Living our Mission by Joanna
When we moved here people told us that we’d find the winters hard, but so far we’ve found a gift as well as a challenge in them. There’s a richness to the growing season, but while it lasts we can easily get submerged in each day’s work and lose sight of the larger picture. Winter allows us to do what we encourage our guests to do--stop and think, make deliberate choices. In early January we meet to review the past year’s work, consider the strengths and weaknesses of our life here, and discern what we are called to in the year ahead.
Our basic mission is to live an alternative to the consumer culture. We’re learning to buy less and waste less, to produce more of what we need and use more of what we have. This summer we fed our rabbits largely on plants we grew and gathered here, and even through the winter we’ve been able to feed them on roots from our garden, dried plants and whole grains instead of buying rabbit feed pellets. This winter we’re researching how to feed the rest of our livestock more naturally. The soil in the gardens improves as we add compost, muck cleaned out of the pond and sawdust from the mill. We also are learning to keep our balance better, not to waste so much energy on anxiety and irritability. We still have a long way to go, but we’re growing clearer.
We know what we have to offer--quiet space and time, nature trails and guides, satisfying work for body and mind, an integrated and sustainable way of life. We’re still figuring out how to invite people in to share that with us. People who visit once usually tell us that they enjoyed their time here and say they’ll be back; often we don’t see them again. Workers from other local charitable organizations report that they ask what people in the community need, offer what they think people are asking for, and then find that people don’t show up and participate. I think that the nature of our mission adds an extra complication. How do you make a slick sales pitch for an alternative to the consumer culture? It’s hard to speak about the value of quiet time in a noisy and distracted world without going unheard or becoming another noisy distraction.
Over time we’ve tried many different ways of reaching out. The after-school program with Rural and Migrant Ministry, the Respite program through Catholic Charities, the summer program co-ordinated with the elementary school and the counter-recruiting outreach in the high school all had value while they lasted, but they ended because of changes in our partner organizations. We still grow food for the soup kitchen during the growing season and make toys for refugees during the winter (we just delivered another batch of puzzles, trucks, rainbows and dolls late in January). Zachary still builds wheelchair ramps for people identified by ARISE. I still coordinate meetings between local public-service agencies. We’re organizing Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff Week) activities for the eighth year, along with the Pulaski library, Literacy Volunteers, Rural and Migrant Ministry and others; community participation has been growing slowly but steadily.
This year we’ll start working with Literacy Volunteers of Oswego County. LVOC has been expanding their tutoring services for adults (Lorraine and I will take their tutor training course in March). They’ve also spoken of of a need for family activities related to literacy and numeracy. Our emphasis on engaging people in real-world, hands-on activities and on helping people to think critically made sense to them. During Screen-Free Week we’ll invite families to the Pulaski library to try out some hands-on math and science activities that Lorraine used with Zachary and me when we were homeschooling and later with students in the afterschool program. We’ll bring nature guides and pictures from the farm and encourage families to visit us during the growing season. LVOC is inviting the families of their clients to participate. They’re also helping us to connect with other organizations which might bring people to explore, volunteer and learn during the growing season.
I’m also hoping to build and maintain long-distance connections with others who are trying to live an alternative. In late February I’ll go for the first time to the Catholic Worker Farmer gathering in Luck, WI where we’ll pray, dance, and discuss sustainable agriculture and community outreach. I’ve been reading, enjoying and occasionally writing for the newspaper put out jointly by several of the communities which will be represented there. In March I’ll attend the planning meeting for Quaker Spring, which gathers people yearly for worship, discernment and fellowship, letting go of agendas and listening to God.
Here at the farm we try to plan our work and outreach so that it’s practical and sustainable. We also try to hold our plans lightly, respond to what’s needed and keep listening for God’s guidance. I dislike planning and sometimes get cross if we work to come up with a plan and then have to figure something else out, but I see that this flexible responsiveness is essential to farming and to offering hospitality. Soon after we finished our winter review, with its discussions on how to invite people in, someone came to look at the musical instruments Zachary makes. He lingered to talk and make music, and he dropped a brief mention of difficulties with anxiety. Lorraine picked up on this and drew him out, I spoke about my own anxiety issues, and we gave him a couple of books that I’d found helpful. We try to be present to guests, expected and unexpected, while they’re here and hold them in prayer when they leave. We are grateful to all of you who hold us in prayer as we try to stay faithful and open.
Our commitment does not consist exclusively in activities or programs of promotion and assistance... but above all an attentiveness which considers the other “in a certain sense as one with ourselves.” --Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium
Maintenance by Zachary
This winter has been less of a slow time than winters usually are for me. The plan for the barn being built to replace the decrepit pole barn is now complete, and I have been cutting framing lumber which should all be ready in time for work to begin this spring once the woodshed is filled. The first step will be moving away the 40 foot steel shipping container that the pole barn was built over and removing all of the things stored under the pole barn and in the rafters. Then the metal roofing will be removed and the frame of the pole barn disassembled. 20 holes will need to be dug and concrete forms built and placed in them for the footers. We are probably going to have a concrete truck come to pour them. The concrete will have to cure for a week before we can remove the forms and backfill the holes. We will bring in some gravel or other fill to build up the ground within and around the building, which will have a dirt floor at least for now. We need to have the floor of the barn higher than the surrounding ground so that it will not flood in heavy rain. The frame of the new barn will be a modified post and beam structure. Once the main frame is in place the rafters will go up and the roofing from the old pole barn will be reinstalled. Over the rest of the year siding, doors and windows will need to be put up, and then floorboards in the loft. Once that is all done there will be wiring for lights and outlets to install, and the rabbit and chicken areas to build. I do not know how long all of this will take or when we will be able to start. It will depend on the weather and if anyone comes to help. We have planned it so that I can do all of the work by myself if necessary, but we are hoping that we may have some help from time to time as this will be a large project.
This winter we have not had any pipes freeze, but the underground wire feed from the house to the sawmill building failed in early January. I won’t know what caused it to fail until I can dig it up in spring, but it has clearly become separated underground. A neighbor who is an electrician came by that morning, confirmed my diagnosis and helped run a temporary overhead line between the house and the sawmill building by attaching the wire to the pulley clothesline which is not in use at this time of year. In the spring I will dig up the wire and bury the replacement, this time in conduit. This wire also feeds the well house, which is beyond the sawmill building. Ten years ago when the wire was put in it was only placed in conduit where it crossed the parking area. At that time the sawmill building had not been built or thought of, but now the area around it gets a lot of traffic from tractors and lumber customers.
In January I replaced the small refractory stones in the boiler. The original ones lasted over two years, longer than we had expected, and are very easy to replace. The fan bearing on the boiler also needs to be replaced but I am waiting for a day that is above freezing so that we can comfortably shut the boiler down for a while. The first year we had the new boiler we didn’t burn as much wood as we had stored up for the winter but last year and this year we have burned more than usual due to the unusually persistent cold weather. The new barn will provide handy space to store extra firewood for contingencies like this. If the weather does not break I will likely need to cut some dead trees for immediate consumption early in the spring as I did last year.
