Joanna Hoyt

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since Feb 26, 2015
I was a homeschooler and am a full-time volunteer on a small farm/intentional community trying to live an alternative to the consumer culture. We tend gardens, goats, pigs, chickens and rabbits to produce food for ourselves and extra to give to a soup kitchen and other neighbors. Most of our acreage is wooded; we heat with wood and saw out lumber to use and sell. I want to learn more about feeding livestock cheaply and sustainably without buying either commercial premixes or large numbers of very expensive certified organic materials. We've figured that out for our rabbits, not yet for the others.
Upstate New York, USA--zone 4/5
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St. Francis Farm Community in Orwell, NY (between Lake Ontario and the Tug Hill, 6 hours and a world away from NYC, zone 4/5) is looking for new people to share in our life and work.

St. Francis Farm is an intentional community in the Catholic Worker tradition, a sustainable farm, and an all-volunteer charitable nonprofit organization on 180 acres of mostly wooded land in Orwell, NY.  We live an alternative to the consumer culture grounded in care for the land, in attentive presence to neighbors and guests, and in faithfulness to that which unites all living creatures. We’re looking for new community members to help us grow food, welcome guests, and help neighbors.   We’re working our way into living on a subsistence/gift economics basis rather than a market basis. For more information see  or keep on reading.

The history:
In 1976 Fr. Ray McVey established St. Francis Farm as a Catholic Worker community.  (Since the 1930s the Catholic Worker has brought people of various faiths together to live in prayerful community, offer practical help and personal connection to people in need, practice alternative economics and regenerative agriculture, and generally, as Peter Maurin said, “build a new society within the shell of the old.”) Over the last four and a half decades St. Francis Farm has hosted a shelter for women, a medical clinic, a knitting cooperative, service-learning groups repairing neighbors’ homes, and many other forms of community outreach shaped by the needs of neighbors and the abilities of core members.  There have usually been hayfields and a garden. When the three of us who live here now arrived in 2001 we began raising more of our own food, shared fresh produce with neighbors, and helped people learn low-cost sustainable farming.  This seemed especially important to us as we hosted migrant workers injured on nearby commercial farms.  The land has provided food, meaningful work, and a beautiful space to share with kids coming for mentoring, elders coming for visits, and volunteers coming to live an alternative to the consumer culture. Now one member in her upper sixties is retiring and another (younger) member is moving away to start a small business.  They’ll be leaving in the next year or two.  I am hoping to find people to share the life and work here.

The land and how we’re using it:

We have at least 110 acres of forested land (the tax maps, the plan drawn up by a forester, and the online planimeters all give slightly different acreages), mostly hardwood (some of it ash which is now dying due to emerald ash borers), hilly, with small streams and ponds.  We have perhaps 40 acres of hayfields.  There is also a large vegetable garden, various small herb and flower gardens, a feral apple orchard (with a few younger trees which were still amenable to pruning when we arrived and which we have been pruning since then), and four small pastures for our goats.  Buildings include an old dairy barn converted to a large human habitation (where we live year-round), an old farmhouse open only during the growing season (now mostly for WWOOFers/guests), a post-and-beam barn for livestock/hay/woodworking equipment/etc, a greenhouse, a sugar house, a mushroom shelter, a tool shed, and a wellhouse/root cellar.
The woods includes nature trails open to neighbors and guests.  We heat the building in winter and the hot water in summer with firewood.  We saw out lumber on a small scale for our own projects and for selling to neighbors. We also tap the maple trees nearest the buildings and do a little sugaring.
We grow vegetables for our own use (all our summer vegetables and most but not all of what we use in winter) and we give away extras to whoever can use them—lately we’ve been delivering a fair bit of produce to the senior housing complex in the nearest town.  We don’t sell food.  We have egg chickens, dairy goats, and meat rabbits, and we also raise feeder pigs over the growing season.  Sometimes neighbors keep bees on our land. We’re moving toward natural feeding based on what grows on our property, but we’re far from pure. Our soil is quite rocky.
       More info at
The land would have the potential to support many other projects if there were people here with the time, energy, skills and focus to carry those projects out.

