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

We have had a busy summer here at Bethlehem Farm working with several of our neighbors, enjoying and preserving the abundance of our garden, and meeting new friends in the volunteers who generously came to spend time working, praying and living in community with us. We hope you enjoy reading about our summer adventures!

Those Who Have Eyes To See

By Peter Denio, Volunteer

“When were you a man for others?” That was the question on my son’s high school application this past spring that sparked the Denio’s journey to attend Bethlehem Farm. Conor and I looked at each other, puzzled at how he would respond to that question. It dawned on me at that moment that we had done very few explicit acts of serving others since he had entered middles school. So when Conor’s Godmother, Marianne asked on her Facebook feed if anyone would be interested in going to a West Virginian farm to live in community for a week, pray, and serve people in need I signed up my wife, me, and our three kids - along with Conor’s Godmother.

Truth be told, it wasn’t a popular idea in the Denio household at first. In particular, our daughter Riley (who celebrated her twelfth birthday on the last day of the trip) was furious we were going. Almost all within the Denio household, minus dad, had a hard time seeing how this experience could turn out to be one we would all cherish by the time of our departure. And to be honest even I, who had been responsible for running at least a dozen service trips for parishioners in my work as a parish pastoral associate, could not have anticipated how powerful an experience the week would become for me.

Family week at Bethlehem Farm must be one of the best and most unique opportunities for a family seeking an immersion of faith.  To be with other families - all who are on their own faith journey both as individuals and as a family unit - live together in community with the most impressive people who led us throughout the week - the Summer Servants and Caretakers.  All the pieces of the week came together to form a powerful formational experience of Christian discipleship: Morning and evening prayer, Eucharist, shared meals foraged and cooked by rotating families, working alongside neighbors of the farm in the wider Appalachian community.  But for the Denios the most powerful witness of faith came from the men and women serving us as Summer Servants and Caretakers.  Each had their own striking story to share.  Each served us generously with care and compassion.  Each took time to get to know my children.  Each showed us their humanity.  They were honest about their own challenges and struggles of faith, life, and their current circumstances.  It is no surprise that this was the most profound take-a-way by our children and as me as a parent.

I personally was reminded of the many ways we experience the presence of God: How powerful nature can be to communicate God’s love; how working for others - both within the community and beyond the community - is a powerful expression of God’s love; and how the simplest, honest, and sincere gesture of one person enquiring about the passions, hopes, and fears of another is a moment of God’s grace.  An exchange capable of sparking faith and instilling a desire to do the same for others.

As a parent, I learned a significant lesson that week: That my children must make their faith their own.  You see I have tried, not always successfully, to put in place for our children people and experiences that witness to the power of our Christian faith.  But I realized that to our children, these people and experiences have become somewhat “everyday” - they have become familiar, mundane, and routine.  The Farm helped our children see with new eyes what we are called to be as Christian disciples.  And the gift for me as a parent was that I was able to watch as they were able to see their faith with new eyes at the Farm.

The Newest Caretaker

By Joseph Reilly, Caretaker

Hello Everybody! It’s Joseph, the newest Caretaker by about 15 hours. Raine took an earlier flight to beat my train instead of riding with me, but since she was coming all the way from Green Bay, who can blame her? The last time many of you saw me was in the Spring Newsletter as I walked off the commencement stage at Wabash College holding my diploma and a huge grin on my face. I may not have immediately departed for Bethlehem Farm as one of our Summer Servants did at his high school graduation, but I was here within the week. I’ve been excited to jump into my new life as a professional volunteer now that I’ve retired from a 17 year stint as a professional learner.

Bethlehem Farm has been picking away at the back of my brain since 2010, when I first heard of its existence from my youth minister, Jake Teitgen. However, a series of conflicting events precluded my arrival until early summer of 2015 on a college week with my home parish and some youth group alumni. I distinctly remember rounding the corner of the old garden tool shed and experiencing the simplicity and the beauty of Our Lady of the Bathtub for the first time. In that moment everything about the Farm clicked for me. I may not have known all the details about the place, but I knew I would have to be spending more than just a week here. After a week of memorable conversations, worksites, chores, and reviews of the day, I found myself disappointed that I could not experience the entirety of the Farm that summer. But I knew I would be back. I found myself on familiar roads last summer as a Summer Servant for three weeks in July and August. I learned more about community living and was reminded of the beauty and joy that I had found here two years prior. I also learned that the Farm wasn’t yet done with me. I began the Caretaker application process in October and accepted the offer to join the community in April.