In November I saw an older 6 foot snowblower for sale in Pulaski and bought it. It goes on the back of either of the tractors and is very convenient. I have been able to keep the sawmill open all winter so far and will be able to for the rest of the season since the snowblower can clear away the snowbank that results when the roof clears itself. In prior years I have only been able to keep the mill open until the snow became too deep to plow.
In early January we painted the walls of the chapel, which are 15 feet high. They had not been painted since late 2004 so they were ready. I had thought it might take a few days but I brought in the scaffolding one afternoon and moved some furniture, and by the end of the following day Joanna and I had painted the whole room. Since then I have been painting ceilings in other parts of the building and repairing drywall where it was needed. I had hoped to process the lumber for the new floor in the former kitchen of the house this winter, but the big planer has been having problems with the feed motor and I have not gotten them straightened out yet. The kitchen is a project that can afford to wait since we are not using it for much of anything, and I expect to have more time for it in a year or two.
Last year’s syrup season was not a great success as we did not get frequent or large flows of sap. This year we bought 20 used buckets which will raise our total number of taps to 41 from 31 last year. We have been running 10 taps with tubing into barrels but this year we will keep the barrels inside for sap storage. I hope that by having more taps set we will be able to get the amount of syrup we want even in a bad year, and in a good year we may get done a little early and move on to other jobs.
Our greatest strength is our greatest weakness by Lorraine
These words, spoken by a Friend in Quaker worship several years ago, remain with me as I live and work here at St. Francis Farm. This winter I’ve gone with Joanna to some of the community meetings that I usually only hear about. All the people who attend are trying in some way to meet the needs of the community and work for various government or charitable organizations. I was aware as I watched and listened of the ways the farm is alternative, of how our differences are both strength and weakness.
Our having no paid staff, no grants, no programs, no fund-raisers may seem like weaknesses. (I watch Joanna bristle when someone mentions that you just can’t depend on volunteers.) On the other hand, we don’t have worries about keeping a certain number of “clients” to maintain grant funding or about one of us getting laid off because of budget cuts at various government levels. Others struggle with rules set up by people in some office far from the work--rules about who can be helped and what the “program” offers. We set priorities and have the flexibility to change them as needed. The everyday basic work we do with our hands both sustains us and helps us stay balanced. In winter we have time to learn more about whatever we hope to do next--growing fodder, breeding rabbits, different building techniques, kiln-drying lumber. The more we learn, the more we have to share with whoever comes seeking help or wanting to help.
Except for my teaching certification, which lapsed before we came here, none of us has any professional credentials. Sometimes the people who come need help beyond what we can offer and we try to connect them with other resources. When she was at RMMOC Sr. Louise would help. She used to call what we do “relationship therapy”--just listening, caring, sharing our own stories when relevant. Others have disapproved of our ‘doing play therapy’ (for which we have no training or credentials) with children. Playing with puppets, drawing or painting, building with blocks was only therapeutic in the sense of being healthy or beneficial, and because we weren’t therapists the time the children could spend doing these things was less limited.
Many around us see winter as something to just get through if you can’t get away. When Zach has to go out to clear snow again and the wind is up and the temp way down, or when it’s dim in the barn at midday and my feet are cold, I can see their point. We still get out to walk a mile or two most days. Even when we have to stay on the road, we’re beside a brook much of the way and can hear it singing and see the ice lace along the edges and around rocks. The lake effect snow clings to the trees and bushes and softens all edges. Then in sunlight it seems to be sprinkled with diamonds. Icicles that block our view from the downstairs windows are dazzling by moonlight. With the skylights snow-covered the upstairs is dark as a cave, but the protective blanket blocks cold and wind.
The coming season looks like our most challenging since 2005 when we renovated the house. Since that year we’ve tried to not plan more work than we can do ourselves, leaving extra things to do if we have help. This year Zachary has planned his biggest ever building project. Joanna will miss his help in the garden. While sawing so much lumber for the new building, Zach will have less time to bring in and saw hardwood lumber for sale and that means less income. We’re not very good at asking for help. We’ve been told by volunteers that we seem too capable to need help (our greatest strength is our greatest weakness). This year, more than ever, we need to remember that we and the farm and the world are in God’s hands. Please pray that we’ll be faithful to our work and open to the help God provides.
Local community groups will observe Screen-Free Week from March 30-April 5.
Mon-Sat, weather permitting, nature walks, listening for frogs & owls, watching woodcock displays, 6:30 to 8 pm at the farm Monday, SFF will offer puzzles, games and hands-on problem solving activities at the Pulaski library from 10 am to noon.
For a full schedule of other no-cost Screen-Free Week activities see http://www.stfrancisfarm.org/ScreenFree
During March & April we’ll tap maple trees, gather sap, and make syrup. We hope for a litter of rabbits each month. We’ll start a new batch of chicks from the hatchery in April. April & May are the best times for frog calls and woodland wildflowers. Dora, the goat we got last spring, should kid early in May.
Signs of Spring by Lorraine
Another growing season has begun and once again I’m torn between stopping to look for nests and wildflowers or hurrying to keep up with the work. Intending to repair the lettering on the sign I’d made out of a slab from the sawmill and some grapevine a couple years ago, I saw nesting material and knew that job would have to wait. The robin sitting on the nest has finally gotten used to our coming around the corner of the building and doesn’t fly every time. Enough people came for divisions from my perennial herbs and flowers that I didn’t have to dump any behind the mailbox this year. The woods and field trails that we enjoy ourselves and hope to expand when time allows have gotten more use this year. Two college students spent last week with us and volunteers are scheduled for a week or two in June and also in July. Inquiries about volunteering have come from a local youth group and from agencies working with people with special needs.
There are parables in plant divisions if I knew how to tell them. People taking plants often ask about the uses of herbs and expect a sort of miracle cure for insomnia or high blood pressure or hyperactivity. They are disappointed to hear that keeping to a schedule, getting more exercise, and changes in diet are what is needed--that herbs can help within a context of healthy choices. Plants either dwindle and die or thrive and spread. In the latter case, perennials not divided eventually die out from the center. Dividing allows them to flourish and provides plants to share. The gardens look somewhat empty in the spring and the plants not very impressive when they first emerge. But a plant that can be held easily in one hand in early spring would fill a bushel basket in a couple months. I always invite those taking plants to stop by through the season and see what is growing in my gardens, what they might want another year. Giving plants to anyone willing to take and tend them is part of living an alternative to the consumer culture.
For years I’ve hoped that others would use the trails we’ve made through the woods and fields. This spring I’ve shown several people the pasture loop and the woods and hayfield loops. Some have been told by their doctors to get more exercise. Some enjoy walking and get tired of always walking along the road. Once they know where trails start and where they go, they can come back on their own or with a friend and not need a guide. I like to go with them when I can--so often at the farm the line between my work and recreation is unclear. Seeing familiar things through others’ eyes offers encouragement and a reminder of the blessings so easily taken for granted. Visitors with a guide can get their questions answered and see things they might have missed otherwise.
