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Contributors:

 

Kevin Ford

Dr. Jared Staudt

Jason Craig

Tommy Van Horn

Casey Truelove

Eugene Diamond

Brian Ring

Jim Curley

Amanda Ring

At What Cost?

Posted by on Dec 2, 2015 in Posts | 26 comments

At What Cost?

It’s time for one of those posts where I’m squirmingly honest again. Sometimes you need to put these up to keep everything in perspective. I write this now as I stand at a crossroads again in my life. I stand wondering whether this whole venture into rural life has been worth it. What have I gained? What have I lost? Am I a better man or worse man for having spent five years in close connection to the raw earth. So many questions, so few answers. Where do I go from here? For a while (more than a year now) our family has been discerning our next steps. There has never been a clear path ahead of us since our discernment began. Now, we live in a home that is not our own, and want so desperately to be on our own again. Yet, our journey into farming left us very poor, and barely scraping by. We’ve learned that growing vegetables in St. Leo, KS was a very unwise decision. Everything I now read about vegetables, climate, water, wind, pests all points to the reality that we were in a terrible location to try what we tried. It wasn’t the fault of our economic model (CSA or Community- Supported Agriculture). It wasn’t the result of inexperience, since no organic farmer could have dealt well with the grasshoppers and sixty mph winds made worse by our surroundings of endless monoculture fields left bare during the heat of the summer. It was the wrong place and it was a hard place to do what we were trying. We were in a droughty, windy, isolated area… Lesson learned. Now we are wondering how we start again. We have limited resources and not much direction. I looked into a job in West Virginia that would have been great, if it hadn’t been so terribly rural and far from a good liturgy. We did that in St. Leo and don’t want to repeat it. Now we are considering whether I should just go back to work somewhere, but options there are limited because my degree is in Theology. We are open to moving if God would open a door, but we also need to wait for the entrance of baby #4 in January. We have decided after a year of pigs that they are quite hard on the land even with intensive rotation. They also have a low profit margin due to their extensive eating abilities. They really eat like pigs! We still love the idea of an intensive vegetable farm of about an acre and are learning from the ideas used on the farm: Le Jardins de la Grelinette in Quebec. Yet, we have no way forward. A job might provide us with a cushion while we adjusted into this, but we just aren’t certain, and we don’t have any job options at the moment. Sometimes it feels like I lost so much by becoming a farmer. I can be more pessimistic and depressed than I have ever been. My faith feels weaker than its ever been, and it feels like I’ve been in the crucible for too long. Yet, there is one thing I know I have gained from my time home as a farmer. I have gained the love of my children. I...

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A Reflection on Death, Detachment, and Farming (by Mary Ford)

Posted by on Nov 23, 2015 in Posts | 1 comment

A Reflection on Death, Detachment, and Farming (by Mary Ford)

November is the month that the Church traditionally preaches on and remembers the souls of the dead. Along with that is a constant reminder in Scripture to prepare ourselves for our own final days. This might seem a rather morbid focus, but in reality, it is a time to be sincerely thankful: Christ has conquered death, and our way to Paradise with Him is open! St. Francis of Assisi, one of my favorite saints, went so far as to dub the end of our earthly life as “Sister Death”. He saw death as a welcome friend, because it was the last door to go through to get to our Lord in Heaven. Having said all this, I have to admit that I’ve always struggled a bit with a fear of death and a desire to cling to life. The Benedictine Rule instructs monks to keep death ever before you, and I’ve often found this particular instruction hard to swallow. I’d much rather think of things that give me joy. But, I suppose, that’s just it: death should not be an occasion of sadness, but one of joy. It is the gateway to Heaven and to all of our deepest longings in our sweet Lord. I know that what really needs adjustment is not the Rule, but my own attitude. Fortunately for me, Kevin and I farm. As a farmer, you are constantly exposed to death and dying, from the simple death of the year during fall and winter to the death of one’s animals when it’s time to butcher. Occasionally, as a farmer, you have to face the reality that animals get sick and die, often for unexplainable reasons. Accidents happen; crops die, too, of course, both through harvest and through losses due to climate and weather, pests, and small toddlers ripping up the wrong plants from the garden (no experience there at all; note minor sarcasm). Death happens, and frankly, it’s simply a part of life, ironic as that sounds. I can’t help but think that one reason the world lacks joy today is that the average western person is largely disconnected from death. They are disconnected to the point that they are unable to cope with the thought of death. It’s a natural instinct, of course, to cling to life, but when one clings to it to the point of refusing to acknowledge the reality of death, dying becomes a scary thought. Farming gives you the chance to detach yourselves from the things that make us want to cling to this world too much. After all, while there are many good and wonderful things on this earth, all of those gifts are merely shadows of Heaven. C.S. Lewis dubbed the last chapter of “The Last Battle” in his Chronicles of Narnia series “Farewell to Shadowlands”. He was not simply referring to earth as a place of darkness or shadows, but pointing out that shadows have a source, a better and more Real reality. He portrays the old Narnia as a duller, darker, murkier version of the Heavenly Narnia: “…[The old Narnia] was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here…You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered…have been drawn...

