Food for Thought by Lorraine
Food is basic here at the farm, but it also gets complicated. We grow as much of our own as we can. How we eat is part of the alternative way of life we model to children and neighbors and visiting groups. The migrant workers who spend time here have opened our eyes to much that had been invisible in our previous ways of life. None of us are paid and it always makes me smile when I see the big sign at the Food Bank that says “We Work for Food”. I often joke that we work like slaves but we eat like kings.
Food at the farm comes from various places and is shared with various people. Joanna keeps you posted about livestock and gardens, and I always think our best meals are the ones that are most fully from the farm. Every eight weeks we order food from the local co-op. We get 25 or 50 pound bags of beans, oats, flours, rice. The co-op also is our source for raisins, spices, herb tea. At least once a week either Zach or Dan skis or bikes to Unity Acres to get bread. We found a Korean market in Syracuse where we get soy sauce and tofu. Meals take time—to plan and to prepare. I bake bread and a couple times a week we cook up a big pot of beans. We make meals from what is available. Some are feasts and sometimes we miss foods we took for granted before we came here—burgers for Dan, fish for me, fresh fruit for all of us. Whoever shows up eats with us. I take special pleasure in feeding healthy food to the children who come regularly and having them cook with me when they want. Our migrant worker guests have been surprised that they were expected to sit down and share meals with us and I have been nervous, knowing that our food will not be what they know or might prefer. The first year I worried about hosting guests who were used to more comfortable surroundings, wondering what they’d think of the concrete floor, mismatched dishes, the cold or the flies that sometimes plague us in the barn. But the conversations around the table soon carry us along, in whatever language, and almost everyone enjoys fresh baked bread.
When planning a group week, I always struggle with the menus. We are inviting people here to experience an alternative to what they often call the “real world” and the food is part of that. We ask them not to bring junk food. I know they will be hungry after doing manual labor to which they are usually not accustomed. I want the food to be nutritious and filling; I want them to eat it and enjoy it. The experience should be broadening but not alienating. And I have no way of knowing ahead of time how a given group will experience the farm or the food. Served the same fare, visitors have responded with everything from “No one ever cared enough about me to make real food like this for me before.” to “Ugh, can we just go to McDonald’s?” And when we have students for spring break in March and April, it is the low time for farm eating—nothing fresh yet from the garden, the potatoes and onions and winter squash from the previous season finished, the goats drying off before kidding. I can get caught between the urge of hospitality to please my guests and the responsibility to offer an alternative to students who come in search of another way.
During most group weeks, Deacon David Sweenie comes one night bringing migrant workers with him to share a meal and tell their stories to the students. David often begins by telling the students that if they eat, the treatment of farm workers is an issue for them to consider. Anyone who doesn’t eat can say it has nothing to do with them. After hearing the workers’ stories, our guests begin to see the rationale behind our growing as much of our food as we are able and begin to look at the sources and the costs of the food they eat back in their other worlds. At the end of the week, when evaluations are written, over and over the thing mentioned that made the biggest impact is the evening with Deacon Sweenie and whoever he brought with him.
In addition to the food we share in meals at the farm, there is the food we give away in the wider community. The first year we were here there was some expectation, locally and from our widespread donors, that we would be feeding the poor. People who wanted to help sometimes sent or brought us candy for the poor children, and there were awkward moments of trying to explain why we wouldn’t take it. Diabetes and tooth decay are two of the prevalent health problems in the area, and we decided early in our stay here that in sharing food our first concern would be to do no harm. This winter we have heard the concerns that other Catholic Workers have around food. Some express concern about the kind of food that is available to give away, how much of it is highly processed or lacking in nutritional value. The other concern is the dwindling supply of any surplus food. There is a call for more Catholic Worker farms and community gardens, a realization that in the future perhaps the only food we’ll have to share is what we grow ourselves. This year we’ll be growing more cucumbers since they were so popular with the children when we took vegetables to Scotch Grove and they were eaten on the spot. Some vegetables were taken to their apartments by children, and then brought back with the message, “Mom says she doesn’t cook these”. We hope to grow more to give away and to find opportunities to cook with people to whom many vegetables are unfamiliar. We want to extend the table.
