When others are watching fuel prices and worrying, Zach is noticing dying or blown down trees and figuring out what to take for lumber, what for firewood. Bear gave Zach a box full of packets of seeds for all kinds of vegetables. We’ve set aside some for next year’s garden, have already given some away, and will try growing some into sprouts for the rabbits this winter when fresh food is scarce. Zach has been sawing out hardwood lumber and selling it this fall--another blessing. Money from the wood supports the farm and the folks who come to buy it sometimes become interested in other aspects of the farm so it is a teaching opportunity as well.
Saturday Melinda came to visit. She brought her violin for Zach to help put on a new chin rest, more comfortable for the shoulder she injured a while ago. She played two fiddles Zach had just finished making, helping him make decisions about adjustments to improve the sound. Reminders of the blessing of music and of the ability to make things. We had a walk and lunch together, showed her things we’ve been working on. She took vegetables from our recent harvests and some of the seeds Bear had given us to plant in her small garden next season. In our life with so many folks moving through, we’re grateful that Melinda has kept coming back since we first met her more than ten years ago.
Sometimes I forget to count our blessings. I don’t feel thankful for the cluster flies that I brush out of my bedroom window by the score this time of year or for whoever scrabbles in the walls some nights and sometimes dies and smells there. I try to use these things as reminders to pray for those who have no escape from flies and rodents. I try to do what I can with problems and then not to lose sight of the beauty and gifts all around us. Some people don’t find blessing here. A young woman needing to do court ordered community service just sees the farm and the work as grim and depressing. Another youth minister wanting to schedule a group is unable or unwilling to hear how things have changed since he came in the 90’s. I am grateful for Sr. Louise’s advice to me in our early days here--that we didn’t need to do what others had done before us, that we should offer what we have to give and know that our gifts are also needed in this place. We noticed this year that what people mention about their time here--with appreciation or discomfort--is being seen clearly. Remembering to pray for those I found frustrating or irritating as well as those I found encouraging or sympathetic helps to stop the complaint loop that can distract my thinking and deplete my energy. Another lesson learned, another blessing. ---by Lorraine
God always dwells in us--in all of us--there is always hope. *
(*-Quotes are from Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu)
Reflections on Yearly Visits 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.
In late August part of the ceiling collapsed in the upstairs bathroom of the house due to an unnoticed leak in the roof. It took a full day to replace some framing, put a new roof on in that area and put in new drywall and insulation. While I was up there I also replaced the fascia boards on about 30 feet of the eave. They had been in rough shape for a while. I put a stack of firewood on the porch of the house so that I will be able to run the wood stove this winter to finish work on the kitchen and complete the interior repairs in the bathroom. Last winter I had to quit working on the drywall because we were running low on wood in the woodshed and I hadn’t put any in the house. I also need to replace the entire house kitchen floor including the frame. I cut 100 1x6 pine boards in late summer. We bought a used shaper last winter and I will use it to make tongue and groove edges on the boards for flooring. Having never done this before, I am looking forward to learning a new skill.
I have been spending a lot of time at the sawmill during October and November. Hardwood lumber sales have picked up this fall, and I want to have as much in the loft as I can before the snow gets too deep for me to be able to bring logs to the mill. I have also been cutting pine and aspen framing lumber for the barn building project planned for next summer. I need to get all of the framing lumber ready before I remove the existing pole barn and pour the foundation piers next spring. We will need to get the new building frame up and put the roof back on as soon as possible, and the siding and loft floor can then be worked on more gradually.
In the latter part of September I was asked by ARISE to build a couple of wheelchair ramps in Parish. There were some setbacks and some pleasant surprises along the way. The building inspector was out sick on the day that I went down to draw the plans and get the permits, but it turned out that I only needed one permit as one of the ramps was very small. I was able to send in the application for the other ramp by mail so I didn’t have to make an extra trip, but it did take a few days to be ready. Once the permit was approved I sent the lists for both jobs to ARISE to buy the materials. The lumberyard got the delivery mixed up and brought all of the materials to the site of the smaller ramp, but it was only 4 or 5 miles from the other place so it wasn’t too bad. For both ramps, family members of the person who needed the ramp offered to help with the construction. This had never happened to me before and made my work much easier. The folks at the site of the bigger ramp had a friend with a large trailer who came and moved the material for their ramp, which saved me several trips. With the help I was able to build both ramps in one day--much faster than I could have done the work on my own.