Joanna’s community connections are bringing more people to the farm and we’ve learned what needs to be communicated to avoid confusion and disappointment. The farm used to host many student groups who came to “serve the rural poor”. What we find is that the opportunity to serve, to do something useful, is what everyone seeks, but it is not readily available to all. We seek to share the work and its satisfactions with whoever comes just as we share the trails and the beauty we enjoy here.
Farm Report by Lorraine
We got off to a slow start with the rabbits, losing kits born to inexperienced does in the unusually cold spring. In April we had to hunt a while to gather a few fresh greens to feed. Now we fill five 4 gallon buckets easily, feed fresh willow branches daily and have hung enough willow for the winter to dry in the sawmill loft. With the walk-behind sickle bar mower Zach got at auction, we can mow swaths to encourage new growth. We have 15 kits from 3 litters and more expected in June.
The chicks we picked up as day old fluff balls at the end of March have been out in a coop since mid-April. This time around we ignored the current advice about keeping them very warm for weeks and followed older practices in housing and feeding. Their coop moves around a compost area where they scratch for worms and bugs and has a run on the other side of the coop that moves around the outside of the circle so they have fresh green area frequently. Watching them often reminds me of our human foibles. They will all chase whichever chick picks up a bit of food, even though the feeder is full of the same thing and is right in front of them. They will get out of the pen if the slightest opportunity offers but have no idea what to do with their freedom, seeking only to get back in but seeming unable to find the way back without help. Our four older hens still provide a few eggs but haven’t done as well either due to age or the change in feed.
Dora kidded on May 2, producing a doeling Joanna named Jewelweed and a buckling she named Juniper. These are perhaps the most vocal kids we’ve had and the most precocious, quick to get onto their feet, to nurse and to start nibbling green stuff. We’re glad to have lots of milk again as we have more visitors and want more cheese. The pastures greened up fast--good eating for the does and a playground for the kids. The goats are also eating lots of willow and helping cut back on the invasive multiflora rose. The goats, especially kids, are favorites with visitors of all ages.
We’ll pick up a piglet near the end of May.
Garden Report by Joanna
We’ve had another late and erratic spring. The garden didn’t emerge from the snow until early April, when I scurried to plant peas and greens. Since then we’ve had highs in the eighties followed by highs in the forties and freezing nights followed by more hot weather, weeks of rain alternating with weeks of dry heat. Through it all the garden is thriving.
We’ve had plenty of greens from the greenhouse and then from the cold frames since early April. The asparagus harvest began early in May. Now it’s the third week in May and we have asparagus, peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, onions, garlic, kale, kohlrabi, chard, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beans up and growing in the garden. The tables outside the greenhouse are covered with bushy tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings which got off to a slow start in our cold gray April and then caught up in the hot parts of May. Tomorrow we’ll have rhubarb, herbs and goat cheese to send to the soup kitchen.
We keep working on the basic structure and sustainability of the garden. Our drip irrigation lines make it easier to deal with long dry spells, and there’s plenty of water in the ground, thanks to the deep snow we had this winter and the heavy rain that came in early spring. We had a better than usual supply of compost this spring. Rabbit manure helps us add organic matter to our beds, and the mown paths are coming up to clover and dandelions which we feed to the rabbits along with the root crops we grow more intentionally. I’m mulching more with aged sawdust, which seems to help keep the weeds down while not inhibiting the plants we want. The lignins in sawdust are supposed to combat fungal diseases; I hope that will help our tomatoes this year.
Time and energy are our most limited garden resources, especially this year as Zachary needs to focus on his building project and has less time to help me in the garden. I’m grateful to the people who have helped me catch up on the work. Jess and Cindy come almost weekly and help out in the garden and greenhouse; Jess particularly enjoys finding earthworms. Erin and Meghan came for a week through the WWOOF farm volunteer program after finishing a year of environmental studies at college. When they arrived the garden was overwhelmed with weeds and I was scrambling to clear and plant beds. When they left the garden was in good shape.
Maintenance by Zachary
This spring the snow lingered till mid-April so I wasn’t able to get as early of a start as I had hoped. I cut some firewood in March when we had a crust on the snow that was hard enough to walk on. Once I could get to the woods with the tractor the firewood was all in within a week. I had to replace a tube and get the rim welded on a rear wheel of the Massey tractor. This required draining the fluid out of the old tube and putting it back into the new tube. This process was rather slow but it was still better than paying a tire shop to do it. The sap run this year was better than last year but not as good as what we have had. I set 40 taps this year and we made 38 quarts of syrup. This was the most syrup we have made yet, but still less than a quart per tap. In April I bought some conduit and buried the new wire from the farmhouse to the sawmill building. It is only about 50 feet so it did not take too long. I hope that the conduit and deeper burial will keep the new wire safe. I made a new frame for the swing by the pond since the old one was rotting at the bottom. The new one is pressure treated and should last a while. In May I replaced a window in the living room area of the barn which had cracked the inside pane on a cold day last winter. We have had this happen to three of the old wooden framed windows in the last few years and no one seems to understand why, but it always seems to happen on the coldest days.
My big job for this season is replacing most of the pole barn with a more permanent structure. In the late winter I finished cutting most of the framing from aspen logs that I cut on the hill at the east end of the farm. I still have some rafters to cut but everything else is ready. After the firewood was in I began working on cleaning out everything from the pole barn and the shipping container. I had been trying over the last year or so to get rid of things that we were not going to want to keep, but there was still a lot of stuff to be moved and stored elsewhere. I brought over the willow lumber that I had cut last year and made it into 80 tapered panels which will be used to form the concrete piers. Around the first of May I was ready to start disassembling the pole barn. To get it all down took about a week and then another week to clean the nails out of the lumber and get the site cleared. I had to hire a tow truck to come and winch the shipping container out of the way after I broke a rear hub on my tractor while pulling it. It is now sitting in the back yard and I have cleaned it out completely. I hope we can sell it soon as it is very large and not at all attractive. Yesterday I used a rented trackhoe to dig the holes for the piers. Today I will be bending rebar and putting it in the pier forms. My hope is to have the concrete truck come out early in the last week of May to pour the piers. Once the concrete has cured I will cut off the above-ground part of the forms. Then I will start bringing in rocks from some piles at the back of the hayfield to bring the ground up to level where the building will be. I hope to use the rocks as much as possible and then buy a couple of dump truck loads of gravel to fill in between them and make the floor walkable. My hope is that by leveling the ground inside the barn we can also keep water from running in the uphill side of the building and across the floor as it does now in heavy rains. Once June is here haying may begin at any time depending on the weather. I hope to have time to start framing by the end of June if not before, and to have the whole frame up and get the roof on by the end of July.
