Winter (written in February) by Lorraine
We are over halfway through another north country winter. This morning it is snowing and the guys are out shoveling and I just picked up the phone and assured an elder that we would come by today and bring in the mail and clear off the steps again. Family and friends call after watching weather news; they ask if we are buried and how we are coping. The snow has been deep and so has the cold. (One day the high was -8.) The pipes have frozen in various places but have always thawed without bursting. The light box has helped me cope with the darkness. Zach and Dan have skis this year (Zach scavenged at the dump when we went to Maine in the fall) and skiing through the fields helps us see the beauty of the snow. A neighbor has been coming by and plowing the parking lot when he sees Zach and Dan working with the scoops. We bought a generator and haven’t had to worry when the power starts to flicker. Letters and calls and visits and prayers have helped us through the coldest darkest days. We never quite found the slow time as our work with children and the needs of the elders grow and the work of planning is set aside in the growing season to be dealt with in winter months.
When it was too cold for children to be outside and all the weather reports included wind chill warnings, we discovered that this barn has its uses even in winter when we don’t host groups. We stacked all the beds from the second floor dorm in the alcove on one end of it, leaving plenty of open space for play. We bought large balls for bouncing and hopping and rolling over. We brought in hoops and jump ropes we use in warmer weather at the After School Program. On Saturdays we bring children for 3 hours at a time to play in that space and build with blocks and make music and art. The children enjoy the active play and they are ready then to settle down in their smaller spaces at home. The ASP got off to a slow start this year but we have picked up new students in the new year and a couple students who were with us last year as 5th graders asked if they could return and busing was arranged with the school so that they could. Some children we see both at the ASP and here at the farm, and many materials are used in both places. One boy who is described as having difficulty academically spent a recent afternoon at the farm totally absorbed in working with an electronics kit from the ASP. He was able to read the manual, follow the directions to build various circuits, and figure out what would happen if different components were used.
The elders as well as the children find winter weather difficult, but instead of needing a place to use their excess energy they need help with simple things they can do for themselves when it isn’t so cold or icy. They can hire someone to plow their driveways but then need help clearing snow from their steps and walkways. When the roads are slippery or visibility is poor in snow, they need prescriptions and groceries picked up. Sometimes when activities are canceled because of weather and they have been at home for a few days watching the snow pile up they just need someone to talk to. We fill bird feeders, chip ice and rake snow off roofs, bring mail from a box at the end of the driveway but out of reach. We do the little things that help elders living alone cope until spring.
The snow is still deep and the icicles cover the first floor windows but we’re turning toward spring. In the silence of morning prayers today I heard a chickadee singing the two note summer song. The daylight grows on both ends of our days. Seeds have been ordered. As we ski through the fields Zach remembers last years haying and plans what he’ll do differently this time. We are making plans for Boston College students who will be here the first week of March and then Deacon David Sweenie will bring the Spanish Apostolate for a weekend Lenten retreat and students from SUNY Cortland and Oswego will come the last weekend of March. Whatever snow may still be left then, winter will be over and a new season of groups and growing begun.
Boston College Reflection by Emily Walsh
In the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Robert Louis Stevenson creates a character with two contrasting personalities. There is the pleasant, rational one that exists during the day, and the decrepit, dark one that comes out during the night. The thing is though, is that both personalities exist within the same person and neither personality is aware of the other one. Reading this story makes one more aware of the inner workings of their mind, as well as thankful for their sanity, for living with a split personality would be a very painful thing to deal with indeed, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. And yet, don’t we all live with a degree of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome?
I am a 21-year-old student at Boston College, a Jesuit university that emphasizes the motto of “men and women for others.” Jesuits are traditionally known for their commitment to education, serving the poor, and leading a simple life. These Jesuit ideals are seen in some of the various classes and programs that BC has to offer; classes that make you look inside of yourself and ask questions that aren’t normally asked, or might make one feel uncomfortable, pushing them to really think and consider what is being discussed. The university is also very proud of its array of service opportunities outside of the classroom, both domestic and international. This second part of BC, the commitment to community service, was something that attracted me to the school and one of the central reasons that I chose to spend my 4 years of college at BC.