This year we did not sell as much hay as we have been accustomed to sell in recent years. We still have 230 bales to sell in the shed so our “new” hay baler that we have been using for the past two years has to sit outside since there is no room for it inside. Once we have completed the barn replacement project next year we will be able to put the hay for the goats in the loft and use the ground floor storage in what is now the hay shed to keep the baler out of the weather.
In October on a couple of nice days I replaced the siding on the end of the woodshed and one of the windows in the dining room of the barn. The siding was T111 that had been deteriorating and I replaced it with board and batten siding like we use on the outbuildings we have built but held up with screws so that it will stay tighter. The old window had been a little too tight, and in the winter it had cracked the inner pane of the double glazed window on three occasions. We have put in a new window and increased the opening a bit so that this should not happen anymore. The back door needed a new frame so that it would latch tightly and I made one from ash that should last a while and reduce drafts. I have had to replace the door knobs on four of the five outside doors of the barn over the course of this year and the front door got a lever instead which is much more convenient when carrying things in and out. Late in October our washing machine stopped working and given its age and the cost of the part to repair it we decided to replace it with a new one. While making this year’s first batch of cider the grinder I had used last year for apples stopped working. It was really meant to grind grapes and the metal drive parts inside were worn away. For a while I only ground small amounts of apples and used a hand cranked sausage grinder. Toward the end of the season I made a wooden grinder powered by an electric motor, based on some pictures I found online. I had to buy some stainless screws and a pair of bearings but everything else I needed had come in box lots at auctions. It works much better than anything we had before and will grind enough apples to make 2 gallons of cider in about 10 minutes. If it ever does break down I will be able to easily replace any parts with things we have on hand.
Agriculture by Joanna (written Nov. 12)
The first snow has fallen and most of the harvest is in, though we’re still getting kale and brussels sprouts from the main garden and lettuce from the cold frame,. Most of the beds are cleared and mulched. As the outside work slows down we have time to stop and think about our farming, the things we have to learn and the things for which we’re grateful.
We had some problems in the garden. The tomato yield was reduced by gray mold, but we still had enough to can, lots of Juliets to dry, and a few tomatoes to give away before the frost killed the plants. The tomato plants we grew against the southeast-facing woodshed wall were huge, prolific and mold-free; we’ll grow more on a nearby wall next year. Mold also affected our peppers. We had plenty to eat fresh and a few to freeze; we were grateful for the colorful large peppers our Amish neighbors gave us. Chipmunks ate the peas we meant to save for seed and more than half of our hazelnuts. This winter I’ll read up on disease and pest control.
Some plants throve in the wet weather. We had a bumper crop of very large onions to eat and share. We gave garlic for eating and planting, as well as divisions of various perennial plants, to many neighbors and guests. This was our best potato harvest yet--when we brought the main crop in to share and store we had 360 pounds. Carrots and parsnips did well too. We had lettuce to eat daily and to give away from May through October. The shiitake logs bore abundantly. The apples weren’t as prolific as last year (they tend to bear biennially), but we were still able to get enough for freezing, drying, making applesauce and cider and sharing with our Amish neighbors. Now lettuce, kale, tatsoi and chard are growing apace in the winter greenhouse, which has stayed aphid-free so far this year.
