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Saint Francis Farm

FALL 2001


The six months since the June newsletter have been a time of transition here at the farm.  Through all the changes much remains the same.  Our work of hosting groups continues, our connections to Unity Acres and cooperation with Rural and Migrant Ministries deepens, and our presence in and service to the local community remains.  The people who were carrying out these missions have moved on and new folks have arrived.  The summer was a whirl of celebration and hard work, farewells and welcomes.

The Hoyt family arrived at the beginning of July, just after Christy and Mike’s wedding and while the newlyweds were honeymooning in Alaska, the newcomers were working summer groups and the burgeoning garden with Jen and Mike.  At the beginning of August Jen’s mother came and loaded up her van and took Jen and Mike and Baxter back with her to Michigan.  They are now enjoying improving health and time near their families and Baxter is enjoying peace and quiet on a family farm in Michigan.  Christy and Mike returned to work with assorted volunteers on the August groups and soccer camp while they were apartment hunting in Oswego.  

At the end of August, Christy and Mike moved to the apartment they had found, the  remaining volunteers left, Billy moved back to Unity Acres which had taken over managing the cattle herd,  and the farm was locked up for a couple weeks.  Paul and Mary came from Syracuse to harvest the garden’s bounty and check on the needs of the trailer families.  In mid-September, the Hoyts came back from Maine and the next week, Dan Wilckens joined them and the work went on.

Of course it was not just at the farm that things were changing.  In the outside world, September 11 changed everything.  For us it was another reminder of the desperate need in the world for peace and community.  For the groups scheduled to come to the farm from Canada for two weeks in late October it was an insurmountable obstacle and so the farm has been quieter this fall than in recent years.  College students and confirmation classes have still come for a day or a weekend and several groups have scheduled weeks for 2002.  The slower fall has given us time to do some needed maintenance, to get ready for winter, and to get our bearings.  On October 4th, the feast of St. Francis, we met with folks from Unity Acres, Elizabeth House, Rural and Migrant Ministries, and former farmers to celebrate what has been and envision the road ahead.

Currently we are preparing for the last weekend group of the year and making preparations for the four of us who live here to move into the barn in early December.  The farmhouse is expensive to heat and impossible to make really warm and moving into the barn where the wood boiler provides hot water and space heating will conserve fossil fuels and money.  The winter months will be a time of further community building, clarifying goals, and making plans for the spring and summer to come.

NEWS FROM TOM by Tom McNamara

Blessings and peace to all friends and family of the Farm named after the humble Francis of Assisi.  I write from the Capuchin novitiate, where I am spending a year with a focus on prayer and reflection.  I grieve with all who have lost loved ones in the violence of 9/11 and in the ensuing Afghan war.  May we continue to pray for the victims and especially for those whom we consider our enemies.   Our salvation is enmeshed with theirs.

November is the month of remembrance of those who have died and gone before us, and the month of thankfulness for all we have received.  Memories of our loved ones, our saints, flood our hearts and minds as the rhythm of the earth slows.  It’s time to look inward, to listen, to pray, to take care of matters of the heart.  In celebrating All Saints and commemorating All Souls, the lives of Farther Ray McVey, Kate Stanton, and Joan Donnelly come to mind along with Father Ted and John

Donnelly.  They shared the legacy of their attempt to listen and follow the call of the Spirit of God.  I will always remember Joan Donnelly stating emphatically that, “it’s not about us!  If this is God’s work, then God will send the people that are supposed to be here.”  And God does continue to call people, to become family, to be of service, to live here among the people of Oswego County.  It was a delight to meet the Hoyts last summer:  Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary.  Their peaceful spirit was evident in the conversations we had, and in their hopes and dreams in choosing to live at St. Francis Farm.  They will continue to work with the dedicated Billy O’Day, and assisted by Paul Frazier, Mary Croucher and many other farm benefactors, will discern how the Farm might face the new and present challenges.  Please pray for and support their discernment and physical efforts in any way you can.  St. Francis Farm is so necessary today . . .this place provides an example that it is possible to live differently than the norm; we can be peace in our world today.  “God has lifted up the powerless and the lowly, while the rich he has sent away empty”.  Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46), that we repeat each day in the evening prayer of the church, reminds us that we need not worry about being on top.  Life at the Farm provides a living, visible sign to the world so desperately in need of this message.  Teresa of Liseaux called it the Little Way.  This message, so often misunderstood, is really alive and well in Lacona, NY.  Thanks be to God!