Catholic Worker Farm Gathering by Joanna
In February Catholic Worker farmers and fellow travelers from across the country came together in Luck, Wisconsin for a gathering organized by Barb Kass and Mike Miles of Anathoth Community Farm. We spent a long weekend praying, talking, eating and dancing together. It was a rich and stretching time, and I began to get a better sense of the larger community to which St. Francis Farm belongs.
Sometimes I felt like a new in-law at a family reunion. My family knew the Catholic Worker only by reputation when we came to St. Francis Farm. As soon as we agreed to stay here long-term the people who had lived and worked here told us that they were planning to leave and were glad they’d found someone to carry on the work after them. We settled in and figured out how to tend the boiler, grow food and deal constructively with our neighbors. We didn’t have much leisure for traveling. In our fourteen years as Catholic Workers we haven’t met many other CWs. At the gathering I realized that many of my fellow attenders had moved from community to community, and those who had been in one place for a long time had visited each other, worked and prayed and sung and been arrested for civil disobedience together. I admired (and envied) this closeness, and I was grateful for their openness and welcome to a newcomer.
In another way I felt at home from the beginning. Often neighbors and guests see our way of living as either pitiable or admirable, but in either case alien. The other local agencies with whom we cooperate are working with a different set of questions and problems--the need for grant funding, the constraint of government regulations or internal program guidelines, the urgency of keeping their number of service encounters high enough to appeal to donors and grantors. Some Catholic Worker publications are focused on work very different from our own--large-scale hospitality or protest and awareness-raising. At this gathering we all shared basic work and were trying to come up with practical answers to some of the same basic questions: How can we grow food to eat and share in a way that requires few purchased inputs, produces little waste, and enriches the land? How can we welcome people into our communities while maintaining necessary boundaries? How can we make our work sustainable? How can we we live honestly and peaceably with our fellow workers? What does it mean, on a particular piece of land, in a particular community, to make a society in which it is easier for people to be good?
Two speakers addressed the group on large-scale answers to these questions. I especially appreciated the opportunities to learn how my fellow attenders were working out answers in their own places. We toured Anathoth Farm and saw their long-standing experiments with alternative power generation, composting toilets etc, as well as newer permaculture-inspired experiments with wooded pastures, berms and swales, and natural feed for pigs and chickens. I took part in roundtable discussions on volunteer help and on alternative animal feeding. A workshop on public/community health and roundtable discussions on crafting and on reconciliation were held at the same time, and I regret having missed them.
Some communities found it quite easy to attract all the volunteer help they needed. Location seems to make a difference. Montana is a magnet for visitors. CWs located near university towns have many interested students coming out to help part-time; some of those students become live-in volunteers. Lake City CW has done well with inviting neighbors in to help with specific projects and learn specific skills. (Does it help that they’re located in the Midwest where there may be a stronger culture of competence and neighbor-help? I don’t know.) Other communities struggled, as we do, to find volunteers. All of us are trying to figure out how to communicate clearly in advance so that we know what our guests expect, they know what we expect and there’s some substantial overlap between the two. We also struggle with where to set boundaries and how to involve short-term volunteers or new community members in decision-making.
I had half hoped that somebody would have figured out a definitive answer to feeding animals something cheap, wholesome and non-GMO. That hasn’t happened yet, but people from several communities were working on the same problem and had pieces of a solution. I collected some helpful tips on chicken feeding (soaked and sprouted grains, fermentation, eggshell feeding....) and was able to contribute some tips from our community (it’s easy to raise rabbits without buying pellets; you can grow grains out into grassy ‘fodder’ without shelling out lots of money for a Fodder System...)
Informal conversations over meals also opened up helpful questions. For all that we shared, we were far from unanimity on most issues. In some conversations I felt like a conservative outlier, in others like a solitary liberal. I’m not sure whether this marked me as a moderate or just as argumentative. Many other Catholic Workers, although vocal in protesting systemic injustices, seemed reluctant to disagree in person with their fellow peace workers. Some said they’d chosen not to deal with conflicts within their communities. This also wasn’t a unanimous position. New Hope Farm led a well-attended discussion on their community process for dealing with conflict in a sacramental framework focused on reconciliation. I missed that discussion but Eric Anglada kindly sent me a description of the process from their newsletter.
Whatever our disagreements, we shared a foundation in prayer which opens a way into clarity and unity. We met on the grounds of a hospitable Lutheran church with a history of teaching practical skills and a current emphasis on nonviolence. We were invited to join them in an evening and a morning service; I went to both, as well as Catholic morning prayers and an impromptu Quaker meeting, and found a strong sense of prayer and fellowship in all of these.
Nature Notes by Lorraine
This beginning of the long stretch of “ordinary time” in the church calendar is also the time of the most light. The birds wake me just as the night begins to fade and I need a quick nap after lunch to make it through until the stars come out. There is never enough time to stop and appreciate the light--how it shimmers in the ripples on the pond, moves through the green fields with the wind, catches in dewdrops, slants into the woods as the sun rises and sets. Just opened cottonwood leaves look as if they’d been dipped in light. Tulips are just cups for holding light.
This year as we feel stretched by the work to be done, we remind each other to stop and see the light--a sunset, the stars, a rainbow. I think of others who feel stretched or discouraged and pray that those who come to the farm seeking peace may find it, that Light will shine through the work and the worries. Thank you for helping us to care for this place and those who come to it. May they and you and we be open to grace and walk in the Light.
After fourteen years I still struggle to explain the farm, whether on official forms or to casual visitors. “Living an alternative to the consumer culture” is the best language we’ve been able to find to articulate our mission. People sometimes seem puzzled by that, but overhearing one visitor this summer saying to herself, “this place makes sense!” was encouraging. More often we hear that we “ought” to get paid for our work, to take real vacations, to sell this delicious healthy food at the farmers’ market, to apply for grants . . .
Joanna goes to Quaker gatherings, Zachary goes camping in the mountains, and I’ve been trying to figure out what to do for “vacation”--or even whether everyone needs one. I’ve wanted to figure out how to rest and rejuvenate here--to find what others discover when they visit. This morning I woke at 5:30 to a coyote chorus that seemed to be coming from the pig and pasture area across the road. I hoped they were having woodchuck, not pig, for breakfast. The sky I could see was mostly clear and the fields were swathed in bands of mist--a good morning for an early walk. A waning moon rode high between rosy clouds, lit by the sun that would soon be up. Less bird song than just a week ago, but this morning I saw two does with fawns by their sides in the hayfields. After my walk I had my coffee sitting on the porch swing, watching the robins feed their third brood in a nest under the stairs to the second floor. A hummingbird was busy in the hosta blossoms. Just before I headed in to the chapel for prayers, Zach ran by on his way to feed the pig. I’m finally learning to take my “vacation” a sunrise at a time.
