Sunday, June 23, 2013

A New Website

Hello Everyone,

For the past five years I have been faithfully blogging about life on the land and a dream of a New Catholic Land Movement. I would like to announce that the dream is slowly becoming a reality. We are well on our way to establishing the NCLM as a non-profit, and we now have a new website up and running. Not everything is in place yet, but I wanted to share it with you. Thank you for coming along with me on this journey. From now on I will be blogging at the new website. The entire archive from this blog has been moved over there along with all comments. Hope you enjoy.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tradition and Community

Over the past fifty years, rural life has seen a constant and steady decline. In my own hometown the signs of this are evident everywhere. This little dot on the map has never boasted a post office or a train station. (The Tracks went through the dying town to our South.) However, it has always boasted a large and towering steeple with a bell that could draw in the people from miles away on Sunday mornings to offer right worship to our Heavenly Father. The economic aspects (grocery store, locker, and gas station are gone), and only the bar remains. This seems to be a common story for these little towns. All that is left if the Church and the bar competing for men's hearts. Typically it is alcohol that is winning the battle. What remains for little towns like this in the future. Shall they all end up empty and someday plowed over in the ever-increasing grasping for land to produce commodity crops?! I hope not, and I hope to offer a remedy in our own town for this constand downward spiral.

It was small-scale (highly subsistence) agriculture upon which our country, and indeed every great country was built upon.  This steady life produce faithful, healthy, good people, but today these are mostly an endangered species. Today the farmer is too often just a business man in a different outfit. His office is on wheels, but the end result is the same in both rural and urban settings. It is my hope to bring other families to our little corner of the world, but I am not ignorant of the inherent difficulties in doing so. I am not ignorant of the crushing debt and crushing ignorance of all things rural that most people today walk around with. Yet, if by God's grace these obstacles can be overcome then a return to the rural traditions that once made this dot on the map vibrant will be made possible.

At one time the local parish Church and the local community were one. Now it seems as much that the local community focal point is not the Church, but rather the bar. I think though that as Pope Benedict once state, it may be time to form an alternative community. We need and environment where the Catholic faith can thrive, and the modern worldly, sensual, materialistic paradigm does not accomodate this. So it is that we must not be isolated families on the land, but rather groupings of people sharing life together and forming our own distinct traditions. At one time there were fall festivals, butcherings, barn raisings, and all sorts of gatherings the formed and bound togethe small communities. Yes, they shared the faith, but they also shared everyday life. The loved one another and they proved it with their actions. As Agriculture became more solitary and expensive these activities disappeared one by one. However, it is not for us to go about reviving every lost tradition in rural communities. For a community to be vibrant it must form its own traditions. These must be based on some purpose and need of the area. This cannot be forced, and community is not something that we can grasp at. Such always leads to brokenness. We must allow community to form itself, but that happens through our openness to one another, and our living out of a common life near one another. Then we shall see again an integration of life. The community shall again be strong, and people who want to be on the land will help one another to get through the various struggles of getting their bread from the earth. It is a hope that can be realized anywhere that a few families of like mind and heart live in proximity. It is my hope that soon we shall have this here in our dot on the map.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Community Incarnated

For the past several years I have been writing on here about the desire for community. It is an interior desire that is shared by all people, but especially by young Catholics of our generation. We have grown up without community for the most part. Many of us have attended Catholic colleges and gotten a taste for what life would be like amongst like-minded folks. Yet, when we left the cafeterias and dormitories of our alma mater then we were thrown into the modern whirlpool of the mess that we now call modern "civilization." Here we often found ourselves far from others of like mind. We often felt trapped by a mountain of debt from the same alma mater we left, and alienated from civilization because we plan to overtake the world by practing our faith unashamedly. Well, yesterday, here on our Fiat Farm we truly lived out community.

Yesterday, five men got together to put up a greenhouse. I suppose it was not unlike the many barn raisings that once happened in this same country. My hands are still stained dark from the grease used to put swedged ends together, they ache from two days of sledge hammer use, and they are covered with knicks and cuts from various things. Yet, in my heart is a feeling of deep satisfaction. Amongst our rag-tag crew were my brother-in-law, two friends who also desire the farm life, and our 70+ year old landlord who happened to have come in from New Mexico and wanted to get his hands dirty. I hope I can work like him at his age. My two friends both have children and our home was bustling with the activity of children and mothers busily taking care of things. It was a beautiful sight to behold, and one that it is unlikely to have happened here since 1958 when the last of the buildings on this farmstead were constructed. Even then, most of that building was probably put up by machinery with little help from neighbors. However, the rest of the barns and outbuildings were built in the 20's and 30's. I imagine quite a few participated in these raisings at the time.