For the past 3 years, I have had the opportunity to participate in the Appalachia program, which sends nearly 600 college-student volunteers to various service placements in the Appalachian area for their spring break. It is through this program that I came to know St. Francis Farm during my freshman year. While most of the Appalachia placements are large trips that work with Habitat for Humanity, or run a camp for kids, the SFF placement is somewhat different. For starters, it is a smaller trip, and while physical service is certainly a component of the week, in my experience, the biggest transition for the students who stay at the farm is witnessing what it means to live out the Catholic mission of serving others, and the rich questions and topics that Lorraine, Joanna, Zach and Dan present and grapple with. This, in my opinion, is what makes this experience different from the rest, for it is impossible to stay at St. Francis Farm and not be forced to assess where you are in your life, as well as consider whether or not you are living in line with your beliefs and genuinely consider where you are heading. If you leave this place without it impacting your soul, it is not for lack of substance of depth, but because you haven’t allowed yourself to be completely open to it.
In the second paragraph of this article, I described the ideologies and programs that I love about BC, and why I chose to be a part of that community. But, as with any situation, there is another side. While I have found a community of people who “care” about world issues, relieving the suffering of others, and a desire to bring about justice and equality to our world, I have also found an underlying tone of apathy. I have found contradictions with what we say and with what we do, both at the level of administration, as well as amongst the student body. I buy my books from a bookstore that sells clothing produced in sweatshops, I drink Coke products from the dining hall, I spend $50 on a ticket to a homecoming dance and I go to parties where beer flows like water. I go to a school that pays more attention to how one looks than to how one feels, I sit next to boys at lunch who discuss what girl they got to go home with for the night, and girls who are trying to decide whether Abercrombie or Gap is the more appropriate brand to wear for the day. Am I exaggerating? Maybe. Am I being honest? Certainly, and I recognize the fact that by virtue of being a part of this community, I am also a part of this hypocrisy. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome of Boston College affects every student at the school.
This is a scary thing for me to recognize because I consider myself as someone who is conscious and willing to make sacrifices for change. But there are also times that I don’t want to admit that some of the actions I take may be contributing to injustices that I am both aware and not aware of. There have been so many times I have heard the excuse that living simply, or being constantly conscious of whether or not one’s actions are at the expense of another person, is impossible. And yet the community at St. Francis Farm proves that this just isn’t the case. It may not be easy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
I recognize that we each have different gifts, are called to do different things, and there is not one method or way in which we can change the world. But I will never be satisfied with the status quo, simply because that is the way things have always been, or because it is easier for only a certain percentage of the population. If we let the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde syndrome of acting one way at certain times and another at others, permeate our existence, what kind of world are we living in, and what kind of global community are we looking to build in the future? We need to live in line with our morals; there is no other way. In not facing the tough questions head on in the present moment, we are only setting ourselves up for tougher questions in the future. As Elizabeth Elliot writes: “The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived—not always looked forward to as though the ‘real’ living were around the next corner. It is today for which we are responsible.”
Garden Volunteers? by Joanna
The garden is deep in snow, and now that onions, leeks, peppers and eggplants are started indoors there isn’t much to be done in the agriculture department for a month or so; but as we plan for next year we realize that what we hope to grow will keep us fairly busy. Last year we grew plenty for eating during the summer, and enough tomatoes and green beans to can and peas to freeze for winter, but we’re hoping to grow more root crops to store this year. And we keep finding more people to give fresh vegetables to.
Some of the elders who we’re shoveling and running errands for now spent most of their lives gardening, and now are finding that they don’t have the strength to turn garden beds or bend over and weed; they still enjoy greens and squash and leeks in their seasons. Children who visit and say they don’t ever like healthy food find that they actually like cherry tomatoes and edible pod peas and want to take some home. I started sending vegetables home with a boy from the nearby subsidized housing complex, and after a few weeks one of his neighbors wanted to know why she had been left out of the vegetable give-away. We started bringing boxes of extra produce down to the apartments every week when we picked up children, and everything we brought was taken—even the yellow tomatoes, after some hesitation. This year we would like to grow more to share. Some extra hands to help with the growing would make this easier.