My daily work is made up of the small things around the edges. This morning after prayers I made pancakes for breakfast with chopped apples from the freezer and maple syrup Zach made in early spring. When Joanna and Zach headed out to their building and garden, I picked nasturtiums for the table--for color and to add to our salads at lunch. The recent rain makes weeding easy and I pulled a bucket of mostly grass and purslane from the herb garden and dumped it into the pullets’ compost area. By then Joanna had left lettuce and radishes by the kitchen sink. I washed and spun the lettuce, cut off radish tops into a basket to go to the rabbits next feeding and trimmed the washed radishes for our salads. I made a batch of “everyday” cheese and froze the peppers that were picked yesterday. There are emails to answer and newsletter articles to write and to edit. This afternoon we have a weekly visitor and tomorrow two volunteers from ARISE to plan for.
The work can be daunting or satisfying, depending on how one looks at it. No one gets paid in money. Whoever volunteers is rewarded as we are with fresh food, new skills, a sense of accomplishment when the roof is up or the crop harvested or the canning jars filled. We never get as much help as we hoped for and that is doubly true this summer with the building project stretching us all. But we always have enough somehow to do what must be done. I’m grateful to Maria who came and picked peas when I’d finished freezing, beans when I’d finished canning. She took garlic that hadn’t been cleaned yet, picked raspberries, took milk to make her own cheese. She brought us blueberries and peaches--neither of which we grow ourselves--and brings bags of maple leaves in the fall for the goats. We are glad to have her come as a gleaner and know the folks at her church with whom she shares what she’s picked must be thankful too. Hope’s visits always cheer us. She cooked us supper one day in July and gave us helpful advice on dealing with other helping agencies. Bob Bartell is coming for his annual visit the third week of August and Zachary is already planning how to use his help on the barn. Our fourth wwoofer of the season is scheduled for the last week of August.
Tom McNamara just spent a couple days with us. He lived and worked here from 1995 to 2000, leaving to begin formation as a Franciscan the year before we arrived at the farm. But he’s been back to visit almost every year and has provided a bridge for us between the farm’s past and future. He helped us find the circuit breaker boxes in the barn, reclaimed borrowed ladders we needed for our work, and provided introductions and explanations to the local community. Each visit he joins us in morning prayer and evening song. While he works with us in garden or kitchen there is time to talk of his work and ours, of what we’ve learned and what we’re still seeking to discern. --by Lorraine
Where is Friar Tom McNamara?
This spring the brothers of the governing body of the Province of St. Mary of the Capuchin Order asked me to return to the United States from Ocotepeque, Honduras, where I had spent the last two years working in the parish of San Jose. After saying adios to many of the 100+ communities in which I served in the western tip of the country, I have begun working at the Capuchin Youth and Family Services retreat center in Garrison, New York. One of my goals there will be to integrate in some way the local Spanish-speaking community in the services that we provide.
I will work directly with 5 college grads living in intentional community, another friar and 2 lay women, to provide retreat experiences to mostly middle and high school aged youth in the mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State.
Another important goal of mine is to locate the site of the vegetable and herb garden on the property. St. Francis Farm will be providing me with the seed garlic and herbs to get me started in these coming months. I am grateful for the opportunity to have served in Central America and look forward to the possibility of serving there again in the future as I begin this new adventure.
Thank you for your prayers and thoughts in this time of transition.
Maintenance by Zachary
My main project this summer has been continuing construction of the new barn. The shipping container that used to be in the old pole barn was sold and hauled away on May 30th. On the 28th of May the concrete truck came and poured the piers. After allowing the concrete to cure for a week I cut off the portions of the forms that were above the projected level where the floor would be and began hauling in rocks from two large piles at the back of the near hayfield to level up the floor. I was able to use the dump wagon which made unloading very easy. I brought out about 20 loads of rocks and once they were spread around they filled the low areas up pretty well. I also made a very low retaining wall on the downhill side of the building to keep the rocks in place. Once that was done we had a dump truck load of crushed stone brought in which I spread around to fill in the gaps between the rocks and make a smoother surface. I began putting up posts and loft floor joists about the middle of June and was finished with that by the end of the month.
In July I set up the rafter beams and upper posts and put up the rafters. I was somewhat slowed down by having to get some more logs from the pine plantation and cut some more rafters since I had not gotten the full number ready in advance. The upper parts of the roof framing were difficult because of how high they were above the ground, but I got it done eventually. In the last week of July I cut more trees and made furring strips for the roof and got them put up. During this first week of August I put up the metal roofing and spread a final layer of finer crushed stone on the floor. My original plan had been to reuse the old metal roofing on the new building but when I was taking it down I noticed that too many screws had been used and they were not at all regularly spaced. This would have made it very difficult to get the new furring strips placed in such a way that there would be wood underneath every hole in the old roofing, and I thought it would be hard to keep it from leaking. On Craigslist I found enough new roofing for sale at a reduced price to do one side of the roof and I bought the rest at regular price. Since I was able to sell the old roofing, in the end it cost about $310 more to buy the new roofing than I got for the old. I think it will be well worth it not to have to worry about leaks.
By the time this newsletter goes out I will have made a start on bringing out logs to make into the siding and putting them up. I have been keeping a close eye on the “free” section of Craigslist and have gotten a couple of old garage doors with their hardware. One is a little too wide for the available opening and the other is rather narrow, but I am hoping to reuse the hardware and make new door panels that are sized to fit. I was also able to get a 5x6 foot window which will go somewhere in the new barn to let in light. Once the walls are covered the last major task will be to cut lumber and put it on the loft floor, which is currently just an open frame. I am hoping to get this all done by the end of the year.
June was unusually wet even by our standards and haying was difficult. I got our hay in at a fairly good stage but since most of our customers buy hay out of the field and are not very prompt or reliable about coming to pick it up I didn’t bale any hay to sell this year. If we have a dry weather forecast I don’t mind leaving hay on the ground an extra day or two to wait for a customer to show up but this year I couldn’t have done that without it getting rained on. All of the fields were cut by late July and the grass was left to go back into the ground which will be good for the long term health of the fields anyhow.
We got one piglet this year in early June instead of our usual two since we have meat rabbits now. It seems to be doing well so far. It doesn’t tear the ground up as fast as two pigs would have so I have not had to move it as often. We will have to figure out next year if we want to do a pig again or add more rabbits. In July I had a busy time at the sawmill for a while with one person bringing in logs he wanted cut and some other orders coming for wood from here. The lumber business seems to be quite sporadic. Next year I will have more time for milling.
I have been drawn to St. Francis Farm for many years. My friendship with the family extends to earlier days while studying at St. Joseph's College. My mother and I would make a yearly pilgrimage to visit and relax. The past couple of years I have traveled alone and flown into Syracuse instead of driving all the way.
The trip from the airport, and even while I was driving, to St. Francis Farm has always filled me with joy. One is welcomed with open arms, friendship and hospitality. The special treat is the feeling like you are stepping into a transporter and ending up in another place, perhaps even another time. The first thing you notice is the lack of constant traffic. You do not hear the cars swishing by with loud radio's blaring and the bass booming making your heart beat faster.