I brought to the farm with me when I came in 2001 a much used copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook. I adapted a bread recipe from it when I found there was no milk or eggs for the recipes I usually used and needed to make it from what was on hand. The sequel to that book, Living More with Less, has informed our quest for simplicity in many aspects of our lives. And last fall a friend gave me Extending the Table, which takes the spirit of the first book and applies it to food from around the world. During Lent when many of you are observing some form of fasting (Quakers tend to consider every day alike and encourage people to fast or celebrate as they are led, not according to a calendar) I was browsing the new book for recipes to use here and found these thoughts on feasting and fasting:
When affluence allows people to feast too frequently and independently of others, feasting loses much of its joy and integrity. It results in ill health and dulls our sensitivity to the needs of others. Reclaiming the feast may require learning how to fast. Regularly abstaining from meat and other rich foods can be a spiritual act of solidarity. Reserving the special foods we might easily afford, but that are luxury items in the world economy, unites us with those who have less.
Bicycling by Zachary
When we first came to the farm I was 15, but I had never learned to ride a bicycle. Where we used to live the road was steep and twisty and had no shoulders, and my mother wisely decided that it was not a good place for bicycling. I was looking forward, when we first visited, to being in a place where I could learn to bike, and then use it to get around. During the week we were here visiting in April of 2001 I practiced whenever I could, and by the time we went back to Maine I was able to ride fairly well, although I still wobbled at times. I had been doing yard and home repair work for an elderly man in Portland, and one of his favorite things to do, after I’d unloaded the trailer at the dump was to go to the scrap metal pile and look for things, including bicycles, which looked salvageable. He was not able to do much of the physical work anymore, but he knew a great deal about how to fix almost everything. He would tell me what needed to be done, and I would do it, and in the process I learned a lot. When I got back from visiting the farm I found a mountain bike at the transfer station in my town which looked like it was in repairable shape, and was almost close to big enough for me. I brought it home and fixed it up, and I was lucky enough to find a rear carrier for it on another bicycle. When we came back out to the farm in July I took it apart and brought it. At first I just rode it short distances up and down Wart Road and the gravel road to Unity Acres, but gradually the distances I traveled increased, and one day Dan and I went to the library in Pulaski and back. This seemed like a huge journey at the time, but I kept doing it on my days off, and it got easier all the time. In the fall when we four were the only staff left I began riding to Unity Acres to pick up bread twice a week, and I learned how to carry large loads on the bike. Now I use it a lot, for any task on the farm that involves carrying tools or materials very far. I find it especially handy when working in the trailers, because I can go back and forth much more quickly than on foot. I have decided that, for me, bicycling is the happy medium between walking, which takes too long for my impatience, and cars and other machines which are costly and polluting. In the spring and summer especially I like to go for 30 or 40 mile long trips on Sunday afternoons, and this year I am hoping to train myself to go longer distances. I have found that I see a lot more of my surroundings when I am biking than when I am in a car. I have learned a lot about this area by traveling slowly and quietly through it, and paying attention to what I see, and I have met all manner of interesting people. In the very early spring I ride on the nearest roads and pick up returnable bottles and cans, which are easy to find at that time, because the grass has not grown over them yet. Last year I picked up about $22 worth, in four hours of collecting over a couple of days. I had a man stop once when I was down in a ditch collecting and ask me if I was picking them up or throwing them out. I told him it would seem odd to me to ride around on a bicycle throwing them away, and he said you never knew what people might be up to. The bikes here have also been popular with the migrant workers who have stayed with us, once they were well enough to use them. I have, in the time I have been here had to fix almost everything that goes wrong with bicycles, and I have been working on them with some of the children who come here through the Children’s Respite program. They have seemed to find it interesting, and my hope is that they can learn to repair their own bikes at home eventually. This winter I have figured out a way to make rear carriers using steel electrical conduit. I have completed one now, and another one is in the works. They are much stronger and more rigid than the store-bought ones I’ve used, and that is a great blessing when carrying loads over 50 pounds or so. In this time of climate change and oil depletion it behooves me to do what I can to change my way of living, in ways that are practical and efficient. I hope that rising oil costs will encourage more people to bicycle, and that once they begin they will find it as fun as I have.
