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.

Ursuline Students Live Service, Faith at Bethlehem Farm

Ursuline Students Live Service, Faith at Bethlehem Farm

We had a great time this summer with the group from Ursuline New Orleans–check out this reflection on their experience. Click link below:

We are delighted to see that they brought composting and reducing food waste back home with them (making a difference in their school dining hall), as they share their cornerstone experience in so many ways.

The Ursuline New Orleans group with Clare and Miriam Fitts

When a Place Becomes a Home

By: Kaylie Rosenkranz, Student, Spring Break Service Trip Participant

Community. Prayer. Simplicity. Service. Bethlehem Farm’s four pillars couldn’t describe the farm’s magic more perfectly. Bethlehem Farm was not just a service trip. It was a home. From the very beginning when we arrived, the caretakers met us in the driveway and hugged us saying “welcome home.” So many names were introduced to me all at once, I thought no way was I going to remember 30 other people that I’ve never met before. Yet, by the second day not only did I know their names, but their hobbies, talents, and personalities. The caretakers, fellow students from UIC and Father Ryan High School, people of West Virginia, and us made a community a home.

Community. Yes, I expected to make some friends with others from different schools going on this trip, but I didn’t expect to make friends with the people living in West Virginia. Community night was a night when neighbors on the mountain or people who the farm was helping with home improvement were invited to dinner and prayer. The help of a service like big anchor roofing was greatly appreciated by everyone and this night was about giving back to them. 17309382_10212062506618830_5165753652914561977_n These people welcomed us into their community, told us their life stories, and shared their talents with us. One man brought his fiddle and played music for us after dinner. After everything they had lost, whether from last summer’s flood, fire, or unemployment, they still came with a smile on their face ready to enjoy great company and good food. I learned something that night. As long as I have faith, it doesn’t matter what challenges may occur, with His help, I will never be alone. I will have a community that will help me.

Prayer. We prayed before every meal, before we left for a work site, and with the family of those we were helping at the work site. We also started and ended the day with prayer. It was sometimes led by the caretakers or sometimes led by our work groups. My favorite prayer was the one my group led. It was closing prayer on the last day so we all felt like we were family. Out topic was love: love of ourselves, love of our neighbors, and love of God. We talked about how all these types of love strength each other and help our faith grow. We also found these types of love in the work we did at the farm. Everything came full circle and we ended the night saying that we loved each other. We truly did.

Simplicity. This pillar was perhaps the hardest one of the week. There was no technology meaning no phones, computers, or television. We even had an electricity fast one night. The first day was rough, I was constantly reaching for my phone to text my friends or check the time, but then I realized that I didn’t have my phone with me. Then, I asked myself the question, “Why do I need to know the time?” It’s not like I knew what time the next activity was going to start. Time somewhat become pointless. The concept was liberating. I was free from the restraints of having a schedule which is something I always have at school. Simplicity also meant saving the environment. We had saw dust toilets and bucket showers. I used both. Bucket showers are now one of my favorite ways to take a shower. The first time, it was only 30 degrees outside, but looking up at the sky while showering was amazing. A once in a lifetime opportunity to appreciate nature. the food we ate also reflected simplicity. Most of the food was organic and came from neighbors. This meant that we weren’t harming the soil with harmful chemicals or harming the air with CO2 when trucks drive produce to stores. Bethlehem Farm taught me that I don’t need the comforts of luxury to enjoy life. Everything I need is provided by nature God created.

Service. The chores are never done when living on a farm. We started the day with chores and then went to our work sites for 7-8 hours. I feed chickens, raked leaves, cooked, pulled out nails from old wood, finished the siding of a roof, and started a foundation for an extension to a home. Even though it was a difficult task and we could have just contacted a siding contractor, who might have done the job meticulously, I found joy in working with my friends and knowing that I was helping those were needed it. Not only were we serving others, but we were ultimately serving God. We could see him through the people, food, and nature surrounding us. God was present everywhere.

Without a doubt, I would go back to Bethlehem farm. It’s a second home. At first, I was looking for some big gesture or evidence of God’s presence while I was there, but then I realized that God comes silently. I can feel the grass now. We are on top of the hill looking out onto the vast landscape singing “Here I am Lord.” Here I am.

