Our mission is to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels as an alternative to consumer culture. Sometimes that is frustrating to people who want to volunteer, to come and serve the poor and go away feeling better about themselves. Sometimes it is confusing to people who are more familiar with missions that involve moving stories about the needy and appeals for money to meet the needs. Our mission seems to work best when it is most hidden, and I am thankful for those who recognize and support it and for those who have put into words what I am trying to understand and articulate.
What the farm has to offer--meaningful work, wholesome food, natural beauty, quiet places, someone to listen--are things often missing on both sides of the growing class divide. Students from private schools and affluent communities can learn some basic skills while they help grow the food that will feed them and whoever comes next. Local kids (whom some would define as the poor) also are pleased to help with the work and take home fresh vegetables and herbs. Both groups are often equally ignorant about the natural world but able to enjoy its beauty with the help of a guide. When fees for groups were eliminated a few years ago, the line between the rich who pay to come and the poor they serve disappeared. Anyone is welcome to help with the work. Anyone is welcome to walk the paths or sit by the pond. Food isn’t sold but is eaten at the farm or given away without the stigma of being needy attached to it.
Effort is required to make the farm accessible to those who sometimes lack access. Joanna has learned some sign language and we’ve all had to learn some Spanish. Visitors who drop in or call ahead may be very young or very old. Physical or mental disabilities may need to be accommodated. People who can’t walk very far need places to sit and rest. Visitors may need someone to listen, or they may not be really verbal and so need to experience the smells and tastes and sights of the farm without words. Volunteers may need firm guidelines or reassurance that their help is welcome whether they come with a church group or by order of the court. We need to see clearly the different people who come, to learn practical things about how to respond to special needs, and to take time to make necessary plans and adjustments.
We are still seeking to discern ways to do this work more faithfully, still have many questions. But as we live with the questions we become clearer that with the land and the will to work much can be done. The way different parts fit together is very satisfying. The goats we got to provide milk and cheese give urban visitors a chance to try milking and give migrant workers a reminder of home. The sawmill provides lumber for our building projects, sawdust for mulch, income from sale of lumber and connections to the local economy. Toys we make for the refugees also intrigue visitors and draw children to our display at the school on Family Night. I planted lavender because I missed the fragrance so much our first summer here, but it has also been popular with the children in the summer programs and the refugees who receive sachets. In this giving there isn’t a division between rich and poor. We rely on others for financial support, encouragement and counsel, and help with manual labor. Anyone is welcome to what we have in abundance and anyone interested can help make or grow it, can learn to make or grow it themselves, can take seeds or plant divisions that will then grow to be used and shared again. (by Lorraine)Being poor is . . . much harder than serving the poor. The unnoticed, unspectacular, unpraised life in solidarity with people who cannot give anything that makes us feel important is far from attractive. It is the way to poverty. Not an easy way, but God’s way, the way of the cross.-- The Road to Daybreak by Henri Nouwen
“Self-righteous service puts others into our debt and becomes one of the most subtle and destructive forms of manipulation. . . True service quietly goes about caring for the needs of others. . . It draws, binds, heals, and builds.” (from Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster)
. . . it isn’t so much what we do for those curious others in our lives, the strange, the needy, the unscrubbed, as it is the way we do it. We can give people charity or we can give them attention. We can give them the necessities of life or we can give them its joys. . . hospitality is not simply bed and bath; it is home and family.--Joan Chittister The Rule of Benedict
[Herein lies] the difference between competent poverty and abject poverty. A home landscape enables personal subsistence but also generosity. It enables a community to exist and function.--from What Matters by Wendell Berry
I am a 23-year-old recent graduate of McGill University in Montreal. Having washed up last June on the rocky shore of the real world without much of a plan, I began to look for a WWOOF farm. I chose to come to St. Francis Farm over the thousands of other WWOOF options because I suspected that I would learn important things there. It was a good guess. Seeing the Hoyts’ humble home, their hard work on the farm, their spirituality, and their commitment to social justice forced me to ask myself what my own values were and how well I was living up to them. It was challenging, because I was uncertain about almost everything. In today’s world, it is often very easy to evade taking a real position on things. At St. Francis Farm, with such profoundly principled people, it is not. I got my hands on all sorts of things in my two weeks: the apple peeler, the mower, the sawmill, the goats’ udders. I loved most of my work because it was all so gloriously simple – tough, sometimes - but simple. Compared to “What am I going to do with my life?”, “Which tomato should I bring in for dinner?” is an easy question to answer. I also felt that in doing farm work I was having a fundamental human experience that had hitherto been missing from my life. Farming puts you face-to-face with the origins of things on a daily basis; seeing the way that a tiny seed becomes a big food-bearing plant never really gets old. I was not good at a lot of my jobs, but the Hoyts were eminently patient with me. I was pleased to discover that a willingness to learn is as important to them as dazzling manual skill. This was another reason I chose the farm: I don’t know where else I would have had a chance to try these things. And I loved how in the evenings, we all sat around and watched hours and hours of TV – no, just kidding. We did what every family in America should do instead of watching TV: played music. I was nothing short of amazed at Joanna and Zachary’s encyclopedic knowledge of folk music, undoubtedly acquired in hundreds of evenings spent not watching TV. I thought I knew a lot of songs when I got there, but they introduced me to dozens of great new ones that I still play. That’s what the time at the farm was about for me – learning new things, new things about living in a community, about working with my hands, about justice, about eating farm-fresh food, and about American folk music. I will never regret coming for a second.
Sean Wood spent 2 weeks with us through WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms in September 2011.
This has been a very strange winter, I have only had to plow the driveway three times so far. The absence of snow has made some jobs easier, especially around the sawmill, and has allowed me to get out to the woods to bring in more logs when needed. I have been sawing lumber from the trees I cut in November in the white pine plantation on the north side of Trout Brook. The pile has dwindled considerably, but there is still enough there to keep me busy for a while. Lumber sales have been a growing part of our income over the past few years, and I still am catching up on the trees that need to be cut in different parts of the woods according to the management plan made by the state forester in 2002.
I bought a 2’x4’ home made syrup evaporator for $60 at an outdoor auction on a rainy Saturday last October and brought it home with the tractor since it was only 5 miles away but far too heavy to try to put in the car. It was set up to burn either kerosene or propane, but I got advice from an online maple forum and have been able to convert it back to burning wood. I have not yet had an opportunity to test how well it works, but from what I have been told it should be a great improvement over our previous method of boiling over an open fire with a pan. If it works well I will look at building a small sugar house to keep it out of the rain for next year. I am planning to increase from 15 to 25 taps this year now that we have the added boiling capacity. Because of the unusual weather this winter I am not sure when I should tap the trees, but I think the taps will be set by the time this reaches you.
I have been making slow progress on the kitchen cabinet project. I did build a cabinet in December to replace one in the dining area that was deteriorating, and now I am in the process of building a new kitchen island. This will be a large job, but I plan to get it done over the next few weeks. The process is somewhat inefficient since I have to plane the lumber in the sawmill building where it is stored, bring it over to the main barn where we live to be sanded and assembled, take it to the house for finishing and then bring it back to the barn to be put in place. We looked at the options for the countertop of the new island and decided to try an ash wood countertop for now and see how it works. My main concern is that it may warp or crack with seasonal moisture and temperature changes, but if we decide it isn’t working we can always replace it with a different surface later.
