Decades ago I was a member of The Memorial Society of Maine, an organization dedicated to helping people through decisions that must be made when someone dies. Recently I looked for a similar organization here in New York and found that the old memorial societies are now Funeral Consumer Alliances, that there are several in NY but none for Oswego County, and that NY is one of only 8 states that requires the employment of a funeral director for even a simple cremation. After receiving permission from the national FCA, I’ve printed some pamphlets and put them with other resources at our local library. So many people are daunted by the school systems and medical systems from whom they need services. The decisions that must be made at the time of death are made more difficult by grief and exhaustion. I hope in some small way to make those times easier.
Often Catholic Workers host round table discussions. I’ve never attended one but I think they might be similar to what I hope to offer in forming a simplicity circle. That’s just a small group of people working together toward more satisfying and sustainable living and away from consumerism and competition. People may join because of concerns about social justice or the future of the planet or economic uncertainty. They may be looking for more community or peace of mind or sense of purpose. Often visitors comment on the peace they feel here. People come looking for solutions to problems, answers to questions, alternatives to systems they experience as destructive or draining. My hope is to gather a few people for ongoing discussion and support as we all seek to live more simply and fully.
I see two things that seem contradictory: people find satisfaction in helping; finding people to help is hard. I remember the high school boys who enjoyed working with their hands and spending their spring break week helping with real work, the local boy who wanted to help fix someone else’s bike after Zach fixed his, the kids whose favorite part of the summer programs was not exploring but helping with the work, elders who enjoyed snapping beans or shelling peas for me to can or freeze. I remember how much I wished last year for more help when we were stretched thin. I remember so many visitors who said they’d be back to help again but never came. We’ve learned to plan the work so that what must be done can be done by the three of us and other projects can be pursued when we have help. There are so many different jobs--ones that could be done with an elder, with young children, with a large group with lots of energy. I’m learning to ask for what each person is able and willing to give, not to daunt or discourage. Sometimes it seems easier to stop asking, to do it all ourselves, but that ignores the goals underlying the daily and seasonal work. We are perennially looking for people to build community with us--sharing the work and the gifts of the land, bringing their questions and experience to a simplicity circle.
Family Day at the Farm
Comments from participants--
We learned about the event at Christ Our Light and we looked it up on the Internet.
I enjoyed watching my children try new activities.
I learned a new game, double digit.
I liked playing with the squiggly track game.
I had fun playing with the crocodile.
We made our own pretzel and a birdhouse.
The instruments made by hand are absolutely fantastic
I enjoyed helping my son build a birdhouse!
I enjoyed the challenge of putting a wooden puzzle together.
We came curious to see what SFF is about and are leaving very excited to come back.
I want to see the goats in the spring.
I and my family will be back in the spring and summer.
Can we come back?
We have had a very easy winter so far but even so the new building has been very helpful in keeping the routes out to the goats and chickens free of snow. In late November I finally got the springs installed on the second overhead door on the new building and wired the lights on both floors. I didn’t get the outlets wired till mid-December. Now the building is essentially complete, though there are still a few more things to do like finishing installing wire mesh on top of the walls to keep birds out of the loft and making railings around the stairwell. In December I went to an auction at a closed furniture factory in Williamstown and got some rolling tables and warehouse carts very cheaply. I have put two of the warehouse carts to use already to hold lumber and the rolling tables are up in the loft of the new building where the planer and jointer are now located. The sawmill building loft is now filled only with lumber for sale and that means I can have 7 stacks and still be able to move around. This means I am able to have a stack for each species of lumber that we have. January was a good month for lumber sales and I am hopeful that having a larger supply of lumber in the loft will help with sales through the rest of the year.
Late last summer the drywall enclosure around the old masonry chimney in the house cracked open on one corner and when I looked inside I saw that the chimney was badly cracked. In early February I brought the dump wagon over onto the front lawn, made a wooden chute to reach it from the top of the outside stairs and began taking the chimney apart. When I replaced the shingles on the house in 2006 I had taken the chimney down inside the attic and covered up the hole where it used to come out since the outer part of it was in bad shape at that time. The chimney had not been in use since 2001 when the furnace was found to be unsafe and was removed. It took a whole day to get rid of the chimney but I think it was time well spent. I don’t know what was holding it up since many of the blocks were cracked on all four sides and were very crumbly. Before spring when we will start having people staying in the house again I will need to patch the holes in the floors and ceilings where the chimney was and to work on the pieces of walls that have now been exposed. On the second floor inside the chimney enclosure I also found and removed the bottom few feet of a hanging chimney made of soft clay bricks. At some point there had been a wood stove in the front upstairs bedroom that was served by that chimney.
I am hoping to finally get the new floor put into the house kitchen this year. The large planer that I bought a number of years ago has had some problems that I think are not worth fixing and I am looking for another one to buy. I have 100 pine 1x6 boards to plane for the floor and the little planer that I use for furniture and toy parts and such is not going to be happy about having to do that much lumber. Once the lumber is planed I will use the shaper which the farm bought a few years ago to make the boards into tongue and groove flooring. Another thing that needs to be done this year is to jack up the house porch and put new piers under it that go down below the frost line.
