CANTICLE FARM: The Early Years
By Sister Anne Rothmeier
Early seeds were sown for the development of our Allegany Farm in the fall of 1998. At that time, six members of the Allegany Franciscan’s Justice and Peace Committee/Commission attended an Earth Conference in Sylvania, Ohio, co-sponsored by the Franciscan Federation and two Franciscan Religious Communities of Women. One of the breakout sessions was devoted to a presentation on sustainable agriculture and CSAs at Michaela Farms in Indiana. Since one of the foremost goals of our Franciscan Sisters stated that we would “reverence the sacred in ourselves … and all of creation,” as well as” develop global interconnectedness” through our care and concern for Mother Earth, the pursuit of a similar project as the Franciscan Sisters of Oldenburg were currently operating seemed most appropriate to the members who participated in this enlightening session.
Subsequently, during the June 1999 meeting of the Commission, Sr. Mary Anne Garristo, SC, director of Sister’s Hill Farm in Stanfordville, NY, presented a workshop to the members on community supported farming. The spark of interest that had been ignited in this regard the previous fall began to take on a new, vital life of its own. Plans were outlined for the upcoming summer to visit active community supported farms operated by religious communities in neighboring states. The purpose would be to gather information and learn more regarding the establishment and operation of such a program.
Since Frances Cardillo and Anne Rothmeier, members of the Committee/Commission, were scheduled to attend the Franciscan Federation Conference on “The Universe: Discovering the Heart of God,” in Columbus, Ohio, in August. It seemed an opportune time to arrange visits to nearby CSAs. Thus, such visits were accomplished and travels made to five farms. These farms included: Micaela Farm in Indiana; a 780-acre sustainable organic farm operated by the Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Kentucky; the Sisters Hill Farm in Westchester County; and a cooperative agricultural farm, newly begun in Goshen, NY, and sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Blauvelt, NY. Shortly thereafter, a fifth visit was also made to Genesis Farm, one of the first CSAs of its kind, which was operated by Sr. Miriam Therese Gillis, OP, a Dominican Sister of Caldwell, NJ.
After a report was made to the Justice and Peace members in September 1999 regarding the farm visits, they showed great enthusiasm for pursuing such a project. It was also realized that the affirmation of a majority of the whole congregation of our sisters in the U.S. would be needed prior to embarking on this particular quest. Therefore, further plans were outlined whereby the sisters in each of our three regions of the U.S. would be made familiar with the concepts and goals of developing a Community Supported Farm.
At the respective Autumn Weekend gatherings of the sisters in each region, printed pertinent information and a video were presented to each assembly, outlining the hopes of the sister members of the Committee/Commission to go forward with plans for proceeding with this new venture. Astonishingly, a 99% favorable response was received as a result of the polling of the sisters for the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany (FSA) to establish a CSA farm.
Once this confirmation was received and welcomed, the next meeting of the Commission was devoted to brainstorming the next step in this process, as well as turning to and utilizing the resources available for developing an organic farm.
A book entitled “Sharing the Harvest” by Robyn Van En and Elizabeth Henderson became our “bible” for creating our CSA and was heavily relied upon for devising the steps of the process. One of the first steps it advised was the formation of a core group of interested parties from the community at large. In addition, the need for community involvement from the Allegany and Olean area had been seen as a “given” by our group. A letter was then drafted and sent to church groups, schools, local businesses and pertinent interested parties, including St. Bonaventure University. It outlined the desire and intent of the Franciscan Sisters to develop an organic community supported farm in the area. The letter further stressed the need for the input and active support of community members. An invitation was extended to the parties interested, and a date was set for the initial meeting at the Motherhouse in early March in order that a core group might be formed.
Prior to the gathering of a core group in winter of 1999, however, the Committee/Commission organized a special subcommittee for the establishment of what became known as Allegany Agriculture. Srs. Anne R. and Frances C. continued with this venture, as well as those newly appointed: Srs. Ellen MacDonell, Therese Van Bourgundien and Eleanor Berret. Each sister represented one of our U.S. regions, the South, East Coast and Allegany areas.
This AAOC (Allegany Agriculture Organizing Committee) became the primary group to oversee the core group, write policies and proposals, reports, etc., for the farm, recruit a farmer, purchase land and then continue as the Operating Committee, once the land and farmer were in place. This group carried on until the second year of Canticle Farm’s functioning, when it became incorporated in 2002.
It is imperative, at this point, to give recognition to those who contributed so much to the development and establishment of our farm. Their interest, willingness to share their time, effort and expertise in guiding us along the early pathways was vital to the stability of Canticle Farm. All those involved with the beginnings of the farm, including especially our farmer Mark Printz, will forever be grateful for the wisdom imparted and mentoring shared by these pioneers of organic CSAs.
Elisabeth Henderson, the co-author of “Sharing the Harvest” (published in 1999), which became our primary reference in setting up our Allegany Agriculture venture, lent her valuable advice to Mark during her visits and phone calls from the Rochester area, where she still is director of Genesee Valley Organic CSA. Sister Mary Ann Garristo, SC, after sharing her experience with community supported farming in the workshop she presented in June of 1999, continued to provide support and guidance during her visits to Allegany and the farm.
In addition, it’s been a distinct privilege and asset for all concerned with this endeavor over the years to have been gifted with the input and valued guidance of Sr. Miriam Therese MacGillis, a Dominican Sister of Caldwell, NJ. Sr. Miriam founded Genesis Farm in western New Jersey in the early 1980s. This farm was the first CSA to operate under the sponsorship of a religious community in the United States. Miriam established an Ecology Center at Genesis Farm, coordinated an Earth Literacy program, and promoted geologist Thomas Berry’s interpretation of “Thomas Berry and the New Cosmology.” Three of our farms’ core group members were either shareholders, interns or attended the Earth Literacy program there. Her expertise was shared with us during several visits to Canticle Farm during the early years.
Lastly, another name that needs mentioning is that of Steven McFadden. Steve is a journalist, author, founder and farmer. He co-founded Soul*Sparks Books with his wife Elizabeth Wolf and recently wrote a small book entitled, “Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones” (2015). Steven has been writing about CSAs since their inception in America in 1986. He co-authored two books with Trauger Groh, including, “Farms of Tomorrow: Communities Supporting Farms, Farms Supporting Communities” (1990), and “Farms of Tomorrow Revisited: Community-Supported Farms – Farm-Supported Communities” (1998). These books also offered our farm core group and the AAOC concrete and valuable advice during its beginnings. His most recent book on CSAs offers provocative, valuable insights. Of particular value for current CSAs to ponder are three seed ideas focused upon in the book, which have helped community farms become established in America and to grow.
Ref: Awakening Community Intelligence: CSA Farms as 21st Century Cornerstones (2015),