In Praise of Garlic

Sunday’s garlic planting was benediction of drizzle and falling sassafras leaves. It was a benediction of soil under fingernails, mud caked on boots, and the sweet smell of damp earth. It was a benediction of conversation, companionship and camaraderie.

My eight-year old son and his friend, Felix, sat by the fire in the living room and worked their way through a basket of garlic, breaking each head into cloves, filling the large silver bowl before bringing it outside. If that sounds idyllic, please know we had required him to help. Though he found some joy in it on his own, telling me later that night: “I liked doing that with Felix because we were talking and didn’t even notice we were working.”

“Exactly!” I said. “That’s why I love working together.”

In our jewel-toned raincoats and knee-high rubber boots, we straddled wide rows of raked soil and made holes, six-inches apart, four inches deep. We save the biggest heads of garlic from our harvest in July and plant them in October.

This is our fifth year planting garlic, and my love for this plant continues to grow. I love that you plant garlic in the fall, when nothing else needs planted. I love that it requires the cold of winter to sprout. Most of all, I love that each clove will transform itself into a whole head of garlic. It’s a generous plant, as all plants are, creating an abundance of seed that multiplies with each replanting. Garlic offers the lesson that if we take care with what we plant, it will multiply and grow.

A Light In the Woods: A Short Story

Canticle of the Sun by Sarah Fuller

By Laura Lasuertmer

The story begins at the maple tree, the one that glows yellow beside the subtle silver of the cedar. It begins deep in the ground where the roots have spread as wide as the Mississippi at Lake Pepin. It begins where these wandering roots hit a shelf of rock and turn, traveling until a crack opens and lets them in. It’s dark and moist down there, and on that cratered surface, after a deep soak of rain, the water pools. It pools between clay that cannot absorb it and limestone that will, eventually, dissolve and let it through.

Why the story begins here—with the worms and the centipedes, the crisp and fragile shells of cicadas, with the white matted weave of mycelium, with ants and termites and spiders donning eggs sacks—is not yet evident. But we can be sure that in time we will find out why.
It was Monday. It was springtime, we know, but whether it was April or May, we can’t be certain. We do know that the daffodils had already bloomed and vanished. We know that the peony buds were pregnant with petals and beginning to ooze such sweetness that the ants were already feasting. We know that it was the season in which the morel mushrooms, with their gentle conical tops, began emerging with intention out of the soil.

On this particular Monday, in a trailer at the end of a gravel road, on a ridge in the hilly woods of Southern Indiana, an old man began his day by writing a letter. He sat down at his desk, opened the window and lifted the screen out of the way. The day was wet and foggy, and it reminded him of that time he slept in a hammock on the upper deck of a cargo boat floating down the Ucayali River in Peru. It was the green of the trees this morning, the excess moisture visible in the air, the sense that the forest was breathing as we do on a cold day when we open our mouths and a steamy white vapor rolls out.

Dear Nadine,

I floated somewhere between dream and consciousness this morning. You were a young woman of twenty-five, and I was as old as I am now. Your skin, my dear, fit perfectly around your bones. You led me up a steep hill and made love to me on our red and yellow flannel blanket. You know, the one we always kept in the car? Then you were gone. Before you left you reminded me of something, which I now forget. Please do let me know.

Your love,

Marvel took Nadine’s letter outside and over to the maple tree. He set it up in the ‘y’ of the branches and noticed the irregular shapes of sky between the leaves. He reached up and took a young leaf between his thumb and forefingers. It was so velvety that it felt wet. Why are all new things so delicate, he wondered.


When Marvel moved to these woods one November day five years ago, he was delicate with grief. It resided in his abdomen and throat so that when his eye caught on Nadine’s favorite book or her sister called to check on him, his breath would cease and his eyes would squint and swell with tears. These grief attacks became so frequent that one evening, gasping and sobbing, he packed a bag and left.

Marvel remembered a trailer that his cousin had abandoned on the edge of the state forest. He drove the steep and curving roads, up and along ridges until the ache in his heart led him down Persimmon Road to a white trailer resting on stacks of cinder blocks. Bind weed and poison ivy had claimed the west side of the house, and honeysuckle choked out the view from the north. He shoved open the front door, set his bag down, and collapsed onto the musty couch, uncertain of everything except his desire to sleep.

Marvel slept through his first six months in the woods. In his waking hours, he found himself disoriented and anxious. He heard the forest speaking in clicks and whirs, in piercing pitches and wild howls. He feared the ticks, the snakes, the spiders, and especially the hornets. He loathed the three leafed, red-centered poison ivy that grew in thick vines up the poplars. He startled when a moth flew in front of a light bulb. He noticed the holes in the screens, the curves of the siding, and wondered if these were special doors for copperheads. He’d fall into a spiral of fear and keep falling, following it down into the darkness that sat at the pit of his stomach. Then he’d curl into a small ball and sleep. The trailer wasn’t the answer he was looking for but he had no energy to leave.

Then one night in early May something shifted. In between dreams of snakes and dreams of his deceased wife, he heard the call of the great horned owl and saw it fly away with the terror of his dreams held tightly in its claws. He awoke in the morning to the chatter of the cardinals and found his eyes open readily to the light of the day.

Not long after that, in the dawning glow of the first days of June, a rushing wind blew open the front door and a deer peeked her slender head inside. Marvel, who had fallen asleep at the kitchen table, was startled to sitting by the visceral memory of coarse fur on his cheek.
Memories came to him like this, out of places and times so unfamiliar that he wondered if he was remembering someone else’s life. Had he really found a deer den behind his house when he was eight? Had he spent those summer afternoons curled beside a doe, sleeping away the heat? Out of this memory came others. He remembered a boy who was capable of all things and allowed to do all things. There was no tree he couldn’t climb, no road he couldn’t bike on, no treasured item from the store that he was not allowed to buy. For a moment, he felt again the freedom and possibility of his youth.