Over the years we have been here we have moved away from burning oil and into burning wood for all our heat and hot water needs year round. This year there are a few things that need to be done in the boiler room and woodshed area. The first is to rebuild the wall of the woodshed with all of the loading doors. The wall has been deteriorating and the doors are not working well. I will redesign the door layout in a way that I think will make it easier to use. The chimney in the boiler room is also starting to have problems and we will need to look at it closely and decide whether to try to repair it or to replace it with another masonry chimney or a metal chimney. I will need to get some advice on the best way to proceed. We are also planning to remove the oil boiler which has not been used since 2012. It would need a new gun to be operable and we don’t anticipate needing to use it enough to justify that expense, especially given its age and the likelihood that it is rusting away inside. Having it out of there will give us a lot more room and make it easier to access the back of the wood boiler.
First rabbit litters are due in March. Building more cages and hoping to raise more this year and soon to have rabbits for others interested in breeding and raising them.
Barley is due to kid at the end of the 3rd week of April or 2nd week of May.
Inoculating new shiitake mushroom logs in March. Found some good information this winter and hope to get more reliable production and eventually sell inoculated logs.
Forming a simplicity circle at the farm this spring with others who would like to cut back on consuming, to work less, rush less and find more time for community and connection with nature.
We now have a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/stfrancisfarmcommunity/, where we post announcements of volunteer opportunities and upcoming events as well as quotes and pictures. We welcome suggestions to improve this.
St. Francis Farm and area community organizations will celebrate Screen-Free Week by hosting free non-electronic family-friendly activities during the Pulaski school’s spring vacation, April 25-30. This is our ninth year of local organizing, and new groups join in every year.
Lent is upon us again, the time of facing the death and darkness within us and around us and preparing for the coming of new life. This winter I’ve been very aware of the darkness--long nights and short gray days, fear and division. I hear fear and suspicion of “those people” in news stories and campaign speeches. I also hear friends and neighbors, people I respect and care about, saying things about “those violent Muslims” or “those dangerous immigrants” or “those vicious Trump supporters.” I know and love people in all those groups.
I keep coming back to one of my favorite Bible verses: “Therefore, putting aside the lie, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, because we are members of one another.” (Ephesians 4:25, emphasis mine). I keep trying to understand what would help us to live in accordance with this truth. I don’t have clear large-scale answers. I think of what Peter Maurin wrote about the Catholic Worker trying to create a society where it is easier for people to be good. Part of St. Francis Farm’s work is to make it easier for us to see our membership in one another.
We have guests from very different political, religious, economic and ethnic backgrounds. Personal relationships seem to be an effective antidote to prejudice. When people express fear of Muslims I think of the young woman who spent a day volunteering in our garden. She was fasting for Ramadan but still worked circles around her non-fasting classmates, and as she worked she talked about her hopes and plans. She’d come from Bangladesh to study medicine and planned to return to do public health work. When people express fear of immigrants I think of Miguel and Octavio and other migrant workers who lived as part of our family while recovering from injuries incurred as they worked to earn money to feed their families. Even while recovering they helped us as they could, patiently taught us their language, shared songs and stories and prayer with us. When people express disgust toward Trump supporters I think of our gentle neighbor who works for a local charity, takes care of various relatives, and comes sometimes to walk in our woods and take plants home. I don’t agree with his politics but I can’t dismiss or disrespect him. I’ve seen others at the farm forming connections across divides. I remember a group of students from a Catholic high school and a group of young migrant workers who spent an evening together with us. They regarded each other with some trepidation during dinner, but over soccer afterward they thawed and began to laugh together. Later that night when the migrants told their stories the students knew they were listening to real people like themselves, not scary foreigners. I’ve watched guests from very different religious backgrounds meet each other warily, find common ground as they share work and meals, and end up seeking out each other’s company.
We take time to lay aside our assumptions, worries and distractions and listen for the still small voice. During the summer, when much of my work is outdoors and I’m listening to bird songs or talking with whoever is helping me, I find this easy. In the winter I listen to the radio as I scrub or sew or sand during the day, and I check Facebook in the evenings when it’s too cold to go outside and walk. Sometimes this helps me to understand what’s going on in the world and in the lives of my friends and relatives. Sometimes it just feels overwhelming: there are so many fragmented stories that arouse emotional reactions without giving adequate context, so many arguments in which opponents talk past each other. Our divisions are painfully apparent, and there isn’t a context of relationship or a spiritual grounding to call us back toward unity. Beyond a certain point I get too tired and frustrated to think clearly or pray meaningfully about what I’m hearing. I’m grateful for Screen-Free Week coming up again, for a time of media fasting and deeper listening. (See ‘In Brief’ section below.) I’m trying to remain mindful about how I deal with news during the rest of the year. I’m grateful for our practice of beginning each day with silent prayer. In that silence I try to step back from the fear-filled noise in my mind, pray for all the other frightened and distracted people who are also seeking God and goodness in their own ways, and turn toward the Spirit of truth who makes us one.
Wish List--Maria’s story
We used to include a list of things we wanted/needed at the farm but haven’t for a while because so often the things that would be on it are odd or we only want a little. Mostly this late winter I am wishing for people to share the work, to ponder hard questions, to enjoy the simple gifts of the farm, to help me see the parts I’ve overlooked. Maria Kurowski has been that kind of person for the past several years.
