By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
ST. CATHARINE, Ky. — The land surrounding the Dominican Sisters of Peace Motherhouse has been farmed since 1822.
In the beginning, the sisters farmed the verdant hills to feed the community and the students they taught.
Today, the farm is tended by a farm manager and a part-time farm hand who primarily raise beef cattle.
At the heart of the farm’s mission is to promote sustainable farming practices and provide quality beef for the sisters and consumers alike, said Danny Spalding, farm manager.
“We’ve done a whole lot to humanely raise cattle, in how we feed them, how they are handled and the general welfare of the cattle,” he said, adding “people want to know where their food comes from.”
The farm is situated on 650 acres of picturesque countryside of gently-rolling hills just a short walk downhill from the Dominican Motherhouse.
Hay and corn raised on the farm feed the cattle. Two lakes, a wetland and a forest area with Cartwright Creek running through it, are also located on the property.
The farm is a separate enterprise from the adjacent St. Catharine College, which closed last summer following declining enrollment and a legal battle with the U.S. Department of Education.
Though the closing of the college was a blow to the sisters and the surrounding community, Spalding said, the farm remains healthy.
“We’re running very strong. We lost some beef sales” due to the closing, Spalding said, but added the beef remains in high demand.
Last year, the farm sold about 85-95 steer. At about 1,250 pounds per steer, that total yielded approximately 112,500 pounds of beef, Spalding noted.
The biggest market is for the grain-fed beef. And, the grass-fed beef, he said, is a growing market. All of the beef is antibiotic-, steroid- and hormone-free.
About half of the sales come from the surrounding Springfield, Ky., area and the remaining sales come from the wider Kentucky region, including Louisville, Lexington, Elizabethtown, Ft. Knox and Danville. Recently, sales have expanded into Tennessee, particularly the grass-fed beef, Spalding said.
The farm also sells pork, which is raised by Amish farmers in Casey County, Ky. Spalding estimated the farm sold about 50-60 hogs last year.
In addition to regional sales, the farm also provides beef to the Motherhouse, its Sansbury Care Center and other Dominican Motherhouses. The Dominican community at St. Catharine merged with six other Dominican communities in 2009 to form the Dominican Sisters of Peace. The headquarters are in Ohio.
Though the farm’s main focus is beef, there are a couple of other initiatives. In 2009, farm workers installed four beehives. And, in 2013 workers planted an orchard of peach, apple and pear trees. The fruits of that effort should be ready for use next year, Spalding said.
A note of pride is evident in Spalding’s voice when he discusses the farm and its sustainable practices. Spalding, who has worked the farm since 1983, said crops and grazing areas are rotated in an attempt to prevent soil depletion.
“We want to make sure people know the cattle are not locked up in a barn; they are able to roam the hillside,” said Spalding, a parishioner of St. Rose Church in Springfield.
Dominican Sister of Peace Charlene Moser, who serves as a liaison between the sisters and the farm, said the sisters embrace sustainable practices not only to provide a desirable product but also to preserve and care for the land.
“The idea is not to extract as much as possible but to care for it. Pope Francis talks about this in “Laudato Si’ ” that humans should have respect for the land and to use the gifts we’ve be given to care for it,” she said, referring to the pontiff’s 2015 encyclical on the environment.
Sister Moser said the farm also taps the roots of the sisters’ mission.
“The congregation began as a teaching community and we see the farm as a means of fulfilling the teaching mission,” she said.
The farm collaborates with a number of local and state organizations to promote sustainable practices and to educate the public about proper soil and water management.
The farm usually hosts a field day in the summer, where the public is invited to tour and learn about the farm. The date for this year has not been announced.
Susan McCain, chair of the St. Catharine Farm Advisory Council, echoed Sister Moser’s statements and said the farm and its practices align with the overall ministry of the sisters.
“We are not like other farms. The farm’s profitability is important for viability and continuity but its mission, vision and commitment to the sustainability of God’s creation is its driving force,” she said.
Visit scfarmkentucky.org for beef prices and ordering information.