As your ears begin to adjust to the stillness you hear different sounds. The birds singing, the flowing movement of the brook, and occasionally the farm animals. The sounds I especially enjoy are the evening songs of the peepers and the bass and baritone of the other frogs. I do not get to hear those sounds in the city.
The day starts early with chores that need to be done. I like to grab a cup of coffee and sit by the pond watching the birds and trying to identify the various types. By seven those that would like to participate are invited to the chapel for quiet prayer and reflection, reading, or meditation. After prayer a hearty breakfast is served. The family decides what needs to be done for the day and plan what needs to be done in the near future.
There is a lot of planning and organizing that takes place in the daily running of the farm. There are the day to day chores like milking, gathering greens for the animals, tearing down an old barn making room for a new one. There are long term plans like the groups that gather at the farm, firewood that needs to be cut, the garden, the building, the animals, the everyday chores blend into a yearly cycle. It is a sustainable cycle which supplies their needs for the year. With my garden at home I try to do the same kind of planning. Canning and freezing the crops help cut down on the grocery bills.
Spending time at the farm renews my spirit. I do not miss the television, or the phone. My friend listens to what is heavy on my heart and lifts me up when I am down. She is a sounding board to my ideas and fears. It is good to find a place where one can just "Be", a place where one can listen to the "whisper of God" and feel refreshed.
Mac’s Story reflections of a June wwoofer
I discovered WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in 2014 when I went in search of a way to learn more about how to live sustainably, mainly thinking about producing and preserving one’s own food. I’d been working as an editor, writer, project manager in educational publishing for many years. It was my bread and butter work (still is, I guess). I had reached a place of relative success with this work, but I began to feel more and more urgently that the state of the earth and my relationship with it needed my attention. – If you aren’t part of the solution then you’re part of the problem -- I had been part of a small community garden in Chicago, but wanted more and wanted different. A Google search led me to WWOOF. I was immediately intrigued and signed up to work for a couple of weeks in the late summer on a farm in western Illinois.
I had no idea that the adventure I was about to embark upon would coincide with loss, pain, confusion, grief, and radical change. In the time since that first Google search, both my parents have passed away. I participated in their final illnesses and in their deaths. At the same time I began a process of separation from my longtime collaborator.
My experience on the farm can only be seen through that prism. Today, I find the work I have done for so many years—reading and writing—immensely difficult. Today, I find peace, experience belonging when I am working on or exploring the land. So I will allow myself the luxury of a disjointed report.
I arrived at St. Francis after a twenty-four hour bus ride, a month and a half after my mother died. I found a place and people that both challenged me and provided solace. That exposed me to new ideas and experiences and allowed me the comfort of the familiar. The pace of life at St. Francis is healing. The focus. The intensity. The connection to the land. The respect for it. The attention to it. I remember a line… in a play? or some movie? “Attention must be paid.” It is.
Then there was… The weird, uncontainable child-like joy of driving the tractor and running the sawmill. What is it about big machines? The disappointment that I never succeeded in completing a milking. Who knew that milking a goat would use those muscles and that those muscles would simply stop and say “Nope. No more” after just a few minutes? The conversations! The joy of shared intellectual curiosity while weeding, digging, mucking, walking. The challenge and fruit of the explorations in honesty and communication.
The details of each day, the feel of each day, the fact that each day I contributed something tangible: turned compost, fresh cheese, clover for tea, foraged food for goats and bunnies, hilled potatoes, moved rocks, gathered spring water.
Singing! Something I had not done out loud except on the rarest of occasions. I recognize that the opportunity to be able to work hard and productively without the responsibility for the ultimate outcome—or the need for a successful outcome in order to survive—is a gift.
So much more. Without realizing it, what began as a simple adventure and an educational endeavor has become a spiritual, political, and moral challenge which continues on. St. Francis travels with me.
Farm and Garden Report by Joanna
This summer has been busy and stretching, but there’s a lot of life and growth happening here, and we’re grateful.
We were disappointed to lose many rabbit kits this spring, partly due to cold weather and partly to new and inexperienced mothers. The mother rabbits we kept are now raising kits well; we’ve had four successful litters. We’ve frozen some rabbits and still have thirty-one in the hutches. The wet weather has made it easier to keep them supplied with greens cut from the field edges as well as willow branches and garden extras. We’ve dried willow for winter feed and now raspberry canes and burdock leaves are drying on the second floor of Zach’s new barn. Our naturally raised chicks have turned out sturdy and vigorous and we expect them to start laying soon. They’re willing to eat a wide variety of foods, including Japanese beetles which I need to remove from our vegetable and flower gardens in any case. We’re also growing black oilseed sunflowers for them--the plants are thriving; now I just need to protect the maturing seeds from the chipmunks. We sold Dora’s doe kid late in June and gave the buck kid to a friend. We’re getting enough milk for our own consumption, for soft cheese for the soup kitchen, and for our pig.
The garden came through the early summer’s wet weather without succumbing to fungal diseases, and now that it’s turning dry our drip irrigation system keeps things growing. We’ve finished freezing peas (20 quarts), canning beans (32 quarts), and harvesting and cleaning garlic. We’ve begun to freeze peppers and pesto and to can and dry tomatoes. We’re sending squash, cukes, beans, greens and herbs to the soup kitchen along with cheese; we’re also enjoying eggplants and new potatoes ourselves. Storage onions are drying in the new barn, and sweet onions will soon be ready to pull. Some beds have been cleared and planted to fall crops or cover crops. Early blight has struck our tomatoes again, but so far it’s not too aggressive and I’m able to slow it down with weekly pruning and organic spraying. Our strawberries and grapes lost this year’s fruit in a late freak freeze, but the wild berries are thriving. We’ve frozen 12 quarts of raspberries and now the blackberries are coming in. Our shiitake mushroom logs are bearing erratically as the weather fluctuates.
Zach is busy with his barn and I sometimes struggle to keep up with weeding, pruning, fertilizing and picking. I’m grateful to all those who help with the work. Mac weeded, planted, picked, talked and sang with us for a week. Katherine helped in the herb and vegetable gardens after bringing me home from Quaker Spring. Maria gleans and takes food to share (see article on front page), keeps me company and helps me weed. Ashley and her companions from ARISE come weekly to help clean garlic, sort vermicompost and do other farm jobs. Bob Bartell, who has written for our newsletter before, is here for his yearly visit, pitching into our work and sharing permaculture tips, philosophical reflections & reading recommendations. I’m also grateful for the abundance we have here: plenty of water, plenty of space, plenty of nutritious wild things growing. In winter I’ll have time to research more ways of using this abundance constructively and sustainably. For now I just keep doing what I know how to do as well as I can and remembering to stop, look up from my work, enjoy the flight of the birds and the fall of the light, and give thanks.