This winter I have taken time to clean up more thoroughly in the sawmill building and the workshop in the main barn and now both are much more convenient to use. I spent several hours sorting through several buckets and cans of mixed bolts and organizing them by diameter and thread pitch, and now when I need a bolt I know much more quickly what I have and where to find it. The sawmill building is an extra challenge to keep neat because the sawdust from the lumber in the loft drops through the cracks in the floor and piles up all over things, but if I keep up with sweeping it up it does not get too deep. I have sold the old hand cranked winch that I bought at auction a few years ago because I realized that it would require one person to crank the handle backward and one to pull the cable out, and I have finally gotten back to work on the PTO winch that I bought a couple of years ago with the intent of using it in the woods. I got it all mounted on the tractor and then realized that I had put the winch on upside down. I don’t know why I did, it just never occurred to me that it might go the other way up. Now I need to get the bracket welded back on in a different place, and I hope to get it done shortly. I hope to learn to weld soon--it would be very useful. The new wing on the sawmill building has been a big help in doing some of these projects--I have been storing and working on the evaporator in there and it has also been helpful when I rewired the Farmall H tractor. I was able to find a wiring diagram online and also was advised that it is quite easy to rebuild the type of alternator that it uses, so now I have rebuilt the one that was on it and one to have for a spare.
Because the winter has been so comparatively warm we have burned less firewood than usual, so I will likely end up moving some of last year’s firewood up to the front of the shed so I can stack the new wood in the back part. I prefer to cut firewood early in the spring before the birds are nesting and the black flies come out, and this year we have very little snow to melt before I can get out to the woods.
Simplicity doesn’t mean meagerness, but rather a certain kind of richness, the fullness that appears when we stop stuffing the world with things. --Thomas Moore, The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life
Our mission is to live an alternative to the consumer culture. We do this partly by slowing down, refraining from stuffing the world with things, letting the fullness of life become manifest. I try to encourage our neighbors to do this. I still struggle to do it myself.
This is my fourth year coordinating community groups to celebrate Screen-Free Week (formerly TV Turnoff Week). Local churches and nonprofits organize craft projects, classes, walks, and volunteer opportunities for local families, While many people participate, I don’t know if any accept the challenge to forgo recreational screen-time (TV, computer and video games, social networking, email...) for a week. Many people seem to find this suggestion extreme and say they can’t imagine what they’d do with all that time. Studies estimate that Americans spend 7-8 hours each day staring at screens (while parents spend 8-11 minutes each day talking with their children). Our screens can bring us valuable information and connections, but they displace many things of at least equal importance--quiet reflection, exercise, connection with our neighbors and with the natural world. As William Powers writes in Hamlet’s BlackBerry, “The point isn’t that the screen is bad...The point is lack of proportion, the abandonment of all else, and the strange absent-present state of mind this compulsion produces.”
Last time I visited the high school with my Stop and Think sign and counter-recruiting/critical thinking resources a student stopped to ask what I was selling. “Nothing,” I told her, explaining that I was offering free questions and suggestions to help people evaluate sales pitches and make their own choices. She merged back into the crowd in the hall, where I heard her telling another girl in dubious tones, “She says she isn’t selling anything.” Her agemates have grown up in a world saturated with ads; wherever they go there is something flashy trying to grab their attention and convince them that they will be happier, cooler, more attractive or acceptable if they buy something. Such distractions make it difficult to preserve an inner space for reflection, questioning, prayer or refreshment. It’s not only the kids who suffer from this. On one of my first Stop and Think visits an adult read my sign aloud, grimaced and said, “If we had to do that we’d never get anything done.”
I find this frustrating in other people. I find it even more disturbing in myself. The people who live and work with me are often annoyed by my tendency to leave tasks incomplete--to write the letter and forget to post it, to proofread most of the document and leave the last bit for later, to leave the tools in the garden or wherever I happened to drop them. I have apologized but also protested that I have all kinds of work to do and I can’t possibly remember everything. This winter I realized that isn’t the whole story. I tend to work with about three-quarters of my attention while the rest is occupied with worries, daydreams, word games, variations on stories... I resist quieting this noise in my mind, and I resist pausing between tasks to make sure everything is completed, even when I have plenty of time. When I first slowed down and looked at what lay behind that resistance I told myself it was just the enthusiastic wish to do and enjoy many things. But that didn’t explain my feeling of desperation at the thought of slowing down.
I realized that I rush between tasks to reassure myself that I really am busy, which somehow translates in my mind into the assurance that my work is worthwhile, that I am OK. I fill my mind with distractions so there’s no empty space into which the awareness of loneliness or regret might enter. I take time for quiet, reflection, prayer, at the beginning and end of the day. In between I often ward them off, fearing that reality--myself as I really am or the world around me as it really is--is not good enough.
Once I recognize that fear, I know it isn’t true. When I stop running and face my fears I grow stronger and become aware of the goodness around me. I was distressed when I first realized the human and ecological harm caused by my consumption. Running from this distress made it worse. Facing it started me on the path that led me to St. Francis Farm. I’ve learned to do less harm here. I’ve also been blessed with varied and satisfying work, with a beautiful and productive place, with a diverse and sustaining network of relationships. At various times I’ve tried to avoid noticing tensions or growing distances in relationships that I valued. Avoidance exacerbated the tensions. Facing the difficulty sometimes led to healing, sometimes to a clear recognition of growing distances. Either way, I begin to relate to my neighbors in a way that is clear, open, ungrasping. This allows me to help other people, and also to receive and be blessed by their perspective and love.
I come back to Thomas Merton’s words: “In prayer we discover what we already have. You start where are, you deepen what you already have, and you realize that you are already there. We already have everything, but we don’t know it, and we don’t experience it. Everything has been given to us in Christ. All we need is to experience what we already possess."
The website has been updated and a new page, Stop & Think, added. A new farm brochure was printed at the same time as this newsletter.
Margaret Clerkin and Andrew Nelson will be joining our Board of Directors for the annual meeting May 12. Margaret is active in Christ Our Light parish; we first met her as a volunteer at Rural & Migrant Ministry. Andy first visited in 2006 and has spent time with us while compiling a guide to the flora of the farm.
Family Days will be held at the farm 10:30 to 2:30 on March 10 and April 14. More on these events in the last newsletter or on our website. Call to sign up or to get more information.
We’re hosting sunset nature walks daily from 6:30 pm to 8 pm, weather permitting, during the local Screen-Free Week, April 2-7.
Community Service Task Force meetings continue to be lively and well attended. Other local groups are starting to grow community gardens and teach people how to grow and preserve food. Some are looking for canning jars. People have offered us canning jars before and we’ve said we have all we need. Now we’d pass them on to folks who can use them.
We’ve continued making toys for refugees this winter--trucks, doll sets, acrobats, and rainbow arches. In December Zach cut ~700 wooden blanks for making dominoes and Hope used them with a class of adults learning basic number skills.
As I write in mid-May we are well into the growing season and visitor season--the slow time is definitely over. I wake early to birdsong and get out and see who is back and where they are nesting. As the woodland wildflowers fade, the bloom in my flower gardens is just beginning. At this point I still hope to keep up with the weeding and dividing, the mulching and edging. But I keep stopping to show someone around and answer their questions or to look and listen by the pond or to water the greenhouse seedlings or move the goats. Just when I am discouraged about getting behind, unexpected help comes.
The Family Days begun last fall and continued this spring require preparation but also provide help. As with so many things here, nothing goes quite as planned but still the planning helps to prevent total chaos. On March 10 only one family came. They helped Joanna plant onion and tomato seeds in pots in the greenhouse, shared a farm lunch, played some games and made a birdhouse to take home. On April 14 we had 21 people come from 5 families, and two other families tried to sign up but were turned away because we thought the group would be too big. That Family Day we had people new to the farm, five children four years old or younger, people arriving at different times so we had to explain things over and over. Still it was a good day of planting potatoes, building birdhouses, finding wildflowers and salamanders, climbing trees. We decided to schedule two days for May and limit the number to about twelve each time. On May 5 we only had one family to set out the first tomato seedlings, share a picnic by the pond and walk in the woods looking at the trillium. One family with a child who participated in our summer program for a couple years is interested in coming sometimes on weekdays in the summer and bringing some other children who may need transportation help to come. We are grateful for the help and often surprised at what simple things most please our visitors.