My landlord has told me stories about get togethers on Sunday afternoons at this farm. It was common for a large group of families to gather here for social time and and football games in the front yard. I hope someday that again we will see such gatherings on lazy Sunday afternoons, along with more gatherings for barn raisings and such.

We did most all of our work yesterday by hand. We did use elecricity for an air compressor and cut-off tool, but mostly we just worked. I have thought of the impact of machinery on such get-togethers. When suddenly a tractor could replace 10 men then it wasn't necessary to have a raising any longer. Now, with the lack of community these machines are often necessary, but they created their own need. They have become an idol that have created their own worship. But I digress....

It was beautiful to see a crew of men working together on the land here in St. Leo, KS. It is beautiful to think that possibly someday we will have such a group living in the area. It will be a slow process, but it is beautiful. We didn't finish the greenhouse. Sometimes it is slow going with such building, but we did the most difficult parts together. Now, my brother-in-law and I will be able to finish it without too much trouble. I hope this is just the first of many such gatherings and a foretaste of future community.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

Longing for the Land

[This is Casey again . . .]

It has been a while since I have last written, but God has kept me pretty busy lately. I have been working at finishing up the year, teaching high school theology, preparing to move to the farm, and just over a month ago, my wife gave birth to our first child (on earth), Miriam! God has allowed me to get enough of my work done today to take a slight break and write a quick blog post. I just wanted to check in describe my excitement for turning my podium into a "plowshare" and lesson plans into "pruning hooks."

Too often this past year, I have taught all day only to come home and work on the next day's lesson for most of the evening, taking a break for dinner. For anyone who has ever taught, you can probably remember the first year you taught a new subject and all the extra work that you put in. This year I taught one entirely new subject and another partly new subject, all while taking on an extra section (and so losing a prep period--but getting much-needed monetary compensation for teaching the extra class, thanks be to God). My wife can attest that I've tried and tried to figure out a way to speed up the lesson planning process, and many times I've been successful, but the evening-consuming lesson plans have still come too often. I've felt like I've been failing in my duty as a husband to be present with my wife. Lesson planning is one thing for which I definitely won't have a nostolgia. When I visited the farm last year, I loved how we put in a good day's work and called it a night--allowing for us to really be present to our families in the evening. I long to have that again.

Six weeks from tomorrow, our family (assisted by a couple of close friends) will venture from Austin, TX, where God has placed us for the past two years, 10 hours north to St. Leo, KS.

Every time I tell someone about our move, the excitement builds. Just today, I was talking with the mother of one of my students, and the zeal for the life on the land just welled up in me. Praise God for this opportunity and for all His blessings! If you are thinking about making the move onto the land, stay close to Our Lord, and open to His will--let Him direct you. If He wants you there, He will make it happen. One thing you can do is to contact Kevin, and let him know. He's trying to gather lists of people who have farms and people who want to farm, so that the Catholic Land Movement can eventually work as a resource to connect them.

In Christ,

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Moving Forward with a New Catholic Land Movement

Despite my recent lack of posting on here I would like to assure all of the followers and supporters of the New Catholic Land Movement that we have things in the works. It has now been over five years since I set off on this journey back to the land. I've been writing here for over four. Now, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are seeing these ideas and hopes and dreams come to fruition. We are working toward building real Catholic community here on the plains of KS. We are working toward making the NCLM a non-profit so that we can apply for grants and hopefully get the money needed to truly assist families in getting back to the land. In the future we hope to be able to train several families at a time and provide them with a wage, housing, and food. We'll see what God does with all of this.

