Stewardship of creation begins at home

| Chiara Dowell | June 18, 2015 | 0 Comments

In the spring of 2014, my husband and I sold our 40-acre grass farm in southwest Wisconsin where we raised cheviot sheep. I still remember the moment I realized we were going to buy our current “river’s edge garden farm.” It was not exactly love at first sight of the 100-year-old farm house and overgrown six-acre lot.

“Do you think we could do community supported agriculture here?” I asked my husband doubtfully, eyeing the buckthorn and the woods and the damp soil.

We were standing in a grove of hard and soft wood trees. Maples, oak, pine, honey locust and even black maples encircled us. Logging was not something we had learned in the last six years of our small-farming adventures.

“Yep. I think we could right here in this very spot,” he said slowly and soberly.

After moving in, we felled trees, skidded out logs with our team of Norwegian Fjord horses and piled brush. The goats were fenced in to eat the buckthorn, and the sheep attacked the lawn. Slowly, our “Valley of Wormwood” was turning into a “Clairvaiux.”

All through last year’s efforts, I thought of St. Bernard and the founding of his community. In the beginning, the land available to the brothers was low, undrained soil. They subsisted on hard, dense barley bread, barely being the only crop they were able to grow in the waterlogged fields.

After much toil and living out the good, the bad and the ugly of the psalms day in and day out in a brutally tangible way, they were soon able to breathe easier and feast on the rewards of rich and fertile well-drained farm land.

My husband and I have always admired the monastic traditions when it comes to regular hours of work, prayer, study and gardening. But how to live that out within the context of the family? How to pursue hospitality, prayer and work with toddlers in tow?

The concept of community-supported agriculture is a simple one. Your local community buys into the farm as members and shares in the dividend of produce from it — shared interest, shared responsibility. This model makes small farms viable. Without it, we would not be able to do what we do.

When our small herd of dairy goats kidded this spring, I contacted local cheese fans and asked if they’d be interested in participating in a herd-share program. They buy into a share of the herd for a chosen amount of time and receive a weekly dividend of cheese from the herd. The response has been generous and keeps me at the traditional methods of hand-milking and small-batch cheese making, crafts that my 6- and 9-year-old daughters are learning alongside me.

Community-supported agriculture has become a bridge between my family and many who I would not otherwise have much contact with, given cultural and religious differences. Food is a unifying thing. It’s no wonder our Lord instituted the great sacrament of the Eucharist with a meal.

The farm has become an occasion for evangelization simply by being an attempt to steward creation in keeping with the natural and intrinsic order for the purpose of living more fully our life as a family.

Today, a half-acre garden is thriving where we once stood in a tangle of trees and brush. It is a place of healing and hope. Ultimately, it’s a place to grow humility. However, when I arrogantly sow seeds, I am always awed by the increase and growth, which is the evident work of a master craftsman far above me.

Stewardship of creation begins in your home and yard. You do not have to own an acreage to start a community- supported agriculture venture.

Maybe it’s as simple as sharing space for a garden with neighbors, or building a mutual composting spot on your cul-de-sac. You could raise rabbits for meat, or petition your city to allow hens in the backyard. It might start with changing your detergent so as to safeguard the micro-organisms that process our sewage waste.

Consider how our precious resource of water is something we cannot own individually. It wends where it wills. The chemicals we use on our lawn will end up in the watersheds down the road and in the wells of our neighbors.

Taking care of the earth is something everyone is born to do. It was one of the first tasks our heavenly Father gave us. It is something we share with everybody, no matter our religious, racial or class difference. It is work that fills the heart.

Dowell farms with her husband, Shane, at Little Flower Farm near Scandia, and worships at St. Peter in Forest Lake, and St. Mary and St. Michael in Stillwater.

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