April was cool so we were glad not to have a group for a spring break week and to have other visitors for shorter stays. Just after Easter, before the pace really picked up, Sr. Mary Lou Seitz came to spend a couple days during her spring break week from Notre Dame High School. She helped pot up seedlings in the greenhouse, sewed some dolls on a cold wet day when we stayed in and worked on toys, and sang with us in the evening. An SU student had called asking to come “observe” the April Family Day for a class about living out faith in the wider community. That day was already over full so she arranged to come the next Saturday along with a student with disabilities she was partnering for the class. They enjoyed the still fuzzy chicks, visited the goats, shared a farm lunch, planted with Joanna in the greenhouse and took plant divisions to share with the class. In spite of a persistent drizzle they enjoyed getting up to see the garden and over for a look at the pond.
In May Joe Morton came for a few days before our annual meeting on the twelfth. In addition to serving as a Director, he helped Zachary build a goat shed for the newly enclosed pasture area and a wooden climbing area for the kids. When I was beginning to get behind in my herb and flower gardens in mid-May, Patrick showed up to help out. In one day he edged and reset the rock borders around the herb garden and the walkway and flower border in front of the house, leaving me free to concentrate on weeding and saving my back. Near the end of the day when Joanna called from the school in Pulaski where she’d been at a meeting to say the car wouldn’t start, Patrick drove Zach down to jump-start the car and pick up a new battery. Andy Nelson, in addition to being a new member of our Board, patiently answers our questions about plants and has compiled for us a guide to the flora of the farm. We enjoy his visits when he comes to tramp the woods and the guests he brings--his relatives from Pennsylvania or the family of a Puerto Rican student. His wife Mary Anne works with international students at SUNY Oswego and we look forward to having more of them visit. I have been wanting to make maps of the trails we’ve made and plan to make and Andy can help me plot them with his GPS device.
I sometimes have a panicky feeling this time of year that I am losing track of bits of the work, that I can’t quite keep up and that it will only get worse until fall. What I need to do myself is what we suggest to those who come to the farm--to stop hurrying and worrying and see what is already here, what God created and saw to be good. Yesterday I walked the woods road to Unity Acres when the sun was low and slanting through the new golden green of the leaves. Thrushes were singing high up in the canopy, the ethereal notes drifting down like a blessing. Far off an owl was calling. Trillium was giving way to foam flower and jack-in-the-pulpit. A breeze made walking a pleasure and kept away the black flies. I was tired but grateful, able to focus on the golden light instead of the list of what needed to get done tomorrow. --Lorraine
My name is Patrick Mahoney. I am 44 years old and have two wonderful children. My daughter is a registered nurse and my son is a high school student on the honor roll. I also have a beautiful compassionate wife of 21 years and a two year old granddaughter. I am truly blessed. What brought me to St. Francis Farm (other than the hands of God) is that in the spring of 2010 I caught someone vandalizing my truck and took the law into my own hands. Which was wrong and I got sentenced to community service. The people I had talked to in the past who did community service work all agreed that they didn’t serve their community. They all felt as though they served government agencies with free labor. So my wife and I looked for an organization that truly served the community. I was fortunate to find St. Francis Farm.
I grew up in a very tough neighborhood in Connecticut where fighting and drugs were a way of life. I knew at an early age that this was no way to live and I moved to central NY to leave that lifestyle and raise a family. I am a Roman Catholic and I feel that I have a very personal relationship with God. The way I pray is probably unorthodox, but it works for me.
When I was led to St. Francis Farm I really wasn’t sure what to make of Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary and they probably didn’t know what to make of me. It seemed they had dedicated their lives to helping others and living off the land. Lorraine quietly commands respect as she manages this 180 acres and coordinates the work that needs to be done. She is an inspiration to me as she keeps this whole project going in the right direction with a kind word and love in her heart. Also she makes the best cheese I ever ate. Zachary is such a great carpenter and hard worker. At seven feet tall he is a giant man with a gentle soul. Joanna is so knowledgeable about animals and gardening and donates time to speak at schools to explain this alternative lifestyle.
It still strikes me as odd to call this an alternative lifestyle. These are the basic principles--create your own food, respect the land, and help others in need. How can this be called an alternative? Commercialization has taken over and made us all cynical, including me. My third day on the farm I hurt my arm and when Lorraine asked me not to come back until it was healed, at first I thought that she was worried about being sued. But after getting to know her I realized that she really didn’t want me to hurt myself further. I guess I am also a product of this commercialized and litigious society.
I feel selfish but helping people that dedicate their whole life to helping others makes me feel good about myself. My message is don’t be so cynical even if helping others makes you feel better about yourself. Because first you have to love yourself before you can truly love others.
At the time of my last writing I had just refitted our syrup evaporator to burn wood and was wondering how it would work. Our syrup run was shorter and more sporadic than normal this year but since I had set 25 taps instead of 15 we still got a bit over 5 gallons of syrup, which is about the same as last year. The evaporator worked pretty well, especially once I set up a small blower to supply air under pressure and make the fire burn hotter. I set the evaporator up on an old concrete slab behind the sawmill building and built a small A frame shelter over it with some old metal roofing. This worked fairly well, although it was cramped inside, but then the wind blew the A frame over one night and after that I only boiled on nice days. I am planning to build some sort of sap house this year but the design and location have not been finalized at this time.
Another project that was ongoing at the time of the last newsletter was building the new kitchen island, which was completed in March. We altered the layout of the kitchen by cutting off the bar counter and doubling the size of the island and so far it seems much easier to get around the kitchen than it used to be. The top of the new island is made of ash wood since I did not have enough dry cherry to make it, but I have cut some more cherry that is drying now and I hope to make a better top next winter. The cherry will take a smoother finish and be easier to keep clean. I also made new doors and a new front for the cabinets by the refrigerator and will be replacing the remaining fronts around the kitchen next winter. The old island has moved out into the room by the front door and is currently holding the box with the chicks in it.
We decided to try raising chicks this year and I have been pleasantly surprised by how easy it is. We only have ten, five each of Black Astralorps and Buff Orpingtons. They will be ready to go out into a small movable coop in the garden in a couple more weeks and will spend the summer up there continuing to grow. They should start to lay eggs in the fall, at which time we give our old hens away and move the new ones into the main coop. This year we were able to get piglets from our supplier of two years ago and they look like very good ones so far. We had to get them at 5 weeks instead of our usual 6-8 weeks, so I made a pen in the corner of the new wing of the sawmill building and put them in there till they reached 8 weeks and then put them out in the usual movable pigpen. In April I fenced in a new area for a goat pasture and in May I built a small shed for that pasture and a play platform for the goat kids with the help of Joe Morton of our board.
Due to the early spring we had this year I was able to get our main woodshed filled most of the way by early April, which is when I am able to start some years when we have had a lot of snow. I got the winch put together and used it for a couple of days at the back of the field where I had trees that were down over a 30 foot bank that had been marked for firewood. I cut down the trees and cut off the small branches and winched them up one at a time, or in halves if they were too big. This saved me a lot of work carrying the wood up the bank. I will use the winch more in the fall and when I am cutting logs for the sawmill. The pile of logs that I brought out last fall is now all sawn into boards and I have sold most of the pine lumber, though there is some ash and cherry in the loft waiting to be sold. I will saw some maple soon and then we’ll have a pretty good stock of hardwood going into the summer.