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The Hand on the Plow

Posted by on Jul 28, 2015 in Posts | 20 comments

The Hand on the Plow

I get the feeling that our entire civilization teeters on the edge of a knife. We have created an immense edifice of artificiality that bombards us from every side. REAL HUMAN INTERACTIONS are steadily being replaced by a virtual world. The interactions we do have on a human level are becoming more and more violent and immoral. Where do we go from here? There has been a lot written lately about the Benedict Option. I have written in the past that I feel very strongly that this is a legitimate possibility for the future, albeit not the only possibility. As I read the pages of Laudato Si I am struck by how it resonates with the vision I have for the future of the world. It is unfortunate that so much focus has been put on a few verses about climate change, when indeed there is so much good in the encyclical. It is a call back to real human lives. The Gospel thrives when the world is most human. The middle ages were a time of immense faith and they were times that created the greatest artistic achievements, theological, and philosophical achievements. Now we create almost no art. Our theology is too often little more than sophistry, and our philosophy is one of materialistic individualism leading to nihilism. We must return to our roots if we are to get out of this quagmire! I was reading today Romano Guardini’s book Letters from Lake Cuomo. They are letters written by the good priest upon his return to his home in Italy. It was one of the few places that had not yet industrialized at that time. However, his letters show with distress how technology was destroying human civilization. He noted that the great Christian culture of the middle ages was authentically human in its interaction with technology. There was a limit on what they created, although that limit was hard to put a finger on as even he admitted. Tools and technologies were aids to man’s abilities, not replacements for them. A proper brush allowed for more finesse when painting. A telescope magnified man’s ability to see the heavens, but didn’t replace it. The horse allowed a man to farm a larger acreage, but the horse’s limited stamina kept the man within the bounds of nature. All things were in tune with nature. Fr. Guardini contrasts the sail boat with the motor boat he sees crossing the lake. The sail boat stays directly within the power of man and nature. The motor boat does neither. The boat has a power of its own. The greatest technologies were both human and within the realm of nature, not above her. They worked with her as a child to its mother. Now we act a villain either willfully ignoring nature or overpowering her with our technologies. Every technology has consequences. An old farmer back home once told us that tractors did immense harm to the community. He was old enough to have seen the last of the horse men give in and go to the oil-driven behemoths. Over the next half century he saw the tractors and farms get bigger as more and more farmers were pushed from the land. A tractor does not stay in the direct power of man or nature....