The deer’s rounded ears twitched, the tendons in her hind legs tensed. Marvel stood and met her eye. “Welcome,” he said. “I’ll make some coffee.” When he moved to the stove to light the burner, the deer spooked and sprinted away. Marvel resolved to leave the door open the rest of the day. For the first time in months, he felt a hint of joy, and then he noticed his hunger. His stomach felt like a cavernous sinkhole, and he looked around the kitchen with new eyes. He owned no refrigerator. The cupboards held only one loaf of bread. He had no plates, bowls or silverware, so he took himself outside and walked around the yard until he spied the small heart shaped leaf of sorrel. He plucked a leaf and savored the tart shock on his tongue. Then he spotted the purple clover flower and sucked the nectar from its feathery blossom. Marvel roamed the land in search of foods that would appease his new hunger. “Dear God!” he cried when he found the frosty, thorny canes of the black raspberries laden with dark fruit. He took a berry into his mouth and then another and another. He hovered over the bush and crawled beneath it. Thorns snagged his shirt as he reached his arms into the tangle. This was goodness he could take inside himself. This was love that would descend down into the darkness and bring light. He ate his fill and then lay on the grass and closed his eyes.

As he lay there, Marvel remembered his wife’s body: her long and slender legs leading down to rough heels that would scratch against his ankles under the covers at night. He remembered how Nadine would often cry after they made love. It was mysterious to him, the way that ecstasy and sorrow embraced in her soul. He thought of all the emotions coursing through her body like colors that ran parallel in her veins, and alongside the purple of pleasure was the burgundy of those bruises that come with life. Maybe she cried for the dead fawn on the side of the road, or because her children were growing up and the fingers of their intertwined hands were beginning to loosen. He liked to think that this sadness, as particular as it was, was also the tenderness of the world coming through her.

Marvel didn’t know it, but his first summer in the woods was the summer of love. That was the erotic summer when the sound of cicadas attracting lovers was the music he would wake to and the rattle that would lull him to sleep. He didn’t know how lucky he was to be emerging from grief at the same time they were tunneling up from their seventeen year old homes, letting go of the roots that had been their sustenance, and crawling into the bright and arousing heat of summer. They would grow wings and learn to fly. He didn’t know that the song of the earth would be louder, almost deafening, and that it would resonate in his heart – shaking loose the lonely cells that were wandering his body looking for other beings to love.


One overcast afternoon that first summer, Marvel was sitting under the maple tree watching a cicada climb up a blade of tall grass. As it neared the top, the grass began to bend with the weight of the bug, its long tip arching down to the ground. The cicada, in its steady upward plod, found itself back where it had started. Marvel pondered this natural paradox and watched the bees and wasps who were visiting the luminous purple ironweed flowers. These insects always brought him memories of his wife at the moment of her passing, and he closed his eyes as he remembered the scene from last summer that collapsed his heart.

Nadine had been out in the yard cutting irises for the kitchen table when she stepped on a nest of ground hornets. A violent cloud rose up from the ground and covered her body. She ran toward the house and by the time she reached the back door, the pin prick welts had grown up into flat-topped mesas. “Marvel! Marvel! MARVEL!” she shouted.

Marvel was in the basement recliner taking his morning nap. He was deep in a dream in which he was studying the reflection of sunlight on the ocean waves. His breath was rising and falling with the rhythmic sound of the water breaking onto the sand. As he stood by the shore, toes in salty brine, eyes catching crystal light, the sound of a seagull in distress broke through and he saw the bird plunge into the water. His eyes followed its body, feathers soggy and sticky, wings splayed. It rode the waves until it arrived lifeless at his feet. A scream stuck in his throat and all of a sudden he was awake and standing upstairs in the kitchen.

When he remembers Nadine on the floor beside the stove, what he remembers are her eyes, those portals to the soul. Her dark pupils were large and wide, filled with the insurmountable distance of a woman being swept out to sea. He put his cheek to her mouth and felt no breath.

The terror of that moment brought Marvel back to the present under the maple tree. He opened his eyes and exhaled, sorrow washing over him as he breathed the breaths that should have been hers. He breathed short, choppy breaths, shallow breaths and then long, deep sighs. Any kind of breath would have kept her alive. He was not a man who carried anger around with him, but after Nadine died something soft inside him became rigid. There were marks on his heart, illegible scribbles that marred the blood pulsing through his body. He turned back to the cicada, with its blood orange eyes and black body, and envied those creatures who simply did what they were supposed to do, without ceremony or regret.

The next morning, Marvel got a shovel and started digging at the base of the maple. His body ached as he cut through the grass and pierced the clay. The strain of holding the shovel sent pain through his fingers. His back trembled with each shovel full of dirt he removed from the ground. In his exhaustion, he remembered a trek he took in Bolivia when he was 26: how he had awakened at 2 a.m. to climb to the peak of Huayna Potosi, how with each step the air around him grew thinner, his breath more labored, how the guide advised him to take small, short, steps sideways up the mountain and to rest for a moment when the left foot met the right. In that way, he had climbed the steep and snowy mountain and seen the dawning sun shimmer on Lake Titicaca below.

When he lifted the shovel again, he moved more slowly, taking a breath with every jab into the earth and a pause before he lifted the shovel back out. When he finished digging, he sat down by the maple and wondered what the hole was for. Then his gaze drifted to the trees. “It’s nice out here,” he said to them.

Nice was so benign. It wasn’t what he really meant, but he could feel his vocabulary begin to fade. His eyes were taking in more of the woods than they’d ever seen before. The usual words no longer applied, and he was not a poet. Green was more than green when the summer sun was shining on an oak leaf, but he could only sit and see it. There was no human audience he was trying to communicate with anymore, and he found that he was not so lonely. He had the friendship of the sturdy, weedy cedar trees, the sweet companionship of honeysuckle and daisies. Why every time he got down on his knees and stuck his hands into the dirt, a worm or a frog or a grasshopper greeted him. The drama of the woods was endless: the passing storms of the sky, the heat of the sun, the magical quality of moonlight.