When I first came to visit St. Francis Farm back in April I never thought that I would be responsible for getting out the newsletter this fall.  I came with my daughter Joanna and my son Zachary, looking for the next step in our alternative way.  The plan by the end of the visit was that we would return in the summer and pick up the work here with Mike and Jen as Mike and Christy were getting married and moving on by summer’s end.  And we did come back in July right after the wedding, but by then Mike and Jen had realized that they needed to leave for their health and it soon became apparent that we weren’t just helping with the gardens and the summer groups but learning the ropes as quickly as we could.

Everyone left at the end of the summer.  We went home to Maine to get things we needed for the winter and came back to the farm locked but with colorful welcome signs on the doors.  Since then the days have been a blur.  First there was the harvest to get in before the frost.  We had so much basil and so many tomatoes.  We canned and dried and froze and shared the abundance from the garden.  Paul and Mary came up from Syracuse to help with the gardens and with the day or weekend groups that came this fall.  Men and staff from Unity Acres came over to help when we needed a longer ladder to tar the barn roof or repairs on our ancient tractors or someone who understood the wood boiler.  Sr. Louise from Rural and Migrant Ministry came each week and offered her listening and her wisdom as I tried to find my way in this new place.  Groups from colleges and parishes helped with getting in the wood and planting garlic for next year.  And day after day I went to the mailbox and among the bills found checks and sometimes letters from people who had been supporting the farm for years before we ever knew it existed.

Everything and everyone here is new to us, and if our days were not bracketed by prayers, it would be easy to lose any sort of focus.  The farm has been so many different things to so many people over the years.  To the families living in the trailers, we are the ones responsible for whatever breaks and the farm is the place to borrow tools or tables or whatever they need.  And when they stop in on their way to work in the morning when we haven’t quite finished breakfast or after supper, I need to be able to stop whatever else I am doing and listen to their concerns.  To campus ministers and teachers and directors of religious education, the farm is a place to take groups for service or on retreat.  To people in the nearby communities, the farm is a place to call when no one else will fix the hole in their roof, or when age or illness keeps them from doing chores to prepare for winter or when they are lonely or their children are struggling at school and need some tutoring.  To the men at Unity Acres the farm is another of “Father Ray’s places” and they are curious about the folks who live here

and the work we do and sometimes walk or bike through the woods to visit.  And so although each day is full and interesting, it is still hard for me to explain to those who ask exactly what it is we do here.

Zachary do instead of going to school.  Most folks call it homeschooling but it is really just living with all the work I should be used to that by now.  For years I have been explaining what it is Joanna and and learning life entails.  If we hadn’t chosen that alternative path 15 years ago, we probably wouldn’t be on this alternative path now.  Zach wanted to come where there were more opportunities to build and repair things, more people to teach him how to do those things he loves.  Joanna wanted to put into practice the simplicity and sustainability she read about.  And from our roots in our Quaker meeting we decided we didn’t just want a farm of our own but a place where work on the land was combined with service and growth toward justice.  That is how we came to be here and we are grateful for the ways the farm is stretching us and helping us to grow.  We’re also grateful for your patience as we figure all this out and for your prayers that have made the mission of the farm possible since the beginning.

THE NEW JERSEYAN by Dan Wilckens

I have been at Saint Francis Farm since late September, after having spent some time here in July and August deciding whether this place seemed right for me.  My current plan is to stay here at least until next September.

        I am often asked why I decided to come here.  I graduated from Rutgers College last May, and my plan had been to continue studying mathematics into graduate school.  However, I had some reservations.  I was not at all certain this plan, leading to my becoming a math professor, was what I really wanted to do with my life. I hadn’t thought seriously about other options much at all until my final year in college.  I had up to that point spent most of my time doing math and music—in fact, I was gradually narrowing my world to the point where that was all there seemed to be.  I realized I was not at all satisfied with my life, and I began to search for something else.

I very well may have prematurely given up on that search had it not been for my close relationship with Joanna, Zachary and Lorraine Hoyt.  I had met Joanna at Overlook Farm (part of Heifer Project International, the world hunger relief organization) during the summer following my sophomore year in college and I got to know her family not too long afterwards.  They were some of the few people I knew who encouraged me to look at the other options. Through discussions with Joanna and from what I learned at Overlook I was somewhat aware of issues of social justice and I felt that I needed to reflect on what could be done about them.  The Hoyts’ decision to try to find an alternative way inspired me to pursue the other options with renewed energy.

