Faith, family and education are cornerstones of Rural Life Celebration

Joe and Claudette Czech began farming near Gilman in 1959. They have four children: Mark, Mitch, Michelle (Spiczka) and Mary (Spiczka). Today, Mark and his wife, Shelley, own and operate the 1,500-head Holstein dairy farm that spans over 5,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa.

All four of the Czech kids and their families live within a three-mile radius of each other, and all of them are involved in this year’s Rural Life Celebration sponsored by Catholic Charities, the Diocese of St. Cloud and the Catholic Foundation.

The event, which will take place at the Czech farm half a mile south of Gilman, will be held Aug. 21, rain or shine.

Mark and Shelley Czech will host the Rural Life Celebration Aug. 21 on their farm near Gilman. (Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)
Mark and Shelley Czech will host the Rural Life Celebration Aug. 21 on their farm near Gilman.
(Dianne Towalski / The Visitor)

The day begins with Mass at 11:30 a.m. with Bishop Donald Kettler, followed by a presentation from Father Gregory Mastey, a native of Gilman who serves on the national Catholic Rural Life board of directors.

Father Mastey will have just returned from World Youth Day in Poland and since Gilman is a Polish area, he said he will share his experience as well as talk about the vocation of being a farmer and rural dweller.

“It’s a call from God to work the land, to be a good steward and to work with God in creating things,” Father Mastey said.

After his talk, a lunch will be served consisting of sloppy joes made with locally-raised beef, chips, coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob grown nearby, and homemade cookies baked by area parishioners. The Ostendorf Band will entertain.

“So many people have come forward to help with this event,” said Mitch Czech, who is serving as chair of the celebration. “It’s been great to see the community come together.”

Mitch is also the trustee of the hosting tri-parish cluster of Sts. Peter and Paul in Gilman, St. Elizabeth in Brennyville and St. Joseph in Morrill. Organizers of the day also reached out to the Knights of Columbus councils around the diocese as well as local businesses to help with the cost of the event.

“People have been so generous with their time and donations to make this possible,” he said. “It’s amazing to see all the people who have contributed.”

Each year, this event draws hundreds of people from around the diocese and beyond to celebrate rural life. The theme for the celebration is “Caring for God’s Creation: Celebrating the Gift of Rural Life.”

“This is a diocesan celebration of rural life that reminds all of us about how important rural life is to our diocese and to our world,” said Kathy Langer, director of social concerns for Catholic Charities. “Our diocese is largely rural, and this gives us a chance to call attention to and celebrate that, while at the same time giving us a chance to enjoy nature and, for many of us, rekindle our relationship with our roots in rural communities and family-owned farms.”

Langer said the theme encompasses Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si’.”

“As Catholics, we sometimes need to be reminded, too, that the seventh theme of Catholic social teaching is ‘Care for God’s Creation.’ This is the time of year we celebrate and are reminded to take good care of God’s great gift of the earth and to recognize the often-unnoticed contributions of family farmers,” she said.

rural-lifeboxIn addition, committees from the parishes have organized a petting zoo, tours and hayrides around the farm. Recent as well as 100-year-old models of farm equipment and tractors will be on hand for people to see.

“I work in the city every day and I get to leave it and see the other side. Not many people get to see rural life and I think this is an attractive thing,” Mitch said.

Because the farm is a 24-hour milking operation, a milk shift will be going on during the celebration.

“Many people remember their parents or grandparents milking cows by hand,” he explained. “During our milk shift, people can stick their head in the parlor and see how we’re doing it today.”

Though Mitch works full time for the St. Cloud Housing and Redevelopment Authority, he still works three milking shifts a week with his 17-year-old daughter, Kalley.

“She’s been feeding calves since she was little,” Mitch said. “And she milks six or seven shifts a week now.”

Mitch is happy to see his daughter take an interest in the family farm — something he and his brother agree is important for the next generation — and he hopes the celebration helps others to see how important it is to them to care for God’s creation.

“I think there’s getting to be a very large distance between farmers and the city life,” Mark Czech said. “People are losing touch with where their food comes from. I think it’s probably our fault we’ve lost that continuity, but that is very important that we get that back because we’re very proud of what we do. … We make a living off this land and our animals, and the last thing that we would want to do is to risk productivity of our animals and our land. … I think the more we can do stuff like this and bring people to the farms, they will start to understand that.”

About five years ago, they hosted, “Breakfast on the Farm,” an initiative that provides people an opportunity to learn about farming.

“Then it was pretty evident to me at that time people were asking questions, and we want that,” Mark said. “You really start to figure out how much of a disconnect there is. We’ve got to fix that problem. That’s why we’re doing this because we’re trying to do our part to educate.”

Mark hopes to share statistics with the crowd, such as roughly how many pounds of feed a cow eats a day, how many gallons of milk are shipped from this farm and how many people that would feed in a year.

They want people to know that what happens on their farm, as well as other local farms, has an impact on the area. They also want people to know how much they bank on their faith to get them through.

“Our faith plays a big role in what we do,” Mark said. “We are always praying for good weather. We know we wouldn’t have what we have without [God’s] help.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

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