It was years after her daughters Anita and Melinda began spending time with us that I got to know Maria. I’m not even sure how it began. I remember her coming to sing with us in the chapel during Christmas or on the hill around a fire. She took some of the plant divisions I was always trying to give away and brought me divisions from her gardens. She brought bags of maple leaves she’d raked up in the fall and Joanna fed them to the goats through the winter. When I was overwhelmed with milk and didn’t have time or energy to make another batch of cheese, Maria would take a gallon and make her own cheese. (Plenty of people would take cheese, but what a blessing to find someone who would make it.) Maria came in the spring for wildflower walks and brought her telescope for star-gazing on summer nights. She picks up the newsletters every quarter and distributes them at Christ Our Light where she works in the office. In recent years, Maria has become our gleaner. When we’ve finished canning beans and don’t want to pick anymore but they are still bearing, Maria will pick and use them or share them. She’s taken vegetables to share at her church when sending them to the soup kitchen and giving them to visitors still leaves a surplus. She sews beautiful cloth bags to hold some of the toys we make for refugees. This winter we helped her plan how to make better use of her limited garden space and this spring she’ll take aged sawdust and rabbit manure to enrich her soil.
We’re hoping others will find the farm and become friends as Maria has. In March Joanna will start planting seeds in the greenhouse. In April she’ll be starting work in the garden. Zachary will be tapping trees soon and making syrup in March and April, then getting in firewood. Lorraine will have perennials to divide and share and could use help in herb and flower gardens in April and May. Spring means woodland wildflowers, frog choruses, returning songbirds, and woodcock displays. Trails will need work and fences will need repairing. We wonder who will discover the farm this year and what we’ll learn together.
The past couple months have reminded me how many things are beyond my control and how different what comes often is from what I expected. After an unusually warm March, I anticipated an early spring, but what came was an unusually cold April. After the well-attended Family Day in February, I looked forward to folks returning in the spring but it was all new people who came to the events we had scheduled during Screen-Free Week. Just when I’d given up on finding others willing to form a simplicity circle, Kelly (see article on page 4) read about them, wanted to try one, and brought others to join us.
By now I should have learned just to enjoy spring and its surprises, without expecting it to arrive at a particular time or in a particular way. The frogs began calling in March and the buds were all swelling, but the cold came back before the leaves had really opened. We bred the rabbits earlier than last year, hoping to time the litters so that the young would be starting to eat solids just as the first wave of new spring green was emerging. Three of the four planned litters arrived, but there was a gap when it was too warm in the greenhouse to grow wheat out into fodder and there was still very little forage growing outside. The chickens moved out into their summer quarters but the grass was slow to get started in their run so often they’ve been confined to their coop and compost area. April was dry so that the woodland wildflowers were slow to grow and salamanders hard to find.
My hope is always that visitors will enjoy the farm--and that some of them will help with the ever-present work. So I was pleased about all the new people who came in February partly because there were so many children old enough to be real help and who seemed to have some inclination to come back and volunteer. During Screen-Free week we scheduled a couple work days. A mother with an infant and two young daughters came to the first and helped plant potatoes and pick rocks before going for a walk and trying out the long swing by the pond. No one came to the second when the weather was better. A mother with a 3 year old girl, a 9 year old boy and his grandmother, and the folks who came for the simplicity circle all enjoyed our nature walks.
Whenever someone new comes and enjoys the farm I see what has become familiar in a new light. Maria has come for several wildflower walks--early enough to see the hepatica and again when the trillium had begun blooming. And Kelly has come back repeatedly for her favorite walk along Trout Brook.
Reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods has reminded me how much children gain from time in nature. We see it whenever we take families on nature walks or have them help in the garden. For a few years we made that connection with our Growing Season summer program. This spring a leader of a local 4-H group has contacted us about bringing children to the farm to learn about gardening and for nature study. I keep hoping we’ll be able to develop connections that last over time. Gardens and nature are hard to appreciate in one encounter. What I enjoy most are the ways the light and the plants and the song change over the course of a day or a season, but those things are hard to schedule for a group. At the same time we’re inviting people to work and walk we have to keep fending off people looking for a place to ride their ATVs and dirt bikes. We don’t mark the farm boundaries with No Trespassing signs, but we don’t want the noise and erosion and other damage caused by such vehicles. We explain what people are welcome to do here and what they are not when we can catch up with the riders and talk to them.
I’m grateful for the birdsong that wakes me each morning, for evening light on new leaves, for the work of the farm that frames our days, for others who come and share these gifts. My prayer--for us who live here, for all who come, for you who read this--is for clarity and grace. --by Lorraine
Remembering the Peacemakers by Joanna
Joe Morton, peace worker, professor and longtime friend of St Francis Farm, passed away on April 7, 2016. A celebration of his life will be held on June 18, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. in the Athenaeum at Goucher College, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Baltimore MD 21204. We’re grateful for his work, his example and his support. We will miss him.
Joe was a small boy when his family left Hungary just ahead of the Nazis and immigrated to the US. As a young man he served in the Army but was never in combat. He studied philosophy, taught in and then chaired the philosophy department at Goucher College, and founded one of the first Peace Studies departments in the country there in 1991. He took part in the peacemaking work of Jonah House, Viva House, Peace Brigades International, Witness Against Torture and many other groups.