It seemed to me that a year of service of some kind was what I needed—time and perspective to see myself and the world clearly enough for me to make the decisions I needed to make.  The Catholic Center at Rutgers and the chaplains there provided me some information on the options for a year of service.  For a while I considered going to Nazareth Farm, but after hearing from the Hoyts about Saint Francis Farm, it seemed to me that there was greater need there.  Besides, I had been curious about the Catholic Worker movement ever since I first heard of it, and I knew I would enjoy the rural atmosphere of the farm very much.  After a prolonged period of indecision I eventually decided to spend the year here.  So far, I’ve been very satisfied with that decision.  The more time I spend here, the more beautiful the woods seem, the more I feel to be growing, and the more certain I am that this place is precisely where I need to be.

So, what do I do here?  So far my work has been varied.  In addition to painting, scraping, varnishing, biking towing a trailer carrying bread and fruit from the Acres, driving the garbage to the dump, mopping, sweeping, and emptying trash, I play the harp, tutor, play organ for Mass at Unity Acres, and get reminded to do the trash and mop and sweep when I forget.  I think it’s all exactly what I need.


We are here at Saint Francis Farm in order to live mindfully, sustainably and justly.  This includes growing as much as is possible of the food we eat.  When we tend animals and work in the gardens we cannot help being grateful to the plants and animals that die to sustain our lives, grateful for the fertility of the earth, grateful for our fellow workers in the community and for those who labor to produce the food we buy, grateful to God who created all of these.  We also become aware of our responsibility.  We must care for the health of the soil so that it remains fertile for another generation of workers.  This includes relying on compost and manure as fertilizers and working the soil by hand as much as possible instead of compacting it with machines.  We must care for our fellow workers in the community, appreciating their efforts and helping them with tasks that are too heavy for them to do alone. We must remember that the workers who produce the food we buy are often overworked, that their health is often jeopardized and that they receive little compensation and recognition, and we must look for ways to care for them directly and to stop supporting the system that exploits them. 

        We are still figuring out some of the practical details.  The garden produced an abundant harvest this year, and our meals this winter will be enhanced by the flavor of pesto from the freezer as well as tomatoes, green beans, leeks, garlic, cauliflower, beets and potatoes.  We are creating raised beds, which are easier to maintain and tend to produce more per square foot than standard row cropping.  In the next year we will be experimenting with growing garlic, herbs and shiitake mushrooms as cash crops. 

        Saint Francis Farm’s herd of beef cattle has been transferred to Unity Acres, which has many more people to eat the beef and tend the cows.  The Acres shares generous portions of meat with us.  In the spring we intend to purchase two milking goats, which are lower-maintenance than cattle and produce a more manageable amount of milk for four people.  Keith Sieverson of the Cooperative Extension, who has been very generous with his time, considers that grazing goats could do a great deal of weed control in our hayfields.  The farm’s chicken flock was getting quite old and we lost many of them to predators in the transition period.  The last three birds are now residing in our freezer, and in the spring we will start pullets in moveable coops on fresh grass.

        Longer-term dreams include continuing to revive our ancient orchard, getting bees again (we still have equipment and books; our bees died a few years ago) and stocking our pond with fish.  

        We hope to invite our neighbors and retreatants to share in productive communal work, enjoy really tasty and nutritious food and take responsibility for what sustains their lives.  We welcome your ideas, your expertise, and your prayers as we try to be good stewards of the land and of one another.


Everything we are doing is rooted in our presence as a Christian community in this place.  We start our common day in prayer and have been ending most days with reading and discussion of Jean Vanier’s book Community and Growth.  We are at the same time a very new community and a continuation of a community which has existed here in various forms since Father McVey bought the farm 30 years ago.  As a family, my children and I function in some ways as a small community.   But being here has grown and changed the family relationships and there is Dan to add in and whoever else may be called to come and join us.  So it has seemed important to us to be intentional about living together in community as we begin our work here.  Vanier’s book has given us some excellent groundwork and stimulated some spirited discussions.  

        It was comforting early in our time here and early in the book to read:  “To accept our weaknesses and those of others is the very opposite of sloppy complacency. . . It is essentially a concern for truth so that we do not live in illusion but can grow from where we are and not from where we want to be or where others want us to be.  It is only when we are conscious of who we are and who the others are, with all our wealth and weakness, and when we are conscious of the call of God and the life he gives us, that we can build something together.”

        And one night when we were feeling far out of the mainstream as we worked at the simple tasks here while the world struggled to comprehend what had happened September 11th we read these words:  “Community is a place where people can live truly as human beings, where they can be healed and strengthened in their deepest emotions, and where they can walk towards unity and inner freedom.  As fears and prejudices diminish and trust in God and others grows, the community can radiate and witness to a style and quality of life which will bring a solution to the troubles of our world.  The response to war is to live like brothers and sisters.  The response to injustice is to share.  The response to prejudice and hatred is forgiveness.  To work for community is to work for humanity.”

