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Monk tends to his earthly flock at abbey

While prayer is the focus of the monastery, agriculture is very much an everyday part of this life.
by Bryan Painter Modified: March 31, 2013 at 3:56 pm •  Published: March 31, 2013

Anderson appreciates how Owen and others are studying the contours, building the small ponds and/or ditches. He also compliments how the monks, with the help of students from several colleges and universities, are planting fruit trees along the banks of these.

While these steps will help the land overall, they are especially significant to the sheep at Clear Creek Monastery.

Owen's habit flutters in the March breeze.

Wearing Caterpillar brand work boots, he crosses the pasture into a herd that includes about 200 ewes. Some are nursing newborns as other members of the flock graze.

“As a monk farmer and rancher, my responsibility is taking care of the animals,” Owen said. “Like all ranchers, we're in the business of harvesting solar energy and transforming that through the animals here.”

Owen said these are hair sheep and not wool sheep, adding “We're not interested in the wool here.”

So the sheep serve multiple purposes, he said. First, they help maintain the place.

“They'll eat stuff, most people call them weeds and brush, that cattle really are not interested in.” Owen said. “They help keep the weeds down.”

Second, the sheep provide meat, both for the monks and to sell.

“We are also harvesting the lamb obviously, and we've had quite a success through the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.”

Sarah Whitten, member care manager for the cooperative, said, “We're like the delivery service and marketing service for producers. So we help them connect with people all across the state interested in ordering Oklahoma goods directly from the producer.”

The monks have made other connections, including participation in the Rural Smallholder Association within their immediate area. This is a group of primarily small ruminant producers, sheep and goats, but the nonprofit organization is open to any farmer or rancher with an interest in additional farm management education, or in exploring possibilities for increasing revenue and improving profitability for their individual farming enterprises.

Owen said they are working on establishing a partnership with local restaurants and others. Income received by the monks is used toward operation of the monastery.

“We're going to get some of them back pretty soon, because we do sell beef to the co-op,” Anderson said.

The monks are also milking about three to five cows. One of the monks is from Wisconsin and he has made cheese all his life.

“We make cheese that's very remarkable, we just can't make it fast enough,” Anderson said. “Stores want it. We sell it right here.

“We also consume a lot of dairy products, yogurt and things like this, in what we eat.”

So like many ag operations today, they are diversified.

And like many agriculture operations, they are willing to accept challenges — sometimes with humor.

In this rocky terrain, Owen was asked, what type of soil they have?

“We found some,” he said, and then smiled.

Ranching here may be different from where he grew up in Oregon.

Regardless, Owen has embraced it.

“In the song ‘Oklahoma!,' remember, ‘We belong to the land and the land we belong to is grand!' Owen said. “There's a lot to that.”

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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