June 7

To Millheim, the Marfa of Pennsylvania

Delighting in some Amish home-made treats: a chocolate shoofly pie and a pumpkin whoopie pie!

Our ride today was gliding through rolling pastoral hills like these, past silos and red barns. Note the horse manure and buggy tracks!

I sincerely can't remember a time I was so happy to arrive at my destination, and so filled with surprised delight at the destination it was. The Inglebean is Millheim's coffee shop that uses mostly local ingredients from the nearby farms on the left. Our host, Martha Hoffman, reads Shumacher, Amartya Sen, Paul Hawken and Michael Pollan when she has a moment outside running the Bean and organizing the first annual Mayfly Festival--a town celebration that just happened to fall on the weekend we arrived!

June 8

To Clearfield we go....

Thank you for the cookies, Wendy! Your generosity has sustained us for... well... only two days....

If it weren’t for the whoopie and shoo fly pies an Amish family had sold us up the road, we probably would not have made it. Descending into Millheim was sweeter than any confection. Nested by farms, thigh burning ridges, and the sweet smell that only a first rain can conjure, Millheim is a secret hive of engaged minds working on their own definitions of place and community.



Within the first twenty minutes of shaking hands with our host Martha Hoffman (who we had hunted down based on her Couchsurfer description… a story for another time), we witnessed her barrista at her coffee shop, bring music to the streets with the town choir, and coordinate festival activities commencing the next day. Given her thoughtfulness and engagement, it is no surprise that within 24 hours we found ourselves asking, “Martha, is it okay if we film you saying that?”



While majoring in Economics at Swarthmore College, Martha found the breadth of perspectives and theories limiting if not exclusionary. She has put her own philosophies into practice through engaging in small-scale local economy with her own business, community strengthening with the first Mayfly Festival, and self-sufficiency through her own garden.



Abstract critical thought has built the foundation of intention behind Martha’s actions. But, in her words, “I have very strong views about how people should treat each other and how community should operate so, when I starting thinking about that I get very exhausted very quickly. Farming and things that involve doing something with your body and being very present in the world help break up that intellectual emotional roller coaster.” I appreciated her rootedness in the simple beauty of just doing.

June 9 & 10

Women in Agriculture Conference at Quiet Creek Farm 

Thank you Quiet Creek for including us in the W-AgN conference! We learned so much!

June 11

Rain or Shine 

Another shoe needs duck tape 

After biking 60+ miles in the rain, skipping out on lunch and changing our route by ten miles to find a town with food (WORTH IT) we demonstrated to the Northern Country Brew Pub that we could eat. Buffalo burgers and three deserts never felt so right. 

Unlike Pittsburg, this part of PA is not known for its bridges. 

June 12
Auburn Meadows Farm, West Middlesex, PA

Our new favorite human, Jackie Cleary, took us to Palumbo's Meat Market in nearby Shenango, PA. The owner is Keith, a fifth generation butcher! When we walked into the back for a tour, he was skillfully whacking a gigantic steak.

Palumbo's does secondary  processing   (such as aging, smoking, grinding, and butchering) of meat from hundreds of farms all within a 50-100 mile radius. All of their processing is done in-house without "nastiness" as Jackie likes to say. They even make their own hot dogs! Lake and I particularly enjoyed the chipped beef, beef sticks, and candy bacon. The rocky mountain oysters escaped me this time....

Jackie spoiled us rotten with an exquisite dinner hand prepared with ingredients mostly from her farm or from her network of nearby farms. We ate in a pasture overlooking a quietly trickling creek (Jackie pronounces it "crik" which I thought was awesome), and in moments when we weren't talking about everything from fracking to food justice, we could hear its gentle presence. As the sky darkened, the parade of fireflies brightened all around us.

 

The menu:

  • Beets and apples in balsamic vinagrette, topped with savory granola

  • Marinated zucchini

  • Homebaked crusty bread

  • Pecorino cheese from Palumbo's

  • Homebrewed blackberry hooch (just a small jar, Dad)

  • Two-tier "Three Times a Day" cake filled with strawberry preserves (we also had it for breakfast... just a small piece, Mom)

  • Barbequed pork chops (Thank you, Chester the pig, for nourishing us that night! And thank you, Jackie, for raising him in a way that makes us feel good about eating him)

 

For recipes click on the photo of our dinner, or http://auburnmeadowfarm.com/ 

June 13
Villa Maria Farm and the Sisters of the Humility of Mary 

The top floor of this barn used to be the Sisters' basketball court! There's still a hoop at the back.

It also provides an excellent view of the farm and many Community Center buildings on the Villa Maria property. From left: Caitrin, Lake, Carry (one of the two AmeriCorps volunteer), Sister Therese, and John (the farm director).