        These words on ecumenism fit our life here, three Quakers and a Catholic on a Catholic Worker farm:  “Each person is called to live and deepen what is essential to their faith in Jesus, to be in communion with the Father and to grow in love for others.  But they must live and deepen what is specific to their own church too.  True ecumenism is not the suppression of differences but learning to respect and love what is different.  The members of the community must be grounded in their own tradition and love it.” 

        The winter will provide more opportunity for growth in community as we continue reading and correspond with other communities about their journeys.


This summer and fall we have been quite busy doing maintenance work on the farm’s buildings.  It started in July when we decided that the farmhouse really needed to be painted.  A group from St Agatha’s parish in Milton, MA came in August and did most of the scraping.  They had a few misadventures with wasp nests under the eaves, but they did very well.  While they were scraping one of the walls of the back of the house, Tom Buckley, one of their chaperones who also happened to be a carpenter, discovered that about 16 feet of wall was rotten.  He very kindly used his time and expertise to tear down the wall and the studs, and put in new framing and textured plywood. In the weekend after the group from St Agatha’s left, the Brennan Family came and replaced a section of roof over the kitchen and laundry room with help from Paul Frazier and others, and also started priming the front wall of the house.   During the remainder of August, caulking and painting was done by the people who lived on the farm and Katie Phelan from Ohio who spent much of  the summer here.     

        When we got back to the farm in September there was one more coat of paint to be applied  and we also needed to paint the trim around the windows again. However, this went quite quickly, and our next project was tarring the seams in the roll roofing on the back face of the barn roof and around the skylights on the front.  Especial thanks to Bill Moroz. the director at Unity Acres. for showing us what needed to be done, giving us some tar and loaning us a 40 foot ladder to get up to the curved parts of the roof.  Katie Phelan came back for a couple of weeks in October while we were doing this, and her friend Jesse visited and was brave enough to climb up onto the top of the roof with a rope and do the peak and the high seams.  Dan was willing to climb up and do the other alarming parts on the roof where the ladder rungs were touching it, which required a great deal of caution to avoid falling off.  

        A group from LeMoyne college came on a weekend soon after the roof was done and applied epoxy coat varnish to the floor in the boy’s dorm and on the stairs which we sanded with a belt sander which the Acres kindly loaned to us.  We hope that now the floors will be easier to keep clean than when they were bare wood.  At this point we have painted the walls in the stairwells in the barn and are going to paint the dorms shortly.  We have also been putting up weatherstripping in doorways in the barn where there were air leaks and putting up trim boards in places where the ends of drywall sheets were sticking out and getting chipped.  It has been a good experience doing all of these things and I hope they will help to keep the buildings in good condition.

DONATIONS by Joanna Hoyt

We came to Saint Francis Farm out of a strong desire to be of service, to help satisfy basic human needs.  In our time here we have become aware of how widespread this desire is.  People drive for hours to bring us clothing, building supplies, household goods, books, tracts, anything you can imagine.  Over and over we are asked “What can we do for you? What do you need?”

The need in this area is real and great.  It is also constantly changing, as are the agencies which try to minister to it.  Not long ago the Richland Family Center had a clothing room which local  families relied on.  As it closed the farm tried to take over this work.  We don’t really have adequate space to set up clothing so that it doesn’t get rummaged and left on the floor, and there is some difficulty in matching donations with the actual needs of families.  At this point we take whatever clothing is useful and in good condition to the Friendship Shop, a local thrift store which sells clothes for $0.25 to$4 and provides free clothing to those who cannot afford to buy.  There is a special need for children’s clothes, and for winter coats and other warm gear.  Any practical, sturdy clothing in good condition can probably be put to good use.   Items which are dirty or torn generally mean an extra run to the dump.  And there is a glut of fashion items.  It is hard for the rich and the poor to escape the cultural imperative to buy things which are neither very useful nor very satisfying in the long term.  We urge our friends to consider the waste of natural resources and exploitation of workers involved in the production of such clothing.

We can always use building supplies, especially paint, drywall, shingles and lumber. Zachary is glad to get bikes in any condition to repair or use for parts. We also will be glad to take furniture that is in good condition to the Friendship Shop..

        There is always a need for time, money and prayers; without these it is hard to put the other gifts to good use.  There are many projects which need to be done but which require more money or expertise than we currently have.  If you would like to share knowledge of home repair, farming, work with the mentally handicapped or tutoring please give us a call or pay us a visit.   If you are looking for meaningful work to do, we’d love to have you spend some time here.  And since we are so new here we are eager to hear about you , your connection to the farm and your memories of its history.   As always, please hold us in Light as we try to match our gifts with the needs around us.

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