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Donegan Farm

Franklin Donegan, 5, reacts to some cow nuzzling. (Vermont Catholic/Cori Fugere Urban) Franklin Donegan, 5, reacts to some cow nuzzling.
When 34-year-old Joe Donegan was growing up near the maternal family farm in Hinesburg, he considered pursing a farm life or a religious vocation. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public and community service with a minor in theology from Providence College and worked on a St. Albans dairy farm.
 
And he realized he could farm and live a life of service to God.
 
“Any work is infused with divine dignity and divine purpose if it’s what God wants you to do,” he said.
 
Now married and the father of three boys, Mr. Donegan sees his ministry as one of husband, father, son, farmer, brother, neighbor.
 
He and his wife, Emily – whom he met at a plant sale in Providence – run Donegan Family Farm in Charlotte; they own about 80 acres and rent 200 more, pasturing and/or grazing 260 acres. In mid May they had 83 Jersey cows of which 36 were milked.
 
The organic farm is part of the Organic Valley cooperative. According to its website, “Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients, like omega-3 and CLA essential fatty acids. And organic crops have been shown to contain significantly less concentrations of cadmium—a toxic metal on par with lead and mercury. Organic food really is better for you. And it tastes better too.”
 
Donegan said he farms organic not just because there is a niche market for the organic milk but because he considers it a spiritual obligation to farm in a way that improves the overall ecological health of the Earth God has created.
 
“Here in Vermont grass-fed meat and milk are sustainable and restorative [improving the soil and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere], if you do it right,” said Mrs. Donegan, 33, a Groveland, Mass., native who earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies at Warren Wilson College near Ashville, N.C.
 
And there is a social justice aspect to what they are doing: “Agricultural land in a country with starving people should not be used to feed the rest of the world” but its own inhabitants, Mr. Donegan said. He is working to contribute to the feeding of people in the United States with food produced here and has been influenced by the writing of environmental activist Bill McKibben, author of such books as “Hope, Human and Wild” and “Wandering Home.”
 
The Donegans have been at their Charlotte farm for seven and a half years; they purchased it two years ago.
 
They are the parents of Patrick, 7; Franklin, 5; and Dominick, 2.
 
On a recent afternoon the older boys – clad in knee-high rubber boots -- were in and out of the farmhouse kitchen as their parents talked with a visitor, their brother on his mother’s lap.
 
Patrick said he drinks mostly milk from the farm, but sometimes he drinks store-bought milk when he visits family in Massachusetts. The organic farm milk is better, he said.
 
“Our boys are exposed to real, simple, honest work,” Mrs. Donegan said. “They enjoy working,” especially in the vegetable garden. “As a farm family, we do a lot of work together.”
 
The Donegans belong to St. Jude Church in Hinesburg where Mrs. Donegan is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and Mr. Donegan is a member of the men’s group.

Originally published in the summer 2017 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.
 

 
Last modified onMonday, 26 June 2017 19:38
Vermont Catholic Magazine © 2016 Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington