Q & A about Holy Family Farm
With Fr. Glenn Sudano, CFR
What is Holy Family Farm?
Holy Family Farm is a faith-based, not-for-profit mission of Catholic laity dedicated to providing a place and a space, an opportunity and an experience, where young men can live a communal and intentional way of life – so to better discern and prepare for their future.
Why is such a place necessary?
It is most evident today that many people – especially the young – are experiencing the negative effects of a “culture in decline.”
The fragmentation of the family, the erosion and, indeed, the uprooting of traditional moral values, the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of suffering are but a few tragic signs that society is sliding downward. Now with the ever-increasing availability and influence of technology and consequent addiction to social media, the emotional, psychological, and spiritual health of young people are being deeply compromised – and in many cases, completely destroyed. Recent studies and statistics reveal that even grade school children are suffering the ill effects of spending hours on their phones. Thus, the generation now coming of age - our future parents, civic leaders, educators, and clergy – have spent much of their formative years playing video games and viewing pornography.
What makes Holy Family Farm different from other therapeutic community or programs?
The fact is: Holy Family Farm is not a therapeutic community; nor is it a drug or alcohol rehab. It is not focused on a man’s past and healing his wounds, but on his future and living life. It is not a place where a man is “sent” with a problem past – rather, it is a place he chooses to go to prepare for a hopeful future. As each person is different, so too the ways in which Holy Family Farm can assist a man. For example, one man may just need some time and space to better discern or prepare himself for further studies, marriage, seminary, or religious community. Another may need to be freed from his excessive and destructive viewing of social media.
It is important to emphasize that Holy Family Farm is oriented toward the future. It’s not a “program” but a place where one can – as Father Benedict Groeschel would say – “take the next good step.” Indeed, one young man, considering spending some time at the Farm, put it this way: “I think I’m stuck – I may need the Farm to give me the traction and direction I need to move forward.
… But why a farm?
Nowadays, when someone speaks of a “farm” they think of big red barns, tall silver silos, massive combines, and acres of alfalfa or wheat. Holy Family farm is not that sort of farm. Rather, it’s a family farm, not unlike the farms that spread across the American landscape a century ago. The family farm sustained the individual family, not world markets. While Holy Family Farm will indeed market organic food and durable goods, its real purpose is to produce real men. The traditional farm family not only produced healthy food – but, often enough, healthy people! The reason is almost self-evident: a farm family is a working unit where success or survival depends on daily mutual industry, cooperation, and personal responsibility. In many ways, a working farm provides young people an education and an experience that no Ivy League university could ever match! It has been said often, and it is true: farm families work hard, eat well, laugh often, and sleep better than the rest of us!
Practically speaking, what will life at Holy Family Farm look like?
“Balance” and “integration” may be the best words to describe life on Holy Family Farm. For example, weekdays are balanced with weekends, and daily prayer integrated with manual labor. Most days – excepting special feast days and seasons – begin at six and end at ten. Prayer – personal, communal, and liturgical – measure and mark out each day, month, and year.
If you don’t have large crops and combines, what does work look like on the Farm?
Well, depending on the time of year, spring and summer months are given to a whole host of things; for example, planting, watering, and weeding the organic garden beds and greenhouse. Also – as we have many acres of wooded land – roads and trails need to be created, together with clearing areas for buildings and pastureland. Trees are indeed a great resource for us, providing firewood for the winter months and construction material for summer projects. Our young men will also become adept not only chopping wood but milling and curing it.
Depending on our numbers, we do envision having a manageable number of animals – poultry of various kinds and typical farm animals such as pigs, sheep, and cattle. Winter months mean – in addition to splitting the next season’s firewood – more indoor work in our spacious woodshop for carpentry projects; pottery and ceramic making at the kiln; and leatherworking and icon writing in the art studio. And let’s not forget preparing and cooking meals!
And what about relaxing and recreation?
Of course, life at Holy Family Farm is not all about work! In fact, each day begins and ends with silent periods of reflection. In terms of recreation, that will depend on the person, the season – and the weather! Not only the 60-acre property, but the entirety of Sullivan County itself, provides many choices for healthy activities such as hiking, hunting, skiing, ice-skating, and kayaking – to name just a few.
You mentioned “weekdays are balanced with weekends” ….
As for many people, Monday through Friday are considered “ordinary workdays.” However, each evening will provide something different. For example, Monday evenings may be given to a Bible or book study. Tuesday evenings may be slotted for watching and discussing an educational video, and Wednesday evenings for personal time for a hobby or reading.
