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Kevin Ford

Dr. Jared Staudt

Jason Craig

Tommy Van Horn

Casey Truelove

Eugene Diamond

Brian Ring

Jim Curley

Amanda Ring

Lessons on Scale and Humility

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in Posts | 0 comments

You meet them everywhere, these backyard suburban know-it-alls, these New Age gardeners utterly ignorant of the concept of scale. A silly American succeeds at not killing his tomato plant, and so he imagines he can farm 100,000 of them the same way, with no realization that whatever he fertilizes, sprays, waters, picks, or weeds must be repeated identically 100,000 times over if he is to be a real farmer. Kill one plant and all fall in identical fashion, setting off the chain reaction that hits everything from your wife’s car to your children’s lunch pail on the slow but fatal way to the bank. Thus sayeth Victor Davis Hanson, not one to pull his punches. He writes this fairly angry passage in a fairly angry book. It’s a pretty good book, despite (or maybe in part because of) the anger, though it’s perhaps not one especially well-suited to the Catholic Land Movement. Hanson is talking about something much closer to standard American agri-business than to the kind of small-scale restorative agriculture the NCLM tends to emphasize. But I think this angry passage on scale is worth dwelling on. I’m not a gardener from of old: I believe I probably started my first small suburban garden just over a decade ago. Until this year, I’ve always gardened on a very small scale—mostly just in raised beds built over the years with purchased soil and laid over the top of the North Carolina clay. I’ve had some successes and plenty of failures, but never gardened on a scale that would make a really significant impact on the family’s finances or nutrition. This year, though, I used my little garden tractor to plow up a piece of our land, and I went to the farm store and bought myself 25 pounds of certified seed potatoes. Yes, OK, that’s still not enough to make a really significant impact on our finances or nutrition. (That much seed could potentially produce in the neighborhood of 250 pounds of potatoes, though, so it’s not nothing.) But it’s a lot more than I’d done before, and it was intended as part of an experiment in expanding our production. We also planted a lot of peanuts and a fair bit of corn. The peanuts came in beautifully, and were eagerly harvested a few weeks ago by our pigs. The corn was mostly pulled up as seedlings and eaten by crows. There are some farming lessons there for another day. I’m interested in the potatoes right now. Potatoes, if you’re new to this, are an easy crop to grow. As we’ve always grown them—in our 4×8 raised beds—we simply make four trenches down the length of the bed, and put the seed potatoes about a foot apart in the trench. Some people put compost down in the bottom of the trench before planting. You cover them over with a few inches of soil, and wait. Before too long, the plants pop up, and as they grow, you mound the soil around the tops. Do this a couple of times. After awhile, the plant tops die back, and you can dig your lovely harvest of potatoes. Simple. I typically plant potatoes in March. There is still a danger that the tops will get zapped by frost, but while this may...

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Logo Designers Out There?

Posted by on Nov 30, 2017 in Posts | 0 comments

Friends, Are you a friend of the NCLM?  A farmer?  Spectator?  Wannabe?  More importantly (to this post)… can you design a decent logo?  One that can be used in general but also with a header on a new and improved website? Please, email me!  jasonmcraig -at- g-to-the-mail DOT com.

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Is Farming a Waste of Talent?