Joe’s involvement with St. Francis Farm began before ours. In 1999 five people from St Francis Farm joined Voices In The Wilderness’ march from Washington DC to New York City to protest economic sanctions against Iraq. The marchers stopped in Baltimore, where Joe met them and decided to visit the farm. After that he visited several times a year, bringing books on peacemaking, Native American philosophy and spiritual practices as well as produce from the Baltimore farmer’s market and a rich fund of stories.
We first met him in spring 2002, when we had been at the farm less than a year and were still trying to understand the place and work. He wrote for our newsletter, pitched into our work, told us stories about the farm’s history as well as other peace communities, and kept coming back to help and encourage us. When we discovered that we had to incorporate the farm in 2003, Joe joined our rather unconventional Board of Directors and stayed on the Board for the rest of his life. His experience and his attention to detail were great gifts.
Some of our favorite memories of Joe include: Singing around the campfire with him—his tunes were sometimes hard to follow but his delight in music was delightful and his repertoire of songs amazingly varied.
Time in the workshop making a rocking fox for his granddaughter.
Sitting outside in silent prayer with him early in the morning. Afterward he smiled and said, “Who would have thought three Quakers and one agnostic ex-Jew could make the sun rise?” His presence in the silence was warm and deep, and he introduced us to Bo Lozoff’s book ‘Deep and Simple,’ which we now give to people who come to us trying to work out some kind of spiritual practice.
Watching him plant an oak tree, working and talking with a neighborhood boy who craved time with men who were kind and sturdy.
Seeing his growing friendship with Miguel, the first migrant worker who stayed with us while recovering from an injury. Miguel and Joe had some difficulty in pronouncing each other’s names, but they worked and sang and laughed together and came to like and respect each other. When Miguel was recovered and looking for paid work he went back to Maryland with Joe, who always had more garden work than he had time for. Later they came back to visit us together.
Talking with him about different ways of working for peace. Since Joe was involved in public protests against militarization, torture, the death penalty etc. we wondered whether he’d find our work tame or irrelevant. But he spoke to us often about the radical nature of stepping back from the consumer culture, and the ways in which such lives made a peaceable world more possible. When we were worried about whether we were reaching enough people, whether we were really making a difference, Joe reassured us that it was enough for us to live as sanely and peacefully as we could and to keep a door open for others. He believed, and helped us to believe, that good work need not be spectacular or even measurable.
As we were gathering our recollections of Joe we learned of the passing of another peacemaker who worked both quietly and spectacularly. Father Daniel Berrigan, priest, protestor and poet, passed away on April 30. Many of you who read this may know more than we do about his rich and varied peace work, teaching students from difficult backgrounds, working with AIDS patients, and, most famously, engaging in nonviolent resistance to war and nuclear armament, staging protests which led to prison time, public consternation, and the inspiration of many activists.
Our connection with him was tenuous but we valued it. His books, especially ‘No Bars to Manhood,” helped me to start thinking about the questions of collective responsibility and living an alternative which eventually led me to St Francis Farm. His brother Jerry, who passed away last August, was likewise a man of prayer and peace, and also a friend and supporter of SFFC. Father Berrigan came to visit us in the summer of 2003, while he was visiting Jerry in Syracuse. I was excited and also very apprehensive, wondering if he would reproach us for not engaging in public protest and doing prison time in the face of so many deadly injustices carried out in the name of our government. It wasn’t like that. He took an interest in the gardens and the animals. We sat together in the chapel, prayed in silence, and talked about the slow hard work of caring for people and trying to live as part of a more just and merciful society.
We're grateful for Joe and for Father Berrigan, for their presence and their witness, their courage and their gentleness. We pray for all the people who miss them now.
“The good is to be done because it is good, not because it goes somewhere. I believe if it is done in that spirit it will go somewhere, but I don’t know where. … I was interested in trying to do it humanely and carefully and nonviolently and let it go.”
—Father Daniel Berrigan in a 2008 interview
I discovered St. Francis Farm in the fall of 2015 through a flier in my local library. The flier connected with me because of its reference to simplicity. At the time, I had begun to notice and get rid of some of the many distractions and possessions in my life. I was eager to visit the farm and learn more about its inhabitants, however, I was nervous about the religious element at the farm. Listening to news about religious extremism had made me associate strong religious belief with intolerance.
Despite my fears, I reached out to Lorraine at the farm, and we set up a date. On the day of my visit, I nervously turned into their driveway, and was met with warm welcomes from Joanna, Zachary, and Lorraine Hoyt. During lunch, I was amazed to learn that a lot of their food came from their own land and was made from scratch. Before this, the only people I knew who did this were the Amish. I was given a tour of the farm and was interested to see how each family member’s talent was expressed as a role on the farm. Each role was equally important in maintaining and running the farm. On this day, I was also introduced to their walking trails, their greenhouse, their goats, their gardens, their chickens, and their chapel. Needless to say, all my preconceptions about the Hoyts disappeared when I realized how tolerant and kind they really were. After this visit, I felt very lucky to have met such people.