Maintenance by Zachary
We have been working in the farmhouse this winter, cleaning out messes that have been there since we arrived, and which we never were brave enough to tackle before. We also removed the flooring in the living room, which consisted of carpet over 3 layers of linoleum and a layer of thin plywood. It is now down to the original board floor, which we will need to do a bit of work on before it will be finished, but at least is not musty and mildewed. We have also purchased a new wood stove for the living room location, which has a catalytic burner inside it. It is rated as being capable of heating a space as big as the house, and we are hopeful that once the house has been properly insulated and tightened up we will be able to keep the house comfortably warm with it from March through November or so.
We have been planning the work which will be being done on the farmhouse this spring and summer. We are going to start by cleaning out the basement and scraping the dirt floor down until it is level. We will put plastic sheeting down on the floor and weight it with crushed stone, especially around the edges. We have been told that this should reduce the amount of water coming in during heavy rains and snowmelt, and that having the basement drier should reduce the dampness in the rest of the house. The next step will be to shingle the porch roof, and run ice and water barrier up the walls around it behind the siding. Once the water problem is addressed the major parts of the work will begin. We are planning to take one wall at a time, and remove the siding and sheathing (if there is any) and replace the insulation and any wiring which still involves the old cloth-insulated wire. At the same time we will remove the windows and window frames and replace them with vinyl double-pane windows. We will also need to replace two of the exterior doors, at least, which are old wooden doors with single panes of glass. We have a lot of plywood and OSB from the trailer which we salvaged last summer. We will probably need more to completely re-sheathe the house, but we are well on the way, which is good, now that the price of these materials has more than doubled in the last year. We are then going to put vinyl siding on over that, and seal everything up as well as we may. This will be a very large undertaking, and anyone with time to help, or advice to give would be very much appreciated.
This winter we have had to do a lot of work on the wood boiler. The draft fan died, and we had to order one from the company in early February. Then a couple of weeks later the ceramic combustion tunnel underneath the firebox began crumbling away, and we had to order a new one, and several other related parts. The company told us they are only supposed to last up to 10 years, but we didn’t know that, and the owner’s manual does not mention anything about having to replace them. We also have some helpful papers in Dutch, which may explain some of these things, but as we are unable to read them they are rather wasted on us. We’ve been running the boiler for four years now, but there is still a lot we don’t know about it.
We had one night in January this year when the temperature dropped down to -25, and the pipe that carries the water through the farmhouse basement froze. This line also serves the barn, so when it freezes we have no water in either building. I spent a day trying to thaw it, without success, but in the end we removed the flexible pipe from the basement and carried it to the barn, where we laid it on the floor to thaw. After an hour it had begun to thaw around its perimeter, and Dan held one end in the sink in the garden room, and Lorraine held the other end in the kitchen sink, and I lifted the middle up to the ceiling, and round ice chunks came zooming out of both ends. It took several up-and-down cycles before all of it was gone, but then we just had to take it back over and put it back in. The whole job took almost 14 hours, and by the end we were quite ready to be done with it.
We have been quite fortunate in many ways with our weather this winter. We got a call in mid-December from a man whose mother had recently gotten a wheelchair, and a ramp had been built, but the railings had not been put on by the people who had built it. He was concerned by the coming winter, and what would happen if the ramp was slippery and didn’t have any railings. We said we’d do it, and he went out and bought the materials needed. Then we were fortunate enough to have a day when the temperature got up to around 40 and there was no wind, and Dan and Joe Morton, who was visiting at the time, and I, went up to the house and did the job, with the help of the son and his wife. It was much nicer to work outside that day than it would have been if it had been cold, like the rest of the month was, and we were very grateful for it.
