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Farming

Farming provides us with much of the food that we need and with surplus to give away. We have a large vegetable garden, some small fruits, mushrooms, dairy goats, laying hens, meat rabbits and pigs.  The different parts of our farming work together: Goat manure makes rich compost for the garden, leguminous weeds and cover crops from the garden feed the goats, extra goat milk and dropped apples feed the pigs. The rabbits eat some of the garden weeds and their manure can be used fresh around our vegetables.  

We invite people to help us with our work, learn about food growing, and take produce home. People of different ages and abilities can help with different tasks. During the growing season, we look for gleaners to harvest what we can’t use and don’t have time to pick or process. Since 2009 volunteers have come through WWOOF (World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms).

Vegetables

 In our 50’x 200’ vegetable garden we grow amaranth, asparagus, beans, beets, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, chard, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, lettuce, kale, onions, parsnips, peas, peppers, potatoes, pumpkins, spinach, squash, tomatoes and turnips. From May through October we have a variety of fresh vegetables to eat and to share.  

We store potatoes, carrots and parsnips in a root cellar where they keep well into the spring. We can green beans and can and dry tomatoes enough to last until the next harvest begins. We freeze peas, peppers, and pesto. Onions and garlic are stored in a cool dry space from harvest until spring and those remaining are frozen and used until we again pick them fresh from the garden.

We still do some gardening in the cold season. Since 2004 we have been growing hardy greens, brassicas and herbs through the winter in an attached greenhouse as well as starting seedlings there.  In 2006 we began composting food scraps in an indoor worm bin.  The nutrient-rich worm castings are good for houseplants and seedlings.


Fruits & Nuts    

In addition to vegetables we grow grapes and rhubarb in the garden. In many years we’ve grown strawberries; during 2016 we’ll be without strawberries while we get new beds established.  The grape vines we started in 2008 bore well in 2011 but most of the grapes were eaten by birds and raccoons.  In 2012 we put up adequate protection; we’ve enjoyed good grapes since then, except in years when our increasingly erratic springs have caused the vines to leaf out early and then die back in late freezes. Raspberries, blackberries and elderberries grow wild around the edges of the hayfield. An old orchard and wild trees provide apples. We freeze bramble berries and dry elderberries. We dry apple slices for snacks, can applesauce and freeze apples for pies etc. We bought a used press and began making apple cider in 2013.

Livestock

We switched the breeding stock from pellets to natural feed before the first kits were born.  In 2015 we started breeding our own young crossbred does who had been raised on natural feed. 

Our rabbits now have bright and spacious quarters in the new barn. They get some whole grains, dry in summer and sprouted in winter, but much of their food is grown or gathered on the farm.

 Our 30 acres of hayfields provide feed for the rabbits and feed and bedding for our goats.  Fields not being hayed are bush-hogged to keep them from reverting to brush.  The price of feed grain rose sharply in 2012. In 2013 we began experiments with growing feed grain and gathering more high-nutrition forages for our animals. In 2014 we started planting hedgerows of willow, hazel, rose and brambles along the edges of some of our goat pasture to provide the browse goats need in addition to grazing. We’re learning more about what we can feed (especially rabbits). It is satisfying to put to good use what we had once perceived as just weeds.

Mushrooms, Herbs, & Flowers

In spring 2007 we started growing shiitake mushrooms on oak logs from our woods. We’ve grown wide-range strains which we force-fruit during the summer and cold-weather strains that fruit naturally after rains in the spring and fall. Starting in 2011 we’ve dried some mushrooms for winter use as well as enjoying them fresh.  Shiitakes are high in protein and vitamins as well as flavor. We’ve tried and failed to grow stropharia mushrooms.

The herb gardens provide extra flavor for our meals and are a very welcome addition to the produce we send to the soup kitchen.  Visitors enjoy smelling the different herbs and realizing that they recognize the scents even when the plants are unfamiliar. From our basil and garlic we make pesto to freeze. We also freeze chives and sage and dry mint and thyme for winter use. Lavender is made into sachets which our refugee contact keeps on her desk and gives to mothers of young children. Perennial plants need to be divided to keep them healthy, so we have plants to give away each spring and fall. In 2013 we grew, gathered and preserved more medicinal herbs for teas and tinctures--willow bark, elder flowers and berries, violet, burdock root, chamomile, calendula, lemon balm, red clover, and echinacea.

We found flower gardens when we arrived at the farm, but food production seemed more important.  Then we began to notice how much visitors enjoyed the flowers.  Boys with reputations for trouble-making asked if they could pick flowers to take home to their mothers.  At the end of a week a migrant worker staying with us asked if he could cut new flowers to replace the ones we had picked when we got his room ready.  He said he had never had flowers in his room before.  So now we make the flower gardens a priority.   As with the herbs, we have seeds from annuals and divisions of perennials to share.

Why We Grow Our Own

People sometimes tell us that farming is a lot of work and ask why we don't just buy that stuff at the grocery.  There are several reasons.

     When we first came to St. Francis Farm in 2001 we struggled to feed ourselves and our guests, as money was tight and little food had been produced in the chaos of transition.  Beginning in 2002 we focused on growing and preserving food so that we could feed ourselves and have something to share with neighbors.  Since 2006 we've sent vegetables, herbs and soft goat cheese to a local soup kitchen.  Late summer bounty is distributed to area churches and assorted neighbors. As the economic system grows less stable more people seem interested in learning to provide necessities for themselves and their neighbors. As Wendell Berry writes in What Matters,  "A home landscape enables not only personal subsistence but also generosity. It enables community to exist and function."     We have hosted migrant workers injured on commercial farms and learned about the untenable working conditions of the people who grow the food we buy. When the work of food production is done by a tiny fraction of the population those people are apt to be overworked and exhausted.  When more people grow their own food the amount of work is more manageable and can be grounding and health-giving rather than debilitating.

  We are also aware of the environmental damage caused by large-scale farming, including the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides, the compaction and erosion of topsoil, and the use of large quantities of climate-altering fossil fuels to power machines and produce petrochemical fertilizers. Growing our own food allows us to live more sustainably.