Renee's Story
This spring I read the book "The Long Loneliness" by Dorothy Day and was introduced to not just her amazing life but the Catholic Worker Movement. I googled "Catholic Worker Movement" and discovered  St. Francis Farm, a few hours from my home in Montreal. As I read about the farm my curiosity and interest grew to visit for myself. I had a four-day window in April that was perfect on my end. I submitted my volunteer application and was delighted to hear back that yes, I could come at that time. So I put it on the calendar, double checked that my passport hadn't expired, and started to anticipate my "trip to the farm."    (article continues below photo)

I went to the farm to have a "farm" experience. I desperately need to get out of the city on a regular basis to be in touch with nature - rolling farmland, wooded creeks, the absence of traffic and instead the cacophony of spring peepers - these are things my soul craves. Though I cannot follow these principles in the city to the extent I wish, I esteem sustainable living practices such as growing your own food, raising your own meat and milk, heating your home with wood. And in spite of regular walking and biking, seasonal hiking and cross-country skiing, my body grows soft. Volunteering at the farm provided an opportunity to connect with these aspects of being human: my need for nature and physical engagement with the land.

More importantly for me however, being at the farm provided the opportunity to nurture the essence of being human - living in community, serving one another, and engaging with each other's hearts and minds. The depth of my experience at the farm in these matters, specifically the spiritual and intellectual conversations I shared with Joanna while we worked together in the gardens, far surpassed my expectations. I realize not everyone visiting the farm will be explicitly seeking this kind of connection. Lucky for you Quakers do not proselytize but show a lot of respect for different faith traditions and lifestyle choices. But if you want to have searching conversations for how to live as a spiritual being in a physical world you've come to the right place.

Of pedagogical interest to me was the family's homeschooling experience and history. Zachary and Joanna were unschooled in the best application of that philosophy of education. They were set loose on their interests, taught to think critically through reading and dialogue, and given real world responsibilities in which to grow skills. To experience the fruits of their education, to be the recipient of their competence in farming, woodlot management and building construction, and to learn from Lorraine, an experienced homemaker and homeschooler, to be on the receiving end of their generosity of spirit was a gift.

My work experience at the farm included digging and helping to transplant perennials and lilacs to a neighbor's garden; weeding and planting the farm garden with potatoes, radishes, onions, and carrots;and transplanting peppers, eggplants, and tomato seedlings into larger pots. I also helped Joanna tend to the animals, feeding the rabbits and chickens, moving the goats, and mostly watching Joanna milk the goats since I was inept at that job! All of this work was made most enjoyable by companionship and open-hearted conversation.

The idea of a spiritual director, an ancient Catholic and Orthodox tradition, is quite popular in the online faith communities and discussions I find myself in these days. I've been fascinated by the idea but unsure of where to start and questioning the necessity of a spiritual director in my life, outside of the discipling relationships I have in the community of believers to which I belong.

I am cautiously curious about the idea of meeting with a spiritual director, which as I understand it, is having a safe place to be spiritually vulnerable, to say “I’m questioning this, I’m seeing things from this perspective, how do you see it?" without worrying about the attachments and expectations within my own spiritual community. The farm does not advertise as providing spiritual direction, but my heart was in that space, and it was what I found in the three days of conversations, working, and eating together. I didn't know how desperately hungry I was for this kind of connection and opportunity until I was feasting on it.

The weather during my visit was alternately sunny, warm, with blue skies; and chilly, wet, and overcast. In a word it was spring. Evenings were spent walking in the woods, visiting with Joanna and Lorraine in the chapel/library, and journaling and reading in my room. It was wonderful.A few things you can expect at the farm: the smell of woodsmoke in the air, early mornings, and physical work. You can expect to eat well. The food is hearty, seasonal, and plentiful. During my stay in April our meals included lots of cold storage and preserved vegetables, fresh goat's milk cheeses, farm grown shiitake mushrooms, wild-harvested ramps and fiddleheads, a bit of rabbit meat and pork (both raised on the farm), beans and homemade breads.

My time at the farm felt too short and just right. It was intense for me on several levels, I dived deep into conversation with Joanna and Lorraine, I opened my heart and mind to learn, I worked hard. I fully engaged my heart, mind, and body in the experience.  I had a sore shoulder upon my return home, but this was my own doing, as I was asked repeatedly while working if I was managing ok. Arriving home with a handful of book recommendations, dirty clothes, mud caked boots, and a small plastic container of goat's milk cheese that I helped to make, I felt physically tired but spiritually energized and deeply grateful for this opportunity.