Herman van Veelen from Holland

herman In the beginning of December I went back to my home country for a week. I went there to celebrate the feast-day of St. Nicholas, which is very big in Holland, and to answer all sorts of difficult questions, like “What are you doiCatholic Worker Farm celebrationng living at some crazy Christian – hippy farm -commune?”, “What was wrong with going to university?” and “Why didn’t you write?” Though all of those questions are very good article-material, I chose here to restrict myself to the first question: “What are you doing at the Catholic Worker Farm?”

After being home for a few days, and having had some practice at answering this question, I developed two standard answers to choose from. The first one goes a bit like this: “We take the social message of the gospel seriously, and try to become disciples of Jesus Christ by following the law of love and doing the works of mercy; we share our house and our meals with people that really need them. We lead a life filled with prayer, contemplation and pure physical labour.” The other answer is:” Hmm, mostly weeding, I guess”.

Maybe both of these answers are too simplified. The first one makes our life seem too hard; the second one makes it sound too easy. I think the reason it’s so difficult to explain what we do is because it’s so diverse: sometimes we are farmers, sometimes activists; sometimes we are beggars, and sometimes social workers. One theme that does seem to run through all that we do is FOOD. First of all we spend a lot of time in our garden, growing our own organic produce. Like Ecclesiastes teaches us: there’s a time for sowing, and there’s a time for harvesting, a time for weeding, and a time for picking stones, a time for building rabbit fences, a time finding out whether the disease that’s killing all the leeks this year will also affect onions if we plant them in the same bed next year, and too little time for everything.

Besides gardening we have other ways of getting food. About once a month we go and beg at a big vegetable market. We always leave with a full car. We also get a lot of food donated. We get free bread from a local bakery, and we have cupboards full of baked beans from a couple of harvest festivals. That’s it for the boring, getting-the-food-part. Now comes the more enjoyable eating-part. One of the good things about eating at the CW-Farm is that it’s so international. We have a very big table, filled with many people that have all left their home countries. Some of us left because we couldn’t find a community to eat with, some of us left because we couldn’t find food to eat, and some of us left for completely different reasons. Maybe that sounds a bit sad, but it certainly has some advantages. The most obvious one is that we have food from all around the world; in a normal week we might eat Tunisian, Ethiopian, Rwandan, Ugandan, and Eritrean meals, complemented by baked beans on the weekend, when we don’t have a cook.

Besides that, the ethnic diversity also adds a lot of value to our dinner conversation. We often have what I call: ‘In my country’-conversations. Let me explain: In a house like ours, most people find out pretty quickly that a lot of sentences that used to begin with ‘Everyone’, like: ‘Everyone knows the Beatles’, or ‘Everyone rinses the soap off their dishes after washing them’, suddenly have to be precluded by ‘In my country’. So an ‘In my country’-conversation is a conversation in which a lot of those sentences are used. In this way we all learn a lot about intercultural difference and we find out important facts of life. Did you know, for example, that most Afghan men shave their armpits? When our Afghan community-member found out that most western men don’t, she gave me a look as if she’d just seen me eat a live frog; a complicated mix of surprise, disappointment, and disgust.

Our table-fellowship, however, is not restricted to the people that live on the farm. We also often have guest: people that come over for a few days or weeks, to work with us, people that regularly come volunteer for a day, or people that just come to visit or to check out the farm. It’s always nice to welcome local people into our house of hospitality. Of course our life is not limited to the gathering and consuming of food.

We also pray for our daily bread every morning. We have a short morning prayer, in which we read from the Bible and pray from our hearts. After this it often happens that Scott, who is a certified theologian, explains about the readings a bit more. The only thing I can think of that doesn’t have anything to do with food is war. This is probably why we spend some time every week trying to stop it, by holding placards and handing out leaflets. We believe in a future where everyone is sitting under their own vine and fig tree, in peace and unafraid, with a stomach full of fruit.