Happy Holidays from Notre Dame


From Notre Dame student Mary Howard:
I just wanted to pass along this photo of our Notre Dame team. We have had biweekly team dinners and concluded the semester with a little Christmas cookie party this Saturday as a finals study break and last hurrah. Bfarm still lives on in our heart and our relationships with one another..and our squashbuckling jokes.
Hope all is well and we wish you all a holiday season filled with love and blessings!!
Thank you for giving us this opportunity this fall!

Remembering the farm back on campus

Emily Okawara spent her fall break at Bethlehem Farm this year with a great group from Notre Dame.  After returning to campus, she wrote us a letter reflecting on her time at the farm, sharing the challenges and successes of trying to integrate her experience back at school.  Thanks, Emily!  Here it is:

Today marks a little under two weeks since I have been back at Notre Dame after my week at Bethlehem Farm.  I can very confidently say that there has not been a single day in which I have not thought about our week – in fact some days I just can’t stop thinking about it.  Today is one of those days so I wanted to write and share a little bit of the experience with all of you, who had such a huge part in making it so great.  First of all, I just want to talk about the tremendous respect I have for the lifestyle you live in simplicity, community, prayer, and service.  In my week at BFarm I did so many things that would have seemed crazy or unappealing to me in the context of a normal day in my everyday life – using a sawdust toilet, completely disconnecting from time, screens, and media, using a sledgehammer to demolish a house, or hauling chicken litter at 7:00 in the morning.  Now, though, I find myself wishing I could just take another bucket shower (spiders and all) under the stars or be convinced by Carley to eat a raw clove of garlic with honey.  I find myself listening periodically to “Country Roads” and reminiscing about hearing it while waking up for a day of hard work – and just love anything that takes me back to the farm in some way.

I think it has definitely been hard for me to transition back to the crazy-paced, loud, and stressful college life – I was late to breakfast with my friend the day after we got back (She went to BFarm last year and when I got there she said, “Emily, you are NOT on God’s time anymore!) and hated jumping right back into having so many hours of homework and class and rehearsal and meetings that I didn’t have the time I wanted for reflection and prayer.  I also felt like I had built such amazing and truthful relationships with the people on my Appalachia team that talking about grades and social media seemed so topical – I craved the conversations on the porch swing about soul ages or philosophical questions over washing dishes or thinking about God and love by the pond.

After a couple weeks though, I have picked out some little ways I can take what I had at Bethlehem Farm and translate it to the rest of my life.  Although I haven’t quite figured out how to get the university to approve my south-quad-bucket-shower construction project, I have put a washcloth in my shower caddy so that when I wash my hands I’m not using paper towels or the dryer.  And although I don’t hold hands in prayer at least three times a day, it’s amazing to give and get a hug whenever I see BFarm family around campus.  In a less concrete way, I have been thinking and reflecting about what really matters to me.

When people ask me how my fall break was, I don’t hesitate to say, “Incredible.  It changed my life.”  Not only did my week change the way I thought about things, immerse me in an intentional community, allow me to connect with Appalachian community members, and do things I had never done before, but I also built wonderful life friendships and had some of the best FUN I have ever had in my life.  We laughed a lot.  I think there is something so special about an environment that fully disconnects you from technology, stressors, and distractions so that you can be so present in every moment.  It was such a luxury to sit amongst others, just have time to look out on a beautiful view of creation, and allow conversation to go wherever it wanted (or to choose to just think and not have conversation at all).  The gift of time, peace, stillness, and presence that Bethlehem Farm gave me is one I will never forget.

It is an understatement to say that BFarm left me inspired.  Not only inspired by the fact that Jarusha manages to match her clothes to her glasses and hard hat every day to go out for demolition (although this was quite inspiring), but inspired to center myself in what matters and remember to take the time for prayer and community that Bethlehem Farm reminded me I needed so much.

Thank you for an amazing week – there is so much love in my heart for each and everyone of you!  You are doing great things and truly impacting the lives not only of the people you help in the community, but also the people you bring to the farm!


Emily Okawara, University of Notre Dame