Raise your hand if you think Bethlehem Farm should continue to exist!

State of the Farm Address:

The Year that Was

By Eric, Director

2018 was a breath-taking year for Bethlehem Farm!
After a concerted planning and recruiting effort up to the board level, we hired Will Fair as our first Project Director, bringing 15 years of construction experience to our home repair program and Farm projects, as well as some hefty auto repair skills to boot.
Three Caretakers joined our community: Raine Nimmer, Joseph Reilly, and Steve Rassa. And 31 Summer Servants joined us for 119 cumulative weeks of service from May-August.
After being invited to “dream big”, we were awarded a grant to partner with the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters and launch our Net-Zero Sustainable Facilities Plan and Green Neighbors Project.

  • The Net-Zero Plan aims to implement systems that will outfit Bethlehem Farm to produce at least as much energy as we consume, with a goal of being “net-zero”. This plan includes completing our third phase of solar electric panels, solar hot water for the retreat house, an18,000-gal rainwater containment to drought-proof the Farm, a share of the San Damiano Center for Sustainability, and a Master Facilities Plan to ensure the careful planning and placement of all the above. In 2018, we completed the Master Facilities Plan and in 2019 we hope to complete the remaining goals.
  • The Green Neighbors Project enhances our Repairing Homes, Renewing Communities program with funds for sustainable upgrades for low-income families who cannot afford non-toxic, sustainable, renewable, or durable materials; funds to perform energy audits with local low-income families and cut down heating and cooling bills through insulation, siding, roofing, and other weatherization improvements; and funds to outfit 15 lower-income families and/or nonprofits with solar electric panels over the next three years, as we seek to wean West Virginia from its coal-centric mindset, with hopes that program can continue as each family pays back over time.

Thanks to you, and especially to the Wheaton Franciscans, for joining us with your time, talent, and treasure to bring all the above into reality. Donate now to continue the work!

Project Directors "Cut"
By Will, Project Director

It's that time of the year for snowflakes to fly and mud to sling. What that means for us here at the Farm is...time to take a deep breath from the previous group season. Once we’ve exhaled, we start to touch on things that may have been lacking some attention. Even though it's the "off season," we continue our mission of serving the people. The needs of our neighbors and friends do not waver due to the elements or the end of the group season. We continue to go out to tighten up loose ends and take on projects that can be reasonably accomplished when the weather isn't the best and with the hands we have to help. This time of the year also allows time for planning, training, and daily operation to prepare us for the upcoming season. Also, it gives us a chance to build on friendships and community where a lot of the times during the season we are spread out and running at 100 mph, busier than a hive full of bees.
In this section, the "Project Directors 'Cut'" as I like to call it, I'll use one of our experiences to help guide a little DIY to possibly fix a problem that otherwise would need a professional to come out and take a look. Recently, Joseph and I were called to a job site with a bad GFI outlet (receptacle). Here are a few steps you can use to possibly check your own GFI.
Step One: Check breaker controlling the circuit, if the red button on the receptacle is out and won’t stay in, press the reset button on the Home Distribution Center (i.e. breaker box). Unplug all appliances downstream of the GFI, there could be a possible fault in something plugged in a different outlet.
Step Two: If the problem proceeds, turn the breaker off in the breaker box and unscrew the face of the outlet. Visually inspect the wiring for anything burnt or disconnected.
Step Three: If visual inspection is normal and all looks to be intact, turn the breaker back on in the box and push the test button on the GFI first, then the reset button. If the problem is not fixed the GFI is possibly defective from wear and tear or over amperage. If this is the case, call a professional.
I hope you find this information useful and you can DYI your next GFI issue. This is just a glance into what happens here at Bethlehem Farms during the winter months. "Mic Drop"

Master Facilities Plan

By Eric, Director

We have a strategy for future development of the Farm property that we believe will enhance our mission and ministry in several ways:

  • Increased safety for volunteers, Summer Servants and Caretakers
  • More effective teaching of sustainable practices--especially important as we consider the long-term health of the planet
  • Enhanced stewardship of vehicles, tools and supplies for our home repair program
  • More efficient use of Caretaker and volunteer time = greater mission impact
  • All of which ultimately strengthens mission of transforming lives

The Old Garden Tool Shed needs to come down, with its rotting floors, lead paint, exterior back wall tipping over, holes in the floor, and so on, -- this is also the best spot on the property for our maintenance garage.

As we discussed building a new garden tool shed, so we could tear down the old one and build the garage there, we could see that these would be the last two major structures we would need to complete the property for the foreseeable future. For this reason, we took a step back to see how many program needs and wants we could satisfy under these two roofs (making them much more useful, a bit more costly in the short term, but also making it less likely we would need to build any further major structures.)