In September, when the first poplar leaves started to yellow, Marvel woke to find the full moon shining in his bedroom window. He got up, dressed and went to his truck. He needed to talk with Nadine.

He drove the long stretch of road from his home into town and parked across the street from the Methodist Church he used to attend. The columbarium walls were set in an open-air courtyard, a labyrinth etched into the stone floor. He walked those circles with his hands behind his back, his moon shadow making every turn with him. “Nadine,” he said, “you must come with me.” He approached her box and felt the engraved letters that etched her name and the span of years she lived on this earth. “A lifetime,” he thought. “And this is no place for eternity.” There was no latch on the niche, no simple door he could open to set her free. He pondered getting the hammer out of his truck but didn’t have the gumption to smash the limestone plate.

In the morning, he drove back to the church and they removed Nadine’s ashes from the niche. Marvel took Nadine home and carried her to the hole beneath the maple tree. It was too big for the urn, and he found he didn’t want to bury her anyway. He wanted to set her free on the breeze. Actually, he wanted none of it. What he wanted was to sit by Nadine, full-fleshed and alive. He set the urn down and lowered himself into the hole. He leaned back against the dirt and closed his eyes. The earth around him was cool and he imagined the clay hugging him in a final embrace. He’d always hated the thought of being buried, but then he hadn’t imagined that the earth could hold him so gently.

There was birdsong all around him, and he thought it might be Nadine. It comforted him and tormented him. “Nadine,” he said, turning his head to face the urn. “Do you think I’m losing my mind?” The birds continued to sing, and as he closed his eyes, he felt her beside him reminding him of something.

He stood up, stepped out of the hole, and grabbed the urn. He looked for the birds who had been singing and lifted Nadine’s ashes toward them. Then he walked to the grove of persimmon trees that grew by the driveway. They were tall and bunched together. Their skinny trunks clothed in a mosaic of small, scraggly rectangles. He had noticed these trees before. In the spring, they were among the last trees to put out their leaves, and also, he now realized, among the last to share their fruit. Marvel scanned the ground. If the fruit had ripened, it would be on the ground covered in bees. He looked up into the canopy of green but could not make out any fruit. Were they all male trees, he wondered? If so, what mother had planted them here? He circled the grove another time and then walked toward the woods. She must be nearby, he thought, and then he saw her: wild blackberry canes thick and thorny around her base. She was thin but tall, and in the grass, in the shadow of her crown, the bees, the wasps, and the hornets were feasting.

Marvel squatted and picked up a plump fruit. He was a child the last time he had eaten persimmons. He remembered eating the most perfect fruit he could find, the one whose shape stayed firm like a cherry. At first it tasted sweet, but within seconds his mouth was as dry as a cotton ball. He resolved never to eat one again. Later his mother told him that the ripe persimmons were the humble ones. The poutier the fruit, the more delicious.
He checked the one in his hand. The skin was like his, wrinkled, thin and bruised in a few places, but the sweet pulp was an orange so bright it seemed aflame with the light. When he bit into the persimmon, he felt certain that it contained not just the essence of the sun but also the moon. “Nadine,” he said to the sky, “you are right.”


Marvel passed the next year aligned with the seasons: In winter he shut himself away and slept. In spring, he burst forth in glory. In summer, he wilted in a hammock in the shade. In fall, he slept out under the full moon and woke early to see the spiders’ webs sparkling in the morning dew. In this way, his grief came and went, but Nadine stayed with him. Then one day, Marvel gave Nadine’s ashes to the wind and began to live like one of the trees, rooted and sturdy, come what may.

What may come are storms that knock branches loose. What may come are sunrises that pull light from leaves just beginning to take shape. What will come in all lives, in all stories, is an ending that takes us back to where we began. Here we are now, underneath the maple tree whose mothering roots spread wide and deep. Here we are now digging our way back down through the clay and the limestone, back into the darkness and mystery, into the unanswerable questions. It’s this journey to the light and back to darkness that composes a life.

And it is this maple tree where Marvel will sit down to rest, one bright November day, his curving spine meeting the rough and textured trunk. He will lean his head back, his eyes closed against the shaded light of the morning, and he will pass. His last breath will drift up into the branches, and at that moment, all the yellow leaves of the maple will let go and dance with the sapphire sky. They will fall like drops of sunlight, each leaf a benediction. His feet and legs will slowly disappear, and he will be buried under the golden cloak of his maple.
In the evening, the deer will come to nuzzle his rough, worn hands, and smell the scent of a body without a soul. They will gather around him in protective slumber, in quiet mourning. And when the stable sun rises, they will leave him and not return.

Marvel’s body will sink, day by quiet day, into the sweet soil beneath his tree. His bones will soften, they will darken, they will descend past the layers of dirt and join the water that travels along the bedrock. In this stream, they will find the earth curving, sloping swiftly, and they will see the light again when they emerge out the side of a rocky ravine, holy water dangling from the emerald moss.

Our Work

Work is love made visible. — Khalil Gibran

This is the sentence that was scrawled in red crayon, loose cursive on the wall of a second-story bedroom in the house we now call home. It was motivation as we tore down ceiling tiles in order to empty the attic of a spicy combination of insulation and bird, snake and mice poop. This is love, we could say, as we put on the face masks and the protective suits, preparing for the filth to shower down on us. This is love, we could say, when we crawled under the eave of the attic on a mid-July day to staple in the soffits. This is love, we could say, when the mountain of junk under the back overhang seemed larger, stronger, the winner of our fight for the reclamation of space.

And work is love made visible when carrying pruning shears on a hike in the woods, giving every green, thorny stem of multi-flora rose a snip, every tenacious vine of poison ivy a solid slash through the middle. This is love for my own skin and yours. For our future enjoyment, for our ability to walk through the woods without suffering from rashes, for the trees to grow unencumbered by vines.