Last time I wrote for the newsletter I was thinking about our daily work at the farm, about my efforts to work with more awareness and less anxiety, and I remembered Thomas Merton's words: "We already have everything, but we don't know it, and we don't experience it. Everything has been given to us in Christ. All we need is to experience what we already possess." I need to remind myself of that. I know that one of the most important things we can offer guests is the opportunity to slow down, be quiet and become aware of the goodness that sustains us. I am coming to see that the same invitation lies at the heart of my off-farm work. This worked out in some small ways late in April, when I spent a day in town.
I spent the lunch hours in the high school lobby with my STOP AND THINK display. I came with counter-recruiting materials on my display boards, and I found out when I arrived that the Navy band was giving pop concerts in the auditorium across the hall from my table. The music was incredibly loud, the students could be heard whooping and clapping, and I felt outclassed and discouraged. Who would want to stop and think when they could get all excited as part of a group? After the concerts gaggles of students gathered around the Navy musicians, posing for photos and talking excitedly. A few kids came out cradling their heads and saying they wanted quiet; some came over to talk to me, including two who said they wished people didn't assume that all teens liked the same music. Those two lingered to talk about their folk-and-jazz band and the satisfaction of making music themselves, and they left with some critical-thinking material about political ads. Another one came and looked for a long time at my material on responding to bullying, though he didn't speak and carefully avoided my eyes.
During a break between concerts the Navy musicians came over to talk with me. I felt unreasonably nervous, since there were five of them and some were large, but it was a good conversation. One man looked at my anti-bullying materials and said he hoped students were using those; his younger siblings and cousins were having a much rougher time with other kids in school than he had, and it was hard to know what to do about it. The man who seemed to be in charge of the group read some of my counter-recruiting handouts, and then said "It sounds like you're just trying to make sure people have the facts before they sign up, not running us down." I said yes, that was my intention, and I told them about the students who told me that their recruiters had promised them that they'd never be sent overseas if they joined the National Guard. A younger serviceman said yes, his uncle who was in the military told him what to watch out for and reminded him to get all promises in writing, but he guessed some kids didn't have relatives who told them things like that, so it was good that someone else was putting that information out there. I know, and often say, that it’s important to get people with differing views to cooperate, have friendly discussions and see each other as people, but I still make my own assumptions about which people are opposed to me ,and I am pleasantly surprised when I'm reminded that we can get along.
The hall monitor stopped by too. For the past several months, as my concerns about bullying grew, I’d been watching her with admiration. During that time I saw her talk down several enraged students who stood head and shoulders taller than her and were threatening to go beat up other students; when she put her hand on one student's arm he swung around and I thought he was going to hit her, but instead he took a deep breath and came away with her. I saw her comfort crying students, check in with students who scooted down the halls with their heads down and their shoulders hunched in, quiet rowdy groups with a joke or an intent look. I couldn't imagine being that firm and that kind day after day. I told her so on my March visit, figuring that she must hear it often. She seemed surprised. I also wrote an email to the school superintendent. He passed that on to the high school principal, who passed it on to her. She told me she had printed it out and was thinking of having it framed. I suppose that hall monitors, like migrant workers and food-service staff and janitors, easily become invisible in this culture that values highly credentialed and highly paid work.
Once school lunch was over I left for another Community Service Task Force meeting. Participation has been picking up since I restarted the meetings last year, and this was one of our best sessions. Counselors from ARISE Mental Health, who had started to offer services in Pulaski some months ago, attended for the first time. They said they intended to open local anger-management groups and other group services once they had access to a group meeting space and had a sufficient number of people to participate. They seemed to think this could take a long time. The school superintendent said that he'd long been looking for such opportunities for his students, and that he could offer space from classroom size up to auditorium size and as many participants as ARISE could handle. Various possible cooperative projects were broached. Everything necessary was already available, it was just a matter of making a space in which people could come together.
We also discussed transportation issues. People from a church in Sandy Creek reported that many people in their area can’t access services offered in Pulaski because they don’t have working cars or can’t afford gas or (in the case of many elders) can no longer drive. Oswego County Opportunities offers call-and-ride services and regular low-fee buses in many parts of the county, but they seldom send drivers into the North Country because the buses that do run twice a month aren’t heavily used. Several people at the meeting thought that the buses would get more use if they ran more regularly. We talked about possible ways of raising the number of riders--getting the Pulaski health center to schedule appointments for people from those areas on certain days of the week, having the bus stop at the senior meal site, etc. I hope we’ll be able to work out a better system of transportation assistance. In the meantime people are already trying to help on a smaller scale. The Sandy Creek church drives elders to the bulk-food program in Pulaski and helps them to break down the food they get into small boxes that they can lift and handle, and they’re looking at other areas where they can connect people to the help that is already available.
I'm not naturally organized, but working here has taught me the need for organization to make order out of chaos. Now I tend to be overconfident of my ability to plan things in advance. In the winter I mark a garden calendar with likely dates for planting and transplanting, remember when we harvested different crops in the preceding year, and enjoy the orderly vision of the garden we will have. Then spring comes and reality interferes with my plans. This spring has been unusually unpredictable. Perhaps it will teach me to deal attentively with what happens instead of getting attached to what I expect to happen.
This year we hardly had winter. The ground was often bare, and I was glad that I'd mulched all the garden beds. I started tomatoes in three successions, figuring that some
would be at just the right size whenever it became safe to set them out. I started the first batch on March 10 with help from a local family. The following two weeks were sunny and
unseasonably warm, and the tomatoes grew fast. The garden dried out enough for me to plant peas and early greens mid-March. A week later the peas were sprouting and I started another batch of tomatoes. Then the weather turned gray and cold. The peas didn't die but they stopped growing. The second batch of tomatoes grew slowly.
Early in April we had another warm spell. The dandelions bloomed and I planted potatoes with the help of several families who'd come for Family Day. (That seems to be a good family job; even the three-year-olds carried and covered potato pieces with great concentration, although they had to be discouraged from digging them up again to see if they'd grown yet.) The asparagus started to come up. Then the temperatures plummeted. One day the high was in the upper seventies; the night of the following day the night temperature dipped to 32 and we lost our first batch of asparagus spears. I thought they were frost-hardy, but I guess the change was too much for them. I cut off the dead spears, and I covered the survivors during the nights in the 20s that followed. I knew we were luckier than our neighbors to the south whose grape leaves and apples blossoms opened in the early warmth and were killed by the freezes.
The warmth and the asparagus came back at the end of April. Early in May we set out the twenty-one largest and gangliest early-planted tomatoes under wire frames that we cover with blankets whenever the lows are in the 30s; in mid-May we set out another batch which can be put under lighter coverings. If we can keep these plants safe from frost we should have early tomatoes. Potatoes, chard, beets and carrots are coming up, the garlic is tall, we're harvesting asparagus, lettuce and rhubarb in satisfying quantities, the peas have turned from shocked yellow to healthy green and are growing and blooming, the onions have adjusted to the shock of being set out, and the eggplants, peppers, cukes and squash are threatening to outgrow their pots before it's safe to move them out. Our cabbage, kale and broccoli seedlings look better than usual, due to the warmth or maybe to the worm compost & blood meal in their starter pots. Our grapes opened up after the last cold snap and are now trained and pruned. Our quack-grass is abundant. So is the ryegrass we planted as a cover crop last year; it usually winter-kills, but this year it’s come back as a weed.
Our goat Poppy was showing her pregnancy by the end of April. She'd bred easily and I thought this would be our easiest breeding/kidding process yet. She was due on May 2, and went into labor right on schedule. The only problem was that no kids came out, although a lot of other stuff did. I was afraid she was aborting. We called the vet, something we've never had to do for a birthing before, figuring she could at least save the mother. Dr. Diane announced that there were live but badly entangled twins in there; she sorted out their feet and pulled the first one out, and guided me through pulling the second one so that I'll know what to feel for next time. Poppy recovered quickly from this stressful procedure and her daughters, Tansy and Rue, are thriving.
