Building Community

It’s easy in winter to feel isolated and alone. The car won’t start. There’s that snowbank to shovel. Days are short. Roads are slippery. Many people have left for warmer climates and won’t be back until spring.

Traditional means for gathering even in wintertime have been culturally neglected—barn dances, quilting bees, even the country tradition of “visiting.” The vortex of the television takes hold, and hunkering down while waiting for spring becomes the norm.

But here on the farm, that sense of holding out for spring doesn’t set well. Because of all the animals that still require tending every day, we can’t buzz off to Florida or Arizona for a couple of months. We’re here for the duration, with open eyes and hearts that come from choosing not to numb out with TV or virtual games.

What rises to the surface most in the gaps created by winter is community need. There’s loneliness, there’s hunger, there’s depression, there’s hard financial times, and more. Summer can cover these symptoms of need up from view, while everyone is busy out on the lake, entertaining company, or the local population becomes the great minority as tourists fill the streets and lakes and businesses.

On first and third Thursdays of the month, when we hold our farmer market stand in the waiting room of Hayward’s NorthLakes Community Clinic, I see the need and the suffering and the loneliness on faces of people coming and going. They long for a sense of feeling healthy and whole and heard. And they long for meaningful engagement with others in a positive way.

This winter has also been an important time on the farm for bringing clarity to our ethos—those pillars of meaning that guide our direction and decisions. And one of those pillars has always been building community. But what does that mean? How do you actually build community when you’re just one small farm in the Northwoods?

We identified building community as: creating an environment and building engagement points for meaningful community. With this perspective, noticing the gaps and the needs comes first.

For example, noticing the lack of local food availability in Sawyer County (as opposed to regions closer to the Twin Cities, Madison, or Lake Superior, for example) has led to initiatives over the years like founding the Hayward Area Farmer’s Market in 2003 and building Farmstead Creamery as a local foods hub in 2012.

With Farmstead as a vessel for “making it happen,” the lens can move towards other areas of need—including issues of isolation in the winter season. Community doesn’t happen in one-ses and two-ses, it takes groups of people coming together over a shared purpose. Food is a wonderful gathering point, which has been part of this winter’s initiative for hosting Community Dinners.

With a Community Dinner, the establishment provides a meal basically at cost, saving all profits for a pre-designated community service project. Guests enjoy not only a delicious meal, great company, and in our case some entertaining music as well, but they also learn about the project their ticket is helping to fund. They leave feeling good about their experience and knowing that someone else in the community will have a better experience in their life as well.

Last month, our Community Dinner featured fresh salad from the aquaponics, ancient grains bread, herbed roast leg of lamb, steaming potatoes, savory-sweet carrots, and caramel-drizzled bread pudding. Guests laughed and talked and got to know each other, some traveling as far away as Rochester, MN or Rice Lake to join the evening. Ages ranged from 7 months to 90 years old. Harp music played, candles flickered, and we shared the story of the NorthLakes program we partner with to help patients in need access foods from our farm that encourages positive dietary change.

There are three more nights coming up in this Community Dinner series, including one this month!

Saturday, Feb 17, 6 pm
Valentine’s Community Dinner at Farmstead Creamery

$25 per ticket. Limited seating, please call ahead for a reservation. 715-462-3453
Part of an ongoing series, where all of the profits will be donated to NorthLakes Community Clinic’s “Prescription for Wellness” Program. Enjoy a farm-to-table rustic Italian dinner with salad, homemade ravioli, and a chocolate dessert, along with traditional love songs and ballads to celebrate the season. Your participation helps make a different in local nutrition and health needs! Family Friendly.

Another way we’re reaching out with the message of building community through the vehicle of a farm-to-table meal is through a special event at the Spider Lake Church.

Wednesday, February 28th, starts 6:00 pm.
Fellowship Dinner at Spider Lake Church-Main Campus

Join us for this special gathering of 60 people in fellowship at a farm-to-table dinner held at the Main Campus. We are looking for 30 people who would like to attend and donate (minimum $20), which pays for your dinner AND a meal for a pre-selected person who is facing difficult times. This is an anonymous gifting event. Any additional moneys donated will be given to the Benevolence Fund. The meal will be catered by Farmstead Creamery.
Tickets must be ordered by Feb. 25th. Please contact Pastor Gary Hilgendorf for reservations. 715-462-9116.
“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalms 133: 1

These initiatives, however, are merely a starting place, a small voice amidst great need. There may be something you can do yet this winter to build community right where you are. Maybe it’s a gathering at your own home for tea, muffins, and storytelling. Maybe it’s time to get your knitting friends together and chatting instead of each at home working alone. Maybe it’s time to join that fun class that’s being offered that you’ve wanted to go to but haven’t because of the cold and the snow.

Whatever piques your interest, I encourage you to reach out and resist the tendency towards isolation in the winter. You can probably think of at least three neighbors who would love a time for visiting—at their home, at the coffee shop, at a bookstore. You can probably think of three friends who would love a scheduled outing invitation—a snowshoe hike, lunch at a favorite spot, or a trip to a concert or gallery.

And you can probably think of three people in your neighborhood who don’t get invitations or visits or many ways to connect with others during this time of year. Show up with some homemade bread and jam or offer to help them with something around the house. Sit and visit. Really listen. It will mean a great deal to them.

If we all can make an effort towards building community in these disparate and lonely times, just think of what might happen? No, don’t just think about it, try it! See you down on the farm sometime.