Weekends will be especially set aside for hospitality. For example, Saturdays are dedicated to receiving visitors who come to volunteer with various Farm projects. While Sunday – the Lord’s Day – is a day given to offering hospitality to friends and families. Not only activities for the children, but a talk for the adults may be scheduled. Prayer will, of course, accompany the day – for example: Eucharistic adoration, the recitation of the Holy Rosary, and perhaps, the Divine Office.
You speak about “young men” living and working on the Farm – how young - and how old? Also, how long will they stay?
“Residents,” describes those young men who make a commitment to stay for an extended time: for example, a school year or summer months. Those who desire to be residents contact Holy Family Farm and speak to the board members responsible for the admission process. It is recommended a man spend a few days or weeks before both parties come to a mutual agreement to continue or discontinue the admission process. Each resident will meet regularly with a designated staff member to keep them “on track” and moving in a good direction. Open and honest discussion being the key to discerning decisions directed to their future.
What is the age requirement to be a resident and, is the Farm only for Catholic men?
In terms of age, eighteen would certainly be the youngest; the older men perhaps somewhere in their thirties. Often enough, our staff members will be older, more mature men. In terms of religion, we expect that most of the residents will be Catholic; however, if a non-Catholic – or even non-Christian – desires to come to the Farm, he is most certainly welcome provided, of course, he supports our spiritual values and participates fully in our daily prayer life.
Is there a cost or “tuition” and how will the Farm support itself?
No, there is no cost, although the resident is expected to have some form of medical insurance and “pocket money” for personal needs. If it happens that a diocese or a religious community is utilizing Holy Family Farm as part of a man’s program for discernment and formation, then perhaps, some financial remuneration would naturally be expected. We have trust in God’s providence which will work through the generosity of our benefactors. Our job is to be faithful and work hard. As the Farm develops, we are confident that it will also develop goods – both durable and edible – which will not only keep us financially afloat but keep us well on course.
I have noticed you use the word “mission” – what do you mean by “mission”?
All those who have made a special commitment to be a part of Holy Family Farm – that is, board members, benefactors, mentors, staff, and friends have one thing in common; they are all men and women committed to their Faith. They are also committed to their call as the Baptized to work for the spiritual renewal of our country, culture, and Church. The future of all of these rests on recovering the vocation and role of men and fatherhood. The world is suffering – and suffering badly – from a lack of authentic male leadership.
Again, the Farm is neither a “program” nor is a “project” – it is, rather, a “mission.” And this mission is in the hands of a mature and committed laity who see themselves inspired and empowered by the power – that is, the grace – of God. It is crucial today, more than ever, that men begin to recognize and re-embrace their role in society; that is, to lead, provide, and protect. Our world – both Church and state – needs men to stand for the truth, suffer well, and sacrifice themselves for others: the very reason why Holy Family Farm takes Saint Joseph as our special Patron and Model.
Earlier you spoke of “designated mentors” ….
While the Farm is not an educational institution, it certainly is a place of learning. That’s why we can call it a school – a school of life – a school for life! While our men will be working, the goal is not just getting a job done, but getting it done right – that is, the right way and for the right reason. Sadly, too few people nowadays appreciate the value of work – especially manual work. All work done with right intention for God’s glory makes work holy – which makes men holy. For this reason, our mentors who are not only are proficient with a particular skill, are also men of faith and virtue. They not only show a young man how to make something with their hands but hopefully to make something of their lives!
Let’s conclude with some thoughts about the “spirituality” of Holy Family Farm…
Perhaps the best way to describe the spirituality of this mission is to speak of those saints who are the patrons of Holy Family Farm. We have chosen one principal patron and four copatrons. Of course, the liturgical feast days of these saints will be special days of celebration on the Farm. Our principal patron of Holy Family Farm is Saint Joseph. The reason is almost most self-evident as it is our desire for the Holy Spirit to instill and form in all of us his manly and manifold virtues. They are many – charity, chastity, discipline, obedience, devotion, integrity, industry, courage, and compassion. In fact, May the 1st – the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker – has been chosen as Holy Family Farm’s official opening and feast day. Indeed, after Our Lord and God Jesus Christ Himself, we see and find in Saint Joseph – God’s own earthly father and protector – the epitome of true manhood.
Who are the four “co-patrons” – and why were they chosen?
Saint Benedict for Liturgical Prayer & manual work; Saint Francis for Fraternity & Catholic devotion; Saint John Bosco for Religious & human formation of young men; and Saint Charles de Foucauld for Christian hospitality & silent contemplation.