On May 18 five seniors from ARC- Oswego made a spring visit to the farm. They went up to the garden and cut clover to take and feed to the goats. While some built a wren house to take with them, others helped plant squash and pumpkin seeds or helped sand wooden toys. They enjoyed the two week old goat kids, the half grown chicks, and the eight week old piglets. The weather was bright and breezy, good for a short nature walk and picnic lunch by the pond. This was the second ARC group to visit the farm and we hope they’ll be back this summer.
Since 2004 we’ve been planting a vegetable garden for Fr. Tony Keeffe in Syracuse each spring. Last year we tried growing in containers to make it easier for him to tend and harvest, but a hungry woodchuck and a careless tree cutter destroyed most of the plants before they produced anything. So this year we asked our friend Anola to be a garden buddy, helping with the work and sharing the harvest. She helped us plant peas, potatoes, greens, carrots and beets in his yard in April. May 18 they came to the farm to pick up seedlings--tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, and cucumber. We also sent seeds for succession plantings and hope there will be a harvest this year in spite of woodchucks and weather.
By mid-August I have been in Martha mode for months--distracted by all the preparations that have to be made. We spend so much of the summer months preparing for winter--getting in hay and firewood, canning beans and tomatoes, freezing peas and peppers and berries and apples, drying herbs and tomatoes. Volunteers come to help and learn. Preparing for them requires Martha’s busyness and Mary’s sitting at the Lord’s feet if we are to be able to really invite them into our life here.
In June we began haying and hosted our first wwoofer of the year. July brought drought and three more wwoofers. Two of those stayed for a couple weeks so we had plenty of help with the watering and other work to keep the gardens going. None of the families who came to the hectic April family day came back again, but Forestieres came back a couple times to help in the summer garden, bringing other children with them. And Longos brought about 20 people from their church to help with the garlic harvest. So without the summer program of recent years and with the Family Days not working out as planned, still help comes as we need it and people looking for a place to work with their hands and learn and pray still find their way here.
We’re still figuring out how to communicate clearly so people know what we have to offer and what we expect. Young people who find us through our wwoof listing or our farm website come with interests in where their food comes from and questions about their spiritual journeys. Sometimes we find the help we need and they find satisfying work and conversation and silence. Sometimes they have a misty ideal of farm and of “spending time with animals” that doesn’t include biting insects, blisters, or dirt. One this summer wanted to know more about prayer and found the various readings offered and the morning silence helpful. One who wanted a guarantee of one right way of which to be convinced and so be assured of heaven and another interested in hallucinogens as aids to spiritual development found us unhelpful. We also were reminded that, while the farm is a wonderful place for children willing to help and interested in nature, it does not work for us to host children as overnight guests however sure the parents or grandparents are that the children they want to bring will join in the work and won’t be bored. In July as the pond and streams got lower and the grass got browner, I fretted about how welcoming the farm would look to newcomers. The nests were empty and the flowers fading in the heat--walks were less appealing even if I weren’t too tired for them at the end of the day. Then I was very grateful for guests who still enjoyed the farm--the wind in the poplar leaves and the dragonflies patrolling the pond edges, goat cheese and fresh vegetables, stars and songs and silence. Their enjoyment helped me see the blessings I had come to take for granted. When the wood boiler leaked and was welded and leaked again, I was thankful that we could afford a new one. Rain came--just enough and just in time--to plump up the drying blackberries and I was grateful as we picked them on evening walks and as Joanna brought in heaping bowls of them for the freezer. I am thankful that the practice of morning prayer is so firmly established that whatever else a day may bring, we’ve had some time for Mary’s better choice.
This article was written by Lorraine. Zachary says many people won’t recognize the references to Mary and Martha--the story is at the end of the tenth chapter of Luke’s gospel.
I spent two weeks with the Hoyt family during the busy farming weeks of a thirsty July, though I did not find it that hot in New York since I came all the way from Tennessee. I took my pilgrimage to St. Francis in order to work and learn and find sanctuary from the noise of the everyday life of a college student. I found St. Francis through the WWOOFing site, and was attracted to it not only because it fulfilled my desire to learn about farming and sustainable living, but it also had the community that I always saw as an important part of that process. For me, farming and sustainable living meant a life lived with a focus on community, family, and God’s creation-- both the land and the people living on it, instead of a life lived out of the desire for worldly success. People would often ask me “what will you be doing on this farm?” to which I would reply “I’m not sure…whatever they want me to do, I guess.” I guessed right. During my time on the farm I got to do everything from milking goats (which was my favorite task), weeding, harvesting, feeding animals, chopping vegetables before dinner (a skill in which I was lacking), driving the tractor, working the saw mill, washing dishes, and generally anything that needed to be done. If all of those tasks were pieces that that made up the machine of the farm, the other things we did were the oil that made the machine run smoothly- reading, writing, biking, picking berries, playing music, and good conversation. One of the most important parts of the day was the thirty minutes of silent prayer and reflection every morning. Dorothy Day quotes Gustav Landauer when she says “The real transformation of society will come only in love, in work, and in stillness.” There are many young people and activists who are ready to change the world, who know the importance of love and work, but stillness is something that is often forgotten. The Hoyt’s concern for my happiness and comfort, unfailing patience, generosity, kindness shown to me and everyone else they come in contact with was proof that they live in the love of Christ. Much of farm work is repetitive and physically exhausting, but they are always willing to do it, no matter what the task is or how long it will take. The Hoyt family knows how to work. But they also know stillness. It is a comfort to me to think at any given time during my day that I can at least take a guess at what is going on at the farm in my absence, that every day those well oiled wheels of the farm are moving in the transformation of society. In our time of prayer in the morning I would say this prayer from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer -For Every Man in his Work: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who declares thy glory and showest forth thy handiwork in the heavens and in the earth; Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow men; for the sake of him who came among us as one that serveth, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. This is a prayer that is truly lived on St. Francis Farm. As I fall back into the pattern of my everyday life, I hope to take what I have learned in my time at St. Francis and use it not only to remember the Hoyt family and our wonderful time together, but also to follow the instruction of Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians, pray without ceasing.
Hispanic Apostolate Youth Group from St. John’s visits St. Francis Farm
By Rosa Longo:
On July, I invited a group from church to visit St. Francis Farm. I encouraged kids and adults to go and live an awesome experience. I try to make people realize how valuable the resources God has given us are; here at St. Francis, I have discovered how blessed we are and I would love to make as many people as I can to be aware of that.
First, I want the adults to see how simple it is to bring food to your table without having to go to the supermarket and spend money that we don’t have, by using what God has created for us to enjoy. At the same time, I think we will appreciate life more and plant the seed of gratefulness in our kids; we also will thank the Lord more sincerely from the bottom of our heart for everything we have because we have been more involved in it.
Second, I want to show the kids how we can have fun doing productive things and how close we can be with family when we work together. Here at St. Francis, they work, learn, share, have fun and see life from a different point of view, without the need of being entertained by electronic equipment; here they really learn how to have quality time with friends and family, which is my main point in this type of activity.
I really enjoy visiting the farm and will not stop trying to let more people know the incredible work they are doing, and awesome life they are living. God bless the three of you always (Lorraine, Joanna and Zach).
And by Rosie, Rosa’s daughter:
A couple of Saturdays ago my youth group and I took a trip to St. Francis Farm. At first my friends were a little cautious about going to a farm for our field trip, but I reassured them that even if they don’t like it they’ll still have fun.