The vision:
St. Francis Farm is an intentional community where people from varied backgrounds come together to live an alternative to the consumer culture and to cultivate communion. Our life is rooted in care for the land, in presence to other people, and in faithfulness to that which unites all living creatures. We work with our minds, bodies, and souls. We attentively enjoy and sustainably use the land. We offer prayerful presence and practical assistance to fellow community members, guests, and neighbors.  Help and presence are freely given and freely received, not bought and sold.
We seek to create a space that is uncluttered, intentional, inclusive, and safe.  We invite people to take time for reflection and prayer, to share their skills and their stories, and to learn from and listen to others.  

What do we mean by “living an alternative to the consumer culture”?
The consumer culture isolates us from awareness of the consequences of our consumption.  St. Francis Farm Community cultivates awareness of where the things we use come from, how they are disposed of, and how this affects other people and the living world. We do some of our own subsistence work in a way that is sustainable and health-giving for us, rather than relying entirely on the invisible and often exploited labor of people at a distance. We work to reduce our wastes and our reliance on purchased inputs. We live by direct labor and by gifts given and received more than by exchange.
The consumer culture insinuates that we can’t be happy or worthy until we have more.  St. Francis Farm Community cultivates frugality and gratitude for what we already have.  We work with what the land provides and we use free and recycled resources. We invite neighbors and guests to consider what they could do with what has been freely given to them.
The consumer culture urges us to rank ourselves and other people competitively, and to project an impressive self-image.  St. Francis Farm Community cultivates honesty, solidarity, and respect.  We acknowledge our brokenness and are considerate of the brokenness of our neighbors.  We acknowledge our gifts and draw out the gifts of our neighbors. We know that we all need one another, and that we all have something to contribute.
The consumer culture encourages us to stay busy, to fill our lives with strivings and distractions.  St. Francis Farm Community cultivates rest and reflection.  We keep a day of rest. We take time to savor the beauty of the natural world, to be truly present to our neighbors, and to listen to the still small voice within.

What do we mean by “cultivating communion?”

We may come from different faith traditions, or may claim none. We affirm that every living being is sacred and has intrinsic value independent of its usefulness to us, and that, however different our identities, backgrounds and opinions may be, we are all connected at the root.
We commit ourselves to step back from distractions and prestige-seeking, to make peace in our own divided hearts, and to listen for the still small voice within.  
We commit ourselves to pay attention to the sacredness, the pains, and the gifts of people who may be very different from ourselves; to treat each other’s wounds with tenderness, offering a listening presence and practical assistance; to confess our brokenness and ask for help; to share our gifts and create a space where others can readily offer their gifts.
We commit ourselves to tend the land in a way that builds rather than destroying soil, to use the fields and forests attentively and sustainably, and to notice and enjoy things which are not, in any obvious sense, “useful.”

What we need/seek in new members:

We welcome people of all ages and abilities for day visits and volunteer projects.  Core Members, who live and work at the farm long-term, must be sober, able and willing to help with physical work, and able and willing to communicate and resolve differences peaceably in community.  Directors, who provide oversight, support, and accountability for the farm’s work, must be over 18 years old as well as being able and willing to communicate and resolve differences peaceably in community.
Core Members share living space, work, prayer, and responsibility for the community and for each other.  We take time daily for communal prayer/meditation. We listen to each other’s struggles, questions, hopes, and learnings. We make decisions after thorough discussion and prayerful discernment. When difficulties arise we acknowledge them honestly and work on them with all the clarity and patience of which we are capable. Major decisions are made in consultation with the Board of Directors.
Core Members work together and use the land’s resources sustainably to provide for their own needs and the needs of neighbors. Food and firewood are grown and harvested on the farm.  The farm’s income purchases basic food; pays for electricity, repairs, and other occupancy expenses for the buildings where Core Members live and where visitors are welcomed; and maintains a vehicle for the working use of the Core Members.  Core Members are responsible for their own health insurance (New York State has generous Medicaid coverage) and for other personal needs.  This is not a commune where people turn the resources they bring with them over to the community. Members’ resources remain their own.  Members who spend large parts of their days doing paid work not directly linked to the community’s work may be asked to contribute part of their income to help maintain the community.  