What we can grow is partly limited by the number of garden beds we have available. Working the beds by hand has given us deeper, softer workable soil as well as saving fossil fuel, but it is a slow process. Breaking ground and turning new beds can be exhausting, but it also provides fresh air, good exercise and an opportunity for conversation—and it only has to be done once.
As the growing season progresses we would also welcome help with less strenuous and more constant jobs, such as weeding, harvesting(which takes a long time in peak tomato season), feeding (with side-dressings of compost or foliar seaweed spray) and succession planting.
Advice from experienced gardeners would also be helpful. We still have a lot to learn, especially about seed saving (bush beans and peas tested out well, but pole beans and lettuce were more problematic), growing winter vegetables in greenhouses with only solar heat, slug control, strawberry thinning and companion planting.
We have never had a more literate population, or a more powerless one. Now the best-educated people in the history of the world do not know what to do with what they know.
Everything is too big for us, too overwhelming for us, too global for us. So we ‘mind our own business’ and ignore everything else. We have learned well not to see the bodies that we step over in the streets or the elderly ill in our neighborhood. Then are the responsibility of someone else—of bureaus and agencies and faceless civil servants. We have handed conscience over to government programs and looked away. (Joan Chittister, There Is A Season)
It is not a matter of doing great things. No, it is far worse than that. It is a matter of doing small things courageously. (ibid)
St. Francis Farm Community now officially exists as a corporation. We filed our certificate of incorporation with the State Department in December, and in late February we held an organizational meeting in which we adopted bylaws and chose directors to provide oversight, advice, help and continuity to the farm. We have been able to preserve the simple and non-hierarchical nature of this place. Instead of designating a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, we have decided that our officers will be Core Members, who must have lived and worked here for at least one year, and who will carry out the work of St. Francis Farm and make decisions as needed. The four of us who live here now are Core Members.
We continue to live by gifts given and received, taking no salaries. The board of directors will meet once a year to appoint new Core Members as needed, and to renew the terms of existing Core Members or, if things are getting out of hand, to end them. In between meetings individuals on the board will advise and support us in various ways. Decisions will be made, not by voting, but by a Spirit-based consensus process.
Lorraine and Joanna are on the Board along with five others.
Father Tony Keeffe worked with Fr. Ray McVey even before Unity Acres was founded, and helped him think about how the farm could best be used to meet the needs of low-income families in the local community. During his twelve years as a pastor in Pulaski and Lacona he organized various community outreach ministries, including a clothing room and a food pantry, and he has continued this work in his other parishes. When the farm began to host service-learning groups Father Tony came to lead discussions about social justice. Since his retirement last year he has spent a lot of time here, helping us with the sometimes confusing and tedious process of incorporation, giving us advice about the dilemmas of our day-to-day work here, helping us connect with people in the wider community and telling wonderful stories about the history of this place and his work for peace and justice in other places. He is an incorporator and initial Board member along with Lorraine and Joanna, and he helped us to find some of our other board members.
Joe Morton is a professor of logic and peace studies at Goucher College in Maryland. He has traveled extensively among Catholic Worker communities and other peace-minded groups. He is closely involved with the ministries of Jonah House, a center for Plowshares actions (nonviolent civil disobedience working against war and militarism) and local community outreach, and Viva House, a Catholic Worker house in Baltimore. He’s also on the board of Peace Brigades International. He has been a friend of St. Francis Farm since before we knew it, and we always look forward to his visits, his cheerful help with whatever work we’re doing and his thoughtful perspective. Some of you may remember his article in our March 2002 newsletter.
Mike Huynh will be familiar to many of you who have been friends and supporters of the farm for several years. He was a member of this community for several years, and after his marriage to Christy Harrison, another longtime community member, he stayed for a little while to help us learn about this place and work when we were new. He is currently working as a counselor at Bishop Ludden Jr/Sr High School in Syracuse, and is involved in music and other forms of ministry at the Newman Center at SUNY Oswego. He drops in to visit and encourage us, and to hunt and fish; one of the boys who we work with had the time of his life salmon-fishing with patient and good-humored help from Mike.