This summer has seemed the hardest since our first year at the farm. Building the new barn has kept Zach working at full stretch. Joanna has had all the garden and goats and much of the rabbit work to do alone. We dropped some things, realizing we couldn’t do everything we had done other years. With no hay to sell and less time for cutting lumber for sale, income this year has been down. At year’s end, we’re grateful to have harvest and firewood safely under cover and the new barn ready for winter. We’re thankful for the help that came when needed--extra hands for the work, donations to meet our expenses, prayers that carried us through.
When we’re tired it’s easy to become discouraged--to see all the things we didn’t get done, the problems we don’t know how to solve, the needs we don’t know how to meet. The news describes widening gaps--between rich and poor, liberal and conservative, Christian and Muslim, urban and rural. Voices on both sides of any issue get shriller and shriller. Everyone we meet is struggling--with physical or mental illness, with debt, with addiction, with uncaring or overburdened systems that were meant to help. They face conflicts in their families, their churches, their workplaces. What we can offer seems so little--a quiet place to sit, paths to walk, a glass of cider or a bag of vegetables, a caring heart and listening ear. Most of it lacks drama and the rest can’t be told. Sometimes I wonder who needs what the farm offers and how could we help them find it and where could we find support? The encyclical On Care for Our Common Home reminded me what really matters.
Pope Francis writes: Christian spirituality proposes an alternative understanding of the quality of life, and encourages a prophetic and contemplative lifestyle . . . free of the obsession with consumption. We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. . . those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have. They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing [and] are able to shed unsatisfied needs, reducing their obsessiveness and weariness. Even living on little, they can live a lot when they . . . find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. . . simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms. (excerpts from 222, 223, 230)
When weary or discouraged or uncertain we continue with our work, our walks, our daily prayer--even when they all seem meaningless for a time. We have to remember that we are like young children thinking that what we cannot see or feel is not there. We count our many blessings and pray for all of us who are frail or lost or weak and wait for the Light to break through our darkness again. by Lorraine
The constellation Cygnus, also known as the Northern Cross or the Swan, soars across the northern hemisphere in the late summer. The Milky Way stretches beneath its wings, and at its tail is one of the sky's brightest stars. This summer marked a sort of turning point in my life, and Cygnus has been a symbol of peace and guidance in this liminal space. It seems fitting, then, that I first learned of the Swan at St. Francis Farm.
I came to the farm as a volunteer at the end of August. I had just returned from a year living and working in Bangladesh about six weeks prior, and I was feeling restless. I longed for a place where I could get my hands in the dirt and work all day in the fresh air. I longed for a space where I could process the previous year and welcome whatever was next. Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary provided me just the space I needed, as well as something I had not considered: a community with which to engage.
Together we shared work, laughter, conversation, and quiet. They welcomed my big questions, and asked many in return. They accepted me as I was, but challenged me with new thoughts and ideas. Participating in their daily life exposed me to the possibility of alternative lifestyles. I woke each morning eager to jump into the day's work, and each day surprised me with something new to learn. During my two-week stay I participated in a variety of activities, including: milking goats, sexing and weighing newborn rabbits, harvesting vegetables, weeding the garden, turning compost, foraging for apples and berries, pressing cider, making cheese, drying and canning tomatoes, planting garlic, and feeding animals.
I am currently working on an orchard and recently accepted a position through the winter. The possibility of continuing to work in agriculture excites me. I find myself at yet another turning point, and the direction in which I am now traveling is in large part thanks to St. Francis Farm. Not only will I remember my stay for all the learning and hands-on experience, but also for the laughter and stories shared, for the peaceful, misty mornings, for the nights spent stargazing, and for a place that left me feeling full and rejuvenated. I hope to return soon!
Meet the Directors: Melinda
I grew up near St Francis Farm and attended a local Catholic church where the farm was mentioned every once in a while. Young adults in confirmation class would go and do a day of service at the farm as part of the process of preparing for confirmation. When I started attending college in Rochester, I lived off campus in community with some Sisters of St Joseph. Through that community experience I came to know more about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement. I remembered the stories about St Francis Farm from my childhood and was more curious about the place than ever. However, time passed and I never seemed to find a time to reach out to the people there.
Then while I was visiting home on a college break. I met a young man named Dan, who was living and volunteering at St Francis Farm. He began attending the church in my hometown and shared his musical gifts with the community by playing the piano. On another college break, I attended a spaghetti supper at my church and met the Hoyts, who were also living at the farm. Their invitation to come and visit was the start of a friendship that grew during repeated visits through my last years of college. We spent time together working in the garden, walking in the woods, making music in the chapel or by a fire on the hillside with the stars above. I learned how to milk goats and enjoyed wonderful meals of food that doesn’t taste the same anywhere else. Amidst all of these times spent together we shared about our lives. The Hoyts taught me about living an alternative lifestyle to the consumer culture that I was surrounded by.
When Joanna and Lorraine approached me about being a Director I was mostly surprised. I felt too young and inexperienced to take on that kind of a role — wondering what I could possibly have to offer. However, I deeply valued their lifestyle and their work. Their lives made sense to me, unlike much of the consumerist lifestyle that often makes me feel uncomfortable, foggy, and empty. I sat with the decision and decided to become a part of the Board as I understood the primary responsibilities to be providing support and accountability to the Core Members of the Farm.
As a Board Member I continue to visit and help as I am able. Through the relationship that we maintain, I know about the Hoyts’ successes, their convictions and their ongoing questions and struggles. I hear about future projects and get to see baby bunnies and have fresh goat cheese and marvel at the latest instrument Zach has built. Once a year I attend an annual Board meeting. The format of this meeting was new to me when I first joined the Board. We hear updates from each of the core members, discuss their questions and concerns and then spend some time together holding the silence. Lorraine has usually selected some quotes that are meaningful to our gathering and the current status of the farm. After the off-site Board Members meet together and prepare a response for the Core Members, we gather together again. Nothing is ever voted upon at these meetings. Instead we listen and share and mutually work to come to a common consensus about all matters of the Farm. To the best of my ability I am providing support and accountability to the Hoyts and the work they have agreed to do. I am grateful for the gift of being a small part of the life of the farm, and I look forward to continuing on the Board.
In future newsletters we hope to have each of the current Directors introduce themselves and tell something about their connection with St. Francis Farm and their service on its Board.
This fall has been mostly filled up with working on the new building. I had cut the framing lumber before construction began but everything else has had to be brought out of the woods as I needed it, so it has taken longer. My mother has taken photos and written an update below.
I’ve had to deal with a few surprises. On one memorable day I learned at 5 in the afternoon that the well was not working. I went to check on it and found that the pump had died. I pulled it out of the well quickly since Deaton’s closes at 7 and I wanted to get a new pump before they closed, but I needed to look at the old one to make sure I got one that matched it. When I got into the car at about 5:45 I found that the starter had failed. I gave up trying to make it work at 6 and biked to town instead. By about 8 I had the new pump in and the well working again. The next morning I called NAPA and ordered a starter, then bicycled into town again that afternoon, got the starter and put it in.