Core Members need to do manual labor to maintain the farm and buildings.  Here are some of the skills that help keep the farm running (we’re able to teach all these). Skills marked with asterisks are especially urgently sought because the community member who has them is planning to leave in the next year or two.
*Forestry and chain saw operation; selecting and felling trees for firewood
*Building construction and maintenance (carpentry, plumbing, wiring, roofing...)
*Boiler, vehicle, and machinery repair
*Tractor operation and haymaking
Planting, transplanting, thinning, weeding, watering and harvesting vegetables
Animal care—raising/identifying and harvesting homegrown feeds; milking; mucking; fence repair; butchering; basic animal health care
Food preservation--canning, drying, freezing (and pickling if you know how; we don’t)
Bonus skills—the farm will run without them, but they help us make good use of the land and equipment: selecting and felling trees for lumber, operating a band saw mill, welding.

Core Members offer their presence and practical assistance to neighbors and guests free of charge. Forms of assistance vary depending on the gifts and callings of community members. They often include help with repairs and practical tasks, sharing of food, and listening. More specialized skills could be well used. Counselors, tutors, advocates, dance callers, community organizers and more could all find scope for work.
We want St. Francis Farm to be a safe and welcoming place where everyone is able to ask for help, learn skills, share gifts, and be heard. We respect other people, including those who are very different from ourselves. We do not insult other people, and we do not proselytize.
We want St. Francis Farm to be a place where Core Members, guests, and neighbors can experience community, friendship, listening, and closeness without the complications that can come from unwanted sexual advances or from people’s conflicting senses of sexual ethics. For these reasons St. Francis Farm is not a place for casual sexual encounters outside a long-term committed relationship.
We want St. Francis Farm to be a safe place for Core Members, guests, or neighbors who are recovering from addiction. We encourage people to slow down and experience the richness in the natural world, in their fellow human beings, and in themselves without mind-altering substances.  

The legal structure:
In 2003 St. Francis Farm officially became a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. We have a Board of Directors.   Day-to-day decisions are made by Core Members who live and work at the farm, but the final responsibility for the organization and the property rests with the Board. For more about how the structure works, see

The timeframe:

I’m hoping to start conversations with prospective new community members as soon as may be.  Visits to the farm should begin in May when the weather is reliably cooperative and the Board will have finished working out the stages by which new members can join.

The person posting this:
I’m Joanna, the person who intends to stay here at the farm long-term if this turns out to be possible.  I’m a 38-year-old farmer, writer, and (I think) fairly openminded Christian Quaker.

The end:

Congratulations to anyone who’s read this far. Please let me know if you have any questions.
Some details not covered here can be found on our Foundation for Intentional Community listing,
I tried to include pictures but they wouldn't load. Our site and the FIC listing do include a fair number of photos.

8 months ago
I have a nearly 16-year-old asparagus bed which is, to all outward appearances, thriving.  But Rodales publications and Extension websites say that asparagus beds can last 10-20 yeas,or up to 20 years.  That's all they say about it--I don't see anything about whether they fade out slowly, or stop producing suddenly, or whether there is any way to renew them. I'm trying to figure out whether I need to start a new asparagus bed in another part of the garden. If any of you have grown asparagus over a long period of time I'd be glad to hear about your experiences.