Work doesn’t always feel like love. In our “new” home, with my children, I wash the dishes without thinking of love. I sweep the floor. I throw soiled sheets into the washer and scrub the toilet. I do not think of love, but I know it is there in the tending of things.

Huck, Alice and Leo harvest potatoes. This “treasure hunt” is work that feels like play.

Lately, I have felt a new love blooming as I watch small chicks grow out of the brooder and learn to inhabit the coop and play in their run. Something akin to love has grown while tending the okra, the tomatoes, the peppers, and all the plants that we’ve put in the ground. Every morning, I go outside and I watch the morning sky while I check on the onions and pull a few weeds. Sometimes I’m startled by a painted box turtle making is way around the chicken coop. I’m watching the leaves on the trees open up and reveal, in some cases, their identity. A crooked tree by the prayer circle has finally sprouted a mulberry leaf.

Chris Elam and Sarah Colvard created this mosaic sign based on an original print by Catholic Worker artist Sarah Fuller. It now greets us at the front of the drive!

When we felt a call to come into a deeper relationship with the natural world, I wasn’t sure what that relationship would feel like. I’m getting the sense that living out here in this way is opening my heart to understand and love and learn from new beings. When we sit in the prayer circle in silence or open our mouths to sing, the trees and the birds and the sky pray along with us. I feel a presence.

One afternoon, when I was feeling that our work out here is rather insignificant (which, perhaps it is 🙂 I took time to articulate again what it is we are here to do. It helped me root down into the purpose of all the energy that we are putting into this place.

What is our work out here at Common Home Farm?

  • It is to tend the land well – to come into relationship with it in such a way that we know how to help it flourish, that we can receive its gifts and offers ours in return.
  • Our work is to pray, to be silent, to be witness to the seasons, the seedlings, the non-human life that in turn is bearing witness to God, to love’s presence in this world.
  • Our work is to labor with our bodies, to lift, to shovel, to haul, to struggle with the physical world. To create physical spaces, places, gardens, homes, chapels.
The Works of Mercy by Sarah Fuller
  • Our work is to love one another, to speak honestly and directly and kindly. To listen to one another. To give way to one another. To collaborate and create and praise together.
  • Our work is to offer respite, peace, rest, and space to guests of all kinds. Our work is a practice of radical sharing of space, time, food, and love with all.
  • Our work is to practice the Works of Mercy. To stay engaged with the marginalized, with the struggles for justice and peace that are happening all around us. To give of our time and energy for the uplift of others.

We hope you’ll be able to join us in our work – it’s better together!

Eating Ethically and Meaning Making

After posting Eating Ethically, some questions began to rumble around inside of me. Reading an opinion article on climate change by Emma Marris, helped to clarified them:

  • How do we encourage one another to take moral action without triggering shame or guilt?
  • How do we lift up the work that we are able to do, as examples for what is possible, without patting ourselves on the back?

Marris says that the first step for fighting climate change is to “ditch the shame.” The second step is to “focus on systems, not yourself.” Her point is that the biggest actors in addressing climate change are politicians and corporations. If we get stuck looking only at what we eat, wear and how much we drive, then we lose sight of the importance of collective action targeted at those with the most economic and political power. For example, if we want to make a major impact on improving the health of the Indiana environment, we all ought to be fighting with gusto against the coal-to-diesel refinery that is being planned in Dale, Indiana. Stopping this refinery, and the projected 2.2 million tons of CO2 it would release, does more for the environment than any accumulated benefit of our individual consumptive habits.

It is, of course, a both-and situation. What we consume matters AND collective action matters. We can simultaneously change our own harmful consumptive habits AND join with others to pressure politicians to reduce emissions.

For me it is also about making meaning. My moral compass gets mixed up if I am breezing through the McDonald’s drive through on my way to the climate change rally. Moral action may be difficult but it generally feels good, in the way that manual labor feels good when you get to do it voluntarily. It’s satisfying and purposeful. Eating food from the dumpster feels better than buying food from the store, and not only because it’s free. Also because we can recycle the packaging. We can share it with friends. We can save it from a purposeless existence.

So don’t engage in moral action with shame, because it’s what you should do or what your neighbor is doing. Experiment with it. Try out some new habits and see what brings you joy.

Eating Ethically in the Monsoon Rains of January

If we are heading toward apocalypse, then obviously we must undertake an ordeal of preparation. We must cleanse ourselves of slovenliness, laziness, and waste. We must learn to discipline ourselves, to restrain ourselves, to need less, to care more for the needs of others. We must understand what the health of the earth requires and put that before all other needs. If catastrophic famine is possible, then let us undertake the labors of wisdom and make the necessary sacrifices of luxury and comfort. — Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America

What is ecological grace if not the sum of daily, hourly decisions to take less than one’s hands can hold, to eat other than what our stomachs most want, to create limits for ourselves so that we all might be able to share in what’s left? – Jonathan Safran Foer, We are the Weather

The creek in the woods at Common Home Farm

There are rivers in the driveway that run down the back ravine and into the creek. If the rain ever lets up, I’ll put on my boots and walk down the wooded hills to see how much water is flowing in the ephemeral creek.

Indiana is having a monsoon season – humid air and heavy rain. Our January is confused and we are all scrambling to prepare for a climate that has already changed. It’s a strange time to be alive, a strange time to be settling onto land with the idea that we will grow food here. It’s like entering a relationship with someone in the midst of a psychotic episode who is living a reality you can’t comprehend.