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A New Home

Posted by on Jun 15, 2015 in Posts | 4 comments

A New Home

Sometimes farming is dirty… That is a truth you should know before you set out on this journey back to the land. Sometimes you go out to the chicken coop and find the door shut. Inside the coop there are 18 chickens and outside…there are 85…in the dark…in the mud. So that’s how my night went. I had planned to simply go out and shut the door and collect the eggs. Instead I did an army-style belly crawl through the mud underneath our mobile chicken coop grabbing hens. There were twenty hens on the deck of the coop that were easily put back inside, but 65 of them thought a mud hole between the axles of the coop trailer was a good place to spend the night. 16 trips under the trailer later I had all the ladies back in their dwelling. Then I collected the 100+ eggs and went inside. Farming can be messy, but life in general is that way. I don’t know what I expected when I set off on this journey. I am horribly idealistic, but farming has helped tame the unreality I once dreamed of. The truth is that I still love to farm. It’s dirty, hard, and at times heartbreaking, but in the end it is still good. There are no shortcuts that can be taken. Had I left the hens on the ground for the night I may very well have lost a year’s worth of income from eggs. I wrote once that I wanted to raise my kids on a farm so that they would learn responsibility. That is still true, but it has taught me the importance of being responsible as well. One seemingly small choice or taking the easier route simply doesn’t add up in a world living under the consequences of the fall. We’ve finally moved our farm to northeast Kansas. We’re living with family because we have no money after the collapse of our farm last year in southern Kansas. We’re very grateful to have a place to go, and a chance to start over. God has been working as we’ve begun to settle in. We’re finally attending the Latin Mass regularly, which had been a long time hope of mine. We also have more land at our disposal than we ever had before. My pigs are growing by leaps and bounds us excess milk from a local dairy. The feed bill for them has basically disappeared. God is good. For now this is our new home. We have every intention of buying a farm out near the parish where we attend Mass. It is a lovely area on the edge of the Flint Hills. There are many families there as well, which is a welcome change from the loneliness we sometimes felt when living in St. Leo. Ultimately I still hold in my heart the idea of a Rural Life Institute to bring families back into contact with creation. We are too far removed as people from land. A healthy society is built upon a healthy rural life. We shall see where God leads us. Until then I’ll keep getting dirty and putting one mud boot in front of the...

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Faith, Family, and Community

Posted by on Apr 28, 2015 in Posts | 20 comments

Faith, Family, and Community

Three quarters of a decade ago I was told something that has since affected every action I have taken since. In a conversation on a forum a woman wrote: “The breakdown of the family didn’t start when women left the home but when men did.” For years I had bought the line that women needed to be home to do the most sacred of duties of raising children. I had never considered that for the most part men ought to do the same. In the past we had more of an ownership economy. It was an economy where man’s primary boss was himself. The proliferation of factories and the Industrial Revolution narrowed the number of owners to a mere fraction of the original. Already in the early 20th Century this was resulting in city slums and ghettoes. Poor in the city were very different than poor on the land. The landed folks could at least grow their own food, but in the city everything must be purchased. Not only were men lured away from their families, but women and children also found themselves slaves in a system over which they had no control. In earlier eras, especially the early American years, families often lived on farms and provided a living for themselves from the land. Shop owners in towns regularly lived above or attached to their place of work. Work life and family life had a harmonious existence. As time progressed those tops became empty shells now seen on so many desolate main streets across our beloved country. Laws even came into effect that made it illegal to work where you lived and vice versa. The separation of all things is a mark of Satan. Rather than things working in order and harmony, they work separately in disorder. What is ironic is that such disorder is often created in the name of the common good. You can always bet that Satan seeks to ape what God does, but the results are always the opposite. Now we live in an era where family life has become almost non-existent. The natural order is corrupted and supernatural order marginalized, ignored, or persecuted. We now live in a world that wants desperately to see even the deepest and darkest depravities of human nature normalized. Our lives are full of artificiality to the point where we have lost touch almost completely with the things that make us human. We have forgotten both the God who made us and soil from which we are made. The family is torn apart, community is torn apart, the faith of our Fathers forgotten, and we the remnant wonder what comes next. Yet, I believe that the Church has offered us a solution to all these problems in her Social Teaching. If there are still ears out there to hear let them hear. We need to discover again what it means to be human, to be made in God’s image and likeness. I think only a return to simpler way of life will aid us in this. In the midst of our technological innovations we are like the men of Babel making a name for ourselves. In so doing we forget that we belong to him whose name is above every name. In an artificial world we too often...

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Prairie Hoof Farm Crowdfunding

Posted by on Apr 8, 2015 in Posts | 0 comments

Prairie Hoof Farm Crowdfunding

Hello Friends and Supporters, For seven years now I have been writing here on this blog about the benefits of life on the land for families and culture. During that time I have taken my family on an adventure into farming, which has had many ups and downs. Last year everything went south for us, and we saw our dream of reviving our little home on the plains die. Well, now we’re picking ourselves back up and starting over, and for the first time in seven years I’m asking for some help. We have a great opportunity awaiting us in a part of the state that has better climate and even more importantly it is closer to awesome Catholic culture. I would ask that you prayerfully consider a contribution to our farm Gofundme campaign. I am linking it below. At least watch the video and share it on your social media accounts. Thank You! http://www.gofundme.com/prairiehoof...

