A 160 year tradition is ending in northeast Iowa. The New Melleray Abbey Farm near Peosta, once worked by 150 monks, has decided to rent out its sizable acreage of cropland and will no longer be farmed by the monks. The farm has long sustained the Trappist monks, but there are too few of them left anymore to do the heavy farm work. The announcement was made in late November.
The farm's equipment and supplies will be auctioned and the over 2,000 acres of cropland rented to area farmers. "This will be bittersweet for us, losing an historic tradition that has served us well," says Abbot Brendan Freeman, who leads the 35 monks and brothers who live and work at the monastery today.
The monastery has been operating 2,000 acres of cropland
Their average age is 70 and for the past 15 years the New Melleray Abbey Farm has paid laymen to do more and more work because there are too few monks and many of them are getting too old to provide the labor needed.
Farming started there in 1849 on 600 acres. The monks own 2,000 acres of cropland and 1,200 acres of timber. "In their heyday in the 1960s, the monks grew corn, soybeans and hay and raised cattle, hogs and sheep," says Dave Ruden, who has managed the farm for 11 years. "But the farming situation has changed so drastically, and profits have dwindled in recent years. And through attrition, the numbers of monks have decreased dramatically."
The monks will continue growing their own garden produce on a 5-acre piece. "But we are selling all of our farm equipment, so we won't be farming again, in the traditional sense of farming a sizable amount of acres," says Freeman.