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Brother Placid spends his life farming

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 12/09/2010 9:14 AM

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PEOSTA, Iowa —Brother Placid, who came to New Melleray Abbey in 1955, ran the farm and worked on the farm extensively for a number of years. For 20 years he ran the farm and did carpentry and maintenance work at nearby Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey at Dubuque. He also repaired the Trappist sisters' candy making equipment.

These days, Brother Placid tends New Melleray's organic garden, vineyard and orchard producing food for the monks and the abbey's guest house.

He grows vegetables through much of the year using two greenhouses he put up himself as well as a big cold frame. Vegetables are started in March and he was still harvesting parsnips, spinach, lettuce and beets in mid-November. He grows a year's supply of potatoes, and his sweet corn is available much of the summer. He uses rotations and cover crops.

Brother Placid said that in the earliest days, the monks farmed with oxen. A yoke hangs in the farm office.

"I was very much against getting out of farming," Brother Placid said. "I think we could have continued. That was our sole source of income for most of the past years."

Brother Placid, who is in his 80s, grew up working on his family's large farm in northern Minnesota. When he came to New Melleray Abbey, there were 40 dairy cows, 1,200 laying hens, a carpentry shop and a sawmill. The monastery shipped two truckloads of hogs every month.

"One of my first jobs was cleaning the sow pens," Brother Placid said. "Ironically I didn't really want to be in farming when I was small. When I came to the monastery I thought I'd cut grass or wash dishes. When they found out I knew how to farm, I was planting oats right off the bat."

Farming is a very satisfying, he said.

"You see nature, and you acknowledge that God definitely has his finger in the whole show. As a consequence, it makes you depend on God for all things."

When Brother Placid first came to the monastery, he helped plant 28,000 trees.

"It's kind of satisfying that the last two years we've been harvesting the black walnut, red oak and white pine that we planted."

Agricultural work is good work, Brother Placid said.

"It's very physically hard and in the old days we'd run the combine by the seat of our pants. Our first combine, an old John Deere 55, had no cab. The dust was flying and you'd be dirty as a pig by the time you came home. You heard the groans and whines and knew if something was wrong. Now combines have a soundproof cab, and you watch a big bank of computer lights."