And of course, I was right. We all did have fun. At the beginning we helped the Hoyts harvest the garlic and prepare it to dry for the winter. But our favorite part was when we were playing this game where we were asking each other questions about the animals that lived in the farm that aren’t taken care of humans, and every time someone got a correct response the person asking the question would throw them the ball of yarn. Ultimately the game ends up with a big type of web made of yarn showing how all these different types of animals live on the farm without the assistance of a person.
We also liked making cards. There were two types of cards we could make, one with flowers- where you would use a hammer to mark the paper with the color and shape of the flower, and one with bug designs- where you made it look kind of 3-D.
In the end, we all liked being able to experience a different lifestyle. And we all ended up having a good time. We would love to go back another time and another season of the year so I can show them what else we can do at St. Francis Farm.
And by Lorraine:
For years we’ve talked with Deacon Sweenie about bringing families to the farm for a summer day trip, but he has never had the time to do it. So when Rosa and her sister came for the 2010 Advent retreat and then wanted to return bringing family and friends, we were pleased. The Longos came to Family Days last fall and this spring and spoke of bringing young people from their church. On July 14 they brought a group of about 20 people from toddlers to adults. We set it up like the Family Days, time to work together, picnic lunches brought by the visitors and augmented with “farm food” and then time to enjoy nature. Roberto translated where needed and helped us keep things organized, and we were amazed how much work was done. The final bed of garlic was harvested and cleaned, the garlic that had been brought in the day before but only partially cleaned was finished. When the work was done these guests enthusiastically ate lettuce and herbed cheese, tomatoes and nasturtiums we put out on the picnic table. The day was hot for a walk but we spread out for some silent time by the pond to watch the dragonflies and hear the wind. While we were eating and visiting children enjoyed swinging, feeding the fish and touching the milk snake Zach caught in the back corridor of the barn just before the group arrived. Children too too young to make cards enjoyed playing with the toys we make for refugees. Everyone took home bunches of garlic.
This summer has been unusual because we have not been able to use the wood boiler since the middle of June when it sprang a leak. It is about 19 or 20 years old as far as I can tell from the records we have, so it is not surprising. We had a local welder come and repair the hole but when we put water back in the boiler we found that another pinhole leak had opened in another spot and we decided that it was time to replace the boiler. I am glad that this happened in the summer when we only use the boiler for domestic hot water and do not need heat for the building. We began doing online research to see whether we should get another boiler like the one we had and ultimately decided to get a boiler from a different manufacturer. We were not able to find any kind of side by side comparison and evaluation of different boilers, so we had to make the decision based on anecdotal information from other people who have them. The new boiler came about the first of August. It is a wood gasification boiler like our previous one, but is somewhat differently designed. It is supposed to be slightly more efficient and we are told it will last somewhat longer than other boilers since parts of it are made from stainless steel. The boiler is in position now but is still waiting until the person who helps us with jobs like this has time to help me hook it up. This boiler has a firebox capacity of 30 inches instead of the 20 inches that our old boiler could accommodate, so the labor required to cut firewood should be somewhat reduced since there should theoretically be fewer cuts required to process each tree. I will have a lot more to write about the new system in the December newsletter once we will have had time to try running it for a while and see how it works. Our old boiler is being bought by someone who has the skills and equipment required to put a new firebox in it and put it back to use. It would cost far more for labor than it would be worth to hire that job done, but he can do it himself over time.
In July we installed a culvert in the driveway that leads to the pigpen and the former cow pasture. The lack of rain in July made that an ideal opportunity to put the culvert in while the water was low. There had been two 18” culverts there that were not quite long enough to span the driveway and the outflow end had been built up with wood beams holding up the stone wall. I noticed this spring that the beams had rotted and collapsed, and we bought a single 24” culvert in March and kept it till the water level went down.
This year due to the drought in the early part of the summer we had much less hay in our fields than usual, but we were able to get it dry and bring it in earlier. All of our fields were cut by the middle of July and we were able to sell a lot of the hay directly out of the fields. At this time we have only 240 bales left to sell and it is stored in the new wing of the sawmill building where it will be easily accessible even in the winter, if it is not bought before then.
We bought day old chicks in April to replace our old egg laying chickens and by the time this newsletter goes out they should be starting to lay eggs. We bought ten sexed chicks but one turned to be a rooster so we gave him away. The nine hens have now moved into the big rolling coop and have learned to go upstairs at night so they can be shut in safely. This was our first time raising chicks and we found it quite easy to do. We are considering raising some meat chickens next spring.
In July I built a handicapped access ramp at a home in Parish and made a couple of small ‘wedges’ to smooth the threshold at a home in Williamstown. The ramp in Parish was a little bit too big to build in one day but was an easy two day job. We will continue to build ramps when ARISE has projects to be done in our end of the county.
I know this summer has been a hard one for farmers across the country. We also have had some trouble with drought and disease, but it has been manageable. We still have plenty of produce to eat, preserve and share, and we've been able to help various neighbors and guests learn about farming. I'm grateful for the things we've learned about dealing with small problems,and grateful that this year we weren't hit with insoluble problems.
June and most of July were dry here. I spent a lot of time watering the garden. We used all the drip irrigation lines we had and ordered some more. This saves watering time for me, keeps the plants fairly evenly moist instead of soaking them and letting them dry out, and keeps moisture which can exacerbate fungal diseases off the leaves. We put shade cloth over the lettuce and watered it daily through the hot dry times, keeping most of it from going bitter. It rained hard in the very end of July, the stream started to sing again, the goat pastures grew back, the lettuce throve and the cucumbers expanded remarkably. Now the rain is incessant--we had 6 inches in the first 2 weeks of August, and the plants aren't regularly dry enough to pick without spreading diseases.
We're learning to cope with diseases. Our super-early tomatoes survived the late temperature swings and produced early and abundantly. As soon as the fruit began to ripen I saw early blight on the leaves. Last year I didn't pay attention to the blight until we started losing fruit, and we lost a lot. This year I started pruning and spraying right away. I'm still using Serenade, an organic bacterial spray, but this year I'm alternating it with 1 part milk in 9 parts water. I haven't eliminated the blight, but it hasn't eliminated the plants either. In mid-August we've already put up 76 quarts of canned tomatoes and 7 quarts of dried ones, and more are pouring in. The cukes and squash have some powdery mildew on the leaves, but all the successions I planted are still bearing fruit. Last year we lost most of our onions to downy mildew. We solarized the soil and got rid of our overwintering onions, and this year we have a decent onion crop.
We're starting to get ahead of pests. Last year the grapevines were loaded with fruit, but the birds ate some, and after I put netting up to deter the birds raccoons tore the netting down and ate all the rest of the fruit. This year Zach and Natania (a WWOOFer) built a chicken-wire enclosure around the arbor. The fridge is full of small but sweet seedless grapes, and the seeded grapes will be coming in soon. We're still having trouble with squash vine borers, but we lost very few plants; I started injecting Bt into the stems as soon as I saw the borer holes, with help from WWOOFers Joel and Julia. We didn't fence the hazelnuts, which set nuts for the first time this year, and some critter ate almost the entire crop. We'll work on that next year.
Some things come easily. We've been canning bush green beans and now the pole beans that the Longo family gave us are starting to produce. The garlic harvest was ample, and families who helped us plant it last fall came back this summer to help us bring it in and clean it. We're freezing pesto and green peppers. I tripled the number of bell pepper plants this year and fed them with bone meal, and they've responded very well. For the past few weeks we've had enough beans, cukes, squash, kale, chard, cherry tomatoes and herbs to send to the soup kitchen. Since early August we’ve also had vegetables to send to the senior meal site late in the week.
Our goat kids throve, and we sold them to a neighboring farmer. We're still getting plenty of milk. Zach built a third pasture section near the garden, and we were able to keep rotating the goats onto good grazing even during the dry time. Goats also benefit from having brush and browse to eat, so we’ve been cutting down invasive multiflora roses for them.
