Raise your hand if you think Bethlehem Farm should continue to exist.
Farm Tales by Miriam
a donation in
honor of Bethlehem Farm’s 16th Anniversary
State of the Farm Address
By Eric, Director
As we enter our 16th anniversary year, we look back on a unique 2020.
Our healing presence in SE WV continued through our
low-income home repair program.
Due to the pandemic, 200 fewer service-retreat volunteers
were able to make the trip out here in 2020, but we found ways to continue
safely serving our mission:
Two Caretakers joined our community: Molly
Sutter and Patrick McGinnis. With everyone else extending for another year, we
have the largest community to date, and a wealth of experience to draw upon
We committed to a robust Summer Servant program
with stringent arrival protocols. 31 Summer Servants served a total of 168
weeks among them. This matches the
record number of Summer Servant weeks set in 2019, even in the midst of a
pandemic—and wow, did they make a difference!
We carefully hosted a few smaller group weeks
once things opened up over the summer.
The presence of the Summer Servants and the
groups enabled us to respond to many needs, including the flash-flooding that
devastated Alderson in June—we were the only long-term direct service group on
the ground beyond the first week, which made an incredible difference for many
Feel free to check out some highlights from Repairing Homes, Renewing Communities, our
local service program, in our virtual
benefit celebration video (below on the left)
Plan Update (or view the video update)
Care for creation becomes more important with each passing
year, as evidenced by our progress toward our Master Facilities Plan goals.
The Purchase of the Farm Property: was
completed in May 2019, in cooperation with the Diocese, and thanks to support
from many of you, “Welcome Home” has taken on a new meaning!
The Solar Hot Water*: system was completed
in November 2020 with help from Farm friend Jeff Bohrer, ETHOS intern Edwin
Joseph, and the Caretakers to provide hot water for both the Retreat House and
Caretaker Residence. The system includes temperature-sensitive circulation pumps to bring solar hot
water closer to fixtures without running excess water, and it sends excess
solar heat to space heating in the Retreat House and Caretaker Residence.
Phase III of the Solar Electric Panels*: was installed in July through a
partnership with SonLight Power and extra effort from the Caretakers. This
solar array brought us to 100% solar electricity with battery
back-up for fridges, freezers, and critical lighting circuits. Thanks to ETHOS
intern Edwin and the Caretakers for tying up all the loose ends this November.
The Project Director Residence: was added
to the Master Facilities Plan in March 2020. Our Project Director, Will,
currently commutes 56 miles (an hour-and-a-half) each way to work here, because
he loves the mission and we love having him here, but this commute is not sustainable.
Will proposed we move him on-site full-time and the board agreed. Will did a
lot of the work himself, stubbing in utilities, arranging for a main slab to be
poured, teaching Caretakers how to pour and finish the porch slab, and hiring
an outfit to erect a metal building over here by the House in the Fields. Now,
Will and the Caretakers plan to build interior walls to make a dwelling on one
side and a garage area on the other, since Will is an auto mechanic, among
Damiano Center for Sustainability*: will be a center for the gardens and
animal care, which are the essential aspects of teaching sustainable practices on the Farm. It will include a root
cellar, composting toilets, tractor bay, garden tool storage, livestock shed for
chickens or future livestock, and outdoor sustainability education area with
demonstration rain barrels. We ran the electricity and
water this fall, ETHOS intern Edwin drew up a circuit plan, and began
installing outlets and lights. Metal siding continues next year, along with
interior framing. No worries, there is plenty more work to be done when you
come out this year J (See slideshow on YouTube for a time lapse of the project).
Rainwater Containment*: This additional 20,000-gallon containment is
planned for late 2021 at the earliest. Our drinking well is running lower
lately and our current 17,000-gallons of rainwater storage has not lasted
through past dry spells, so we are building for resilience before we get any
real drought conditions. This way we can continue to grow healthy, nutritious,
delicious organic food and protect our precious ground water resources.
