Stewarding the Earth at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine: Meet Elyse Caiazzo

September 7, 2017

By Emma Deans, Communications Officer at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine

As part of her many responsibilities of working on the Saint Joseph’s College farm, Elyse Caiazzo tends to row crops.

At 9:30 a.m. on a summer morning, Elyse Caiazzo, a senior at Saint Joseph’s College of Maine, strides across the College’s Pearson’s Town Farm. The sun is already creeping high into the sky with a temperature rising towards 70 degrees. Dressed in cut-off shorts, a tank top and waterproof boots, Elyse points to the various wooden posts she helped install to keep the farm’s livestock penned. She explains, “For those posts we have to dig the holes, remove any large rocks, then put dirt down and smaller rocks in the holes to support the posts, and everything is by hand—no machines!”

Lambs and goats bleat. Crickets chirp. Voices of fellow farm workers and volunteers emerge—conversations containing weekend recaps and plans for the day ahead, which include planting, weeding and harvesting vegetables. Assistant farm manager Alyssa Dolan, also a student, loads her pick-up truck with produce for the local food pantry, Catherine’s Cupboard (which is run by Saint Joseph’s College) while other students ready the farm stand for its opening at 10 a.m.

Elyse finds comfort in this familiar scene. She began volunteering at the farm for two hours a week as a first-year student. “It was life-changing,” she says.

Students and staff labor together to harvest crops on the 18-acre farm.

Though she grew up next to a farm, she had never experienced feeding and watering animals, mowing pastures, pounding rebar, cleaning stalls or wheelbarrowing soil. With a dedicated work ethic, she thrives on the intensity of physically demanding tasks. She soon increased her number of volunteer hours at the farm and transitioned into a year-round paid position, now working three days a week during the summer.

Following the Mercy tradition of caring for Earth, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine supports a broad cross-section of sustainability efforts and has integrated these Mercy values into the curriculum and campus life. Each of the College’s 1,000 students must enroll in the core course Environmental Science 300: Ecology and the Environmental Challenge. This course teaches basic ecological principles, the major environmental challenges facing the planet, and potential solutions to these challenges.

Using Pearson’s Town Farm as a teaching laboratory, students learn about the adverse effects of the large-scale, industrial form of agriculture that dominates modern food production. Through hours of hands-on farm experience, they learn what it means to produce food with less fossil fuel dependence.

Alyssa Dolan, assistant farm manager, transplants sunflower seedlings to prepare for the sale of herb, vegetable, and flower seedlings at the college’s farm stand.

“I am thrilled, heartened, and enthusiastic that Saint Joseph’s College has embraced Earth as a critical concern and has integrated sustainability into its strategic plan, its curriculum, courses in community-based learning, and student service trips,” says Sister Michele Aronica, professor of sociology at Saint Joseph’s College.

Noting that the college is committed to recycling, food salvaging, energy-saving lighting and environmental service days for faculty and staff, Sister Michele adds, “The Mercy values and critical concerns belong to everyone, not just the sisters. Saint Joseph’s College has successfully integrated them into its mission.”

Elyse shares these Mercy values, and her core beliefs extend into every aspect of her work and learning—at the farm, in the classroom, or traveling across the state to dive deep into the larger complexities of food security. “God gave us this beautiful gift. My job is to be a steward of it, to love it, and rejuvenate it,” she says.

Green peppers and eggplant are just some of the farm’s diverse crops grown with sustainable agriculture methods.

An environmental science class in high school first piqued her interest in farming, says Elyse. Her spiritual connection with the physical world has grown during her years at Saint Joseph’s College and given her a reverence for people who tend to Earth. “Jesus was a carpenter. Lobstermen, farmers, fishermen—I think in God’s eyes those are some of the most important jobs.”

Four years into her journey at Saint Joseph’s, Elyse is pursuing a double major in environmental science and political science. “There are so many linkages between poly-sci and environmental science. Everything comes together,” she says.

Students from nursing and pre-vet programs volunteer to support the farm’s animals during the birthing season in spring.

All photos courtesy of Saint Joseph’s College.

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  1. Mary Pendergast

    Wonderful! When I visited the farm, the cafeteria served the food grown on the farm and it was delish!