We, like you, have been trying to live ethically in response to climate change. I’ve been reading The Unsettling of America (Wendell Berry) and We Are the Weather (Jonathan Safran Foer). I’ve been watching my friend Amy live out a food ethic that exhausted me at first but now inspires and motivates me. We can all very easily tell ourselves that we are doing enough, but as Berry wrote in 1986, “We must understand what the health of the earth requires and put that before all other needs.” For Jonathan Safran Foer, that comes down to the concrete choice to not eat animal products at breakfast and lunch. Large-scale animal agriculture accounts for between 18-51%* of greenhouse gas emissions. Safran Foer uses this research to argue that the most pragmatic and efficient way to affect climate change is to replace animal products with alternatives, thus cutting emissions and freeing up land to be planted with carbon-absorbing trees. Eating fewer animal products is something everyone can do every day. But it’s hard and most people will continue on with their same habits of consumption because, as Safran Foer notes, “choosing death is more convenient than choosing life….Because short-term pleasure is more seductive than long-term survival.”

So here we are, as the rain continues to fall, the puddles to deepen, our minds to scramble for how to live in these unpredictable times. And here is something we can do that makes a difference.

Our family is making a renewed commitment to the following food choices:

  1. Dumpster Diving
  2. Buying from local farmers
  3. Buying from the local food co-op

The first place we’ll go for food will be the dumpster. This keeps food out of the landfill and saves us money which we can then invest in the local food economy. Dumpster diving also provides us with an abundance of food that we can share with neighbors and use to stock the freezer. An abundance of dumpstered bananas and whole wheat flour** and sugar has been the impetus for a dozen loaves of banana bread already this week. What we can’t consume from the dumpster, we can offer to our compost heap.

If we can’t find what we need (want) in the dumpster, we’ll try to source from local farmers. We recently bought half-a-cow from the Gonso family in Owen County. We split the cost and the meat with two other families. So now we aren’t tempted to buy crappy meat at the grocery store, and we get meat that tastes delicious and is not harmful to the environment. Our hope is to raise animals of our own in the next year and perhaps some of you will enjoy buying meat from us!

Our goal is to stay away from Kroger and Aldi, where we habitually go for cheap food. We’ll go to Bloomingfoods for the rest of our food needs. We can buy in bulk with our own jars and bags. Perhaps the price of local cheese will limit the amount of cheese we have in our diet – as it should. We will find ourselves eating differently.

You’ll notice that we’re not becoming vegetarian or vegan. But we are refusing to buy factory-farmed meat, dairy and eggs. Instead we will eat the surplus from our wasteful capitalist system and support the farmers in our local economy. Not all animal food production is bad for the environment, and some, like rotational grazing, actually helps to sequester carbon in the ground (check out @anathothcatholicworker on Facebook)

This all takes energy, awareness, and effort. Building new habits is challenging. But me and my comfort are not my primary concern anymore. My primary concern is the sustenance of the earth and building my character in such a way that the next generation has the grit to heal our planet, and on and on, each generation with a more finely tuned way of living that protects the sources of all life.

P.S. If you’ve never been dumpster diving, and you’d like to go, shoot me an email and we’ll go out together.

* Safran Foer cites two main research papers, Livestock’s Long Shadow, published by the FOA of the UN and “Livestock and Climate Change: What If the Key Actors in Climate Change are … Cows, Pigs, and Chickens?” published by the Worldwatch Institute and authored by Jeff Anhang and Robert Goodland. The animal agriculture industry is particularly bad for the environment because it compels the majority of the deforestation which eliminates our earth’s capacity to absorb additional carbon. So not only does it emit the worst kinds of greenhouse gases (methane and nitrous oxide) but it prevents those gases from being absorbed. Safran Foer’s book is full of great stories and metaphors along with the hard-hitting facts. He examines why we aren’t acting on the knowledge we have of climate change, taking a close look at how his own beliefs and feelings lead him to resist ethical action.

** Thanks to a sweet friend for the 50lb bag of flour, Ross Dybvig for the 25lb bag of organic sugar, and both of you for your inspirational enthusiasm for dumpster diving.

Creating Space for Radical Hospitality

A view of the new bathroom addition. This photo was taken while standing on the site of the new septic leach field, which was constructed in early September.

Poverty is a strange and elusive thing. … I condemn poverty and I advocate it; poverty is simple and complex at once; it is a social phenomenon and a personal matter. Poverty is an elusive thing, and a paradoxical one. We need always to be thinking and writing about it, for if we are not among its victims its reality fades from us. We must talk about poverty because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it. – Dorothy Day

I was filling in as the shelter monitor this morning at the Shalom Community Center, the day shelter in Bloomington where I’ve worked on-and-off for the last nine years. As the shelter monitor, I am called upon to break up fights, retrieve forgotten backpacks, clean up literal sh** in the bathroom, call the ambulance for medical emergencies. It’s a hard job, but it has its delights.

I stand by the front door and greet each person who walks in, often they are people I’ve known since I first started at Shalom. This morning I got to catch up with a friend, a former client who was the subject of The Job, a short story I wrote in 2016. I was happy to hear that life had stabilized for her in some ways: she had an apartment and steady employment at Bob Evans, but she was still living on the edge. Her job only pays $9/hour and during the summer, when the students were gone, her hours were cut.

She asked about our farm project, and I shared our progress. “You’ll have to come out and visit,” I said. “I bet you don’t get out in the woods very  often.”

“I don’t,” she said. “And you know I miss it.”

Later that day I went to the hospital to visit a former guest at the Bloomington Catholic Worker. He too asked about how the farm was going, and expressed his desire to help. “We’ll get you out to visit when you’re feeling better,” I said.

These are the kinds of connections we want to make. After many years living and working with people in poverty, David and I know a lot of people who would benefit from a day’s rest in a beautiful place. And with each passing week, we are getting a little closer to making space for this kind of radical hospitality.

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Farewell to our year in the cabin at Solsberry Hill! Thank you, Bridget and Conor!
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Our stellar moving crew!

* David Watters and his son, Huck, have been living on the land since July. We are renting a friend’s tiny house and they are champions at “making do” with the space they have. When the garden house (“shed”) renovation is complete, our family will move into that home and David and Huck will move into the cabin. The tiny house will be available for respite retreats and visitors.

