Recently I had a chance to tour the New Hope Catholic Worker Farm just south of town, and visit with its founders, Rick Mihm and his wife Mary Moody.
Mihm is a former Catholic priest; he was the Loras College chaplain when I started teaching at Loras in 1992. Mihm and his wife founded the Hope House Catholic Worker House of Hospitality in 1997. Currently Mihm is Director of the Dubuque Rescue Mission.
The Catholic Worker Movement was founded in 1933 by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, in the depths of the Great Depression. The movement is based on commitment to nonviolence, prayer, and hospitality for the homeless and forsaken.
The New Hope Catholic Worker Farm is one of three Catholic Worker Farms in Iowa. As Moody explained, “This farm was established as a sister project of Hope House …. The three main ministries of the Catholic Worker Movement are Houses of Hospitality, Catholic Worker Farms, and ongoing round table discussions, where workers and scholars can get together … There are about 250 houses of hospitality … and many fewer farms.”
Mihm and Moody established the New Hope Catholic Worker Farm as an extension of Hope House in 2001. Mihm had grown up on a farm in northeast Iowa, while Moody grew up the oldest of five children in the Cedar Falls area. Their farm is situated on 32 acres of land – most of it woodland — just south of Dubuque. A Peace Pole proclaiming “May peace prevail on Earth” in several different languages is a prominent feature on the property.
As Moody explained, “We were at the House of Hospitality, living with homeless women and children … We had by then two children of our own … We were actually in community with two other couples … they really wanted to get this Catholic Worker Farm going.”
“We got the land. It’s always meant to be land that was stewarded for the common good … both environmentally, with sustainable practices, as well as welcoming – you see the sign, ‘All are welcome’ … To practice simple living; to share, and to teach about it.”
Mihm added, “Simple doesn’t mean less work or easy.”
Moody continued, “It’s with conscience … with awareness and sensitivity … and living in relationship with the land … and with animals … and the spiritual part of that is very important to us.”
Mihm did the plans for the house; friends of Moody’s family did the concrete. Then Mihm and a family friend built the house; next, contractors were hired to do the electrical and plumbing work. All of the heat in the 1800 square-foot house comes from two wood stoves.
For about ten years they’ve had solar panels on the property. As Mihm told me, the solar panels “run our refrigerator, our freezer, some lights, and the ceiling fan.”
Their three children were all home schooled. Their two sons, now grown, are both professional dancers. Their daughter, still at home and finishing her schooling, is an equestrian who does competitive jumping. The family also includes a black Labrador retriever and two cats.
They have had a lot of short term and longer-term visitors over the years. Mihm and a friend built an addition to the house that they call the “school house.” For years it was used for home-schooling their children; these days it’s mainly a place where longer-term visitors can stay.
There are several Jersey cows on the farm, that are mainly used for milking. Mihm told me, “The four moms have a calf each summer or fall.” When asked how the cows were fertilized, He said, “We don’t have a bull … we have artificial insemination … Larger places would have a bull … You’ve got to have really strong fencing for a bull … Bulls are just too dangerous. You turn your back on them and they can kill you.”
He said, “Our daughter milks the cows every day, in the morning. It takes about an hour and a half … The milk goes to the mission … We take in about eight gallons a day.”
There are several chickens on the farm that produce eggs, but there aren’t any roosters. “Roosters,” Mihm told me, “are very territorial.”
I laughed. “Males can really be a pain,” I said. “What you want is females.”
“Or sensitive males,” said Moody.
There are several Shetland sheep on the farm. Mihm told me, “They’re mainly pets … mostly for the different groups of kids we have visiting.”
Moody has been doing her best to keep a bee hive going, but “they struggle,” she said, like bees everywhere.
Their winter-time crops include kale: “It’s very winter hardy,” said Moody. In the greenhouse, they’re currently growing spinach, chard, onions and other greens. Mihm told me, “On a sunny day it’ll be 80 degrees in here.”
When I asked the couple about their plans for the future, Moody laughed and said, “We’ll discuss what our hopes for the future are, and get back to you.”
More seriously, Mihm said, “That connection with the mission – that’s really our dream.”
“And renewing it with Hope House,” added Moody.
For more information about the Catholic Worker Movement, the books “Loaves and Fishes,” “Duty of Delight,” and “The Long Loneliness,” all by Dorothy Day, are recommended. More information can be found on the Web at http://www.catholicworker.org or at the Web site of the Des Moines Catholic Worker House of Hospitality: http://dmcatholicworker.org.