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Farm Tales by Miriam

Give 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 families
  • 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)

Master Facilities 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 other skills.
  • The San 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).
  • 20,000-gallon 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 into reality.

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 monthly giving…)

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. - Abril

Monthly Giving: Spread the love out all year long

Monthly 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 caretakers@bethlehemfarm.net or to “Bethlehem Farm, PO BOX 415, TALCOTT, WV  24981.”)


  • Write a check monthly and mail it in to the above address

Monthly 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.

We 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?

Some 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 budget
  • 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 true evangelization.
  • Because I 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
  • Because 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
  • Because 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. 
  • As a way to tend to my spiritual garden, which does not get enough attention otherwise.
  • 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 donor.

That sounds nice, I can’t commit now, but here’s a one-time gift.

Commitment is key.

Your 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.

Bethlehem Farm-to-Home-Table

By Tierney, Summer Servant

Many 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.

During 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.

During 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.

I 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.

Not 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.

So, 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 space. Shortly 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.

Next, 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? Bethlehem.

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