The Maintenance Garage/Tool Barn/Wood Shop/Picnic Shelter (we are leaning
toward a name honoring the big-hearted people of this world who do not get much
recognition, so look for that announcement in our spring newsletter): This building will support the service with the local community aspect
of our mission. Having a structure for the proper care and repair of our work site
vehicles protected from the weather, and for the effective organization and storage of tools will
make us more efficient, effective, and resilient as we extend our reach further
into the local community. It will include vehicle storage, tool storage, heated
high bay with auto lift for repair and maintenance work, storage and upkeep of
lawn equipment and chainsaws, wood shop, picnic shelter, wood splitting shed,
and parking lot expansion. The
site was graded, a local engineer drew up a foundation plan, Solak Builders
poured the footers and set the anchor bolts, CC’s Trucking helped us run all
the utilities under the site, we are about to pour the slab with a local
contractor and then erect the building with Arnold Grey—these are all local construction
firms. Construction to continue in 2021, with your help.
*Special thanks to the Wheaton Franciscans for their
partnership in the San Damiano Center for Sustainability, Solar Hot Water,
Solar Electric Panel and rainwater containment projects. And thanks to all of
you for joining us with your time, talent, and treasure to bring all the above
The maintenance garage is the last building in this Master
Facilities Plan, the largest project in the Plan, and the most critical project
for the resiliency and growth of our low-income home repair program. Let’s work
together to bring this critical project into reality!
There have been significant pandemic-influenced
price increases in construction materials recently, so we have had to increase
the garage budget, but we still only have to raise $176,000 to complete our
Rebuild My Church Capital Campaign.
Donate now (or see our article below about
Three Friends Serve Together
By Nanci, Andrés, and Abril, Summer Servants
My experience from
group week to being a Summer Servant definitely has had its differences. I was
a part of two different group weeks before I decided to become a Summer Servant.
I got used to having a large group of students with me. When I became a Summer Servant
the amount of people who were at the Farm was a lot smaller.
The group of students
I travelled with during my group week were people I was comfortable with, so when
deciding to go back to the Farm for the summer, I knew I was going to be
stepping out of my comfort zone. I was very glad to be able to travel with
Andrés (another Summer Servant) to the Farm. Being at the Farm for the first
week definitely took time to adjust. But as time went by Andrés, Abril, and I
realized the importance of community with people I know and people I do not
know. Having my friends with me made that transition so much easier and made it
easier for us to talk to new people. I was beyond grateful for this experience
to be present with two of my other friends while learning the importance of
Prayer, Community, Service, and Simplicity. – Nanci
One thing I have to
say about my time at Bethlehem Farm is how different it was from going on group
week to being a Summer Servant. It can be a bit overwhelming being a Summer Servant
at first, because on my group week we had so many people that we knew and were
close with, and it wasn’t hard fitting in. Having Nanci and Abril there for my
time as a Summer Servant definitely made it easier for me to fit in and feel
comfortable. Departing from Bethlehem Farm for the first time back in March
2020, the only thing I could say I knew for sure was that I wanted to go back,
and having two friends that I already knew just made it so much better. I think
the 3 weeks we spent together brought us closer, as well as providing all of us
a well-needed break before heading back to the hectic hustle and bustle of an
urban college life. I was relieved to retreat back into nature and community
and to what really matters in life before going back to college. - Andrés
I had the opportunity
to be at Bethlehem Farm as a volunteer during a group week in March 2019 and
2020 and as a Summer Servant this past August. One of the biggest differences
between group weeks and being a Summer Servant was that while group weeks had
larger groups and we were trying to fit conversations and moments together with
students from other schools in a week, being a Summer Servant allowed us to befriend
Caretakers and really bond with them during the tasks of the day and simply by
living with them for an extended period of time. Another difference between
group weeks and being a Summer Servant was that because we had to be so
intentional in the activities done during a group week, reflection time was
part of the schedule. However as a Summer Servant, some of the tasks of the day
were done alone and reflection time could be anytime the opportunity presented
itself: while planting buckwheat on a bed, chicken duty before bed, or during
the process of making dinner for everyone. I was fortunate enough to have been
able to be with my friends, Andrés and Nanci, during a group week and as a Summer
Servant. It brought me closer to them but also gave me comfort in getting to
know other people because they too were going through similar experiences. -
Monthly Giving: Spread the
love out all year long
giving is an easy way to support the Farm each month, without having to plan
for a large annual donation. If you are interested in joining the Monthly Giving
Circle at Bethlehem Farm, then
Some monthly donors set up an
auto-monthly bill pay to Bethlehem Farm in their online checking (we can
give you our bank acct info to set up an electronic transfer OR send it to email@example.com or to “Bethlehem Farm, PO BOX 415, TALCOTT, WV 24981.”)