Since arriving, I’ve become immersed in my roles, found my footing in the garden, bumped up my skill set as a worksite leader, began coordinating the hiring process, and found familiar ground and new aspects of faith engagement as I’ve taken up the mantle of catechetical coordinator. I have the examples and advice from so many former Caretakers and Friends of the Farm to rely on as I continue to grow in community, prayer, service, and simplicity. I’m thankful to all those who helped me along my journey and I hope to get to know many more of you as I continue my time here.

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House Manager Here

By Raine Nimmer, Caretaker

Heyo! My name is Raine Nimmer and I am the new House Manager here at Bethlehem Farm. I was born and raised in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Simply put, I applied to be a Caretaker here because I was in search of my vocation and I had nothing to lose. Here is a brief history of my search thus far. For two summers, I drove a small dump truck for a plant store delivering mulch, soil and plants. I attended St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin where I studied Piano Performance for two and a half years and played on the tennis team. For three consecutive years, I co-directed an independent fashion show. I attended University of Wisconsin – Stout (in the lovely little town of Menomonie) where I earned a bachelor's degree in Studio Art, concentrating in Art Metals (metalsmithing/jewelry). For about five years, I worked as an apprentice goldsmith at Robert Giede Design and as a cook at Zanzibar Restaurant and Pub in Menomonie. I assisted a master coachbuilder in hand fabricating trophies for amateur Nascar races at Road America in Elkhart Lake, WI. On the weekends, I assisted my brothers in construction work. Once again, I worked as a cook at a restaurant in the new Lodge Kohler in Green Bay, across the street from Lambeau Field. On my free time, I volunteered for Green Bay Bicycle Collective, a non-profit that promotes a fun and safe community - based bike culture through advocacy, education, and ride hosting. All of this has led me to the desire to serve.

During the last year and a half, I contemplated various volunteer opportunities outside of Wisconsin. I was in search of adventure, a simple lifestyle, meeting and learning from great people, better understanding and deepening of my faith, sustainable practices, cooking, and gardening. Bethlehem Farm encompasses all of these desires and so much more.

It was a whirlwind jumping in in the middle of the busiest group week season but sometimes that’s the best way to learn. As the House Manager, I’m finally learning where everything belongs in the kitchen (the chest freezers still have untouched territory) and how the house runs. I’m in heaven with all the beautiful vegetables and fruits being harvested from our garden and from our local community. I am thoroughly enjoying learning how to preserve food and experimenting with fermentation. Being in charge of the animals, I am slowly learning the ways of the chickens and donkeys. As the Local Food Liaison, I am enjoying conversing with the farmers and learning where our food is coming from. As a member of the church choir at St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church in Ronceverte, I have gained a deeper sense of belonging. When I have free time, I enjoy hiking in these beautiful mountains. I’m relieved that this first whirlwind has passed but I am also grateful for the experience because my life has been enriched by it.

Thank you Summer Servants!

This summer, the Farm was powered forward by an extraordinary group of Summer Servants who injected a vibrant spirit into the community. Thank you to all of you who helped by spending some of your summer with us!

Emma Baird, Ashlee Beck, Pat Brady, Emma Dudek, Rain Escovedo, Claire Faddis, Lizzy Fahey, Travis Graves, Karl Heinz-Oberle, Luke Hoefer, Matt LaBorde, Maddie LaForge, Jack Lampton, Danna Latiolais, Kelsey Loughney, Pat McGinnis, Anna McNerney, Jenna Molaro, Jackie Myers, Emma Qualy-Pearson, Nicole Quaranto, Frances Rafferty, Ethan Salas, Rachelle Simon, Emma Steltenpohl, Jenna Steltenpohl, Molly Sutter, Eli Volk, Ariell Watson, Lexi White, and Madeline Youngman.

Summer Servants and Caretakers experience a new level of community
as they are tied to each other and attempt to take home the gold medal.

Announcing…our first Master Facilities Plan!

