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
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
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.
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
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
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.
By Nicole Quaranto, Summer Servant
Summer Servant Reflection
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.
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
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?
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