*We’ve started some of our community routines: Evening prayer by candle light, using the liturgy in Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays and Praying the Psalms, a translation by Nan Merill. We have dinner together at least once a week, and finding time for working together: splitting wood, hauling manure, and fixing up the garden house.

The Renovation Update

We have been hard at work getting the garden house (what we usually call “the shed”) ready to live in. We thought it would be fairly simple to renovate the shed 🙂 Not so, not so. But it has been made easier by calling on the expertise of friends. We have such gratitude for the way this project has required us to ask for help, and thus create community. It’s been a wild, joyful (sometimes stressful) ride!

We’ve completed a lot of projects over the last three months, from pouring the foundation for the bathroom addition to insulating the attic to replacing windows. You’ll get a sense for the work we’ve been doing through the pictures below. (Captions pop up for each picture when you move your pointer over them.) Our goal is to move into the garden house by the end of October. Send some prayers our way and let us know if you want to come help out with the final stages of the renovation!

Affection for Drudgery

“If we only want to feast on the big ideas and the grand schemes and are unwilling to give our time and energies to seemingly small and limited tasks, to the thousands of baby steps needed to carry off our high concepts, then we will make little headway. Any calling requires a certain affection for drudgery.” — Gregg Levoy in Callings

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There I am just hanging out in the rafters with the birds and the snakes 🙂

A lot of our baby steps these days appear to be drudgery: digging the foundation for the bathroom addition, scraping putty to reveal old screws, clearing poison ivy and bamboo. There are certain mundane tasks that I love for the satisfaction of completing them and then there are others that are simply necessary to suffer through. As one of the smallest people working on the shed, it was my duty to crawl, squeeze, scrunch myself into the tiniest of spaces in the attic and staple up vents. Most of this work was done on my back suspended over rafters with the hopes that the pointy screws coming down from the roof wouldn’t nail me.

Thank goodness that good company transforms drudgery. That day we dug the ditch, Chris Colvard and Landy were there sweating with me all day. When I was up in the attic, Jeff Mansfield and David were cheering me on. Our workdays are both struggle and triumph, and not always in the same proportion.

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Chris and Landy set the first form for the bathroom foundation.

David and I are not builders. We don’t have the budget to hire out most of the work we need to do, and we want to learn how to do more for ourselves. Still the work must get done and it must be done correctly and pass building inspections. We’re relying on the good-will and generosity of friends to advise us and work with us. I find my lack of knowledge and skill to be maddening. I find the work to tax my body – lifting heavy sheets of drywall, digging and shoveling clay, holding heavy drills. I am not accustomed to the physical toll of construction work. But I’m grateful to experience it personally so that I know, in some way at least, what the cost of construction is to those who do it day in and day out. Manual labor is not just the path to creating Common Home Farm, it is a core value of Catholic Worker farms. From The Aims and Means of the Catholic Worker:

— We strive for practices of manual labor in a society that rejects it as undignified and inferior. “Besides inducing cooperation, besides overcoming barriers and establishing the spirit of sister and brotherhood (besides just getting things done), manual labor enables us to use our bodies as well as our hands, our minds,” (Dorothy Day).  The Benedictine motto Ora et Labora reminds us that the work of human hands is a gift for the edification of the world and the glory of God.


Middle School volunteers break up an old concrete slab outside the shed.

The struggle is not just in the physical work, it’s also trying to stay ahead of the voices of doubt and fear that threaten to overcome hope. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like every day contains real struggle (besides that of raising small children!). Sometimes that struggle is overwhelming. Like the day we found out that the small cabin (the one we are NOT renovating) needs a new septic leech field and we have to replace three windows and rebuild the stairs in the shed. When the work already feels hard and then it becomes harder, those are the days when I wonder if we’re really on the right path. Those are the days I get out Callings and read:

“If the sacrifice doesn’t put you out, doesn’t hurt a little or even a lot, it’s probably insufficient to bring on the changes you’re after…We need to give it all we have on one level and surrender completely to the way it is on the another…Sacrifice isn’t something we do once. It prompts our following a call, but it is also a component of living out that call.”

I also “zoom out” and think of all the people in the world who struggle in serious ways. I think of friends who are homeless in Bloomington, enduring a hot and rainy spring with nowhere safe and dry to sleep. I think of the guys I work with in the jail who are excited about the vision of Common Home Farm and ready to come for a retreat. Then I return to our project and our problems and realize that it’s simply a matter of money, time and perseverance. We are on the right path. The obstacles are there to teach us how to cope with the unexpected and to remind us to stay open and flexible. It’s my job, during this time, to learn a new level of resilience – and like all growth, it’s painful. Please hold us in the light as we take little step after little step toward making a beautiful, hospitable space at Common Home Farm.

**Fundraising update: We are still $6,200 away from raising enough money to complete the shed reconstruction. We are looking for six people who could contribute $1,000 each or 12 people who could donate $500. But no amount is too small. Please consider supporting our work with a donation.  We are also actively seeking no-interest loans up to $6,000.


David is hard core about this building project.

P.S. While I’m talking about the construction work I’ve been doing, I want to give proper recognition to David who is out at the farm 3-4 days a week getting things done. He’s just not writing about it! I lift up gratitude for him and for all the many volunteers who have come out for our workdays. We will continue to have workdays most weekends this summer – please reach out if you’d like to come share in some manual labor!

Fundraising with Heart

 The Earth and her children depend on each of us to be wise, to have vision, to speak in joy, to extend love and compassion, to own our power, to accept our true natures, and to allow others to share our bounty.  If our capable hands and steady hearts shift ever so slightly in the direction of loving, we move the planet in an entirely new direction from where it has been in the past.                                                                                         

IMG_7057Meredith Young-Sowers

After the fundraiser on Friday night, I had an acute case of fear and trembling. After opening the colorful donation box and pulling out the offerings, I found myself feeling heavy with gratitude and responsibility. It is no small thing to ask people to give you money, to take from what they have and share it with you.

