[permaculture] [Fwd: [SANET-MG] Clear Creek monks experimenting with sustainable pasture and forest management]
Lawrence F. London, Jr.
lfl at intrex.net
Wed Oct 19 01:18:45 EDT 2005
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: [SANET-MG] Clear Creek monks experimenting with sustainable
pasture and forest management
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 2005 23:40:28 -0500
From: Robert Waldrop <bwaldrop at COX.NET>
To: SANET-MG at LISTS.IFAS.UFL.EDU
*This article about the Clear Creek Monastery is from the Tulsa World.
Although the text is below, be sure to click the link and see a
beautiful picture of Brother Joseph Marie herding sheep over the bridge
the monks built over Clear Creek. Note that they can ship the lamb meat
via Federal Express, if you would like to support their apostolate by
*Robert Waldrop, Oklahoma City*
*Tending the flock
*By ANGEL RIGGS World Staff Writer
Oklahoma monks raise sheep, cows at monastery
Deep in the wooded hills of eastern Oklahoma, sheep at Clear Creek
Monastery come running down a path in a blanket of bobbing heads and
Despite the pushing and crowding, they all follow the lead of three
Pyrenees dogs with all the trust a group of sheep can muster.
Mac, the monastery's sheep dog, hurries them along, running from one end
of the flock to the other, nipping the tails of any slowpokes.
Mac sweeps them across a bridge, where the whole crowd instinctively
stops. The trail continues up another hill, but the flock turns to Mac
with looks that plainly ask, "Are we there yet?"
Not sure himself of what the plan is, Mac glances at Brother
Joseph-Marie Owen, who has been encouraging the dog by calling cues.
"Lie down," he tells Mac in a slow drawl. Owen, who grew up in Oregon,
doesn't naturally speak with a Southern dialect.
But Mac only understands English that's spoken with a bit of a twang.
The dog's trainer is from West Virginia, Owen explains. That's why you
have to tell him, "Lie DAY-own."
Clear Creek's 25 residents have raised sheep for five years, selling
lamb meat to the public as they earn money to build a roughly $22
million, 80,000-square-foot, Romanesque-style monastery complex on the
spread near Hulbert.
The Benedictine monks have taken a vow of stability to remain in the
monastery, and their work on the land is geared toward allowing future
residents to live a self-sufficient and organic lifestyle.
But the ultimate goal of the whole operation is simple to explain.
"Eternal life," Owen said.
The monks don't use herbicides or pesticides on the land, and the nearly
300 sheep are spared hormone implants, a practice that's evident in the
meat's flavor, Owen said. In fact, the monks use just a little salt and
garlic for seasoning.
"The flavor is there," he said. "What they've been eating is reflected
in that. You don't need to complicate it."
In the winter, the sheep eat high-quality alfalfa instead of being given
The meat is processed at a federally certified plant, he said. Lambs
typically produce 24 to 32 pounds of meat that the monastery sells in
cuts by the whole or half carcass.
Since the monks' schedule of eight hours of prayer, eight hours of work
and eight hours of sleep leaves little room for selling meat over the
phone, a Tahlequah organic food store, Blessed Harvest, has volunteered
to take the orders.
Blessed Harvest is owned by Mark and Lisa Boutross and run with help
from their nine children. The Boutrosses, oblates of the monastery, sell
the meat at their store or can ship or deliver it for a charge.
The meat is also sold through the Oklahoma Food Co-op, a type of online
supermarket that links customers directly to farmers and ranchers
statewide. Orders are placed online for a variety of products, and on
scheduled days customers can pick up their products at designated spots
Though the monks' biggest agricultural job is the sheep operation, they
also tend an orchard and milk their own cows. One of the brothers makes
cheese for the other monks, Owen said.
An abundance of trees on the place provides ample wood for a small
sawmill where they make fence posts and small furniture items for sale.
The trees have taken over the hills around the monastery, since prairie
fires no longer keep them under control. Brush and the leafy canopy
provides little room for grasses to grow, although an assortment of
weeds can be found.
Luckily, sheep seem to like eating brambles, weeds and even red cedar
branches after the trees are pushed down within their reach, Owen said.
With advice from Oklahoma State University and Langston University, the
monks are slowly helping the land become green again.
Controlled burns, a trend that involves burning specific areas with the
help of state agriculture officials, give the land more of a clean slate
to start again.
In addition to providing income for the operation, the sheep also
contribute by eating their way across the hills.
"The sheep will go in there and eat the stuff the cows wouldn't look
at," Owen said.
Many of the Clear Creek monks, including Owen, were raised in the United
States and attended the University of Kansas before moving to France in
the mid-1970s. There they spent roughly 25 years in monastic communities
affiliated with French Abbey Notre Dame de Fontgombault, a medieval
abbey in the heart of the country.
"In the central mountains of France, the tradition of sheep raising is
very, very ancient," Owen said.
French wine, French bread and lamb are staples in the region.
"We learned quite a bit," he said. "Everyone could give you advice."
When the monks moved back to the United States in 1999, as they had
intended all along, they returned as pioneers. Their plan is to build
the first U.S. affiliate of their French monastery.
Clear Creek is the only monastery in the nation that each day says the
church's official prayer (known as the "Divine Office"), celebrates mass
in Latin and sings in Gregorian chant, according to a brochure.
While the monks are working to support themselves on the land, they're
not alone. They provide a guest house for retreats, and visitors often
come to celebrate mass.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sustainable Agriculture Research
Education program awarded the group a grant for its work in turning the
erosion-prone hills into land suitable for farming.
Through the project, the monks are studying the economics and long-term
sustainability of the land without the help of heavy machinery for
planting and harvesting, or chemical herbicides, according to the SARE
As part of the project, the monks developed low-cost portable fencing,
By using fence posts fashioned in the sawmill and donated telephone
wire, the monks developed an electric fence for about 20 percent of the
cost of a barbed-wire barrier, Owen said.
Portable fencing is especially important with sheep, which can quickly
eat everything in an area. They have to be moved often as they snack
their way across a penned area.
Called hair sheep, the varieties at Clear Creek include Dorpher,
Katahdin and St. Croix. The sheep get their "hair" name because they're
not among the woolly varieties that are shorn.
But it's also possible that the hair sheep got its name from Adam, the
first man God created, according to the Bible. As Adam left the Garden
of Eden, he may have called out to the sheep to follow him out of
paradise, Owen explained with a smile.
"Come here, sheep," Adam might have said. "C'mere, sheep."
For more information about Clear Creek Monastery, visit
*www.clearcreekmonks.org <http://www.clearcreekmonks.org/>*. For more
information or to order lamb meat, call Blessed Harvest at (918)
456-8209 or log onto *www.oklahomafood.coop
More information about the permaculture