Carry, Lake, and Maddy surveying the newly planted hot peppers. Carry and Maddy are two AmeriCorps volunteers who have fascinating perspectives on ethical living.

Sister Therese, Caitrin, and John inside one of two high tunnels. Apparently John and his crew had planted thousands of sprouts the day before our visit! Lucky for us it was rainy on the day of our visit so we got to spend a lot of time with these magnificent folks!

THANK YOU ORGANIC GIRL! 

Caitrin in Ohio waves to Lake who already made it to Idaho

We deeply respect the Sisters' commitment "to bring a more abundant life for all," their radical stances on social issues, and their tireless work for the safety and wellbeing of all people. 

The Three Jars

 

Sister Therese scampers up the pull-down attic staircase as she has probably done since she became a nun here in 1961. I grab hold of the railing polished smooth from decades of curious hands like mine and follow her to the attic of the Art Haus, a building retreatants enjoy for contemplative practice through art. She leads us over thick planks of hardwood to the far end of the building where the Quiet Room hides like peace of mind: always there, you just have to know how to find it. Light from a single window pours into the all-white room, refracting clarity through three glass jars in the corner.

 

In her careful but enthusiastic way, Sister Therese explained the jars as an aspiration. One jar is dirty on the outside but clean on the inside, one is clean on the outside but dirty on the inside, and one is clean inside and out. Through contemplative practice we are encouraged to evaluate ourselves, and with soaring intentions we endeavor to become clean inside and out.

 

This intentional process of unifying self and other, body and mind, involves taking responsibility for our thoughts and actions, minimizing harm both to ourselves and others, and weaving a life of love and care. On this journey so far we have had the endless joy of meeting people who practice this every day. Claire from Quiet Creek Herb Farm, for example, asks the schoolchildren that visit to pack a "worm friendly lunch" to generate as little waste as possible; Jackie Cleary of Auburn Meadows Farm left her high-paying job and now loves her animals so much she knew the name of the pig we shared; as a woman of prayer Sister Therese is fully committed to the examined life; and as two young things Lake and I get to see this emblems of goodness as we figure out what an integrated life of intention, joy, nonharming, and responsibility looks like.

 

Nowhere are these intentions clearer to me than in food. Like the jar that is clean on the outside but dirty on the inside, an enormous juicy strawberry doesn't immediately reveal the pesticides and underpaid laborers' sweat beneath its seeds. Like the jar that is dirty on the outside but clean on the inside, a misshapen, blemished heirloom tomato holds unexpected colors, flavors, and textures that a glossy, pale, round supermarket tomato lacks. 

 

We must look deeply and fearlessly, both at ourselves and our food, as we decide how to be in the world. Making the jar clean inside and out involves nourishing our bodies with clean food grown with care and love, and working to ensure that others can benefit in the bounty, too. This process also demands introspection and careful consideration of ourselves, our actions, and our food choices as we ask ourselves Sister Therese's question, "How am I a vessel? What kind of vessel do I want to become?"

 

"What once sustains the body now sustains the soul." -Sister Therese Pavilonis

 

 

Leave It Up to Jackie

 

Considering that only five years prior Jackie Cleary had decided to drop her real estate career and start raising cattle without any experience, it was no surprise that when the sun was disappearing she announced she was off to plough some fields…  for the first time. In true Jackie fashion, without guidance or instruction, she just went for it. 
 
Darkness hung around us when we heard the drone of the plough in the distance stop. Assuming Jackie would be retiring for the night after her endless day, we allowed ourselves to sink into the quiet hush of our leafy alcove. Within minutes, a figure came strolling through the bushes, laden with a cooler and a regal, glass cake display case. A blue table cloth, three candles, china, silver wear, beet and pear salad, homemade bread, part of Chester the pig, savory granola, pickled garlic, cheese, and pepper pickled zucchini, and a layer cake quickly found their place on the table.
 
It took the three of us huddled around the grill to ignite the old charcoal but once they were hot Jackie knew exactly how she wanted to cook her pork.
 
Chester the pig had been raised on a diet of cooked wild beets and Burdock root. Considered an aggravating weed by most cattle farmers, Burdock is a resource for Jackie because she understands its other uses. “I love foraging the farm. I like to find and use things from here so everything is specific to this place.” Jackie explained.
 
She describes the seasonality of meat (it’s best in September/October after a long summer of eating grass outside) and how her deep care for the animals has shifted her ways of eating in ways she did not expect. “Ironically I eat less meat now than I ever have before because it’s so meaningful.”  That seemed to be the theme of Jackie’s work: meaning and truth.