I'm grateful for the goodness of the land. I'm grateful for the help our volunteers give us, and especially for the volunteers who enjoy the farm and so reopen my eyes to lovely things in our life and work that I've come to take for granted. I hope that in turn we've been able to give our helpers some useful skills and information, and some time of quiet and reflection to enable them to return to their own work with new eyes.
Bob Bartell is with us for a week--his 6th August visit to the farm. His community garden is doing well in Charlton, NY. We’re always grateful for his help at this time of year when we’re tiring and the slow time is still to come. He still finds things to learn here--this year he has questions about homeschooling which his sister will be starting this year and about elderberries which we’re harvesting and drying and which he just planted this spring. He works with young people in his church and at an alternative school for children with special needs and we all learn from the conversations about work with children.
Two years ago the last of the rental trailers on the farm was vacated. Kevin had just had lung transplants and needed to be in a home that was easier to keep clean. This August he stopped by looking blessedly fit and told us about his gardening and bike riding. He wanted to buy some lumber for a fence and to know how to can tomatoes. The next day he came back to observe and help with my canning and took our spare canning funnel home to make his work easier. He took some garlic and plans to come plant garlic with us in September and take seed garlic to plant himself. We would welcome donations of canning jars to pass on to various neighbors who are learning to grow and preserve their own food.
Plant Swap--We have perennial herbs and flowers that will need to be divided this fall or in the spring and we’re glad to share the new plants. My butterfly bush didn’t make it through last winter and I’d like to start one again or would be interested in other flowers that attract butterflies (or hummingbirds) and aren’t too fussy.
Live simply . . . simply live by Lorraine
In the main living/eating area of the barn where we live, someone painted the motto “Live simply so that others may simply live”. I don’t know who painted the words and edged them with a vine, and I often don’t really see them because they are so familiar now. Various visitors have noticed them, and I remember some of the conversations they evoked--talk about attempts we make when we see the effects of our over-consumption on others or of our clutter on ourselves. The words challenge me when I border on complacency and comfort me when I am discouraged about something we tried to do that didn’t work out as planned.
This fall the hopes we had for sharing the farm with various visitors didn’t work out. Families had emergencies or were too busy with other activities to come to the farm as they had planned in the summer. ARC Oswego scheduled a visit by their Seniors group but then were unable to come, first because of the weather and then because of staffing problems. Sometimes we wonder if we are reaching out enough or if we’re mistaken about the value of what we offer. When people who have come speak or write of the value of their time here they mention the simplest things--working with their hands, slowing down enough to think and listen, noticing the everyday beauty of earth and sky, eating fresh food they’ve helped prepare or harvest. Books are written and workshops held on the importance of time in the natural world for the development of healthy children. But there may be many reasons people don’t choose the things they claim to value, and we’re still figuring out how best to invite them back gently when there are so many loud and insistent demands for time and attention.
Meantime we have to remember for ourselves what we value and why and look again at what what we’re really choosing. Whatever else may happen, the time spent each morning in prayer anchors us. The tasks that are ever before us--sawing, milking, sewing, cooking, cleaning and building--ground us and give shape to the days. Walks in the woods and fields stretch tired muscles and lift up our hearts. Making music--ourselves or with friends, in the chapel or around a fire on the hill--soothes frazzled nerves and restores our spirits. We call to each other to come out and see the stars or the sunrise or moon shadows. The mail brings letters of support and assurance of prayers, reminders that we are not alone. We try to balance seeing the problems clearly with counting our blessings, knowing that the stories we tell ourselves and each other affect our energy and our future choices.
About the time this newsletter goes out we’ll be lighting the first Advent candle. We’ll start with the image of a green shoot growing out of a stump, and we’ll tell old stories of people struggling through their darkness and waiting for Light. I invite all who read this to live simply through this season, to tell and listen to more stories, to make music and watch the stars. When we’ve cleared a space amidst the clutter and noise may we discover once more hope and peace and joy and love--and the Light that shines in our darkness.
Remembering Father Ted Sizing
Fr. Ted Sizing, who lived and worked at the farm in the 1990’s, returned to the Lord on October 5. With Fr. McVey he sought fuller use of the farm property and was instrumental in bringing John and Joan Donnelly here from Nazareth Farm and in transforming the working barn into living space for volunteers and retreatants. By the time we arrived in 2001, all of those founders had left. But Fr. Ted was a welcome visitor and helpful advisor in our first years. When we found ourselves, a Quaker family new to the area, left to run a Catholic Worker farm we were very grateful for his tact and patience, his wisdom and good cheer. He used his knowledge of the farm’s history and his wide acquaintance throughout the region to help us over various difficulties. Records he kept during his time here have helped us piece together bits of history. The flowering crabapples he planted by the trailer that was his home on the farm will remind us of him each spring.
and by Fr. Tom MacNamara:
I have a small notebook that Father Ted gave me about ten years ago in which he placed articles and pictures that speak of peace and nonviolence in a post 9/11 world. Because of Father Ted, visitors to the farm from all corners of the world experienced that place of integration, the calm in the midst of the storm, or that little figure of St. Francis in the logo reaching up to heaven and reaching out to all creation. “Who will speak if I don’t,” went the refrain of a popular song we would sing and “be with the boat people” as we prayed with impoverished Haitians in the mid 90’s.
It was Father Ted who, assisting Father Ray, initially recruited John and Joan Donnelly from Nazareth Farm in West Virginia. And it was that indomitable smile and sense of humor that would cajole the two of them, on that sub zero day in January of ‘91 when he asked them to envision a gathering place in the barn where there was then a manure spreader filled to capacity and frozen solid. They eventually said “yes.”
Being able to see things that aren’t yet there might be a definition for faith. This man had it. I’ll never forget the day I saw him painting his trailer rainbow colors, and he absolutely gleamed, “aren’t the colors beautiful!” After his sojourn with Maryknoll in Central America, he just couldn’t get enough of those beautiful colors and he managed to weave them into his relationships with everyone he met. He did love to paint, an avocation that he picked up during the summers as a seminarian. That skill enabled him to brighten up the rooms, and homes, and lives of many during his years at the farm.
Father Ted had untiring energy. He would start his day in the dark of early morning, working on correspondence to the many friends he had made throughout his life and ministry. Getting the daily mail was a humbling experience for me in those years, as on opening the mailbox I would discover the 4 or 5 handwritten letters he had received from friends around the world. He would eagerly join us for prayer, breakfast, chores and whatever labor the day might bring: gardening, canning or cleaning. And this he did without complaint when he was in great physical pain.
His exemplary leadership in the celebration of the Eucharist at St. Francis Farm and Unity Acres helped to strengthen my own conviction to follow the Lord’s call into that ministry. His sharing in the reflections as we gathered was heartfelt and real. I am grateful that God allowed our paths to cross during those years. When Father Ted knew it was time for him to move on, he did it with grace, trusting that God was in the process.
Father Ted, we are grateful to God for you as we gather again during this seasonal darkness and cold, to celebrate with thanksgiving the conversion and warmth that comes from our attempts at living where peace and justice meet. In the place where they meet there may be drops of sweat, tears, and blood, but having known you gives us confidence to move forward in that pursuit. Rest in peace, dear friend.
Fr. Tom MacNamara lived and worked with Fr. Ted Sizing at St. Francis Farm in the 1990’s. He left the farm in 2000 to enter formation as a Franciscan and now serves as a priest at Our Lady of Sorrows on the lower east side of Manhattan.
A Community Collaboration in Nutrition by Judy Parker
I would like to introduce myself. I am Judy Parker and I work for Oswego County Opportunities, Inc. (OCO, Inc.) in the Senior Services Program in the Health & Nutrition Department. I am a manager at the Sandy Creek Senior Dining & Activity Center located at the Sandy Creek United Methodist Church, 2031 Harwood Drive, Sandy Creek, NY. We are open Mon. – Fri. from 10 to 1.