Since my first visit, I have come back many times to help out, to chat, and to walk. I have helped Joanna plant peas, plant onions, and milk goats. I found these tasks to be very calming, and they gave me a feeling of purpose and helpfulness. The conversations I have had with Joanna and Lorraine are what really stand out to me. Through their open-mindedness and genuine kindness, they have helped me recognize a lot of the rifts in my life. They have helped me find direction when I have been completely lost. More importantly, they have opened up their home and created a place for not only me, but also for anyone who is in need of alone time, a place to be heard, or something else. They have taught me how special it is to be present in your surroundings and listen to other people. Before meeting the Hoyts, I did not understand a fortune cookie that I once received that stated: “By listening, one will learn truths. By hearing, one will only learn half truths.” I now understand the fortune cookie’s quote, and can point out a family that embodies the meaning of the quote to its core.
In a world with so much noise and so little listening, it is very easy to feel isolated and not understood. St. Francis Farm is a place where you will find the opposite. At St. Francis Farm, silence is sacred and healthy communication is abundant. The farm is a place to stand still and realize how connected you are to nature and to other people. After visiting St. Francis Farm for the first time, I described the farm to my mom as an intersection between the turbulence of the mainstream and the clarity of simpleness. The Hoyts do not close themselves or their lifestyle off from other people. In fact, they open up their farm to people of all different backgrounds. As a child and as a teenager, I was constantly told to not talk to strangers. The Hoyts have showed me the power of reaching out and opening yourself up to people who are different. The powerful things I have learned from talking to the Hoyts and working at their farm have changed me immensely. I now have more faith in my convictions and who I am, and, more importantly, more faith in the goodness and potential of other people. I find that there is so much fear in this world, in myself, and in other people. It is a lot easier to pass off another person or experience as "strange" or "dangerous," and to build a shell around yourself than to meet that person or experience head-on. When I think of this, I am reminded of a quote I once read that says, "When you protect something, the thing you are keeping safe decays." The decision of the Hoyts to open up their homes and themselves to other people is an extremely powerful one, and I, along with many others, are extremely grateful for this decision to choose this more challenging route.
We had an early spring so the maple sugaring got started earlier than in the last couple of years. The sap ran well at first but it stopped earlier than usual so we still ended up with 9-1/2 gallons, the same as last year. I had the wood storage full and burned almost all of it to make the syrup, so this year I will put in a larger percentage of hardwood so that it’ll last if we have a better season next year. The wood was dry enough that I was finally able to get good evaporation rates most of the time so I didn’t have to keep boiling so long into the evening.
In March Bob Bartell came for a visit and helped with the ongoing John Deere crawler project. We got the winch taken apart and repaired and also were able to take the crawler for its first short trip since I replaced the axle over the winter. He also helped with making sheet metal pans to go under rabbit cages and bringing in logs from the pine plantation to the sawmill.
We didn’t burn all of the wood in the main woodshed this year so I moved what was left to the front and I was able to begin cutting firewood early. Once I had the area by the doors empty I jacked up the roof slightly and removed the entire southwest wall and the doors. I replaced the wall with a beam and a couple of 6x6 posts and made three double doors to replace the original two double doors and a single. This makes it much easier to load wood in since there are no more pieces of wall in the way and the whole side of the woodshed is doors. Filling the shed went quickly since I had a lot of tops on the ground from trees that were cut to go to the sawmill.
I sold my old 18” planer and just bought an old 15” planer which is all cast iron and much simpler and seems to be in working order. I need to put in proper wiring for it and then I will be ready to use it as soon as I have time. The first job for it will be preparing the lumber for the floor in the old kitchen in the house. The front porch on the house needs to be jacked up and to have foundation piers put in below the frost line. Miguel helped us a lot with the house in 2002 when we were new here, and he jacked it up then but in Puerto Rico where he came from they don’t have frost heaving like we do here so he just set it on blocks like it had been before. My hope is that by doing it better this time it won’t have to be done again for a while.
Also in the house I repaired the areas in the two upstairs bedrooms where I had removed the old chimney and painted the ceilings, walls and floors in those rooms and the hallway. They are ready now for the first overnight visitors of the year who will be coming in mid-May. I replaced the PVC piping to the upstairs bathroom, which had been leaking again, with PEX pipe. I have removed the old oil tank from the house basement and am planning to clean out the other detritus that is still lurking down there and replace the basement stairs which have rotted again because of periodic flooding.
This spring I graded the areas of the gravel road where I dug the ditches out last year with the trackhoe we had rented for the new building project. Last year was busy so I had just left the material in the road. The chickens are now moved into the old rabbit shed with a compost yard and movable run of my mother’s design added to the back. They seem happy in there and it is easier not to have to move the whole coop every day or two as we used to. I have made some new rabbit cages and racks to hold them. Now that the rabbits are in the new building there is much more room to grow more of them. I have put wire over the windows so that they can have them open when it warms up, and I have covered up all of the openings I could to keep birds from getting into the new building. A couple of swallows got in while I was working on the woodshed and they flew around and around the loft but wouldn’t leave. I finally had to add a small window that could be opened so I could let them out. In March we inoculated 60 logs with shiitake mushroom spawn. I put up an 8x14 enclosure for them which is designed to keep most of the sun off them but allow some airflow. It is attached to the back of the sawmill building near where there is a garden hose spigot for when the logs need to be soaked.
