When Pope Francis issued his encyclical letter Laudato si’ in 2015, it focused renewed attention on the long-standing Catholic teaching to care for creation. “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience,” Pope Francis wrote. One of the main messages of this document, echoing Pope Francis’ predecessors, was that caring for the earth is deeply interrelated with the care of the poor and vulnerable.
It was in this spirit that the Friars began considering new possibilities for the land on the grounds of the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, Maryland. Until then, much of the land had been leased out to a farmer employing the traditional methods of industrial agriculture. The land was planted in a one-crop monoculture of corn or soybeans and sprayed with abundant chemicals to kill weeds, pests, and diseases. In this industrial system, the crops grown are typically genetically modified to tolerate these harsh chemicals and require abundant fertilizers to overcome the soil depleted of nutrients and microbial life. Finally, these crops are often sold to produce countless food additives or even ethanol, rather than food to support local populations.
In 2018, this land began to serve more sustainable purposes. A portion of the land is now leased to our partner Mary’s Land Farm for cattle in a rotational grazing system that is far more sustainable than conventional methods. On the 3 acres that is now Little Portion Farm, Mary’s Land Farm helped plant a diverse mix of cover crops that have begun to restore the soil by increasing nutrients and supporting microbial and insect life. In the summer of 2019, Little Portion Farm began producing vegetables on a small scale to be donated to the Franciscan Center of Baltimore, an integral partner of this project that provides a variety of services to people who are economically disadvantaged. Since then, we have grown, harvested and donated over 23,000 pounds of produce to those in need.