By Eric Fitts, Director

As board member Kathryn mentioned in the spring print newsletter, our partnership with the Wheaton Franciscan Sisters includes support to collaborate with architect Chip Williamson (chameleonarchitecture.com) to develop the first Master Facilities Plan for Bethlehem Farm. Since May, Chip has been working with the Board and Caretaker Community to develop an overall plan for the sustainable design of the Bethlehem Farm property, including best placement of the remaining structures, rain collection plan, green design, etc. We did not want to build the first structure, only to find that it would not drain as expected into the rainwater containment, or only to find that we could have used the same ditch to run electric or water to the different building sites, or only to realize that the tractor bay should have been designed into the first building, when we realize later that it does not fit into the maintenance garage.

Our Master Planning process has always been centered on our mission. Our first Master Plan resulted in the building of the Caretaker Residence as a way of investing in the “transforming lives” aspect of our mission. We recognized that the Caretaker Community, with the support of the Summer Servants, were fundamental to our mission, so we ensured that those people had housing that was supportive of a long-term commitment to the mission. Now it is time to invest deeper in the other aspects of our mission.

The San Damiano Center for Sustainability is a barn that will invest in the “teaching sustainable practices” aspect of our mission through supporting organic gardening, pastured livestock, rainwater collection, and service-learning activities.

The maintenance garage/tool barn/wood shop will invest in the “service with the local community” aspect of our mission. Vehicles are the unsung heroes of the home repair program, so having a place set aside for the proper care and repair of our work vehicles, regardless of the weather, will make us more efficient and resilient as we extend our reach further into the local community. Tools allow us to accomplish tasks so much faster when we have the right tool in the right hands at the right time, but we have run out of space to effectively organize and store our tools. We are excited for the ways that these new facilities will strengthen our mission and core programs.

In July, the board approved a 5-year Master Facilities Plan:

1. Solar electric panels—100% solar (Fall 2018)

2. San Damiano Center for Sustainability (Summer 2019)

Then tear down old garden tool shed

3. 18,000-gal Rainwater Containment (Fall 2019)

4. Garage/Tool Barn/Wood Shop (Summer 2020)

Parking lot expansion/BBall Court/Picnic Shelter

5. Retreat House Renovation (Autumn 2021)

Structural Evaluation/Kitchen Renovation

6. House in the Fields Renovation (Autumn 2022)

Phases one through four are in the planning stages now. The solar panels are covered by the Wheaton Franciscan grant and will be installed this fall or next spring. A Building Planning Committee is working out the details of what will be contained in San Damiano and the (yet-to-be-named) maintenance garage. Until you come up with a better name (or someone decides to pay for the building J) I am using the interim name of St. Joe’s Home Repair Program Acceleration Lab J or “the garage”. Once the planning committee finalizes its work, the fundraising committee will be reaching out through the fall newsletter, winter benefit, and other means to raise enough support to make these dreams real.

The San Damiano Center for Sustainability is named for the church where the Order of St. Clare had its first monastery and where St. Francis received his call, repeated three times: “Francis, go and repair My church which, as you see, is all in ruins!” often abbreviated as “Rebuild my Church”. Afterwards Saint Francis took action to physically repair the structure of the San Damiano church, although he eventually realized that God's message to him was to restore the entire Catholic Church as a whole body rather than literally repair one stone structure. We see the Bethlehem Farm mission as part of this call to “Rebuild My Church”.

The Wheaton Franciscan grant includes partial funding for the San Damiano Center for Sustainability. We have pledged to match those grant funds with donations from the Bethlehem Farm community.

We are seeking donors who are interested in getting these projects off the ground. Please consider donating now to give these promising projects a good start!

More details to come…

Summer Worksite Recap

By Joseph Reilly, Caretaker

This summer saw dozens of volunteers from around the country heading to Bethlehem Farm and making a lasting impact on the West Virginian community. Over the course of the summer volunteers, Summer Servants, and Caretakers worked together to help our neighbors improve their living conditions.

At Shelli's we continued the work that had begun in the winter with an electrical mystery and completed the roof-over that was begun in the spring. From the top of the roof, work moved downward and inside as we all pitched in to install underpinning, new windows, and renovate the interior. The panel walling was torn out along with the insulation to make way for higher quality insulation and drywall. New flooring was also installed as well as a new ceiling fan. The project is quite familiar to anyone who spent some time at the Farm this summer, and while it is not quite finished, we have come a long way from where it was January.