Posted by on Nov 28, 2017 in Posts | 2 comments

By: Franz Klein In my years as a seminarian, I encountered the label “Father What-a-Waste.” Women applied it to good-looking young priests or priests-to-be who would make great husbands. How could they possibly give up the chance for marriage, a family, and success in the world? With my dashing good looks, I’m sure that the title was often applied to me during my seminarian years. No matter that I never heard it in reference to myself in my seminary years, but still… surely… More to the point, I was thinking about that silly old label in regard to a few comments I’ve gotten since quitting my full-time teaching job at a prep school last spring to try my hand at farming. Am I sure that I will be able to support my family? Am I using the talents that God gave me? What about writing? What about teaching? How can I give it all up to shovel manure and pull weeds? Farmer ‘What-a-Waste,’ I guess. Ironically, a few of the more worried queries have come from priest-friends from my seminary years. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! To emphasize, this is not a paean to my abilities as a writer or a teacher. I’m sure that there are many former students of mine out there with ready complaints about my heavy-handed grading and often scatter-brained, tangential lectures. But the fact is, I did give up a secure, salaried position in a profession that I loved in order to throw myself upon the vagaries of an unstable climate, a heavy-clay soil, and the fickleness of the free market. Oh, there are the practical responses that I’ve used to deflect these queries in the past few months: We returned to the support of family back in Wisconsin. I continue to teach part-time, and I’ve easily found free-lance work writing and translating, just as I had expected. Really, it’s not as radical a transition as it sounds, and I’m continuing to use my talents, whatever they might be. But I wish that I would cease and desist with these practical responses. At least implicitly, many people view farming as something one gets stuck with when nothing else pans out. In my own family, on my father’s side, after emigrating from Poland my great-grandfather farmed for a few years in rural Hull, outside of Stevens Point, before raising enough money to open a hardware store in town. My grandfather continued the hardware store, and my father is a lawyer–with nary a farmer in sight. Given the farm crash of the ’80s, it is understandable that many people understand farming to be a last-resort profession. Financially, it has become impossible to farm as past generations have. A 35-cow conventional dairy farm, as the farm my wife and I have inherited from her parents once was, is now a financial impossibility. Yet for those who remain, farming is not, per se, an impossibility. A few of my farmer-neighbors thrive by buying up shuttered small farms and increasing the size of their operation. Personally I’m not a fan of mega-farms–but that’s a subject for another post. Other farmers–Rosemary and myself included–have embraced the organic label, where premiums are higher and the market continues to grow. We firmly believe that there is a future in organic farming as people...

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A Jump to Full Time Farming for the Kleins

Posted by on Oct 30, 2017 in Posts | 0 comments

I recently posted an article about what I see as the New Catholic Land Movement at ThoseCatholicMen.com, and it was great to see how far that article went and how many people responded to it publicly and privately. One of those responses was from the Klein family, who has just moved to full time farming – moving all the way from the center of the universe (North Carolina) and away from a teaching career to Wisconsin to take over their family’s farm.  So many of us dream of such a move, but in reality it takes a major act of faith and trust.  We’re teetering in that direction with our micro dairy (just one bathroom away from Grade A!).  And you have to be a bit crazy.  In many ways dreams of farming just don’t make sense, but it seems to be in response to a real need, to something greater and more necessary than participating in the current ways of things. Anyway, my point is to simply pass along their sites (family farm site and business farm site) so that you can keep an eye on a family that has “made the jump”. Congratulations Kleins, and God be with...

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In a Wounded World I Plant a Garden

Posted by on Oct 28, 2017 in Posts | 1 comment

In a Wounded World I Plant a Garden

It is hard to put into proper words the current state of the Church and the World. Violence, brokenness, addiction, abuse…the list goes onward and upward endlessly. In such a crisis there is a temptation to overreact and try to do too much. There is also a temptation to despair and do nothing at all as we drift along with the flow. Yet, in my own life I have chosen to plant a garden. It takes a great deal of discernment to do so little and to understand the greatness of something so small. I will admit that initially my reasons for returning to the land were selfish. First, I fell in love with the land and the poetic idealistic nature of the land movement. The story of where that love fore the ideal led me is well known to readers of this blog, and I won’t go into details about my miserable failure in farming. However, my love for the land and this movement has returned accompanied with much greater wisdom borne of those difficulties. In a world as wounded as ours I have decided to plant a garden. There in the garden I have found peace from the fires of our times. Most of all I have found a place where I can raise a family away from those fires. In a great forest fire often times it is too much to ask for you to put out the flames, but one can sometimes shield what you love from the flames. It so happens that oftentimes a home can be preserved even as the whole landscape around is devastated. Thus it is that I grow a garden away from the flames where I can walk with my children and pass on the true flame of love. There are many ways we can react to the difficulties of our times, and this is the way I have found most suited to my own family. It is true that my first attempt at fleeing to the fields found me broken and disillusioned with the whole Catholic Land Movement. Undoubtedly, returning to the land is an exceedingly difficult venture. It is made even more difficult in our own times with skyrocketing land prices, corporate agriculture, and food raised unethically. We men who love our wives and children must find ways to guide them through our own times. Handing on the faith in our age of disbelief requires us to find good ground where the seed can grow and produce 30, 60, or 100 fold. It is hard to keep that seed growing when the farmer is absent from the fields most of the time. Thus it is that I return to the garden a wiser more weathered farmer. Next year we will be returning to farming and gardening as a way of life. However, my motivations are now driven by being able to be present to my own children. I don’t anticipate striking it rich as a farmer, but I do hope to maintain that good ground where the seed of faith in my children can grow. I can’t keep anything of the things of the world when I die, but I hope to store up treasure in heaven where thief cannot steal and moth cannot destroy. If I can...