Agriculture: A Season of Surprises by Joanna
After the Paris climate change conference we’ve heard reports on how governments and NGOs need to support farmers in learning to grow food in increasingly erratic and unpredictable weather. We’ve been much more mildly affected than people in other parts of the world, and even of this country, but we’re still challenged by the weather’s fluctuations.
This March was warm. The eggplant and pepper seedlings started at the beginning of the month throve. Kelly and I planted peas during the third week in March. I planted our first succession of tomatoes indoors the following week (later than last year, since last year the tomatoes were too big for their pots well before we could set them out). That week the weather turned very cold. April stayed cold. The tomato seedlings germinated and grew slowly. The first batch were delayed but healthy, the second were stunted when I set them out in the sun when the temperature was acceptable but the wind was excessive. April was also very dry, so I had to water the peas, early greens and asparagus; we had hard freezes so the hose sometimes had to be drained and disconnected. The peas came up patchily.
The garden keeps growing. I’ve coddled the third batch of tomato seedlings, keeping them in the greenhouse on all but the mildest days. They’ll be late but they’re growing well. I bought seedlings for an early succession. The pea harvest may be staggered, but I’ve planted extra beds to make up for early losses. It’s still cold for May, but we’re beginning to harvest asparagus and by the time you read this we should have lettuce and greens from the garden as well as the greenhouse. The onions which Kelly, Maria and Melinda helped us plant out survived many freezes and are starting to grow again. Root crops are coming up and potatoes should be up soon. We’re thinking about ways to improve our resilience next year—more widely staggered planting dates, more even planting depths, attention to wind—and in the meantime we’ll enjoy what grows and pay attention to what needs to be improved.
At the beginning of May we hadn’t found a piglet to raise. On May 6 I went to the feed store for oats and found that Zach had left a message asking me to get pig starter. We picked Placid up on May 7. She’s settling easily into her new home and enjoying the whey left over from our cheesemaking.
Our new goat Barley had two possible kidding dates, April 23 and May 14. On the 23rd she seemed to be straining to position kids, but nothing happened. On May 11 her udder filled. I checked on her at 12:30; she wasn’t in labor. I checked again at 2; her kids were standing up and trying to nurse. Millie the doeling and Milo the buckling are thriving, and we have enough milk to make cheese for the soup kitchen.
We started the season with 6 rabbits; five litters later we have 44 rabbits, and the weather has warmed enough so we have plenty of fresh food for them.
May has a few scheduled visits. Joan, a friend from Maine, arrives for her annual visit on the 16th. Our first wwoofer of the year is Saki, a young woman from Japan who is a student in Ithaca. She arrives on the 23rd and may stay for a month if she doesn’t find it too strenuous or isolated. Bob Bartell will be back for a short visit from the 26th to the 28th. He usually comes in August but I’m always telling him the farm is loveliest in May. We’ve had other inquiries from prospective volunteers but only one other scheduled, another Japanese student who will arrive July 11. I keep hoping for local people to come, not just for family days, but to walk and work with us through the season. We could use the help and encouragement and I think the farm is better enjoyed by those who become more familiar with it over time.
I keep finding robin nests tucked at the edges of buildings. A pair of ravens has set up a territory on the farm and has a nest in the red pine plantation. I can hear the young begging but the adults don’t like me getting too close. The orioles are back and, while I haven’t seen any nests started yet, I hear and see lots of clashes over territory. Kingfishers are disputing territory around the pond and along the small brook. Bluebirds have claimed 3 boxes and tree swallows are using another 4 while the wrens are unwilling to stick to the houses hung for them and sneak sticks into any box they find unguarded. Opossums tried to set up housekeeping in the top of the sawmill building and were evicted. The leaves are opening fast, the woodland wildflowers fading, and the orchard in full bloom.
In November the pace of our work slows as the season turns and the light dwindles. At the start of the new year we’ll review what we’ve done, plan for the future, ponder the questions that accumulate through the busier seasons. But we’re not there yet. Around us the voices get shriller, the divisions sharper. Joanna comes home from her community meetings and tells of more programs cut, grants run out, positions that are empty and won’t be filled. From Hope we hear of the plight of so many refugees. From others we hear fear of an influx of strangers who might be terrorists or carry diseases or take their jobs. We go out for walks and the brooks are full again after a dry spring and summer. Autumn leaves are bright underfoot. We listen to the geese and watch the moon rise and Orion climb the sky. I try to see the dark things clearly and still remember to count the blessings.
Sometimes what we do seems too puny to matter. Daily the news includes tragic stories of refugees drowning, starving, declared undesirable, driven out, herded into camps. On cold or wet days we’ve gotten back to making toys that Hope will take to refugee families. Marge brought a bag of lovely fabric scraps that I cut into rectangles and Maria sews into bags to hold a set of dolls or a balancing crocodile. Visitors like to sand or sew with us while we talk about their lives and ours and our concerns for the wider world. But when I’m weary or worried the few toys we make and the time spent with neighbors seem less than nothing balanced against the urgent need.
