Nuns lead the way in organic farming

Here’s a story after my own heart: An exemplary organic farm run by a group of nuns.

Villa Maria, on the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio is like a small town, with a Post Office, and a 23 acre plot of land housing a convent, an apartment building for seniors, and a retreat center full of amenities. There also used to be a hospital founded by the sisters in the late 1800s when they arrived from France.

The Sisters of the Humility of Mary also run a 300 acre farm and a 400 acre forest, with the help of a paid land management team and some enthusiastic volunteers. The sisters’ mission today is feeding the poor from what they grow.

Eleven sisters answered the call of a missionary priest in 1864 to come teach settlers in the wilderness of Ohio, and they were given some wetland that the bishops of Pittsburgh and Cleveland didn’t want. Unlike others, they were able to farm it, and until the 1960s, it was a bustling place with 600 sisters. (The farm was always organic, even though the sisters still can’t afford the fees to have it officially declared so.) As their numbers dwindled, and farming dramatically declined in the 1980s, Sister Barbara O’Donnell asked God what was next:

She began researching the history of the farm and learning about its operation from Mr. Romeo. She believed the sisters’ mission of cultivating the virtue of humility was directly tied to their cultivation of land, on which they were humbly dependent for God’s providence.

“We see this earth as a gift from God, and we are responsible for it. We want to care for it in a sustainable way, so that we can have a healthy habitat and healthy soil for healthy food for future generations of all species,” she said.

Villa Maria is a considered a “showplace” when it comes to adopting best practices, according to Ed Petrus, a district conservationist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services. He has hosted meetings for growers and conservationists at the villa.

One of the fascinating aspects of the sisters’ land is their old growth forests. They have oaks, maples, and hickories and focus on retaining the trees required to sustain wildlife and protect wetlands. Read the whole story here.

(Hat tip: The Deacon’s Bench)


Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Zo

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