Minnesota Catholic Worker Farm helps those in need, no questions asked

Steve Gardiner
Forum News Service

LAKE CITY, Minn. — Many photos of the Great Depression era show long lines of people waiting for a loaf of bread or a bowl of soup.

Often, the people handing out the food or providing shelter were members of the Catholic Worker Movement.

That same spirit of helping those who need food, drink, shelter or other necessities is alive in the work done at the Catholic Worker Farm, owned by Paul and Sara Freid, about 5 miles west of Lake City in Goodhue County.

“We do hospitality here,” Sara said. “We live in community, and we offer space for people who are experiencing homelessness. We have had people stay a few days, and we have had many guests come for a month at a time until they can find a place to live.”

Paul and Sara went to college at St. John’s and St. Benedict’s colleges and, during that time, they went on a service trip to the East Coast.

There they met members of the Catholic Worker Movement and were introduced to their actions and beliefs.

“We found people that were living out the gospel very authentically,” Sara said. “It resonated with us and got stuck in our hearts and, after that, we went back to school and after college, we volunteered at a shelter in the Cities.”

After they got married, a friend called them and said that two Catholic Worker houses in Winona were going to close and they should take over. The Freids moved in on their first anniversary.

“They had a house for single men and a house for single women and families,” Sara said. “We moved into the family house and were there about three years.”

It was excellent training for them, though it kept them extremely busy.

“Our house was always full,” Sara said. “We had a waiting list. Winona is bigger and people would be coming from Chicago and the Twin Cities.”

Origins of a movement

The Catholic Worker Movement was founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930s. They proposed that houses of hospitality in cities and farms that provided “cells of good living” would promote a society that “would have no place for economic exploitation or war, for racial, gender or religious discrimination, but would be marked by a cooperative social order without extremes of wealth and poverty and a nonviolent approach to legitimate defense and conflict resolution,” according to the website www.catholicworker.org/.

In the last 15 years, there has been an increase in the number of Catholic Worker houses opening, as well as more people opening farms. That was what Sara and Paul wanted to do, so in 2007, they left Winona and went to Lake City, where Sara grew up, and found a 52-acre farm that seemed ideal for their plans.

It took two years for them to build their house and, since 2009, they have been welcoming guests into their home, raising crops and fruit trees on the land, and helping promote the values of the Catholic Worker Movement.

“We welcome people as you would Christ or your grandmother,” Paul said. “Either way, you would not ask them to fill out paperwork or meet some type of criteria or do work, because they already have enough on their plate. If they are in crisis, they are not looking for more things to do. We want people to feel comfortable and take care of the things that they need to take care of.”

The Catholic Worker Movement is not part of the Catholic Church, and the church does not provide any funding. Sara and Paul are both Catholics, and they support the farm by working part-time jobs in Lake City until the produce from the farm can sustain itself.

Esther Liu moved from New York so she could work at the Prairie Island Indian Community and live in the community at the Lake City Worker Farm.

“We are rebuilding the soil and taking care of the environment while still feeding ourselves and feeding our neighbors,” she said. “Here we grow annual vegetables and are on our way to being a more perennial system.”

Welcoming visitors

The farm used to sell produce at the Lake City farmers’ market, but this summer, the couple opened a food and drink stand in a small parking lot near the two solar panels on the farm. Every Saturday they sell kombucha, flavored with ingredients from the farm, and other products.

Visitors can try products from the food and drink stand, walk on the farm’s trail to a section of prairie grass, see goats and pigs running in a pasture, watch pollinators in the flowers, and learn about the land.

“Paul and Sara are very involved in the church,” Liu said, “but part of Dorothy Day’s vision in the first place was that laypeople should be empowered to do the work of God, the works of mercy. That is not just the work of clergy. If everybody who professed to believe and follow Jesus were embodying that in their work and their relationships, then the church would be a lot more visible in the world and recognizable for what it claims to be.”

The food and drink stand is seen under the tent in the distance at the Catholic Worker Farm is located about five miles west of Lake City on Goodhue County 5.
Esther Liu lives in the community at the Catholic Worker Farm and uses a scythe to cut weeds near the farm’s solar panels on July 4, 2020.