A private, non-profit agency, OCO touches the lives of more than 28,000 people each year through more than 50 programs operating in over 80 locations throughout Oswego County. The agency, which is a United Way of Greater Oswego County member, employs more than 650 people and has over 1000 valued volunteers. In 2011 OCO celebrated its 45th anniversary of helping people, supporting communities and changing lives through building partnerships that improve the quality of life in Oswego County.
Our senior centers offer nutritionally balanced lunches to our participants. We have several staff members, including a registered dietician. Encouraging our consumers to eat healthy & exercise is one of our primary goals. During the summer months, there are many farmer’s markets and roadside produce stands where people can get fresh locally grown produce. I encourage our consumers to take advantage of these places and to see if they are eligible for the farmer’s market coupons distributed by the county Office For the Aging. However, many of them do not have a way to get there. But, we are lucky enough to have a partnership with a non-profit charitable corporation in our community that has been a great friend to our nutrition program and our consumers.
St. Francis Farm has been sharing their abundance of fresh grown vegetables and herbs with us for several years now. Usually in late July until late September, sometimes into October, I will get a call to come to the farm to pick up the donated produce. It usually consists of green beans, sugar snap peas, cucumbers, a variety of squashes, several types of tomatoes, peppers, garlic & fresh cut basil. I go to the farm on Thursdays because that is the day we have the most consumers at our center, so more of them are able to take home these fresh, nutritious items at no cost. It’s like having the farmer’s market brought right to your door! They can incorporate these items into their meals for the week, and I know they are getting some healthy food in their diets. Some of the consumers even can and freeze the produce to use during the winter months.
We are forever grateful for our partnership with St. Francis Farm and the way they have reached out to make our consumers’ lives “a little bit healthier and happier”. Many thanks to Lorraine, Joanna & Zach from their friends at the Sandy Creek Senior Center.
We met Judy a few years ago when we went to the meal site in Pulaski to do music for a holiday meal. Since then we have been glad of another outlet for when the harvest is very bountiful and always enjoy Judy’s enthusiasm when we see her at the farm or at the meal site. She has shared some of her perennials that needed dividing with us and as they flourish, we’ve been able to pass on divisions to other visitors--the community blessing of giving and receiving.
The new boiler that was hooked up in early September is working well. It works a little bit differently than our old one but the learning curve has been short and now it seems to be easy to use. In the early fall when we were only using the boiler for domestic hot water I noticed that it seems to burn considerably less wood than our old boiler when under a light load. The fire goes out if the fan shuts off for more than three hours but it is much easier to re-ignite than our old boiler was so I can make a fire once or twice per day during the warmer months and shut it off overnight. Now that the heating season has begun the fire has kept burning for a few weeks continuously. I have not been using it in cold weather long enough yet to determine whether it seems to be burning less wood, but it does make much less ash than the old boiler. By spring it should become apparent whether it burns less wood when heating the building or not. I have been able to burn pine and aspen slabs in it that I could not have used in the old boiler.
I replaced the large square window in the chapel this fall since the seal between the glass panes had failed and the window was becoming foggy. I also put a window in the end of the attic room over the pantry that we will be able to open in the summer for ventilation of that space since we store onions and garlic there and they prefer cool dry storage. Over the winter I will cut and put in some thin boards to cover the insulation in that room.
This fall I was finally able to finish cutting trees in the pine plantation across the stream, thanks to the owners of the neighboring fields who again allowed us to cross their fields after the corn was picked. At the time of this writing I still have some hardwood trees to cut in another section of the woods across the stream. I should be done in there too by the time this is printed. Cutting marked trees north of the stream that were not removed in the timber sale of 2008 and other trees in that area that have died or been damaged has been an annual project each fall since 2010. Unless we have a large blow-down of trees in that area I should not have to go back up there to work for several years.
I am beginning the construction of a sugar house on an old 8.5x12.5 foot concrete slab that sits just north of the sawmill building. It will be large enough to accommodate our 2x4 foot evaporator and enough firewood for at least one year's worth of sap boiling. It is a very small building but will take a little bit of extra thought to construct since it requires a cupola with doors that can be opened to allow steam to escape or closed to keep rain and snow out, and I will also need to make some provision for the stovepipe.
In October I built another wheelchair ramp in the town of Parish. It was an easy one day job since there was a concrete walk underneath where the ramp had to go and there were no extra turns needed. I will continue to build ramps when ARISE has requests in this end of the county.
On a trip to Syracuse in early October I bought a book on pond maintenance from the Salvation Army and found it very informative. I am hoping to do some work next summer to clear silt out of the channel that lets water into the pond from the little stream and from the bottom of the pond and I am planning to do some clearing of dead wood around the edges of the pond this fall . The pond will be healthier and the water will be clearer if we have more water flowing through, and by removing the dead wood and silt from the bottom of the pond we will increase the oxygen level which will make it better for the fish.
The harvest is in and the garden is resting under cover crops and mulch. I miss the garden work but I enjoy this season’s hand-work, sewing dolls and helping my mother and brother make wooden toys for refugee kids, and I enjoy having time to slow down, to look back over the growing season and to give thanks.
Our new chickens are fully grown and fully feathered, and we think all of them are laying now; we have plenty of eggs for ourselves and some to share. When the first serious snow fell (November 24) we moved the chickens from the rolling coop where they are kept on fresh ground to the more compact winter coop with its big south-facing windows. We’re giving them weeds and trimmings from the greenhouse so they still have some fresh green stuff in their diet.
The garden did well this year. We harvested tomatoes until frost in spite of the early blight; we canned 153 quarts, dried 14, and had plenty of tomatoes to give away for the first time since 2009. The squash, cukes and peppers also bore richly until they froze in spite of powdery mildew and anthracnose. We got more than two gallons of dried beans from one row of the pole beans given to us by the Longo family (who wrote about their Hispanic Apostolate Youth Group visit in our last newsletter). We had a decent apple crop in spite of temperature fluctuations, and we've frozen, canned and dried enough to last until the next harvest. The root cellar is stocked with potatoes (not quite as many as we had last year, since something ate some of our tubers before we dug them) and carrots. Garlic and onions are stored in the cool dry space over the pantry. The pigs are gone and the goats are still giving enough milk so we can make hard cheeses to last us through the year.
We had fresh produce to share with Rural and Migrant Ministry in August and September, with the OCO senior meal site through September (see Judy Parker's article above), and with the soup kitchen through the end of October. This fall we've sent vegetables, seed garlic and perennial plants home with old and new friends. Now the harvest has slowed, but we still get beets, kale and brussels sprouts for ourselves from the garden outside. Kale, lettuce, chard and tatsoi are growing in the greenhouse. Some visitors are interested in the greenhouse and go home thinking about what they can grow. Some give us ideas. Andy Nelson visited when we had our first lettuce from the greenhouse; he brought arugula from his garden to add to our salad, and on his next visit he brought us arugula seeds.
The exchange of seeds and knowledge is part of our mission. We grow food to share directly with other people, and we also help other people learn to grow their own. We don't have an education program, but we take care of our soil, plants and animals, take time to do research, and make ourselves available to others who want to learn as we keep learning, bit by bit, from people willing to be good neighbors.
At the end of another year, we give thanks to all who have supported our work with prayers, donations, labor, and encouragement. Please let us know if you would like to change how you receive your newsletter (paper or email). Also if we haven’t heard from you for a while, let us know if you’d like to be dropped or retained on our mailing list. Those who made donations in memory of Fr. Ted are being sent this newsletter but will not be added to the mailing list except by their request.