Carmelyn Hevey first visited the farm on Palm Sunday of 2003 with other parishioners invited by Fr. Tony. She was already familiar with the Catholic Worker movement and wanted to live the Gospels in a more present way. As a registered nurse she seeks to serve the sick and elderly and comfort the weary. Working with the Vietnamese community has raised awareness of the lives of migrant workers. She works in the food and clothing pantries at St. Patrick’s in Williamstown and has helped facilitate retreats using the arts and nature in prayer and meditation. We’ve already been grateful for her advice and support and look forward to getting to know her better as she becomes more involved here.
Joe Pidkaminy is the president of the parish council of St. Patrick’s Church in Williamstown, where Father Tony was pastor before his retirement. He has been through a 2-year formation for ministry program, especially focused on work with the sick and elderly. He loves the area—after a brief experiment with living in the city he came back to the North Country and has just built a home in Parish. He came to visit the farm along with Carmelyn and Father Tony, and he’s been back to help us figure out how to fix ailing switches and cranky stoves. We all enjoy his help and his company.
Now that we have held our organizational meeting we are ready to receive the title to the farm’s land from Time of Jubilee, which has been very patient with the slow unfolding of this process.
We are beginning the process of filing for tax exemption, but we don’t know when it will be completed. We know that many people have strong feelings on both sides of the issue of tax-exemption, and that it is not usual for Catholic Workers to be tax-exempt (although it has happened before). Some feel that allowing donors to receive a tax deduction encourages giving for the wrong reasons. However, it seems good to us that people can reduce the amount of money which they send to finance our government’s wars by giving to places that work for peace. At this point, however, we are NOT tax-exempt and donations are not deductible. The process will take some time. More about this in the next newsletter.
We are grateful to Effie Kritikos and Patrick Lee, students in the Syracuse University clinical law program, who have helped us with this process free of charge, and to Professor Deb Kenn, who has helped them and us figure out the legality of some of the more unconventional provisions of our bylaws. Also to Father Tony Keeffe, and to all of you who continue to make this place, this work, this life possible.
Maintenance by Zachary
This winter has not been a very busy time for maintenance projects, but we are looking ahead to a busy spring on many fronts. The greenhouse interior is finished except for the floor slab, which will be poured in the spring or summer. The sink in the garden room has been installed, and will be used for washing things like plant pots, goat dishes and other things that we don’t want to bring into the kitchen. We have purchased a generator which can be used to run the barn when the power is out. We are planning to run buried cables to the farmhouse and well house from the barn, which will eliminate 2 of our electric meters, and save $30 to $40 per month on our electric bill. This will also make it possible for the generator to run the well during power outages, which will make taking care of the animals much easier. In the next week or two we are going to be building a wall to provide more privacy for RMMOC’s medical clinic, and we have repaired the walls of a small upstairs office there. We have painted the ceilings of two rooms at the Friendship Thrift Shop with the Boston College group, and also painted at the houses of some local families. Another project which needs to be undertaken this spring is the disassembly of the 2nd trailer up the hill from the farm. It is not in good condition, and at this point it would take more work to make it habitable than we think makes sense to be done, especially since we cannot see any use for it in the near future. Much of it can be salvaged for other uses, the only difficulty being finding the time to do it, and the space to store them. We are going to to be looking at the farmhouse this summer to see what can be done to make it more usable. It is a large question, which will take quite a bit of thought. We would very much appreciate help with these and many other projects here on the farm, if anyone has time for it.
That is always our temptation when we set out to do good: to do it in a way that will leave us above the fray. But our desire to stay above it all reveals our misunderstanding of right action….Right action can only be an immersion of ourselves in reality, an immersion that involves us in relationship, that takes us to our place in the organic nature of things. (Parker Palmer, The Active Life)
The quality of our active lives depends heavily on whether we assume a world of scarcity or a world of abundance. In a universe of scarcity only people who know the arts of competing, even of making war, will survive, But in a universe of abundance acts of generosity and community become not only possible but fruitful as well. (ibid)
Volunteers to help with gardening, maintenance and repairs (see other articles)
Garden spades or shovel handles
Mattresses and box springs for dorms
Books (not textbooks) in Spanish
Puzzles up to 100 pieces
Boots and snowpants in small sizes for visiting children
Manure spreader, and manure
Field mowers in any condition, or parts
Washers, bolts, and cotter pins
Hay wagon or running gear