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CSA: What I Meant to Say

Posted by on Mar 20, 2015 in Posts | 2 comments

CSA: What I Meant to Say

After thinking a bit about my last post I decided to remove it. Mostly because it may have shown a bit of pride on my part. I want to do a little addendum.   CSA’s do have a place in agriculture. However, one needs to be very aware of what grows where you live. Our failure with the CSA were beyond our control and not directly related to experience. Rather, it had to do with environmental impacts that couldn’t be dealt with organically. I know of many very successful and large CSA’s, and I’m sure my own bad experience of running one taints my overall view of them. However, I can note that Joel Salatin also is not a big fan of CSA’s. However, in some cases CSA’s may be the only way to get your items sold. So a few more pointers. 1. Don’t do a CSA until you are sure what you want to grow will actually grow where you want to live. (Veggies pretty much won’t grow where we live, but you’ll do fine if you are in a better climate). 2. Do what you love. I love animals and I hardly eat vegetables. Give me a steak and potatoes, or some bacon and eggs and I’m happy. 3. Don’t give up the dream even if everything falls apart. Regroup, replan, and start again. Pax, Kevin P.S. – Thanks...

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Thoughts on Community

Posted by on Mar 12, 2015 in Posts | 16 comments

Thoughts on Community

So you think you would like to live in a Catholic community or a Catholic Village? Are you sure about that? I still receive emails regularly from Catholics who feel disenchanted with the modern world and say that “They would love to live in a Catholic community!” I don’t think they know what they are asking. The history of so-called Catholic communities is dismal, and I do not know of any true successes with regard to them. They all have a history of trauma and at times dramatic dissolution. I have written often of Catholic community, and would like to do a bit of a summarization of my thoughts here. I was once told by my spiritual director that “community” is a spiritual reality. It may or may not be physical. At times community is something built by a common belief system, or it may come about as a result of a shared struggle or dream. One thing for certain though is that you can’t just live next to others and have community. Community is not something that happens because you want it to happen. It happens as a result of other things. It is not something you can grasp or build directly. For example: a sports team that has a long struggle and works hard together over a long season will experience and build a certain amount of community amongst its members. This does not happen because they are trying to build this, but rather as a result of a common shared experience. In other words, community can only be grasped when we quit trying to grasp it. It’s like distant star that can only be seen when we look at it sideways. There must be something beyond you that draws you together. Attempts to build Catholic communities and such often have community as their object, but it doesn’t work this way. You must have something strong beyond the people in order to draw them to community. The team has a common goal of winning a championship. By seeking this goal they experience a certain amount of unity and community. What is the goal of a group of families moving to an area? What will be the glue that binds them? We humans are so fickle, and amongst more traditionally and orthodox minded Catholics this fickleness can be extreme. How will your neighbors respond when you…gasp….allow your girls to wear what they call “man” pants. What will happen when you tell them that … fill in the blank. Is it community that you seek or complete uniformity? There must be something beyond your group to draw you together, or you will find that every little difference tears you apart. You must find the commonality that binds you in order to enjoy the spiritual fruits of communion. Now I want to write a little of our experience at attempting to build community here in St. Leo. We invited another couple to come farm with us when we first moved here. They came a year later and lived in St. Leo for a little over a year. There are several things we realized were problematic in attempting to do this. First, we were both dependent on farming for our living. In fact we all experienced the exact same hardships with...

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It’s Harder Than You Think.

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in Posts | 6 comments

It’s Harder Than You Think.

