Close to the land and to the Lord

Mike Callicrate runs Ranch Foods Direct and several other cattle-related businesses in Colorado Springs, Colo., and is an advocate for reforming the cattle industry, improving the welfare of farm families and restoring effective publicly regulated markets.

In Hilltop, Wis., Shane and Chiara Dowell, members of the New Catholic Land Movement, raise vegetables and sheep, and use draft horses to work their 40-acre Little Flower Farm. Although their farming focuses are different, both families — along with others in the industry — instill the Catholic ideals of social justice and stewardship in conducting business and treating the land.

Protecting rural culture

Callicrate is involved with the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) in Des Moines, Iowa, which has a mission to apply the teachings of Jesus for the betterment of rural America. But that wasn’t always his focus.

“When I got out of college, I had the mentality of bigger is better and profit is important,” Callicrate said. “It took a while to recover from that.”

Now he sees eating and growing food as a moral act.

“The Church has always affirmed farmers and farming, and is now concerned about the loss of farmers on the land and the growing consolidation and concentration in agriculture,” said Jim Ennis, NCRLC executive director. “That can have significant impact on both rural and smaller communities, and to small and mid-size farmers.”

Communion with creation

At issue are advances in technology that enable industrialized agriculture, genetic engineering of livestock and seeds, harming the land with overproduction and chemicals, lack of diversity and pricing that puts farmers out of business.

“The idea that industrialized farming is going to feed the world is a lie,” Callicrate said. “The only way we can feed the world is if our soils heal.”

Ron Rossmann of Harlan, Iowa, took over the family farm in 1973 and continued sustainable farming.

“I figured I could give up pesticides because I knew how to farm without them,” Rossman said. “We already used chemicals sparingly, and our 700-acre operation is now organically certified land, cattle and hogs.”

“Being a farmer is an opportunity to be in communion with God and God’s creation,” Rossman added. “It’s a great gift to be taken very seriously because of what it means for now and future generations.”

Little Flower Farm

While living in Florida, Dowell and Chiara knew their lives needed more. They prayed for another direction.

“We wanted a life that we could share,” Chiara said.

After praying a novena and discerning Scripture readings, they left the state and now are living the ideals that they cherish on their Little Flower Farm.

“The Gospels are more vibrant to us,” Chiara said. “All the analogies that Christ used really pop out at us because we live it like never before.”

Kevin Ford of St. Leo, Kan., founded the New Catholic Land Movement and transitioned from teaching theology to full time at Fiat Farms where he and his wife Mary raise vegetables.

“Our primary focus is to be farming in a way that respects dignity and creation,” he said. “For us, it’s the New Evangelization on the family scale.” 

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania. This is part two of a three-part Year of Faith series on the diversity of faithful within the Church.

Rural Priests
Fr Matsey
People gather on a farm after a Mass celebrated by Father Gregory Mastey. Photo courtesy of Father Mastey
Father Mastey studied to be a game warden and has a degree in environmental biology. He grew up on a farm (so did Father Knopik), rides a motorcycle and horses, and enjoys hunting. Rural life comes easily to him, whether it’s visiting parishioners for pastoral needs or blessing animals.
“Even people who are marginally involved in the parish are tremendously involved in dealing with death,” he said. “They get involved in funeral dinners and in the people’s life in God. In city parishes, people are dying almost anonymously. In rural parishes, you have incredible Christian support. You really do bury the dead. The care of the mourning and the care of the grieving are pretty significant.”