This year’s agricultural experiments are off to a good start. This spring we transplanted willow, rose, blackberry and elderberry plants just outside the goat fence to start a hedgerow, a living fence and a source of the browse the goats need. Most of the plants survived in spite of very infrequent tending, and this fall we added hazel shrubs to the mix. We have now had five litters of rabbits. One of our does has gotten more productive as we feed her on plants from the fields and garden instead of pellets. We culled the other doe, who wasn’t doing as well, and we’ve kept two of the better doe’s female kits to breed next year. During the growing season it was easy to feed them on plants from the fields and garden. In winter we’ll rely on hay, whole grains, and ‘fodder’ (sprouted grain). Most books on rabbit care recommend feeding commercial pellets, but some other rabbit-raising homesteaders are discussing their natural feeding experiments online. It looks as though we can raise rabbits sustainably and very cheaply. Some of our visitors are interested in how this is done--we can pass on our experiences now and at some point we may also have breeding rabbits to share. We’ve usually raised pigs for meat, but we are reconsidering that, partly because of the rising price of grain and partly because we are having trouble finding good-quality piglets to raise; this year our pigs appeared healthy but didn’t grow well. However, while we like rabbit well enough, we’re especially fond of pork. We’ll figure this out over the winter.
All the new things we add take time. I sometimes felt a bit overwhelmed during this growing season, and I was very grateful for good help and good company in the garden. Bob Bartell (see page 4) visited in August and helped me keep up with weeding and berry-picking while discussing economics, theology, community and communication. In September Melinda, our long-time friend and board member , helped me pick snow peas and dig potatoes while talking over our work and discernment for the past several months. That same month Leslie, a Quaker friend and community organizer, spent a day with us and helped me pick apples, collect mulch and brainstorm new possibilities for engaging with our neighbors. Early in November Mary Kate and Colin visited on their way back from the People’s Climate March in NYC. I appreciated their skilled, focused help in the garden and enjoyed hearing about their experiences with sustainable agriculture, homeschooling and community-building.I’m grateful for the things that grow easily and abundantly,for the things we can learn from difficulties, for what our guests learn from us and what they teach us, for the gifts we can give and the gifts we receive.
Thank you to all who support us with volunteer help, expertise, and donations so that we can live here and offer what we have to others regardless of their ability to help or to pay. Thank you to all who pray for us; we mean to ground our lives in prayer, but when we are weary and distracted it is reassuring to remember that we are held up by the prayers of others.
We still have donated copies of Deep and Simple and The Shelter of Each Other to loan or give to neighbors and guests--thank you! We’d appreciate donated copies of You Are Not Your Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz and Rebecca Gladding (a book about identifying false, self-defeating thoughts and problematic habits and replacing them with something more true and constructive; Joanna has found it helpful in dealing with anxiety), and of Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu (a book about hope and about the basic spiritual practices that led to wholeness).
Free resources for celebrating Advent and Christmas in a way that focuses on relationships with God and others instead of consumption are available online atwww.simpleliving.startlogic.com (go to box 6, Resources for the Season), the web home of Alternatives for Simple Living; at http://godspace-msa.com (the November 11 entry includes an assortment of family Advent activities); and at www.adventconspiracy.org
Lorraine’s Advent reflection
I didn’t grow up celebrating Advent at home or in church but in 1981 my husband and I attended a Lutheran church family night at which wreaths were made and taken home. That Advent had new meaning for me anyway because I was expecting my first child late in December. The next year Joanna was greatly interested in the candles being lit and also in the wooden nativity figures that had been a gift from my in-laws. A couple years later my oldest sister gave me patterns for an Advent banner with an embroidered stump with a green shoot growing out of it and symbols to represent Bible stories from the creation to the Annunciation. We also found Alternatives and used their Advent through Epiphany calendar year after year.
So our traditions developed--we made our wreath from balsam fir and lit the candles every night. The calendar had readings and things to do each day to help all ages focus on peace and justice. The wooden figures were sturdy enough for children to handle and we used them to tell the old, old story. Mary and Joseph and the donkey traveled toward Bethlehem until Christmas when the baby, kept hidden until then, was placed in the manger. The wise men started in the eastern end of the house and were moved by candlelight until they reached the manger on Epiphany.
When we came to the farm in 2001, we decided we didn’t it didn’t make sense to bring decorations for a tree. But we all agreed we wanted to bring the banner, the wooden creche figures, and the Advent wreath. We had to make do with hemlock and spruce for our wreath until we planted fir. We don’t use the calendars anymore, but the banner and the candles, the wooden figures moving through the spaces where we live, remain part of the celebration and what makes this barn home.
May we all find practices that nourish hope & peace & joy & love,
Make spaces for the Light to shine, and open to the Word who dwells among us.