Write a check monthly and mail it in
to the above address
donors give between $5 and $1,000 each month. In FY2020, the monthly giving
circle contributed over $43,000, an important portion of overall giving,
especially during the uncertainty of the pandemic.
are in critical need of monthly donors
at this time, since the pandemic has limited our 2021 groups drastically,
which could lead to up to $144,000 in lost participation fee revenues. Can you
step up? Make a monthly pledge.
Why would you choose to be
a monthly donor?
reasons that our donors choose to give monthly:
We decided that we needed to
prioritize our faith not only in our time and actions, but also in our
Each time we visit Bethlehem Farm
and see the life-changing work that is going on there, we are inspired to
give a donation
This way our gift is an expense
that is already factored into our spending, and prioritized above those
extra dinners, cups of coffee and other luxuries
We can't be at Bethlehem Farm
participating in the mission daily, but we can live out our vocation in
our own lives while still supporting and being a part of the work of
Bethlehem Farm through our consistent giving
Giving this way
makes it easy for me to not forget
Our sense of continued connection to our special
experience at Bethlehem Farm and our desire to assist in affording the
opportunity of that experience to others. The work done at the Farm is
believe the farm is an apostolic community, living out the gospel message,
as authentically as possible
Because we feel
that Bethlehem Farm is an authentic way to propagate the gospel and
because we have seen just how far they can stretch resources towards
living the gospel. $100 at Bethlehem Farm seems to go SO much further than
we'd be able to stretch it ourselves.
I understand how
real and alive the Spirit is working in the community
of the speech Eric gives at the end of each group week about the
importance of tithing and how he and Colleen started this practice as
newly-wed grad students making next to nothing. And the Farm touched
me so deeply in so many ways, and was such a huge part of my life discernment,
that I want to make sure I am doing my part to help it continue to exist.
I see how the
experience of the Farm continues to affect and form my students into
active, passionate, and engaged citizens and activists
I believe in the mission. As a volunteer, I fell in love with the
community and as a Summer Servant, I was challenged in my faith. The
decisions I make today - as a Catholic and as a teacher -
are influenced by the Gospel cornerstones I learned to
live at Bethlehem Farm.
way to tend to my spiritual garden, which does not get enough attention
It’s a monthly
checkup of sorts for us to see how we are
living the cornerstones where we live. Additionaly we feel its very important for the Caretakers to know
they are not alone in their work, that they
have partners in their mission that
they can count on each and every month to help support them, even in a small way.
Yes, I’d like to become a monthly
That sounds nice, I
can’t commit now, but here’s a one-time gift.
Commitment is key.
monthly commitment assures us that we will have the resources we need to hire
staff, make promises to low-income families, and undertake sustainable upgrades
around the Farm and out in the community. We’ll keep you posted each month on
recent happenings and we can share prayer intentions with each other.
By Tierney, Summer Servant
places have mission and vision statements that sound solid, but that aren’t
solidly lived. The Farm speaks and sticks to her four cornerstones of prayer,
community, simplicity, and service. This reality so impacted me that I desired
to bring the way of life, the mission and vision, within the context of my new home
in South Bend.
the interview for a Summer Servant position, the Caretaker, Molly, shared,
“Although it’s not one of our four cornerstones, flexibility plays a part in
life on the Farm. Are you willing to be flexible?” I answered, “Yes,” without
truly knowing what that would mean (we might all know the feeling, even and especially
in the past six-plus months). The first full day within the communion of
persons and plants, I would learn.
a post-work run around the hills that evening, I broke a bone in my right foot.
