Growing Up On a CW Farm
Reprinted from The Common Good, No 65, Pentecost 2013
Growing up on a Catholic Worker farm was definitely my favourite way of growing up. From swimming in the river as much as I wanted, to learning the love of working with and for God and the whanau, our wider family.
I was born in the winter of 1994 in my parent’s room, the last of seven kids. My dad, Joseph, was 31, my mother Catherine 37, and my siblings Abraham 12, Kate 10, Mathew 9, Elijah 8, Gilbert 6 and Patrick 3. Knowing Hokianga weather, it probably rained for the first two months of my life!
When I was born, there were about 25 people living in our valley, Maikio, all but a few related to me. They included our family, two of dad’s brothers, one of his sisters and their families and my grandparents, Peter and Judith. They had moved here in 1978 with seven of their nine children and my great-grandmother, then aged 91.
My childhood memories consist of cousins, swimming, home schooling, riding to church on horses, morning jobs, dad reading out loud in the evenings, Monday prayers and good times. The most important things for me in the years 2000-2001 were two families moving out of the valley and my two oldest siblings leaving for the USA and other countries for a year.
We also ‘joined’ the Catholic Worker, but I didn’t really notice. Nothing changed apart from mum and dad stressing about writing a paper. For mum and dad it was exciting to find a movement that fitted and enhanced our lifestyle. I am forever grateful that the CW found its way from New York to the Hokianga.
As time went on different people came and went. I wasn’t aware that some of them had quite serious problems. I never felt threatened or afraid but unbeknown to me I was never left alone with them. I remember mum and dad telling us that if we felt something was wrong or if something happened, to tell them straight away no matter what. Somehow they managed to say this without us thinking less of people.
We live without power except 12 volt lights and a car stereo. We also don’t use machines on the farm because we believe that a more simple standard of living is more viable for the planet. This includes ploughing with Clydesdale horses and digging riwai and kumara for a week or two with a fork. Sawing wood is a big part of our morning. Scrubbing, washing takes time but can be a space to think or socialize. We also cook on an open fire, baking bread in camp ovens with coals on top. Our bread is half maize which means putting it on at 7am. A few years ago we were given a sourdough which is hardly sour but still rises as bread. It suits us as we are quite fussy.
A few of us get up at 6am to clean up, light the fire and grind white maize in time for 7am prayers before breakfast. In summer we have about 20 people per meal. At the end of the day one feels exhausted but content.
As I hit my teenage years, I became aware that this was the work I wanted to do, partly because my sister Kate wasn’t around so much and also I enjoyed it. Trying to fit home school into making lunch, sawing wood and hanging out became quite an art.
Gardening is a big part of our lives. When I was born we had only one acre of garden and were going shopping every month. But as time went on we went shopping less and less and our gardens got bigger and bigger. Now in 2013 we do the bulk order every two months, don’t really go shopping at all anymore, and have 4 acres of garden, a quarter of which is fallow. We talk of the day when tea, coffee, flour and sugar are no longer part of our diet, or we produce our own. Being humans, old habits die hard!
I’m 18 now and don’t really plan on leaving this place of my childhood. My three oldest siblings are married with kids who spend every other day here. We are building a new house out of cob (clay, gravel and straw) , a couple of metres from our old house. Me and mum are quite sad because we don’t want to leave our little dwelling, but I guess we’ll be able to host bigger groups in our new house.
To all those parents with young children I advise you to look to Catholic Worker farming. It makes for a childhood worth remembering.
Teresa Land lives at St Francis CW Farm in the Hokianga with her extended family. This article was first printed in Bread and Roses, the newspaper of the Hokianga CW.