A convert to Catholicism, Alexandra Greeley is a food writer, restaurant critic, and cookbook author, who is passionate about every aspect of the food world—from interviewing chefs to supporting local farmers and to making the connection between food and faith
Living on a 1,000-acre farm outside of Detroit, Michigan, the Ankley family has settled into the rural—and Catholic—life for generations. As William Ankley, the head farmer and the great-grandson of the founder, explained, early members of his family (including a priest) moved away from Alsace-Lorraine to escape political conflicts. “When my great-grandfather arrived,” he said, “he was conscripted into the Union Army, and given about 80 acres by the Army when the war was over.”
Generations later, Ankley’s productive farm is home to milking cows, and is the source of alfalfa and corn for cattle feed, and soybeans and wheat for wholesale marketing. But what maybe distinguishes Ankley from the average farmer is this: he was born and raised a Catholic and has embraced his faith his entire life. “If you study and read,” he said, “it is pretty set forth what the Catholic faith has done through the centuries.”
And one command of the faith is to feed the hungry, and that is what the Ankley family does. “We are very involved in the Church, and we try to help out,” he said. “My aunt and uncle sponsored a seminarian from Africa [Uganda]. We became close friends, and he told me that where he was from was all agriculture.”
About seven years ago, the seminarian was put in charge of a parish farm in his town in Uganda, said Ankley. He told Ankley he wanted to come to the family farm to learn, and the Ankleys told him the family would help him go to school. “I called his bishop,” said Ankley, “who told me to visit Uganda first to see the situation.”
Ankley and one of his sons spent two-and-a-half weeks in Africa, which was, said Ankley, “an eye-opening experience, and we could see how much help they needed.” In response, the family set up a program that invited two students per year to live with them and to go to school and learn some key basics, especially about farming and agriculture. That way they can go back and help their country.
After their program officially ended, the family went back with six agriculture students, and went to the seminarian’s village in the hills. The second time, the family taught local farmers about artificial insemination and other agricultural programs, and even took along good quality seeds to enhance their harvests. For their final visit, three students and three adults taught college kids farming basics, put on a seminar for students and helped local vets.
“That’s what my faith got me into,” said Ankley. In the end, the family has helped build a kitchen for an orphanage run by the Sisters of Mary. Next, they stopped at another orphanage and identified hunger, so they provided chickens to lay eggs. The third time was to help raise funds to add a room to a school. “We do our own funding, but sometimes people donate.” As it turned out, the family and their Catholic parish help raise the funds for the kitchen, chickens and school room.
“It is what we are supposed to be doing,” he said. “I got lucky to be able to do it.”