Our once fledgling farm is growing by leaps and bounds as we introduce a new family to the farming life this year. My brother-in-law is also working for us this season. The weather is wet and cold, and it is quite a change from last year. I have gathered a group of fellow men who want to pursue and promote the Catholic rural ideal. Hopefully in time we will have a network of Catholic farms across the country. If you are a Catholic farmer and would like to be on a list of NCLM farms then please contact me with your contact info. We are working on a new website, and this old blog will then be put in the archives. I have hope for the future of the NCLM. A conversation with one of the men mentioned above this morning reinvigorated my desire to write here and keep the dream alive. We will be looking for supporters of many kinds in the near future (spiritual, financial, agricultural). Please contact me if you'd like to support us in this. I receive several emails a week from people who want to farm, but can't figure out how to get on the land. The NCLM can be that link.

So please note that while I am absent on here, there is much going on. You try to have energy to blog after planting 14,000 onion plants! :) I hope to be on here more again. Keep up your prayers for the success of our endeavors.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Farmers and Rural Life

The other night an older farmer (He no longer farms but leases it out to another) stopped by for a conversation. He had some interesting things to say about the communities in our area, and why they, like so many others, have shriveled so badly over the past forty years. He made the comment that in a conversation with a local minister in one of the towns that has suffered the most from population loss he gained a valuable insight. The minister, having spent many decades in our area, mentioned that the people from his town suffered greatly from guilt. What he meant was that the people felt terrible guilt that they had not been able to build up a robust livelihood on the land when their parents and grandparents had. They had almost all witnessed their children abandon the rural life and flee to the cities. The pride that once was so clear in all these rural communities was gone...and so were many of the people.

I can say that I never really intended to become a farmer either. If my father had taken on the family farm before I was born then it is likely I never would have become a farmer. My grandfather owned 400 acres of sandy ground on which he raised cattle, pigs, corn, and wheat. They raised a garden and butchered all their own meat. Most of the food for the family was produced within walking distance of their farmhouse. However, that is no longer the reality on farms, and had my father taken over the farm then it probably wouldn't have remained the reality there either. During the 1970's farmers were encouraged to get big or get out. My grandfather was at the end of an era of family-sized diversified farms. My father would have had to cut the diversification and grow to a much larger mono-culture type farm in order to keep up with the times. Had I witnessed this it is likely I would have eschewed farming and found a life far away in the city. However, God's goodness brought me to the land in a different way. It was interesting to hear the farmer I was speaking with accuse the "Big" farmers in our area of destroying the communities. He said it was no wonder there are no families left out here anymore. Now they farm the same amount of land that would have supported fifty or one-hundred families only half a decade ago.

I am currently working my way through Will Allen's book: "The Good Food Revolution." It is a great read, but I was caught by a quote of his this evening. He writes: "If we are to make farming a profession that young people want to enter, we need to create new models for growing and distributing food that are emotionally satisfying. We have to be guided by the principle that small is beautiful." p. 185  To put this in context, Will had been writing about the fact that one hundred years ago farmers were the profession least likely to commit suicide. Now they commit suicide at a rate twice the national average. They are near the very top. The reality of modern farming is that it is very difficult to make a living no matter what kind of farming you are doing: organic, conventional, meat, grains, vegetables, etc. However, often times farmers no longer have any joy in what they do. They are creating food for people's tables. They are making a profit for a commodity "product." Sounds exciting doesn't it. A friend of mine who works on farm equipment told me that one of the main complaints they get from the big farmers is that they can't stay awake in the tractor cab. Steering is often now GPS controlled. Man has become the slave of the machine-centered system. It is a whole to slave class or sharecropping class where only the commodity players like Monsanto or Arthur Daniels Midland really make any money. There has to be a better way.

I dream of our little community on the plains having enough families to start a small Catholic Academy. I hope for a day when we can go for visits on Sundays to other like-minded Catholic's homes. I pray for a day when many farmers would be located on a section of land earning bread by the sweat of their brow. It's hard to have sweat on the brow in an air-conditioned cab. I know my grandpa's tractors certainly had nothing of the sort. I hope for an agricultural culture again to thrive in rural places. I don't know what it will take to get to that point, but it's worth hoping for.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Amish and What We Can Learn From Them

A few weeks ago my wife and I sat down and watched: "The Amish." A documentary about Amish life which can be view on PBS' website. It was enlightening and gave me many things to think about.

Why do so many people today hold the Amish in such high regard? Why do Amish communities receive 20 million tourists per year? The answer is simple: people desire the peace, community, and security they perceive in the Amish. We moderns are desperately disillusioned by the rapid pace of life and constant increase in technology in our lives. Yet, with all these advances we have not found peace. Our communities have been ravaged and destroyed, often as a direct consequence of the technologies once greatly lauded. The Amish are an example of a society that sees no difference between religion and culture. They are one in the same for the Amish.

