March 1-7: Eastern Mennonite, St. Peter’s University, and Loyola Chicago copy

March 1-7: Eastern Mennonite, St. Peter’s University, and Loyola Chicago

March 1-7: College Week

Groups from Eastern Mennonite, St. Peter’s University, and Loyola Chicago

The first of 3 College Group Weeks in a row! Groups from Eastern Mennonite, St. Peter’s University, and Loyola Chicago, joined us to paint a house and move a ton of wood with Leota, replace an underpinning with Paul, seal a roof with Paige and Courtney, and start a foundation repair with Bonnie. Thanks to summer servants Katherine Warth and Patrick McGinnis for joining us for laughs, hard work, and great meals. And that’s on PERIOD!

March 8-14: College Week: Avila University, Benedictine College, University of Notre Dame

March 8-14: College Week: Avila University, Benedictine College, University of Notre Dame

March 8-14: College Week: Avila University, Benedictine College, University of Notre Dame

March 8-14: college week. Groups from Avila University, Benedictine College, and University of Notre Dame joined us last week on their spring break. A crew worked with Tori and Leota to finish up painting her house and a few other jobs. We served on home crew with Steve and Colleen to provide delicious meals. Eric brought a farm crew to Farmer Rhonda’s to assist with construction of her high tunnel and playing with baby animals. Joseph and a crew worked with Bonnie to continue replacing a foundation. And Raine and Gemma worked with Ann to continue repairing porches and her roof. Former Summer Servant Emma Qualy Pearson brought her knowledge and joy to the week, and seasonal servant Marty squeezed back in time to lend a hand in the kitchen.


It was a privilege to welcome BC home for the first time and have them join some of our long-time partners. Thanks for the hard work and inspiring prayers!

January 5-11: St. Anselm, College of Mount Saint Vincent, and St. Paul at UW-Madison

January 5-11: St. Anselm, College of Mount Saint Vincent, and St. Paul at UW-Madison

January 5-11: College Week

Groups from College of Mount Saint Vincent, St. Anselm and St. Paul’s University Catholic Center joined us for a great start to 2020.

Groups were blessed with a half-day on Tuesday to take time hiking, sledding, and relaxing in the snow. We spent the rest of the week bundled up as we worked with Mike Jenkins on his roof and Charlotte Summers to fix her porch. We were fortunate to help farm friends Rhonda Sherman Dortch on her high tunnel construction and Anne brown to prepare for growing season on her farm. A farmcrew helped Eric Fittsdawg continue siding on the San Damiano Center for Sustainability.

We deep cleaned the Farmhouse, split wood for the stove, and harvested many greens from our high tunnel and greenhouse. Former summer servant Cece Pateman joined us for the week, and Marty Nocchi came back for the week to make history as the first “summer” servant to serve in all seasons. We’re still working on names; some are calling him well-seasoned!

Our volunteer group enjoying a prayer experience at the top of Bill Mann’s Hill, cheering on Wisconsin despite coming from other schools

Fun sledding down the hill!

From Aquinas College Student Bailey Trout

From Bailey Trout, Aquinas  College  StudentI’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.

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Siding in progress, Roofing complete! Part II

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Siding in progress, Roofing complete! Part II

by Eric Fitts, Director

An update is overdue!

We hosted engineering students from the University of Dayton’s ETHOS program, who learned sustainable practices around the Farm and helped insulate the solar hot water system, replace the old side curtains on the high tunnel greenhouse, and install underlayment and siding on San Damiano. We completed the underlayment on the west and east walls, which means underlayment is complete and we are dried in before winter. All of the siding was measured, labeled, and stacked where it will be needed. And the first two pieces of siding were installed.

Meanwhile, the roofing crew from Forbes Copper Works, Josh, Tim, Chris, Tyler, and others, completed the installation of the standing seam metal roof, which is a great comfort heading into harsher weather.

Next steps are installing the root cellar door, pouring concrete into cinder block cores around the posts to firm them up, installing the 36″ steel door to the picnic area, completing the metal trim and siding, and plenty of interior work. Work has slowed as Eric focused on the garlic planting and admin work, and as we have fewer hands to help at this time of year.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Siding, Roofing in progress, Part I

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Siding, Roofing in Progress, Part I

by Eric Fitts, Director

Siding and roofing have begun!
The ShelterKit kit has finally been exhausted. (Just a few latches remain!)

Eric, Gemma, Raine, and Steve pitched in, completing a a few small door adjustments that remained on the slider and loft door, staining/sealing exterior trim for the loft door, completing the underlayment on the north gable wall, running some trim pieces for the siding (high ladder acts III and IV of V are now complete!), and learning about standing seam metal roofing from the roofing crew.

Next steps are completing the underlayment on the sheathing for the west and east walls, installing the 36″ steel door to the picnic area, completing the metal roofing and metal trim and siding, and plenty of interior work (interior work is quite appropriate at a place named after San Damiano, since that’s where St. Francis’ interior (soul) work began).

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Framing in progress, Part XI

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Framing in Progress, Part XI

by Eric Fitts, Director

Exterior framing was completed!
The ShelterKit kit has finally been exhausted. (Just a few small door adjustments remain on the slider and loft door.)

Eric, Gemma, Vern, Sr. Glenna, Sr. Toby, Tom, Andy, and Steve pitched in, with covert help from a top secret veteran volunteer. Special cameo from Will to troubleshoot a slight oversight on my part 😉

Masters Week progress:
We installed some more underlayment on the north wall. We trimmed out the two 9’x10′ bay door openings and began installing base trim (called “rat guard”) for the metal siding. We stained and installed both 9’x10′ bi-fold bay doors (shout-out to Andy and Vern for making this happen through sheer willpower!) We installed the sliding door over the 9’x8′ bay door (thanks to Tom and Steve on the install and Glenna and Toby on the staining). On the last morning, we capped it by installing the loft door, which we had to hang in the door jamb ourselves, with some fancy router work.

The stain is a non-toxic product from Vermont Naturals called PolyWhey–it uses whey protein as the hardener and is a beautiful stain. We got it from www.greenbuildingsupply.com

Next steps are completing the underlayment on the sheathing, a few tweaks on the doors, installing the 36″ steel door to the picnic area, installing the metal roofing and metal trim and siding, and plenty of interior work (interior work is quite appropriate at a place named after San Damiano, since that’s where St. Francis’ interior (soul) work began.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign

San Damiano Center for Sustainability: Framing in progress, Part X

San Damiano Center for Sustainability:
Framing in Progress, Part X

by Eric Fitts, Director

Framing continued, with Eric, Bobby, Gemma, and Marty pitching in.

We installed all the underlayment on the south wall, and half on the north wall, installed all 6 windows on the north wall, and installed the exterior bathroom door. Marty stained the materials for the entry roof, we built the entry roof over the loft door, and installed underlayment on it.

Masters Week is coming! Next steps are completing the underlayment on the sheathing, installing the sliding doors, bi-fold doors, and loft door, and installing the metal roofing and metal trim and siding.

“Rebuild My Church” Capital Campaign