It was tough to take a step. When I saw the county doctor two days later
(learning flexibility), he fitted me with a boot and said, smiling, “Well,
young lady, just keep off of ladders and roofs.” Little did the doctor know, ladders
and roofs were exactly the mechanisms I had expected to climb over the next two
weeks. I was disheartened not only that I couldn’t physically perform the work of
flood relief, roof repair, and solar panel installation within the community,
but also that others would be responsible for caring for me. I thought, "In addition to child care, there might as well be Tierney care coming up! Ugh!” but when I expressed these sentiments to
Caretaker Joseph, who drove me up and down the mountain for doctor trips, the
perception was different. He laughed a little and stated simply, “This is an
opportunity for us to serve you.” He was willing to live the four cornerstones
in a spirit of flexibility, which is another term for openness to the movements
of the Holy Spirit in any situation. This and truly all interactions with other
Caretakers, Summer Servants, and community members reminded me that God calls
us to see that in humility is glory, in weakness is strength (2 Cor. 12:10), and in the letting go of our plans is the
taking up of true transformation to His image.
stopped grasping and started, instead, receiving. Through this way of being, I
was led by Caretakers Colleen and Molly to take on roles and responsibilities on
the Farm, particularly in Garden Crew, Home Crew, and Kid Care. These three
spheres created the opportunity for me to grow in awareness and understanding
of the Lord, my new found friends in people and plants, and myself. Miriam,
Isaiah, and Clare particularly paved the way for seeing the glory of God in all
things. I saw that each desired to be involved; each person recognized, perhaps
without knowing, the unity of prayer and work. For example, Clare took up a mop,
which Colleen repurposed for this smaller person, and worked with me one
cleaning day without me saying a word. On another occasion, Isaiah started
reenacting the David and Goliath story with some slingshot found in the
bottomless play bin as I was reading it with Clare. One afternoon, Miriam created
her own “Guess this Mix” experiment using goat’s milk (among other unidentified
liquids) after seeing the goat cheese, yogurt, and ice cream that Home Crew had
made. Through these encounters walking with the children - experiencing the
wonder and awe encountered through so many interactions and events with them – God’s
call for me to be a teacher seemed to be confirmed. By God’s grace, I have been
serving as a governess (fancy word for educator and adventure-goer inside and outside
of the home) for a wonder-filled family inspired by the Catechesis of the Good
Shepherd environment. Certainly not coincidently, there are three children
within this family, too; what’s more, each is the same age as the Fitts kids;
what’s even more, they love working with their hands, reenacting scenes, and
making things using the fruits of plants and animals.
knowing exactly what awaited me back in South Bend beside an awe-ful community,
I trusted all would be well. I headed to my new home on Friday, August 7. Along
the drive, I called Bethlehem Farm, desiring to speak heart-to-heart with a
Caretaker on how to foster a small, sustainable space of my own. Caretaker Molly
gave me practical advice to flesh out the visions of fruits, vegetables, hoop
houses, and raised beds dancing in my head.
in a spirit of prayer, we got to work. Two friends in the Bend - Richard,
expert handyman and former Summer Servant and Caretaker, and Stephen, expert
artist – helped the garden vision become reality.
They painted and stained planks before drilling and deciphered the appropriate
angle for the hoop house attachment. Our house has now been affectionately and
officially dubbed, “The Hoop House.”
When the bed construction was complete, Stephen gifted me with a tomato
plant transplanted from his father’s garden to begin our community’s newest farm-to-table
after, Richard’s brother brought a truckload of compost to the Hoop House from
our local organic resources facility, which provides free compost and mulch collected
from residents’ yard waste.
it was time for some early fall planting. The three children came to learn
about what, how, and why we would plant, as well as actually plant the seeds
and sprouts desired. These included: sweet potatoes shoots; garlic bulbs; and squash,
swiss chard, and kale seeds. There will surely be fruit in due season! We have
but to continue living in prayer, community, simplicity, and service in a
spirit of humble flexibility.
The children measure out the correct space
between individual garlic bulb spaces.
Two weeks before the first frost, the hoop house was wholly
built! Now we water, weed, and repeat as we patiently await the harvest. In
the meantime, the children and I have ventured to another farm in St. Joseph
County, MI, where they had the chance to meet, feed, and name a three-day old
female lamb. The name they chose, without ANY prompting?
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