My list of things to do before winter included removing the siding at the top of the concrete wall of the barn we live in and adding insulation. I finally got that done in October. I brought some more firewood into the new barn in early November. The last two winters we have run short and have burned all of the wood that was intended for the summer in early spring, so this year I wanted to have a reserve supply of heavy firewood. The ash that I had cut up in the late winter when there was a crust on the snow was surrounded by water when I went to get it in the spring. This fall the whole area was pretty dry so I was able to get it. I have been continuing to cut some hardwood lumber to sell, though not as much as usual. I am hoping the deep snow will hold off long enough so I can get some logs in to restock. Once the loft floor in the new building is completed the entire loft of the sawmill building can be devoted to lumber to sell. I can have more different stacks of wood and keep them better organized.
At the beginning of September, the framing was done and Zach was installing siding. He took a couple big hemlocks but most of the wood came from overdue thinning in the red pine plantation. He had to set a couple more posts and frame in a 12’ x 6’ extension for the chickens’ winter coop.
In October he put down the first section of the loft floor (aspen he had cut down, hauled out and sawn at the mill). This floor was also the ceiling of the rabbit area which had to be walled off from the rest of the barn. He put in the 3 windows at each end and two doors so we could walk in to tend the rabbits and go on through to the goats.
The rest of the windows, various shapes and sizes that we had or found free, went in next. Most of the doors Zach built after sawing out the lumber. He had picked up two free overhead doors and was able to use the hardware and replace rotting wooden panels with metal sheets. He still has to install the second of these, finish the loft floor, put roost and nest boxes in the chicken quarters, and enclose the area between this building and the old woodshed. Joanna moved our hay into the new loft and there will be more moving to do when the loft is all floored.
The growing season is almost over. Only kale and brussels sprouts are left in the garden. Lettuce, tatsoi, chard and kale are growing in the greenhouse. I am tired, but also grateful for what we’ve harvested and what we’ve learned.
We had some problems in the garden. The tomatoes died of late blight after we’d canned 134 quarts, enough for the coming year. The potatoes didn’t get blight, but we got 290 pounds instead of last year’s 360. We’ll rethink spacing, hilling and fertilizing next year. The parsnips didn’t germinate well--now I know I need to buy new seed every year. The chipmunks ate the drying peas we meant to save for seed. I’m moving the hazelnut bushes away from the garden, since they’re a major chipmunk attraction.
Some things grew well. I’ve tried to deter plant diseases by adding lots of organic matter to the beds, including sawdust, which contains antifungal and immune-boosting ingredients. The onions and peppers stayed disease-free and produced abundantly. We had plenty of carrots for ourselves and the rabbits. We planted our eggplants against a south-facing wall and they throve. We had plenty of lettuce from spring through October. The apples didn’t bear heavily, but we had enough to freeze, dry, and make into applesauce and cider. The shiitake mushroom logs bore well in this wet fall.
All our hens are laying. We’re getting blue-green eggs from the Ameraucanas, white eggs from the Leghorns, and brown eggs from the Golden Comets. They’re all making good use of their compost pile and yard. We buy them whole oats, wheat, and sunflower seeds, but they also eat plenty of bugs, worms, weeds, whey and kitchen scraps. Zach has built them a spacious new winter coop on the south side of his new barn, and they’ll move in when the weather turns cold.
The rabbits moved from their sheds to brighter, roomier quarters in Zach’s new barn. The last litters of kits are growing well in the cool fall weather. We’re feeding them fresh greens, dried willow, carrots, potatoes, hay and grain. Lorraine has just started sprouting wheat into fodder.
We sold Poppy, who was getting older and harder to breed, and bought a 2-year-old Alpine/Saanen milk goat named Barley. We’re getting less milk than we have in some autumns, but we’re also getting more cheese per gallon of milk. We’re making hard cheeses now that our pig has been butchered. We’d read that a single pig might not eat and grow as well as one of a pair, but we didn’t need two pigs in addition to meat rabbits, and this year’s single pig grew better than either of the pair of pigs we raised last year.
I’m grateful for the two weeks Breezy spent with us (see her article above), pitching into the work attentively and enthusiastically, sharing stories and questions. I’m also grateful for Pope Francis’ words in Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home) affirming manual labor and care for the land.
Pope Francis writes: “We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work... Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment.” (128) We’ve hosted workers who felt forced into manual labor for lack of better choices, and students who have assumed that manual labor was beneath them. Both have been surprised that we choose to do and enjoy farm work. Some find satisfaction in working with their hands here and continue to do this when they return home. Their example encourages me when I’m tired and inclined to forget the gift of good work.
Pope Francis writes: “An awareness of the gravity of today’s cultural and ecological crisis must be translated into new habits...A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.” (206, 209) Visitors sometimes exclaim over our sustainable way of life and tell us that they’ve learned practices and attitudes which allow them to consume less. We see the ways in which our life is still unsustainably enmeshed with the consumer culture, and we keep learning farming practices and other habits which allow us to consume less.
Pope Francis writes: “While the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land..” (179) This is what I hope we can do at St. Francis Farm, for ourselves and for our neighbors and guests.
--some things that didn’t seem to fit in Lorraine’s article but which she wanted to fit in somewhere with the hope that all who read this will stop and notice the beauty all around them
The volunteers who came through WWOOF this year were really helpful. Most were also interested in various aspects of our work and seemed to find something they were seeking. They let us see the farm in new ways as well as getting us caught up on some of the work.
At the end of October after checking the owl log repeatedly without finding any oyster mushrooms, I noticed lots of mushrooms on a dying elm close to the road when we were out for a walk at the end of a day that had been mostly wet. Zach had to jump across the little brook to check them out and found that they were oysters in prime condition. Joanna went back with a ladder the next day and harvested all she could reach. Then Zach went back for the rest and we had some with supper and the rest I dried for winter meals.
The first week of November was unusually warm and sunny. One afternoon I went over to rest and drink a mug of cider by the pond. First I saw a muskrat sitting on the branch of willow that had drooped into the pond. Then heard splashing and saw a couple others swimming from the other end. I watched with my binoculars for most of an hour as one young mink tried to get a meal and 3 or 4 muskrats successfully evaded and even seemed to taunt him.
We took one gorgeous day in October to go to the Adirondacks, hike around Cascade Lake, and eat a picnic lunch at the foot of the cascade at its head. The foliage was at its peak, the sun was warming and the breeze cooling. We had time to stop along the Moose River on the way over. We stopped in Eagle Bay on the way back and scrambled up the short, steep trail to the top of the cliffs with a satisfying view of Fourth Lake.
All summer we were too tired by dark to have a fire and sing up on the hill. But in that warm spell the first week of November we finally had a fire. Joanna played guitar, Zach played banjo and I tended the fire. We all sang and looked at the stars.
As the year winds down, it is still dark when I get outside and I enjoy watching the moon and stars fade and the light come up until I can see colors. On our evening walks we see bare branches as black silhouettes against deep blue and scattered stars. With all the flowers gone I notice the beauty of even weeds gone to seed and the many shades of gold and brown.