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In Praise of Today’s Land Movement, And an Encouragement

Posted by on Oct 23, 2017 in Posts | 0 comments

When the Papacy is vacant the whole Church looks longingly for a puff of smoke from a little chimney – the household of the Church feels lonely without Papa.   When it comes we rejoice, because our father has come home. When I see puffs of smoke from little homesteads in the countryside I feel the same – a father has come home to be with his family by living together on the land. There’s a movement in the hearts of men, especially young fathers. They want to farm. I can’t count the calls I’ve received that begin: “I think God is calling us to homestead.” I can only describe it with that word: a movement. There’s no need for big organizations to promote it – its just happening. Call it another “back to the land” fad or what have you, but something is happening. Pope Benedict XVI recognized it too when he said: “More than a few young people have already chosen this path; also many professionals are returning to dedicate themselves to the agricultural enterprise, feeling that they are responding not only to a personal and family need, but also to a ‘sign of the times,’ to a concrete sensibility for the ‘common good.” I can’t say it any better. Men are moving back to the land for their families and as a response to the “signs of the times”. And you can put that negatively, bringing up the need to flee the horrors in cities or the vapid banality of the suburb, or positively by bringing up the need for family farms providing quality food to their neighbors. Whatever the motivation, something is happening. I’m here to encourage those of you that feel this movement: pursue it! You’re not alone either. G.K. Chesterton dedicated the end of his career to writing about recovering an agrarian and craft-based culture through what came to be called “The Catholic Land Movement”, a movement he would sum up simply as: “Three acres and a cow.” He was joined by other brilliant men like Hellar Belloc and Fr. Vincent McNabb, author of The Church and the Land. The rise and fall of this movement is fascinating, but the point is that you are not the first Catholic to look around and have that guttural reaction: this is not how man ought to live!  And after that feeling the concrete desire of life with less concrete. Some people will roll their eyes and scoff at the idea that we need more young farming families, seeing it as silly idealism, but I can’t see a need more real than food and family – can humanity go on without the two? Yes, you’ll be accused of “turning back the clock”. And? “The question is not whether you can set back the clock,” pointed out John Senior. “Of course you can. Clocks are instruments…” We farmers and homesteaders aren’t reactionaries or extremists, we simply want to live as men have lived since the dawn of time and still do the world over. We feel like Joseph and Mary wandering in Egypt longing to return to the Promised Land. The scriptures, especially the Psalms, paint the happy man as a man blessed by his family and the land: “Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that...

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Failed Farm Lessons… Or… How a Philosophy Professor Makes Goat Decisions