Yesterday I came home from my admin. job and went out to do my nightly chores. I noticed as I was walking up that one of the finisher pigs was chewing on something that looked like entrails. My first thought was: “Oh no, what did they kill and eat.” Pigs are omnivores and will devour anything if given the chance. I headed out to the pasture to see if I could find any remnants. I imagined I would find what remained of one of our beloved cats, or feathers strewn from our chickens. Instead  I found the remnants of a baby pig carcass, several of them actually. One of our gilts had farrowed and the smell of blood had attracted the 18 finisher pigs. The mama had managed to save 4 of her piglets. Farming is harder than you think. I hadn’t anticipated this farrowing for a week or so. She came early before I had separated her from the herd. It was all she could do to save the four she did. She is a great mother though, and I am happy with the job she is doing. I suppose she lost four or five of her young. Lesson learned the hard way. The difficult thing about farming is that so often the things that go wrong are completely beyond your control. Now I could have stopped the piglet massacre, but how could I know she would farrow so early? Should have known she would farrow since we had a negative five wind chill. Perfect time for a farrowing. We faced droughts and grasshopper plagues and hail storms. All of these devastated our crops. The only thing we could do is get up the next day and start again. I think one difficulty that many of the “back to the land” type run into is their idealism. That idealism dies the first time or ten that old Daisy steps in the milk pail, or a pack of dogs slaughters all your chickens. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can prepare you for such things. Take them one at a time and learn from them. Sometimes those losses are costly mentally, emotionally, and financially. Sometimes grasshoppers eat all your crops and you lose four years of work, but there is only one thing to do. Get back up and start over again. There is no other profession quite like farming. You are at the mercy of not only the market, but also of the weather. Sometimes it rains and sometimes it doesn’t. However, you must find ways through every kind of situation. Every difficulty is a chance to grow. I go back to the Wendell Berry quote: “Love. They must do it for love. Farmers must farm for the love of farming.” You won’t get rich, but you can be happy doing it. Keep in mind the reason you are farming. I do it for love of farming, but also for love of my family. I desperately want to be with them. I want to teach them and show them the goodness of the land. I am grateful to have had that chance for a few years, and I hope one day to get back to it full time again. Kevin...

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A not so brief introduction

Posted by on Feb 15, 2015 in Posts | 7 comments

Kevin has recently agreed to let me come aboard as a contributor for the blog. I wrote a post here around a year ago and, despite my good intentions, was derailed with morning sickness and putting our home on the market. I plan to resurrect the “On the Journey” series in the hope that this experienced advice will encourage the aspiring farmers and homesteaders among us, but I thought I would take a post to introduce myself and my family to our readership first. My husband, Brian, and I have been married for almost 9 years. We have five children who are in equal measure adorable and ornery, aged 8 to five months. Brian is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and I have primarily been a homemaker and homeschooling mom for the majority of our marriage. While dating, Brian and I dreamt of owning an acreage someday. What we envisioned was more gated community than homestead. Both of us grew up helping parents and grandparents in their vegetable gardens and knew this was something we wanted to do with our children, too. We planted our first garden and soon learned to compost, discovered Mother Earth News and Joel Salatin, and we quickly formed a new vision for the life we’d like to provide for our family. We tried backyard chickens, the gateway animal, and shocked our family and friends with our new “landscaping” additions. Soon, our large suburban lot became an experimental canvas which included medicinal herbs, a large chicken coop, composting area, a variety of fruit trees and perennial fruit and vegetable plants, and of course our garden, which grew larger each year. Dreams of homesteading took shape in our head and at the same time we were both experiencing a period of spiritual growth. Wouldn’t it be great, we thought, if someone combined their deep love of the Catholic faith with the homesteading lifestyle? Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to raise our family? So we turned to Google, of course, and found the NCLM blog. After my husband devoured the entire archives of Kevin’s writing and we realized how much we had in common with their family, we reached out to the Fords. We met in person later that year and consider ourselves extremely blessed to have them as friends. We had been planning to move to St. Leo to join the Ford and Truelove families last summer. However, God had other plans for all of our families, and last fall we stumbled upon and purchased a home and eight acres in north central Kansas. Brian has started his own accounting firm from his home office and the goal is that his accounting work will take up roughly the equivalent of a part time job. The rest of his time will be devoted to agrarian adventures. Kevin posted recently on the differences between farming and homesteading. We are firmly in the homesteading camp and the plan is to focus our efforts on raising a large portion of our own food and possibly sell some excess. Common advice to beginning homesteaders is to take it slow and while we may have been fairly experienced suburban homesteaders we are trying to temper our excitement while we are in this late winter planning stage. We plan on pursuing a mixture of new ventures...

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