St. Francis Farm Community in Orwell, NY (between Lake Ontario and the Tug Hill, 6 hours and a world away from NYC, zone 4/5) is looking for new people to share in our life and work.
St. Francis Farm is an intentional community in the Catholic Worker tradition, a sustainable farm, and an all-volunteer charitable nonprofit organization on 180 acres of mostly wooded land in Orwell, NY. We live an alternative to the consumer culture grounded in care for the land, in attentive presence to neighbors and guests, and in faithfulness to that which unites all living creatures. We’re looking for new community members to help us grow food, welcome guests, and help neighbors. We’re working our way into living on a subsistence/gift economics basis rather than a market basis. For more information see https://www.stfrancisfarm.org/new-members/ or keep on reading.
In 1976 Fr. Ray McVey established St. Francis Farm as a Catholic Worker community. (Since the 1930s the Catholic Worker has brought people of various faiths together to live in prayerful community, offer practical help and personal connection to people in need, practice alternative economics and regenerative agriculture, and generally, as Peter Maurin said, “build a new society within the shell of the old.”) Over the last four and a half decades St. Francis Farm has hosted a shelter for women, a medical clinic, a knitting cooperative, service-learning groups repairing neighbors’ homes, and many other forms of community outreach shaped by the needs of neighbors and the abilities of core members. There have usually been hayfields and a garden. When the three of us who live here now arrived in 2001 we began raising more of our own food, shared fresh produce with neighbors, and helped people learn low-cost sustainable farming. This seemed especially important to us as we hosted migrant workers injured on nearby commercial farms. The land has provided food, meaningful work, and a beautiful space to share with kids coming for mentoring, elders coming for visits, and volunteers coming to live an alternative to the consumer culture. Now one member in her upper sixties is retiring and another (younger) member is moving away to start a small business. They’ll be leaving in the next year or two. I am hoping to find people to share the life and work here.
The land and how we’re using it:
We have at least 110 acres of forested land (the tax maps, the plan drawn up by a forester, and the online planimeters all give slightly different acreages), mostly hardwood (some of it ash which is now dying due to emerald ash borers), hilly, with small streams and ponds. We have perhaps 40 acres of hayfields. There is also a large vegetable garden, various small herb and flower gardens, a feral apple orchard (with a few younger trees which were still amenable to pruning when we arrived and which we have been pruning since then), and four small pastures for our goats. Buildings include an old dairy barn converted to a large human habitation (where we live year-round), an old farmhouse open only during the growing season (now mostly for WWOOFers/guests), a post-and-beam barn for livestock/hay/woodworking equipment/etc, a greenhouse, a sugar house, a mushroom shelter, a tool shed, and a wellhouse/root cellar.
The woods includes nature trails open to neighbors and guests. We heat the building in winter and the hot water in summer with firewood. We saw out lumber on a small scale for our own projects and for selling to neighbors. We also tap the maple trees nearest the buildings and do a little sugaring.
We grow vegetables for our own use (all our summer vegetables and most but not all of what we use in winter) and we give away extras to whoever can use them—lately we’ve been delivering a fair bit of produce to the senior housing complex in the nearest town. We don’t sell food. We have egg chickens, dairy goats, and meat rabbits, and we also raise feeder pigs over the growing season. Sometimes neighbors keep bees on our land. We’re moving toward natural feeding based on what grows on our property, but we’re far from pure. Our soil is quite rocky.
More info at https://www.stfrancisfarm.org/farming/ The land would have the potential to support many other projects if there were people here with the time, energy, skills and focus to carry those projects out.
St. Francis Farm is an intentional community where people from varied backgrounds come together to live an alternative to the consumer culture and to cultivate communion. Our life is rooted in care for the land, in presence to other people, and in faithfulness to that which unites all living creatures. We work with our minds, bodies, and souls. We attentively enjoy and sustainably use the land. We offer prayerful presence and practical assistance to fellow community members, guests, and neighbors. Help and presence are freely given and freely received, not bought and sold.
We seek to create a space that is uncluttered, intentional, inclusive, and safe. We invite people to take time for reflection and prayer, to share their skills and their stories, and to learn from and listen to others.
What do we mean by “living an alternative to the consumer culture”?
The consumer culture isolates us from awareness of the consequences of our consumption. St. Francis Farm Community cultivates awareness of where the things we use come from, how they are disposed of, and how this affects other people and the living world. We do some of our own subsistence work in a way that is sustainable and health-giving for us, rather than relying entirely on the invisible and often exploited labor of people at a distance. We work to reduce our wastes and our reliance on purchased inputs. We live by direct labor and by gifts given and received more than by exchange.
The consumer culture insinuates that we can’t be happy or worthy until we have more. St. Francis Farm Community cultivates frugality and gratitude for what we already have. We work with what the land provides and we use free and recycled resources. We invite neighbors and guests to consider what they could do with what has been freely given to them.
The consumer culture urges us to rank ourselves and other people competitively, and to project an impressive self-image. St. Francis Farm Community cultivates honesty, solidarity, and respect. We acknowledge our brokenness and are considerate of the brokenness of our neighbors. We acknowledge our gifts and draw out the gifts of our neighbors. We know that we all need one another, and that we all have something to contribute.