Background info: In 2002 I planted 25 crowns of asparagus--I think they were Jersey Knight, but in the confusion of our first year on the land I mislaid the records--in a 50-foot-long trench in the middle of my garden. (The native soil here is basically sand and stone; we've been pouring compost into the garden for the last sixteen years.)  Production ramped up slowly and seems to have held about level for the last ten=plus years, with some fluctuations which I ascribed to weather. We're running drup irrigation on it (I just learned this winter that I should stop watering in September. Oh well...) In fall I cut and remove the ferns (because we have a lot of asparagus beetles) and put on 1-2" of compost (which stays there) and another 6"or so of hay and/or leaves (which come off in spring.) I've seen no signs of disease, though the beetles are persistent. I also side-dress with compost after the harvest ends in late June or early July.

(In case this doesn't just appear in my signature, I am in zone 4/5, upstate NY near Lake Ontario, where the weather fluctuations,both of moisture and temperature, are extreme and getting more so.)
2 years ago
I'm trying to start sweet potato slips for the first time--hoping to grow some roots for me to eat and lots of vine for my rabbits to eat (I'm in zone 5, upstate NY).

I have one sweet potato half in water and another in soil which have sprouted. The water-sprouted potato has had sprouts for 3 weeks or so; they leaves are a nice lush green but they're very slow growing--the longest sprout is about 4 in.long with 5 leaves, most are shorter. (The air temp is around 60, which I know is cooler than optimal; started these in a warm place over the fridge but moved them for more light when the leaves came out.) White roots are growing, not out of the sprouts, but out of the lower end of the potato which is in the water. I've seen articles saying to twist shoots off at 5-6" long at which point some of them will have roots...I do see little raised nodes on the underside of some stems and I don't know if those would root if put in soil or water.

Should I wait and see if the sprouts grow longer? Should I plant the whole sprouted half in a chunk so as not to lose the roots? Twist the shoots off anyway and maybe plant the rooted spud end separately? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
3 years ago
Last time we raised hatchery chicks we didn't use a heat lamp. We did keep the brooder box indoors, where the temps were probably in the 60s. During the day we put a milk jug filled with hot water from the tap into the brooder box, and we hung fleece flaps over it so they could snuggle between the fleece and the water-bottle. At night we put in a smaller cardboard box, insulated with mylar and fleece, with an insulated central compartment holding a metal maple-syrup tin which we filled with boiling water before going to bed. Heat-wise this worked fine; the chicks feathered out fast and were ready to move outside (it was APril in upstate NY--nights got below freezing) at 3 weeks old. (We still gave them a hot-water bottle at night for a while.) Our big mistake was leaving the inner corners square--two chicks got squashed into sharp corners and died. After we rounded the corners we stopped losing chicks.
3 years ago
We also grow wheatgrass without soil and feed it roots and all, but we don't dry it out for a day before feeding--we feed it fairly moist, and our rabbits haven't had diarrhea yet. (We do check it carefully for mold.) They do have free-choice hay, and they get some dried willow as well, and this seems to keep them in balance.
We've also read that they will become sick if fed root vegetables as anything more than an occasional treat, but that hasn't been true for our rabbits--we've had a healthy rabbitry except for one young buck who developed a hernia.
4 years ago
We don't pasture our goats where the multiflora rose is (because it grows far from the house and in brushy areas that would be hard to fence), but we do feed our goats the multiflora rose bushes that we whack out of the hayfields; it helps keep them worm-free, and I feel a bit less peevish about rose removal if I know it can be used for something. They seem quite eager to eat it.
We're starting our third year raising rabbits (NZ White/ Silver Fox meat mutts). We bought pellet-fed rabbits and transitioned them to alternative feeds over the course of the first summer.

During the winter we feed them on hay, sprouted wheat, and carrots or cooked potatoes, with some dried willow as a supplement, especially for those who are still growing; stock who were still growing through the winter got some oats as well. During the summer they get a mix of wild plants (willow, apple and sumac branches, raspberry and blackberry canes, dandelions, plantain (Plantago spp. not the banana lookalikes), prickly lettuce, grass, clovers etc..., garden plants (kale, lettuce, oat greens, chicory, buckwheat stems/leaves, radish and carrot tops, turnip and carrot roots, tips of pea vines...) Everyone gets hay, and lactating mothers and grow-out kits get some oats (and sunflower seeds for the milking moms). It seems to be working well. It does take us 12-14 wks to get kits to butcher weight but we can deal with that.

