Tucked away in Ellicott City, the Shrine of St. Anthony sits on more than 80 acres belonging to the Franciscan Friars. The commitment to sustainability is evident shortly after you drive onto the grounds and spot the many solar arrays. Along with the solar project, you will find rain gardens that help mitigate runoff into our local waterways, and their latest project, Little Portion Farm, a new farm that will grow produce sustainably for their food-insecure neighbors.
All of this was inspired by Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí’–a letter written to all the people of the world on the need to care for our common home–that emphasized environmental conservation, social justice, and the need to reduce “compulsive consumerism.” Pope Francis stressed the importance of keeping others in mind, especially poorer populations that often disproportionately feel the effects of our changing climate. He wrote that the Earth “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her,” and asked “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us.”
Prior to this call for action, the Shrine’s farmland had been used to raise commodity crops, whose practices included spraying pesticides. Upon reflection of Pope Francis’ Laudato Sí’, the Franciscan Friars made the decision to be better stewards to the land, and entered into a partnership with Mary’s Land Farm, a neighboring farm dedicated to going “beyond Organic,” who needed more grazing land for their cattle. Mary’s Land Farm aims to create a balanced ecosystem of perennial plants and pasture that provides nutritious food for their family and community.
Building on this commitment, the Friars recently opened Little Portion Farm, which sits on a three acre, postage stamp of farmland near the entrance of the grounds. The name was taken from the Porziuncola (Italian for “little portion”) which is housed at Saint Mary’s of the Angels, a little chapel that St. Francis restored with the help of his early followers. This was St. Francis’ little portion of the land that he was able to take care of, and in turn, the land took care of him.
The Little Portion at the Shrine of St. Anthony, in partnership with volunteers and Mary’s Land Farm, will produce fruits and vegetables for our neighbors experiencing hardship at the Franciscan Center in Baltimore. The Friars wanted to ensure that people and communities remained at the center of this environmental initiative. Much of what the farm grows will depend on what is needed at the Center, but there are hopes to plant more indigenous trees and plants while using a permaculture approach.
The patron saint of the farm was an early follower of St. Francis, Blessed Giles of Assisi. Very fittingly, he was both a friar and a farmer, who stated, “Those who lovingly work their small expanse of fields, reap enough for themselves and others.”