At the beginning of the winter the furnace in one of our trailers was having problems, and we kept trying to fix it, and then whenever it got cold it would quit again. We were advised to get a line filter for it, to
take out the water and dirt in the kerosene. We also had to stabilize the tank, which was beginning to lean towards the trailer. To do that, we had to wait until the tank was nearly empty so it would be light enough to move. This, in turn, stirred up the water in the tank more, and then whenever it got cold the filter element would freeze solid, and we would have to get a new one. Finally we adjusted the tank so that the line was in the higher end, and changed the nozzle and the electrodes, and since then it has run well, and we learned some things about how oil furnaces work, and what to do when they don’t.
We have also been doing some work on the interior of the barn during this winter. We have repaired and painted the stairwell walls, and the back hall on the first floor, and parts of the second floor dorm that needed it. While I was repairing one stairwell it occurred to me that there had to be some empty space under the stairway from the 2nd to the 3rd floors. It proved to be of a size that was worth having available, and I cut a small doorway and put up a door. We now have a usable space under the north stairs, and we are planning to make one under the south stairs when time permits.
Agriculture—any volunteers? by Joanna
We’re on the edge of a new growing season again, and I almost feel ready. The kale, chard, lettuce and tatsoi in the greenhouse held well through the winter but didn’t grow much until the beginning of February; then the lengthening days triggered a growth spurt, so that we’ve had greens to eat and share with visitors in the last part of the cold season, and snow peas are growing vigorously in one of our boxes. Next year the space will be ready ahead of time and I’ll get plants for the winter started at the end of August, so they have time to size up before the dark settles in. For now we’re emptying boxes as needed to make room for the spring seedlings. We’ll start the first of these early in March, with the help of the spring break group from St. Xavier University and a boy who visits us regularly and is enthused about planting ‘big huge fat purple onions’. The leeks and onions, pepper and eggplants won’t need much room at first, but in another month there will be tomatoes to plant, and the early plantings will need larger pots and more space.
We’re preparing to start growing shiitake mushrooms in hardwood logs from our woods. We’ll be inoculating the logs this month, and hope to start harvesting in October or November.
By then we hope to have goat kids, we’ll have ordered our piglets, and the outside garden work will have begun. We’re planning to expand the garden this year so that we’ll have more cucumbers to give away at Scotch Grove, and more corn, peas, onions, dried beans and potatoes to store into the winter. We also are hoping to do more community gardening with women’s or youth groups gathered by Rural and Migrant Ministry in Richland. This means we need to work up more ground, and there will be more weeding, thinning, feeding and harvesting through the growing season. Help would be very much appreciated.
We always need more organic fertilizer for our garden. This is compounded by our giving many vegetables away. If you live locally and don’t have a compost pile of your own, please consider letting us compost your lawn clippings (if you don’t use pesticide or herbicide on your lawn) or leaves.
In 2004 we were greatly helped by a couple of groups who came just for a day, one to help us prepare beds for the coming growing season, one to help us clean up before the cold came down. This made our work much easier, and the kids who came seemed to enjoy the chance for conversation and the wide variety of hitherto unfamiliar bugs in the garden soil, as well as time to visit the cows and try out the long-roped swing. Such groups are always more than welcome. It’s also delightful to have a few friends come up whenever they have the time and inclination to help weed and pick in the vegetable garden or organize and tend the flower beds.
--The Spanish Apostolate is coming for their Lenten retreat March 4-6.
--Our website, www.stfrancisfarm.org , is now updated and expanded.
--We’ve made a new brochure. One copy is enclosed in each paper newsletter (we can’t send it electronically). If you want more copies, let us know and we’ll send them.
--We are now exempt from paying property taxes to the town of Orwell, and hope to be exempt in Richland soon.
sturdy clothes and socks for children
outdoor play equipment
child-size bikes in any condition, or any bike parts
volunteer help with/advice about gardens(see p.5), accounting, sustainable forest management
building materials, especially plywood, OSB, insulation etc.
help with the upcoming renovation of the farmhouse (see Maintenance, page 4)
a drill press
printer compatible either with Windows 95 or with Windows XP (we have one computer running each)
ST. FRANCIS FARM
136 Wart Road
Lacona, NY 13083