By Barb Arland-Fye
Janet Friederichs opens the door to a chicken house on her family’s farm near Walcott on a late, sunny afternoon. A dozen or so hens and several roosters spill into the yard like little kids waiting for recess. They’re a noisy bunch, clucking and crowing on a farm that sits atop a hill within sight of the towering arches of a McDonald’s and the famous I-80 Truckstop.
“They only do that for me,” Janet says of the chickens’ commotion. “They know who I am,” she adds with a grin. Following her around for chores, I could have sworn the chickens were saying, “C’mon, Janet, it’s dinnertime!”
Like others working at diocesan headquarters in Davenport, I know Janet as the “Egg Lady” who delivers fresh eggs to the chancery staff every Friday. But Janet also serves as a “Church Lady,” director of religious education at St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass. My curiosity about her dual roles led to a field trip to her farm shortly before Earth Day, which is April 22.
After tossing handfuls of black oil sunflower seeds to the hens and roosters outdoors, Janet goes into the chicken house to check on younger and older chickens in their pens. Each pen has a feeder and water container, which need to be checked.
Janet, a former agriculture teacher, started raising chickens when the oldest of her three children, Ben, now a college junior, was in fifth grade. “These are laying birds,” she says pointing to her chickens, as opposed to “meat birds,” which end up on someone’s dinner table.
She scoops up a tan egg laid by one of the pullets (a young chicken) and a small white egg from the pen of a bantam chicken. The Friederichs have about 75 chickens. The females lay about three dozen eggs a day. “Too many chickens and not enough eggs,” Janet says. Some of the hens are past their prime egg-laying days, but Janet won’t cast them out. “They eat bugs, so they still serve a purpose. When their job is done, the good Lord takes them.”
Inspecting the feeders and water containers, she notes that farmers by nature are recyclers. Her husband, Roger, concerned about water spillage in the pens, came up with the idea of a catch basin constructed from barrel bottoms and recycled hog crates. “It became a trash and treasure 4-H project for our son Ben, who was in charge of the chickens before going to college,” Janet says. “Most farmers aren’t going to buy something if they can make it out of whatever they have on hand.” Now youngest son, Tony, 16, is in charge of the chickens.
Janet grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa and had a great-aunt who was a nun. “She was a role model. She was very kind and loved kids.” Janet’s own ministry she believes, is inspired by the Holy Spirit. That’s where she gets her creative ideas. She tries to offer four family faith formation events a year. One of the events focused on church traditions and another on different forms of prayer. She especially loves to teach confirmation. “I tell the kids, ‘The Holy Spirit isn’t going to come into your life unless you let it.’”
In the March issue of Faith Formation News, John Valenti featured Janet in the DRE Corner.
John, the diocesan coordinator of Lifelong Faith and Lay Ministry Formation, wrote: “Janet Friederichs lives on a farm, raises chickens and eggs and loves to watch things grow; especially the faith of adults and children. … Janet’s garden includes a very family oriented K-8 program with a goal of building a sense of community and family within the parish.”
Earth Day has a secular focus, but within it is a call to stewardship of creation. People of faith, like Janet, see creation as a gift from God. She cares for all of God’s creatures, trusting in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
(Barb Arland-Fye, Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)