Each year more local people “find” the farm and wonder how they missed it for so long and why we don’t do more publicity. This year no one who came for our publicized family day in February came back later in the year. A couple who’ve come back found us through a relative who bought hay. An elder came after her neighbor recommended us when she needed help with some repairs. A girl picked up our brochure while volunteering at the library. A boy, just moved into the neighborhood, stopped by on his bike. A woman Joanna and Zach met at contradances has been joining us for prayer/meditation Sunday mornings. We show them our field and woods trails, give them garlic and cider and plant divisions, allow them to hunt and fish. They bring us canning jars and bushel baskets and venison. The farm is a place where all of us are both giving and receiving.
All of us are struggling or have struggled with something in our lives and sharing what helped us can help someone else. Sometimes we can connect visitors with people or programs that can meet needs that are beyond our abilities or experience. Other times the problems are clear but local resources are over-stretched or non-existent. People fall through the cracks for all sorts of reasons. Then I struggle to keep my balance, to count my blessings without losing sight of those who are in need, to remember the Light that shines in the darkness and is not overcome. Lighting the Advent candles and taking time for the silence keeps me from despair.
For if the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness. Matthew 6:23
This has been a challenging growing season, with erratic temperatures and severe drought. I’m discouraged by the thought that we’re likely to have more seasons like these as we continue to destabilize our climate. I’m encouraged by the good food and good work which the farm provided even in this difficult year.
This fall we harvested 220 pounds of potatoes, down from 290 last year. One bed of potatoes was half eaten by rodents. Our onion harvest was down by about 1/3, mostly because of the drought. We have enough for winter, but not so much to give away. Some other things grew well despite adverse conditions. We canned 119 quarts of tomatoes and dried 15, so we’ll have plenty for winter. We had plenty of cukes, squash, green beans and cherry tomatoes to send to the soup kitchen through September, and kept sending kale, lettuce, chard and herbs well into October. Our slow-starting eggplants came into their own in September and gave us many delicious meals.
Now our winter garden is thriving in the greenhouse. We’ve already harvested plenty of chard, kale and lettuce, and my mother is starting to grow fodder in the greenhouse as there are fewer greens outside. And now that the growing season is over the rains have begun again, the brooks are full and singing, and the groundwater is getting replenished for next year.
Cutting food for the rabbits was harder as the drought browned the fields, but the woods edges and garden paths provided enough. Our fall litters of rabbits grew faster than any we’ve had before. Our pig Placid also did very well. We’ve replaced Barley with a new goat, Amada, who seems more likely to keep milking through the winter. Barley was sold to some people who aren’t trying to milk goats for more than a year at a time. Dora and Amada have settled down together with very little head-butting. Our hens have recovered from their fall molt and are laying again.
We had a bumper crop of apples. We canned applesauce, froze apples, dried apples, pressed cider. The Amish family around the corner filled their buggy with boxes and bags of apples; the boy down the road took a big box home on his bike; Maria took apples home after helping us with our work. It’s satisfying to have plenty to share.
It’s also satisfying to have helpers to share the work. Our friend Bob came back for an August visit and gave a hand with weeding and compost-turning. Lil and Dennis helped us harvest onions and process dried willow to feed rabbits in winter. Maria has pitched in in the garden and also brought us dried maple leaves from her yard to feed to the goats this winter. Marge comes regularly to help us with all sorts of produce processing (see her article below). I’m grateful for the help and for the stories and questions we share as we work together.
When I listen to the news I could easily despair of how we treat each other and the planet. When I think about the day to day work here, and about the people we work and visit with, I am still aware of problems and pains and frustrations, but also aware of the goodness that remains.
This fall I have gotten caught up on a few jobs that have been waiting for a while. The first apples were ready in August, and I made a new frame for the cider press out of ash lumber. I reused the beam and screw from the original press. The new press is more solid, so it doesn’t creak and bend like the old one did. I bought a stainless steel tray to put under the basket and made a cutout in one corner so the cider can run into a bucket. I mounted the press on a frame with an old garden cart axle and wheels, and I mounted the grinder that I made a couple of years ago on the other end. Now I can press cider in the new building and then roll the cart out the door and hose it off. I have pressed much more cider this year than ever before because we had such a good apple crop in spite of the drought, and we’ve been giving gallon jugs to visitors.
Also in August I installed a French drain along the barn wall with help from Bob, who was visiting. We buried about 130 feet of 4” drain tile. I tarred the bottom part of the concrete wall near where the water sometimes would leak in, and it hasn’t leaked yet in the heavy rains we had this fall, though I won’t be sure it’s fixed till we go through the winter. I hope that the combination of sealing the wall and draining water away more rapidly will keep the leak from coming back.
In early September I replaced the shingles on the house porch roof, which had begun to deteriorate badly last winter. I had put them on in 2005 when we were working on the house, and the rest of the roofs on the house were done in 2006. The only difference I can see is that the porch roof was done with black shingles and the rest of the house with light gray, and I am thinking that perhaps the black ones absorbed more heat, or maybe there is another reason why they didn’t last.
Late in September I tore down the crumbling part of the boiler chimney that was above the roof line and replaced the half that is used by the wood boiler with new blocks. Inside the building the chimney was in good shape. In October I changed the plumbing for the boiler system, eliminating the line that went to the oil boiler and putting in a single large expansion tank to replace two small ones that had failed. I also put in valves so that I can shut off the expansion tank and the fill valve from the rest of the system when they need to be replaced in the future.