We were excited to welcome both Greg and Josh to Community Night, as they were able to get out of their houses and come visit us because of their new wheelchair ramps this summer. First was at Greg’s. Greg’s ramp was an exciting adventure for me in particular as I tackled my first worksite from beginning to end. We began by transplanting five bushes and a small tree away from the wall the ramp now runs along. For a while it looked like the bushes were goners, but I can happily report that they have survived and are thriving once again. From there we dug holes and began laying lumber. Work was slowed by a compound cut that proved to be difficult for me to wrap my brain around, but we persevered as we were encouraged by air conditioning and sharing some classic television with Greg. The second wheelchair ramp was at Josh’s house and was a bit larger than Greg’s. However, this proved to be no match for volunteers on Adult Week and Family Week. Wielding numerous post-hole diggers (sometimes two at a time), Adult Week volunteers cleared the way for Family Week volunteers to speed through installation of deck board and railings. The volunteers moved so fast that Eric was able to go next door to Josh’s and work to clear a fallen tree for firewood. Rolling the logs up the hill proved to be a favorite activity for many of the younger Family Week volunteers. To top it all off, Josh had a cookout for lunch for us on the last work day.

Bethlehem Farm was active in Hinton this summer as well. We worked with Gloria and Whitney “Cotton” Sherman to paint their houses. Gloria’s fresh white coat can be seen from across the river and is providing for the external defense against the elements well. Cotton’s house, now a nice coat of “easy on the eyes” yellow stands near the top of a hill that overlooks downtown Hinton and the river valleys beyond. Thanks to the tireless arms of volunteers who returned to the Farm freckled with paint, both houses can stand up well to the elements.

Also this summer we continued our relationship with neighboring Sprouting Farms, as volunteers helped weed, water and bring in harvests. Farmer Tim also led work crews at neighboring farms to provide much needed support to some of our friends who are going through some health difficulties. As usual, Fred and Scarlet kept us busy in Rupert. Volunteers know well that every day is full of surprises at Wellspring. The example of the Kellerman’s unflagging spirit, even in their “retirement”, definitely gets them through any challenge.

Buckets of sweat, a little bit of blood, and the undaunted vigor of volunteers allowed Bethlehem Farm to continue to make a positive, lasting difference in our community. Thank you to everyone who supported us this summer with their time, talent, and treasure.

Summer Servant Reflection

By Nicole Quaranto, Summer Servant

I first arrived at Bethlehem Farm in January 2018 for a chilly winter group week with the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Achy from our eight hour drive down from New York and apprehensive about spending a week away from the city, I was at first taken aback by the shouts of ‘’Welcome Home!” and warm embraces I received as I stepped into the Farmhouse. Flash-forward one week later—a week filled with early morning prayer, sitting around the woodstove in community, taking only one shower in vow of simplicity, and engaging in service to the local Appalachian area—I said a somber goodbye to my new family at the Farm.

Returning to college for my last semester as an undergrad, I was feeling a bit stuck. Confused over the career path I had set for myself some fifteen years ago and overwhelmed with anxiety of the future, I knew I needed to escape the hustle-and-bustle of the city. I was seeking solitude and peace with myself and those around me, and all I could think about was the Farm. I needed to find a place where I could channel my anxiety into the earth while also answering the call of those on the margins of society. I sent in my Summer Servant application, sat down for my phone interview, and received the glorifying news that I would be returning to the farm for four weeks that summer—right after my college commencement.

During my month-long stay at the Farm, I grew immensely as a community member, as a servant, and as a spiritual being. Long days on my hands and knees pulling weeds in the garden, turning over orchard beds in the early summer sun, and hauling gravel out of the driveway culverts may sound like mundane and arduous tasks. However, these tasks gave me so much gratitude. I learned new skills and worked harder than I had in years. Having the opportunity to serve on the home crew and cook for over fifty people for two weeks allowed me to find my niche at the farm—in the kitchen helping bring warm, healthy food to my community members at the end of a long day’s work. I am forever indebted to Bethlehem Farm for giving me the time I needed to escape the city, discern my future career, and connect to the mountains. I cannot wait to return home!

Ready to register for 2019?

2019 Volunteer Registration forms are now available on our website.

Click here to see the 2019 Volunteer Calendar

Questions or Comments regarding this publication, article submissions and
photos can be sent to our newsletter editor at bethlehemfarm@gmail.com
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