We don't pasture our rabbits, unlike all our other critters--they're in wire cages off the ground; we've been concerned about coccidia. has a lot of excellent information on natural feeding. (And a lot of disagreement, but it stays very civil.)

4 years ago
Thank you, Bryant and everyone! Good to know the bone meal isn't making things worse. I've used kelp and fish emulsion as foliar sprays but not as soil amendments (purchased, in both cases--we're at least six hours from the ocean.) Will think more about that. I've dusted DE on eggplant leaves to try and deter beetles (it sometimes sort of works), but hadn't thought to use it to reduce humidity around plants. Not sure if that would be enough if we have another of the warm and very wet summers we've been having, but I will definitely give it a try.
4 years ago
Several years ago I read that phosphorus leached out of compost piles and garden soil more readily than K or N, and I began adding bone meal to the garden beds in which I grew potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. I did notice an increase in yield in the potatoes.More recently I've been reading about the ways in which the addition of artificial NPK can inhibit mycorrhizal growth, thus making plants weaker and more disease-susceptible. I am wondering whether bone meal, which is organically derived but is also highly concentrated, would be likely to have similar anti-mycorrhizal effects; wondering too, though with less concern, about our other principal P course, the droppings from our rabbits. Any thoughts?

Background info: I live in rural upstate NY. I've been gardening organically as well as raising goats, chickens and pigs in the same location for 15 years. The native soil here is very sandy and stony, with clay a few feet down. The garden has always had permanent beds; they've been low-till since 2008, and since then we've seen that nothing is left bare--we cover crop what we can, mulch the rest. Over time our insect problems have gotten better (the potato beetles are gone, the tomato hornworms are very few, we haven't seen so many flea beetles since we stopped panting tatsoi outdoors.) But we're still struggling with plant diseases, especially on our tomatoes (early blight, sometimes gray mold, sometimes blossom drop whose cause I am not clear on, even before the late blight comes through before frost and wipes out our the time that happens we're usually seeing a lot of surrounding area blight reports), and squash (powdery mildew). Beds are amended with hot-made compost (kitchen scraps, weeds, hay and manure from the goat stalls) as well as cover crops/mulch, aged sawdust (mixed, mostly hardwood), fresh rabbit manure, comfrey leaves (a recent addition) and bone meal.
4 years ago
We don't have a longer term plan yet...we're still in the trying things and seeing what works stage. Most of our compost is still being managed conventionally, in pallet bins by our garden, without animals turning it, though I turn it every other week. We put in weeds from our vegetable garden, vegetable trimmings, food waste, goat bedding (possibly more or less C:N balanced as they're kept on hay) and chicken manure...we were also adding rabbit manure before we smartened up and realized that could go straight on the garden without composting. We aren't scientific about layering or C:N ratios, but in summer the pile gets quite hot and at all seasons it's quite wormy. For the chicken compost pile we dumped in a combination of bedding from their brooder box, fresh food scraps, finished compost (a small amount) and wormy compost (mostly goat bedding partly broken down; a lot.) When we feed bones or scrap meat that goes on the compost pile too. The chicks do a fair bit of scratching, but they're still rather small, so if I throw in large chunks of wormy bedding I have to break them up with a hoe so the chicks can get at them better...I hope they'll get better at digging/turning as they grow. I don't know if the pile in their yard will actually compost or if they'll scatter it out too much.. We have enough extra compost material so it doesn't matter if what we're putting in for them doesn't make up.

I look forward to reading about your mob grazing once you get it set up. We were never as deliberate as you about pasture--we do try to manage grazing to keep it at an optimal level, but we haven't tilled or seeded.
5 years ago