I have been selling some lumber, continuing to cut more, and doing a few jobs cutting up other people’s logs at the mill. One customer brought aspen logs and said we could have anything that didn’t make full length 1x6s. I used that extra lumber to make a new floor in the winter chicken coop where the boards had shrunk and cracks had opened. It was practice using the shaper we bought a few years ago to make tongue and groove cuts on the boards. I am hoping to make flooring for the farmhouse kitchen this winter. I bought a larger planer in the spring and this fall I finally set up the wiring so that I can run it out in the new building.
Before winter I’m planning to replace the wooden platform behind the sawmill where the sawdust accumulates, as the old one has rotted away and begun to break up, and also to make a new cradle to hold slabs at the mill so they can be cut up into firewood. A store in Pulaski gives away broken pallets so I got a couple of trailer loads of them and have used some to build a new sawdust storage bin on the old concrete slab on the hill, and some to build some new compost bins to replace rotting ones by the garden. I will need to put in more compost bins in the spring once the old ones are empty.
We had an unexpected crop of shiitake mushrooms this fall on the 60 logs that we inoculated in the spring. We’ve sold three logs so far and will sell some more if we can, and we cut 13 of the smallest logs in half so that we could bring then inside and soak them in a small tub for fruiting over the winter. As I write this we have only soaked the first four logs but they are all making mushrooms.
I believe it was during my first visit to SFF that I was introduced to creating freshly cut flowering lavender into beribboned little bundles of pot-pourri. A very pleasant pastime and a pleasing fragrance as well. But more important, the beginning of a wonderful on-going friendship.
My second visit found me sitting in a small sunny glade beside a singing brook with an inviting footbridge and a nearby pond which must harbor all sorts of creatures. Benches and chairs were arranged in a friendly fashion and in this sublime realm of unspoiled nature we set to work shelling peas. Working conditions such as these are what dreams are made of.
At other visits we cut up wee tomatoes and home grown mushrooms to be dried and later packaged. And we dusted off considerable crops of potatoes and onions, grading them as to size as we went along. Whatever and wherever the task, the company and the scene of action seemed to lend an air of celebration that I’ve never experienced before.
I haven’t exactly counted the times I’ve visited SFF, but it’s a very special place and each visit brings its own treasured memories. I wish I could have met these amazing and incomparable people when I was younger and would have been more help, but they, being the epitome of love and understanding, seem to have accepted my old and decrepit state and have even gone so far as to try to convince me that I have been some help.
Please realize that this is not an incidental statement, but those three lovely people, the Hoyts, know how to and set about making long lost dreams come true. To say thank you is vastly inadequate.
An addendum by Lorraine: We met Marge this summer when she called looking for someone to do some repairs at her home in Sandy Creek. Zach went and enjoyed listening to her stories and invited her to visit us at the farm.
Since then she’s joined us for work and lunch and brought us many items that she wanted to get rid of and we could use. We enjoy hearing about her life and seeing this place anew through her enthusiasm and interest. Whenever possible we take a break while she’s here and Zach plays a few hymn tunes or waltzes for her on his fiddle.
Meet the Directors: Andy Nelson
I was first introduced to St. Francis Farm by friends of my wife, Mary Anne Hogan. Mary Anne was a long time friend of Mary Maples and had also become acquainted with Barbara Steinkraus as a result of work with international students at SUNY Oswego. On one early visit to the Farm, I believe in the fall of 2009, Lorraine, Joanna, and Zach queried me about the names of fall blooming wildflowers. They expressed an interest in knowing the plants and animals they share the land with and in passing this knowledge and an appreciation of nature on to people visiting the Farm. A similar interest has guided and sustained me through an education in forestry and botany, a career in and out of academic biology, and into my retirement years.
My offer to explore and document the flora of the Farm was eagerly accepted. I made numerous visits to the Farm over the next few years and put together a collection of photos and information about the plants I found. As we got to know each other in the course of these visits I experienced increasing admiration and respect for the Hoyts and the life they have chosen at St. Francis Farm. When I was offered a position on the Farm's Board of Directors I found it easy to accept.
The off-site Board Members meet annually with the core members to evaluate and review the performance of the Farm. We hear reports on the year’s activities, finances, and plans for the coming year. Consensus comes easily at our meetings. The focus is on the overall goal of sustainability and material self sufficiency.
As an off-site Board Member I visit the Farm as frequently as I can (though less often than I'd like) and share any of my own knowledge and life experience that seems relevant. There is usually some discussion of current concerns and participation in the day's activities. St. Francis Farm is a comfortable place to be. I'm grateful to be included as part of the St. Francis community.
Thanks to all who supported our work with prayer and donations and to those who came and worked with us. Please contact us if you would like to change the way you receive our newsletter or if you need a receipt for donations made in 2016. Questions, feedback and suggestions are welcome as we conduct our annual review and planning session in January.
Winter visitors are welcome to walk, ski, sing, work, and worship with us. We’ll be planning next year’s gardens and have time to answer gardening questions. Visitors can help sew dolls or make wooden toys. We hope to facilitate discussions to promote understanding and build community in this time of deepening divisions. Let us know if you’d like to join us.