So, we met with architect Chip Williamson and developed a Master Facilities Plan (see animation here).

The San Damiano Center for Sustainability (thanks to Sr. Glenna Czachor for the name idea) emerged as 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 (see features here).

The garage/tool barn/wood shop/picnic shelter 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 (see features here).

Q: Great drawings, Eric, but how much will it cost?

A: The San Damiano Center for Sustainability, maintenance garage, parking lot expansion, and purchase of the property add up to $439,000.

Q: How will we pay for this?

A: The Wheaton Franciscan grant included $17,500 toward San Damiano and we also had an unrestricted gift of $8,000 this fall, so we had $25,500 heading into our November board meeting when these designs were approved. We initiated the “Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign to pay for these projects, with an initial “quiet phase” of reaching out to a few partners, who agreed to form the “Fellowship of the Farm” to offer $125,000 in matching funds from 2018-2020!!! After the benefit, year-end giving, further leadership giving and pledges made, we have raised $240,000 in gifts and pledges toward our goal, with $199,000 remaining to raise before the end of 2020. Can you make a donation or pledge today?

We’re excited about the year ahead and confident that, with your help, together we can Rebuild My Church.

A Week on the Farm

By Bailey, Volunteer

I’m Bailey Trout and I came to Bethlehem Farm with four other people (Hailey, Tabitha, Josh, and Luke) from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan on a service trip over fall break. My introduction to West Virginia came as we were driving through the mountains, I remember thinking “Wow, West Virginia is soooo pretty!”

The Caretakers on the Farm are very nice and they gave us a warm welcome and a tour. The week I was there, Aquinas was the only group at Bethlehem Farm staying in the farmhouse that could probably fit over 40 people. I liked it though. It was peaceful. On Monday morning, we worked around the Farm. Luke, Joseph, and I did cover cropping. Joseph explained that cover cropping is planting “cover crops” on top of where you intend to grow in order to protect it from frost, weeds, ect. and to cultivate good soil for favorable growth. No need for those pesticides! We went on a hike after lunch and came up to a beautiful spot on a hill. We grabbed a comfy seat in the tall grass and looked out over the West Virginia mountains. Joseph led prayer and we relaxed, enjoying the breeze.

The food at Bethlehem Farm was amazing. Most of food came from right outside in the gardens. Raine is an awesome cook and a lot of the recipes came from her grandma. So, on Tuesday, when Hailey, Josh, and I had home crew, I was like “Yes, score, just what I needed”. We made breakfast for everyone, cleaned the house, made homemade bread, and planned night prayer. Then, we started to prepare dinner. I was chopping onions for the enchiladas and tearing up when Raine said “we have all the ingredients to make and apple pie” so I said, “I’m so happy, I’m crying!” By the time the rest of our group came back from the work sites, we had a hearty meal ready for them to chow down on.

Wednesday was my first day going to one of the work sites. I went with Joseph and Luke to Frances' house where we scraped paint off her porch. The job itself was a mundane, repetitive one, but the sun was out, and once I got into the groove of scraping, it was quite peaceful. Frances was so nice and brought us hot tea and toast with butter and honey.

On Thursday Justin and I went to Hazel's house where we were building a wheelchair ramp and deck. I got good at using power tools! At the site, we cut spindles at a 45 degree angle with a miter saw and put them on the railing. Justin taught me how to toenail a screw. I got the hang of it pretty quickly and soon we were working side by side. It was very fulfilling to see the work we accomplished. When Justin and I got back to the Farm, I helped him build a giant bonfire for roasting marshmallows later. After dinner, I took my first ever bucket shower. It was cold, but very refreshing. I thanked God for the bucket shower at night prayer. Everyone headed out to the bonfire and we prayed the Rosary around the fire. It was lovely and peaceful.

On Friday, Joseph, Tabitha and I all learned how to make stairs for Frances' porch. Justin and the others finished building the rest of the wheelchair ramp early and came over to Frances' too. After lunch, everyone else painted while Tabitha and I went in to talk to Frances for a while. It was so nice to get to talk to her. Frances told us how appreciative she was of the work we were doing. That made me feel grateful I could be there.

I loved my time at Bethlehem Farm. I liked the order in which I did things. First, home at the Farm, then home crew; cooking and cleaning, then Frances’; painting and chipping, Hazels; full out building a deck and wheelchair ramp from scratch. I needed that increase of intensity within the activities. I enjoyed having morning and night prayer every day. It fostered a community where everyone could share and felt trusted by those around us. On Thursday’s night prayer, I realized, I’m not here for me, I’m here for others. It doesn’t matter if I “get something out of it”, as long as others do.

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