Posted by on Oct 20, 2017 in Posts | 2 comments

By: Patrick Toner, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Wake Forest University How often it happens that families become caught up in agrarian dreams, leave their suburban homes and buy a piece of land in the country to farm…and then, within a few years, sell off the farmland and head back to the suburbs.  In the back-to-the-land movement, the failed farm must be nearly as common as the successful one.  I have no data on this, of course, just anecdotal evidence.  Possibly, I’m entirely wrong.  But suppose I’m not. If so, these failed farms are very unfortunate.  I say this from the standpoint of an enthusiastic proponent of the back-to-the-land movement.  How can this movement be taken seriously when it engenders nearly as many failures as successes? I can’t answer that question in full, but I do want to look at two failed farms in particular in order to see if we can draw lessons for other aspiring farmers.  I’ve been hesitant to write this piece, because it could seem cruel to analyze these real-life stories of Catholic families who have made the attempt to get back to the land.  But, first, both cases that I’m speaking about are already entirely public.  And second, my response to them is hardly that of an expert looking down at a couple of newbies who messed up.  My response to them comes, rather, from a novice hoping to learn some lessons from their publicly-available reflections on their farming lives. The two cases are quite different.  In one case—Devin Rose—the farm was a part-time endeavor, funded by a full-time off farm job.  In the other case—Kevin Ford (well known to readers of this site, obviously)—the farm was full-time.  Rose’s family spent about two years on the farm.  Ford’s spent a total of about four.  Rose left the farm voluntarily.  It seems as though the Ford family more or less felt like they had to leave.  Rose worked mainly with livestock, Ford mainly with vegetables.  Still, for all the differences, the cases have a striking similarity when it comes to tracing out what led to failure.  In a sense, you could say the farms failed for the same reason: namely, bullying.  That’ll take a minute to explain. Let’s start with Ford.  He tells his story in a series of blog posts here.  But to hit some highlights, Ford, a high school theology teacher, did some homesteading on a small scale in town.  Eventually, he and his wife decided to take the plunge and go into farming full-time.  The details of the story needn’t detain us: the short version is that they started a vegetable farm in Kansas, selling their produce via CSA.  But they suffered serious drought, grasshopper plagues and hailstorms, and lost most of their crops in successive years.  Eventually, they decided to leave the farm.  They still homestead, with Kevin also working in an off-farm job. In retrospect he says that attempting to start a vegetable CSA was a mistake for multiple reasons.  First, and most centrally, his vegetables didn’t grow due to the weather and the grasshoppers.  But also, he doesn’t really care much for vegetables.  And that raises a question: why start a vegetable CSA at all?  The answer is that he felt bullied into it.  “It was the least expensive...

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A Call to NCLM Folks, And a Thank You to Kevin Ford

Posted by on Oct 3, 2017 in Posts | 5 comments

I wrote recently on another blog that I think there is a genuine land movement in the Church in the West.  I’ll repeat a quick point here: The farming thrust is not just reactionary or idealistic, but a concrete and good answer to life’s contemporary strains.  We aren’t hunkering down – we’re living.  It’s also not a shirking of evangelical mission – people in the country have souls too.  We need new ways to live, and sometimes the old ones fit the bill.  I’ve used the term “back” to refer to going “back to the land”.  Let’s not forget our experiment away from it is a short one – widespread in just the last century.  Even if less of us are farming, we still need the land at least 3 times a day.  I think those of us living closer to it simply think that it has more to offer than meals. For many that “us” I mentioned exists because of Kevin Ford.  He was a pioneer in many ways, but especially in telling his story and sharing his thoughts online.  He was that wonderful paradox of an online voice for a soil based life.  I immediately found a certain kinship with the geekdom of Catholic Land Movement readers – they, like me, enjoyed reading about what Kevin and his family were up too.  And there were many readers.  I even met some in real life!  I can say very clearly that my path to the land went by Kevin’s farm in St. Leo.  (Literally – we stopped by.)  I know there are others too. Kevin, on behalf of the rag-tag band of readers and wannabe farmers – thank you.  Thank you for being a voice, for taking the leap, for showing us when you succeeded, and for showing us when you failed (farming seems to be a hyperstatic union of success and failure).   It has been an inspiration not just to sweet thoughts but to real action.  I know it hasn’t been easy, and the only reason I am bold to say “it was worth it” is because I know you’re still trying.  The rootedness of family and land is worth fighting for.  Thanks for saying that for all these years, and for being an example. And to you readers, thank you for already sending messages of excitement in the plans to show how the spark of the NCLM has spread.  Here’s what you can do: Comment here, and thank Kevin. If you are interested in being a regular contributor, please let me know ASAP.  I would like to remain open to finding many authors, but would also like to find seasoned and regular writers to continue to articulate, explore, and show the NCLM to the world. A few have mentioned some other ideas and ways to expand the movement.  Please email me directly at jasonmcraig (at) gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from...