We knew when we started this journey that we’d come to this point. Starting in August 2017 I began drafting fundraising letters. Then again in December 2018, I dreamed up another fundraising scheme. All these plans came about due to my anxiety about how we would purchase land without having any money. I felt a strong urge to act in a time of difficult waiting. Neither plan made it out in to the world, thank goodness. The timing was not right.


Josh looks on as David and Leo talk with Hugh and Mia

We began dreaming of this fundraiser in mid-March. The specific needs of our community had come into focus and we felt empowered to ask for financial support. We could show all the work we’d done thus far and offer a long-term plan for building and financing our community. We could articulate exactly how much money we needed to raise, what we needed money for, and why we were asking for donations as opposed to seeking a bank loan. On Friday night, it was a joy to share our presentation, which included many pictures of the property, the story of the land, our long-term plan, and the motivation for creating Common Home Farm. We opened with song and closed in song and took time to read the epigraph and poem posted here. These rituals helped create a space in which people were invited to join their hearts and minds with us and to consider what they have to offer.

We were humbled by the generosity of the group gathered, as well as the many people who sent well-wishes and donations but could not attend. Our goal was to raise $5,660 – the amount needed to bring our total donations to $15,000. We raised $11,600 on Friday. One anonymous donor contributed $10,500 – the exact amount needed to install a septic system. Holy smokes! Can you believe that?


Laura and Alice

On top of the money, our community was delighted by all the other offers that came our way – a hauling van, some chickens, building help every Friday, connecting with IU’s service learning programs. So you can see how at the end of the night this outpouring of generosity would also come with a deeper understanding of our responsibility to our growing community of supporters.

We also ended the night with deep satisfaction and wonder at the journey. I remembered back to a moment in September 2017. I was standing at the sink of our old house, washing dishes and telling Chris Elam that I could feel the call to life on the land but I couldn’t see the path to get there. If I thought about all the things that needed to happen to get there, I’d most likely just stay put. “You can’t think about all that,” he advised. “You just have to see the most immediate step and take it.” Fundraising was the next obvious step, and we took it! And so the journey continues. Many thanks to everyone for making this all possible!

I’ll leave you with the poem from our gathering:

Dandelion Greens

You must come back, as your grandmother did,
with her basket and sharp knife, in daffodil light,
to the pasture, where the best greens spring
from heaps of dung, dark in the still brown
meadow grass. Cut them close to the root,
before they flower, rinse them in rain water
and bring them to the table, tossed
with oil, vinegar and salt, or homemade dressing.
They will be bitter but rich in iron—
your spring tonic your antidote to sleep.
Eat them because they are good for you.
Eat them in joy, for the earth revives.
Eat them in remembrance of your grandmother,
who raised ten children on them. Think
of all the dandelions they picked for her,
the countless downy seeds their laughter spread.
This is the life we believe in—
the saw-toothed blades, the lavish, common flowers.

Jane Flanders






A Home for Common Home Farm

“In any moment we are as much about softness as fortitude. Always in need of care and tenderness. Life is fluid, evanescent, evolving in every cell, in every breath. Never perfect. To be alive is by definition messy, always leaning toward disorder and surprise.”

— Krista Tippett, from Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

We found a farm! So what I need to say first is thank you. Thank you.

This journey is teaching me to confront the messiness, the imperfection, the surprise of life. These last six months I have felt so fragile, so broken, so in need of care and tenderness. Fear startles me awake in the early morning. I dream of snakes. I speak of this time of uncertainty through metaphor: we are feeling our way in the dark, hands pressed to the cold, wet stone of cave walls. We’ve been looking ahead into black space and wondering when we’ll be able to see the home for Common Home Farm. And then surprise. Disorder and surprise. Now we can see it.

Let’s backtrack a bit. It’s October 2018, the leaves are fiery and the sky a deep blue. David runs into Amy Countryman at Kleindorfer’s Hardware Store. “Hey!” she says. “I was just thinking of y’all. We really want to help with your community but I’m not sure how.” Pause. “Unless, well, we do have some land north of town. I don’t know if you’d be interested … it’s only 10 acres…  but you could check it out.”


The Garden “Shed” includes a green house on the front, lean-to storage on the back, a workshop, and garden storage space. This is the building we will be fixing up this spring.

We check it out. We take a long time to think about if this is the right land and the right situation for Common Home Farm. We talk to the planning department, the building department, our farmer friends. We seriously consider buying a different piece of land. We make many lists of pros and cons and on and on and on. We meet with Amy and Jeff many times. We sit with the decision in quiet and we listen. What we hear moves us forward:

  • Starting on Amy and Jeff’s land brings us land AND community. Though Amy and Jeff won’t be living on the land, they will be members of the community and intimately involved in decision-making.
  • It solves two problems beautifully: Their land and structures need tending. We want land and structures to tend.
  • We will be able to buy into the property through our labor on the land and buildings. This means we can spend more of our time working on the land as opposed to jobs in town.

What the pictures don’t show you is the place this land has in Amy and Jeff’s hearts. It’s a big deal that they want to share it. They’re not sharing it in a simple way either, like renting or selling to us. They are sharing it in a big, complicated way, like let’s figure out how to own this collectively or put it in a land trust for the ongoing benefit of the community. This is a courageous move that demonstrates their trust in us and this vision. What we are choosing here is not straightforward and it is not simple. But it upholds our values, brings amazing people into this work, offers us joy, and we are grateful.


Amy poured her love (and hard work!) into this land for ten years as a market gardener.

We have a lot to still figure out organizationally. Some of those questions are: how do people join the community, how do they leave, do they build equity, what IS the organizational structure, how do we hold land in common? We also have a lot to figure out about rehabbing the garden shed and getting to know/clearing/regenerating the land. We plan to draft a long-term “land plan” in the next few months which will help us map out garden and animal space and building sites for future homes.