The consumer culture encourages us to stay busy, to fill our lives with strivings and distractions. St. Francis Farm Community cultivates rest and reflection. We keep a day of rest. We take time to savor the beauty of the natural world, to be truly present to our neighbors, and to listen to the still small voice within.
What do we mean by “cultivating communion?”
We may come from different faith traditions, or may claim none. We affirm that every living being is sacred and has intrinsic value independent of its usefulness to us, and that, however different our identities, backgrounds and opinions may be, we are all connected at the root.
We commit ourselves to step back from distractions and prestige-seeking, to make peace in our own divided hearts, and to listen for the still small voice within.
We commit ourselves to pay attention to the sacredness, the pains, and the gifts of people who may be very different from ourselves; to treat each other’s wounds with tenderness, offering a listening presence and practical assistance; to confess our brokenness and ask for help; to share our gifts and create a space where others can readily offer their gifts.
We commit ourselves to tend the land in a way that builds rather than destroying soil, to use the fields and forests attentively and sustainably, and to notice and enjoy things which are not, in any obvious sense, “useful.”
What we need/seek in new members:
We welcome people of all ages and abilities for day visits and volunteer projects. Core Members, who live and work at the farm long-term, must be sober, able and willing to help with physical work, and able and willing to communicate and resolve differences peaceably in community. Directors, who provide oversight, support, and accountability for the farm’s work, must be over 18 years old as well as being able and willing to communicate and resolve differences peaceably in community.
Core Members share living space, work, prayer, and responsibility for the community and for each other. We take time daily for communal prayer/meditation. We listen to each other’s struggles, questions, hopes, and learnings. We make decisions after thorough discussion and prayerful discernment. When difficulties arise we acknowledge them honestly and work on them with all the clarity and patience of which we are capable. Major decisions are made in consultation with the Board of Directors.
Core Members work together and use the land’s resources sustainably to provide for their own needs and the needs of neighbors. Food and firewood are grown and harvested on the farm. The farm’s income purchases basic food; pays for electricity, repairs, and other occupancy expenses for the buildings where Core Members live and where visitors are welcomed; and maintains a vehicle for the working use of the Core Members. Core Members are responsible for their own health insurance (New York State has generous Medicaid coverage) and for other personal needs. This is not a commune where people turn the resources they bring with them over to the community. Members’ resources remain their own. Members who spend large parts of their days doing paid work not directly linked to the community’s work may be asked to contribute part of their income to help maintain the community.
Core Members need to do manual labor to maintain the farm and buildings. Here are some of the skills that help keep the farm running (we’re able to teach all these). Skills marked with asterisks are especially urgently sought because the community member who has them is planning to leave in the next year or two.
*Forestry and chain saw operation; selecting and felling trees for firewood
*Building construction and maintenance (carpentry, plumbing, wiring, roofing...)
*Boiler, vehicle, and machinery repair
*Tractor operation and haymaking
Planting, transplanting, thinning, weeding, watering and harvesting vegetables
Animal care—raising/identifying and harvesting homegrown feeds; milking; mucking; fence repair; butchering; basic animal health care
Food preservation--canning, drying, freezing (and pickling if you know how; we don’t)
Bonus skills—the farm will run without them, but they help us make good use of the land and equipment: selecting and felling trees for lumber, operating a band saw mill, welding.
Core Members offer their presence and practical assistance to neighbors and guests free of charge. Forms of assistance vary depending on the gifts and callings of community members. They often include help with repairs and practical tasks, sharing of food, and listening. More specialized skills could be well used. Counselors, tutors, advocates, dance callers, community organizers and more could all find scope for work.
We want St. Francis Farm to be a safe and welcoming place where everyone is able to ask for help, learn skills, share gifts, and be heard. We respect other people, including those who are very different from ourselves. We do not insult other people, and we do not proselytize.
We want St. Francis Farm to be a place where Core Members, guests, and neighbors can experience community, friendship, listening, and closeness without the complications that can come from unwanted sexual advances or from people’s conflicting senses of sexual ethics. For these reasons St. Francis Farm is not a place for casual sexual encounters outside a long-term committed relationship.
We want St. Francis Farm to be a safe place for Core Members, guests, or neighbors who are recovering from addiction. We encourage people to slow down and experience the richness in the natural world, in their fellow human beings, and in themselves without mind-altering substances.
The legal structure:
In 2003 St. Francis Farm officially became a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. We have a Board of Directors. Day-to-day decisions are made by Core Members who live and work at the farm, but the final responsibility for the organization and the property rests with the Board. For more about how the structure works, see https://www.stfrancisfarm.org/about/
I’m hoping to start conversations with prospective new community members as soon as may be. Visits to the farm should begin in May when the weather is reliably cooperative and the Board will have finished working out the stages by which new members can join.
The person posting this:
I’m Joanna, the person who intends to stay here at the farm long-term if this turns out to be possible. I’m a 38-year-old farmer, writer, and (I think) fairly openminded Christian Quaker.
Congratulations to anyone who’s read this far. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Some details not covered here can be found on our Foundation for Intentional Community listing, https://www.ic.org/directory/st-francis-farm-community/ I tried to include pictures but they wouldn't load. Our site and the FIC listing do include a fair number of photos.
Take what you want, says God to man; take it, and pay for it.--Old Spanish (or Persian?) proverb