One of the aspects of the Catholic Worker Movement that I have taken an interest in over the past few months is agrarianism (defined as a social or political movement designed to bring about land reforms or to improve the economic status of the farmer). After reading an article in the May 2018 edition of the CW newspaper entitled “Look Back to the Land” by Eric Anglada along with some essays from author Wendell Berry (also referenced in the article), I wanted to seek an opportunity to personally experience the agrarian lifestyle within one of the affiliated CW communities (also listed by state in the same edition of the paper). Searching for a farm that was within a half-day drive from my home, I came upon a listing for St. Francis Farm in Lacona, NY that was described as an alternative to the consumer culture, sustainable farming and forestry, and ministry of presence. Intrigued, I checked out the website listed for the community and envisioned a working retreat where I could exercise body, mind and spirit. I made arrangements for a one week stay in July, looking forward to reconnecting with the land through the sweat of my brow and the work of my hands.
Looking back, my time at St. Francis Farm and with the Hoyt Family – Lorraine, Joanna & Zach, was filled with manual labor, conversation, prayer, reflection and faith sharing. As my stay unfolded, I was filled with an increasing sense of humility. Awed at how the family uses the land to sustain the majority of their needs (including their livestock) as well as the needs of others. Virtually nothing goes to waste which in itself is a testament to the respect that this family has for the land and everything that it provides. I found that just being here and embracing my humility presented an unexpected opportunity for me to participate in a kenotic experience – a means of letting-go and detaching myself from the wasteful consumer culture that exists today as well as an awareness of my dependence upon it and the realization that in addition to being a consumer, I am also being consumed by this culture. This in turn resulted in an increased sense of meaning and purpose to every facet of the work being done here every day regardless of how critical or menial a particular task may be.
I left the farm with an indelible impression that I still find difficult to put into words. Nor can words adequately describe the dedication, work ethic, simplicity, faith and love which the Hoyt Family exhibits day in and day out with respect to the land – flora and fauna – and its ability to sustain all of our needs. To truly understand this alternative to our consumer culture, one must witness it in action as I and countless others have done at St. Francis Farm – and why I look forward to returning again.
I will, however, leave you with some words, which I believe best summarize this alternative, from the Essays by Wendell Berry in his book Citizenship Papers :Money does not bring forth food. Neither does the technology of the food system. Food comes from nature and from the work of people. If the supply of food is to be continuous for a long time, then people must work in harmony with nature. That means that people must find the right answers to a lot of questions. The same rules apply to forestry and the possibility of a continuous supply of forest products. People grow the food that people eat. People produce the lumber that people use. People care properly or improperly for the forests and the farms that are sources of those goods. People are necessarily at both ends of the process. The economy, always obsessed with its need to sell products, thinks obsessively and exclusively of the consumer. It mostly takes for granted or ignores those who do the damaging or the restorative and preserving work of agriculture and forestry... What I have been talking about is the possibility of renewing human respect for this earth and all the good, useful, and beautiful things that come from it... The respect I mean can only be given by using well the world’s goods that are given to us. This good use, which renews respect--which is the only currency, so to speak, of respect--also renews our pleasure...from stewardship of the land to hospitality to friends and strangers... Our reward is that they will enrich our lives and make us glad.