We had our inaugural workday last Saturday. We joyfully cleared out rotting wood, old garden supplies, rusty lawn chairs, and lots of vines. We plan to have workdays most Saturdays. We welcome any and all who might enjoy a day of light physical labor and laughter. We provide lunch, drinks, and a tour of this beautiful place we are grateful to call Common Home Farm.


Amy and friends built this charming octagonal house. It’s currently being rented but will be available for community use starting in August.






Doing Things That Change You


“Diamonds in the Snow” original mosaic by Christopher Warren Elam (see note below)

“…in most traditions, faith [is] not about belief but about practice. Religion is not about accepting twenty impossible propositions before breakfast, but about doing things that change you. It is a moral aesthetic, an ethical alchemy. If you behave a certain way, you will be transformed. The myths and laws of religion are not true because they conform to some metaphysical, scientific, or historical reality but because they are life enhancing. They tell you how human nature functions, but you will not discover their truth unless you apply these myths and doctrines to your own life and put them into practice. The myths of the hero, for example, are not meant to give us historical information about Prometheus or Achilles – or for that matter, about Jesus or Buddha. Their purpose is to compel us to act in such a way that we bring about our own heroic potential.”

  — The Spiral Staircase, Karen Armstrong

On the tree-lined, windy road between our home and Bloomington, I replayed this section from Karen Armstrong’s memoir, The Spiral Staircase. The next day I typed up the passage and posted it on my bedroom wall. It resonated strongly with my own ideas about religion, and captured some of the motivation behind calling our community an interfaith Catholic Worker.

Over the past two years David has been leading the way down a curious path. Like freshmen do in college, he began again to ask the big questions: Is there a God? What about miracles? What is the origin of the universe? In other words, he was taking time to intentionally examine the supernatural beliefs handed down to him. The questions had been there a long time, but he finally got around to looking them in the eye.

To be honest, when he started asking those questions, I could see little point in taking time to answer them. Why bother when there are no objective answers? Even if there were, I would still believe in the Catholic Worker way of life. I had lived its truth, and felt the abundance, love, and struggle that led to wholeness. That’s why I liked what Karen Armstrong wrote. It was by enacting values that I have been changed, not by a belief in a literal resurrection or incarnation or deified God.

David may be a secular humanist or a religious naturalist or a non-theistic Christian – or some combination of all of those things. I may be a Jesus-follower, God-Is-Love, Catholic Worker. We’re different so we understand the world in different ways. And that’s okay. From our diverse theological beliefs we still come to the same place, a place that is well represented by the Catholic Worker movement, with its focus on radical collective action and social justice.

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The Works of Mercy and The Works of War

Despite its name, the Catholic Worker movement is not part of the institutional Catholic Church. It is full of people who hold a variety of religious beliefs and practices. Some Catholic Worker communities are composed of Catholic members and some are not. The founders, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, were Catholics who discovered in the gospels and the social encyclicals of the Catholic Church instructions for how to live out their faith. They followed those instructions, particularly the Sermon on the Mount and the Works of Mercy, and started a movement that had a three-part program: round table discussions, the establishment of Houses of Hospitality to feed and shelter the poor, and farming communes to create an alternative to industrial, capitalist society.

Perhaps it is more confusing to be an ‘interfaith Catholic Worker,’ but our hope is to communicate our welcoming of diverse religious and theological beliefs and also name the way of life and the values that unite us. It’s helpful that the Catholic Worker movement already tends to emphasize practice rather than adherence to theological belief. As a decentralized movement with anarchist roots, it is a better example of orthopraxis than orthodoxy. Telling Catholic Workers what to believe will be met with resistance. But telling them what to do (feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, love your enemies, care for creation, resist violence and work for peace) will unite them in action. Whatever theological, religious or supernatural beliefs people hold, our hope is that we will be unified by the intentional way we live together at Common Home Farm. We don’t pretend it will easy to find language and rituals that resonate with diverse beliefs, but we think it is important to try.

A note about my own beliefs:

I was raised Catholic but wandered out of the Church while in college. I never found another spiritual home so I stayed out of religion for the next ten years.  When I moved into the Bloomington Catholic Worker, I saw a lived expression of Christianity that helped me become a truer version of myself. I call myself Christian because my path towards transformation has been primarily guided by people from the Christian tradition — Jesus, Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and all the ordinary radicals in the Catholic Worker and intentional communities movement. I remain a Christian because the practices articulated in the gospels, and in the Sermon on the Mount in particular, have proven to lead to wholeness. They are not easy, but they are not harder than what modern society demands of people. And they are deeply satisfying.


“The Cloud of Unknowing” original mosaic by Christopher Warren Elam (see note below)

I am still figuring out what my relationships is with Christian myth. The resurrection has a lot of meaning and symbolic power for me. But it does not matter to me whether or not it actually, literally happened. The same is true for most supernatural stories from the Bible. As for God, I believe in God but not the father-almighty-creator-of-heaven-and-earth. What I believe in is God as love. Not God as supreme being, but rather God as “The Spirit” or “The Mystery,” the nameless presence of a loving power. Nancy Ellen Abrams, in A God That Could Be Real, proposes that God emerges from our collective aspirations. In other words, all our hopes, ambitions, and dreams give rise to an emergent phenomenon we might call God. We create God rather than God creating us.

On good nights, I light a candle and pray before bed. I read an evening liturgy from Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim, not because I think God will answer my prayers, but because reflecting on my day grounds me in gratitude and concern for others. Sleep comes more easily after I take time to put my mind and heart to rest.

My spirituality is changing, growing and deepening. I suspect it always will be. I desire to be in a community that values and supports the work of the soul and the spirit. For it is through life with others that my spirit is fed.

P.S. A big shout out to Chris Elam, my former community mate and dear friend, for letting me use these images of his beautiful, spirit-filled artwork. The images here don’t show the entire mosaics. Please visit his website to see more of his work at