Our Farm

by Scott Eagan, farm manager

The following will give you just a small picture of our farm. It is excerpted and adapted from Scott’s 2021 farm report.

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Every farmer lives with life—its nurturing and growth and harvest—and death—with its sickness and suffering and sometimes sudden loss. Daily we walk in Christ’s footsteps—birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection.

This past year was no exception. It was a very full year with quite a bit of variety. Our weather was constantly changing—spring and early summer drought, mid-summer over-abundance of rainfall, and seasonal temperatures interspersed with very hot spells, then unusually cool periods.

Yet, with the exception of a poor hay crop (due to the dry spring and early summer), the fields and gardens—vegetable, fruit, and herb—produced good crops.

Of course, the weather was not the only factor. With our forethought and planning, our timely seeding, our care (weeding and watering) and our careful harvesting—an abundance of food was provided for the needs of this family and others.

Thanks be to each of our farmers and gardeners, mechanics and skilled tradesmen, in fact, to all the men and women (staff, visitors, and applicants) who labored in the cold and heat to feed and warm this family. Even the bees outdid themselves.

The animals worked hard indeed: cattle and sheep walking out to pasture and growing meat and milk and wool, chickens pecking away at bugs and herbs and producing eggs, and the bees foraging and pollinating and giving honey.

The apple trees and rhubarb and berries and asparagus, the herbs and the pasture and hay fields do their own kind of work, growing upward and outward in search of sun and soil nutrients and water.

We manage these fields and gardens, fertilize them, and check their nutrient levels. And this spring and early summer, we had to irrigate. Thanks be to God we can do so, and we hope to put in irrigation next summer in the granary garden, the last garden to be so developed.

These are all examples of the life we nurture and experience here at St. Ben’s. But there is also hardship, toil, bewilderment, sickness and death.

In the midst of all this fertility, one of our farmers, Chuck Sharp, who had had cancer, experienced a reversal of his current cancer-free condition, and suffered his own kind of passion. What seemed an achievement of medical and prayerful intervention, ended in his untimely death on September 10, 2021.

Our brother Chuck had been an integral part of our life: working, praying, eating (and cooking) and recreating with us throughout the seasons. He had repaired, upgraded and built many things. He was the breakfast cook and supper heater-upper and filled in on animal care when needed.

Experiencing this reversal with him, we were privileged to then begin to take care of him as long as we could here at the farm. Eventually he moved to Our Lady of the Visitation where he was able to spend his last weeks with better care and comfort.

Another setback for the farm and this family was Fr. Louis Labrecque’s heart attack on November 18. With critical and timely medical intervention, he was given another opportunity at life and farming.

By midwinter he could be seen (carefully) swinging an axe, splitting firewood for an hour a day (at first). And later in March and April, he helped to gather and boil down the maple sap into sweet syrup. Gradually he has been resuming his service at St. Ben’s. Thanks be to God!

Then one of the farmers left the apostolate, and Augustine Tardiff had to assume double duty—watching over all the farm animals and milking, as well as training Daniel Wildish in all the works of the gardens.

Both works went well. Mathieu Dacquay continued in the cheese house, pasteurizing the milk and making cheese, yogurt, and butter. He also filled in with milking and animal care and cooking.

Scott Eagan and Father Louis got the pastures ready for grazing—chain-harrowing and then spreading fertilizer on them. They harvested hay, clipped pastures, repaired fences and gates, etc. Patrick McConville improved barns and feeders and calf pens, delivered food to St. Mary’s, and transported peaches to the food processors.

Food processors Alex Do and Flora Hye Jin Jeon and their helpers were hard at work preserving garden produce and meat so that they can feed us all year round. Andorra Howard took care of the herbs and bees and had good crops from both.

Trina Stitak, our good farm cook, was transferred to MH Missouri after nearly three years with us. She continually went out of her way to meet our needs, to listen to so many, and to pray about difficult situations.

Ruth Siebenaler, Mary Ellen Kocunik, and Mary Davis watched over the fruit and small gardens and brought an abundance of goodness to us in the form of lettuce, asparagus, blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears, and plums.

In the fall, because of renovations, Marian Centre in Edmonton was temporarily closed, and Sherman Everson and Frank Brick came to stay at the farm.

Sherman was one of our early farmers, and his presence reminded us of the foundational work and development that he and others provided which today we often take for granted.

Frank stayed on with us and has been filling in all around the farm, much to our benefit and thanks.

“Food security” became a catch word during the throes of this worldwide COVID pandemic. Our foundress, Catherine Doherty wanted us to have this, but also the enjoyment and the spiritual connection with God that comes through growing our own healthy and tasty food. She called her vision of farming “apostolic farming”.

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“Farming demands the whole of a man. It is a good way to die to self because the demands of nature, of animals, are there to remind him of the duty of the moment. The goal of feeding one’s brothers and sisters is always before the apostolic farmer.

“The apostolic farmer makes the earth fecund, not only with the fecundity of good farming, but with the fecundity of his own life, so that those who come after him will truly eat of the fruit of his life.” (Apostolic Farming, Catherine Doherty)

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We thank God for continually renewing and sustaining our souls. He feeds us with the absolute finest wheat and wine, which become his very Body and Blood.

We thank God for the gospel work of serving our brothers and sisters in Christ through growing and sharing food.

We thank all the staff, visitors, and applicants who helped with the planting, weeding, and harvesting, and, of course, our good benefactors who donated money and materials to make our farm possible.

We thank God for all this and for our ability to witness to a skeptical world by living our promises of poverty and chastity and obedience. And we thank him for the joy of daily beauty, sacrifice, and suffering in Christ.

Our witness is small, hidden, humble—yet powerful. The food we grow and preserve and share is Love. And God is Love.