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Ember Days of Autumn

Posted by on Sep 19, 2017 in Posts | 2 comments

Ember Days of Autumn

Since the earliest days of the Church it has been the custom of Christians to practice the Ember days to mark the four seasons of the year. This tradition comes to us from pagan times when even they recognized the importance of thanksgiving with regard to the bounteous gifts provided by a fertile earth. As with many traditions in the Church, we “baptized” this seasonal change, and it has been a staple of Catholic practice since very early on. Even many Protestant churches have continued this practice in their own church calendars. So what are the Ember Days and when do they happen? I learned the simple phrase, “Lenty, Penty, Lucy, Crucy” to remember the times liturgically of each of these Ember Days. The Ember Days encompass a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday following Ash Wednesday (Lenty), Pentecost (Penty), St. Lucy’s Day, and Holy Cross Day (Crucy). Last week (September 14), was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross commemorating the finding of the relics of the True Cross by St. Helena. Thus, it falls on this week to be the Ember week for Autumn. So what are the Ember Days? Traditionally the Church recognized the Ember Days in her Sacred Liturgy and through fasting and partial abstinence. However, after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, discretion over the Ember Days were left to Bishop’s Conferences…who basically never sought to do anything with them. However, their loss is sorely missed in a world that no longer realizes that milk comes from cows and that the Lord is Lord of the Harvest. The Ember Days were roughly equidistant through the year, marking and highlighting the beginning of each of the seasons. Prayers specific to the time of year were said, and fasting was offered, asking for God’s blessings! The Ford family will be following the Ember Days this week. We will add additional prayers of thanksgiving out of our Rural Life Prayer Book, and we will do some fasting and abstinence as well. We also will do a blessing of our garden and harvest. However, we also will adjust the custom slightly so that it ends Saturday evening with an Autumnal feast featuring food we grew “by the sweat of our brow.” These days set the tone of the rest of the season. For the next three months until the Winter Ember Days, we will retain this mood of thanksgiving. It is a wonderful addition to any family tradition.   Pax,...

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Expanding the New Catholic Land Movement

Posted by on Sep 13, 2017 in Posts | 1 comment

Expanding the New Catholic Land Movement

Ten years ago this month I started to blog on the Catholic Land Movement. At the time I was a very green farmer/homesteader wannabe who dreamed of providing all of life’s necessities from the Providential bounty of the land. A decade later I am a somewhat jaded, yet wiser farmer who is giving farming another shot. Yet, there is one aspect with regard to the New Catholic Land Movement that I have long wanted to address, and now at this particular time believe it is being addressed. My original blog was more or less my musing on all things related to Catholic rural life. However, it also became a sort of long term documentary of my own attempts at farming, establishing community, and failing at both. Now I believe it is time to separate the movement from my own ego and expand it to encompass all the ways that God is working to bring back a cohesive rural Catholic family life. Recently a friend of mine and long time NCLM enthusiast offered to manage/edit this site. For quite a while I have felt that I lacked the time and personality traits necessary to expand the NCLM beyond my own personal story. Thus I am handing on the reins of this site to Jason Craig. Mr. Craig’s writings can be seen quite commonly passing around the circles of Catholic rural life groups on social media and online in general. I believe it is a necessary step in order to as he put it: “Wrestle the NCLM away from the story of Kevin Ford.” I couldn’t agree more with his assessment. Our vision is to change this site (or another similar site) into a place where all those interested in the Catholic Land Movement can come to share ideas and learn about what is happening around the globe. Hopefully, we can garner a good and steady group of writers to offer insights into their own personal journeys as well as building up the philosophical foundation for the movement to be successful today. I continue to hear from folks from around the globe about this idea of a Catholic Land Movement. The movement is by no means dead, but it does perhaps need some changes to make it to a larger audience. I look forward to being a part of that movement. For ten years I sought to give a voice to the New Catholic Land Movement. Now I want to be a voice in the movement as opposed to the voice. I look forward to seeing the developments over the coming weeks, months, and years. I hope that you do too. Kevin   P.S. – I will eventually be blogging about our personal story again, however that will be at a separate site for our new farm venture: Good Ground Farm. We don’t have a website up yet, but I will mention it in the...

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