Christendom was also similar to this model where society and culture were intimately bound together. Faith penetrated every corner of politics, economics, art, architecture, and community. Religion and culture were the same thing. I think today many envy the Amish because they have a situation that has allowed them to integrate their faith into their own culture. However, the Amish are not perfect. Because of this intimate itegration, and ultimately a lack of authentic authority, differences often arise that cause splits in various groups. Amongst the Amish it is the Ordnung that states what can and can't be done in a community. These rules are prayed on and decided regularly for the good of the community. I guess the question many of us have is whether something like this could be imitated in a Catholic manner?

The one aspect of Amish society that sets them apart from everyone else in the modern world is their stance on technology. This stance is often misunderstood, but ultimately it is based on a very simple principle. If a technology will harm the community then it won't be allowed. This is very different from our modern view that any new technology is good no matter what the cost. They have managed through this micro-mananging of technology to create a sphere wherein it is easier to be good. A culture that is carefully guided and guarded has developed because technologies that are harmful to families and community life have been forbidden. In a sense, this allows the Amish to truly be in but not of the world. They are able to interact with the world, but also keep the values of the world at arm's length. Thus, as we struggle to stop the insinuation of modernity into our own homes, they have simply said: "No thank you."

This use of certain technologies and shunning of others makes life very transparent. There is no hiding behind Facebook posts and text messages. The reality is that we have lost most of our transparency, and we far too often hardly know our neighbor. We have no community, but we desire it more than we desire almost anything else. The Amish have community for precisely the reasons we lack it. They have made the Church the most important social unit. While this at times leads to friction, it also offers a sort of glue. The Church guides the people's use of technology, and protect the people from the ways of the world. Every technological decision is based on the good of the soul. We too often lose the sense that we are just pilgrims passing through.

As Catholics we greatly value freedom, but we also value responsibility. If a group of Catholics were to live near one another and choose to deliberately forego technologies that were harmful to their growth as a community, then I believe true community would be formed out of the seed of necessity. It has become too easy for us to avoid a face to face real life interaction. The Amish must visit their neighbors if they want to maintain relationships. We don't even have to hear the other person's voice over the phone any longer. We can send a text message that completely eliminates any human interaction.

The difficulty of changing technological habits is the lack of community. We have a catch 22 on our hands. To implement such difficult changes one needs community, but it is almost impossible to build community until such changes are made. I sit here at a computer writing this message. I hope and pray for the day that I will live in a Catholic village that has deliberately chosen to live differently than the world. Now we are isolated on the KS prairies. Maybe someday we will have many neighbors and the need for such technologies will be lessened or eliminated. I am hopeful that God will work this out in time. We have a universal longing for communion with others, and the false gods of technology and progress have worked to undermine this desire. Real community has been replaced by virtual chat rooms and Facebook. These things have their merits, but mostly because they are as close as we can now get to connecting with people.

So, why do people long to live like the Amish: Communion. We as Catholics understand that the faith is meant for more than an hour on Sunday. Our Faith is a Communing with the Most Holy Trinity and we desire to live out that faith in close relationship with others. The Amish share their Christian faith with one another daily. They live a simple life of hard work. Their life is not complicated, but nor is it easy. Their simple life can be imitated to some extent by Catholics returning to the land, but steering away from certain cultural peculiarities carried on by the Amish. Having certain technologies is not necessarily bad, but each one carries with it a load of consequences(many unintended). Technology is value-laden and it changes our lives, families, and communities. When we look carefully at each technology, then we can build a Catholic culture where faith will thrive and the family and community are central.

I will end with a story that was told on the documentary we watched: An Amish man got onto a bus of tourists to answer questions from the tourists. One question asked was: "What makes you different from us?" This is a simple question, but the Amish man gave a brilliant but clear answer. He asked the crowd: "How many of you own a television?" All of the hands on the bus went up. He then asked: "How many of you think you would be better off without the television?" Almost all of the hands remained up. He then asked his final  question: "Now how many of you are going to go home and throw your television in the garbage?" No hands went up. He simply said: "That's the difference between you and us."