By Sister Toby Bonny, OSF
Bethlehem Farm is located in West Virginia, over 600 miles from Wheaton, IL. I was fortunate enough to travel with 3 other fine people: Sister Glenna Czachor, OSF, Andy Joseph, and Steve Demaris, members of the Wheaton Franciscan faith community. Steve volunteered to drive us. We had a great trip and conversation on the drive. This was the first trip to the farm for me and Andy. Steve and Sr. Glenna had been there before. Covenant Companion Tom Ruggaber and his wife Pat were also visiting the farm at this same time.
Formerly a Catholic Worker community, Bethlehem Farm was founded in 2004 in Summers County, WV. It is a Catholic community dedicated to transforming lives through service in the local community and the teaching of sustainable practices.
My first impression of Bethlehem Farm was love. Upon arrival, all the caretakers introduced themselves and greeted us with a “welcome home” and a big hug! Bethlehem Farm is truly a home and family. Meals are all eaten together and are healthy. Most of the food is grown on the farm or locally sourced.
The four cornerstones of the farm are Prayer, Community, Simplicity, and Service. These are lived out daily. Each morning begins with communal prayer. Those who choose to provide service off-site are blessed and prayed for prior to departure. They are welcomed home upon return.
Community is always part of the farm. Once a week, the community around the farm are welcomed to share supper with the farm caretakers and volunteers. We were fortunate to experience this while we were there. Folks brought various musical instruments and we were treated to wonderful music!
Volunteers are given a list of service opportunities to choose where we would like to help. One of the days, I chose to assist with putting a skirt on a mobile home of one of our neighbors. This would lower her electric bill. She is a widow who cares for her grandchildren. On another day, I stained barn doors for the San Damiano Sustainability Center, on the grounds of the farm. I tended chickens and got friendly with them, but one did not want to give up her egg. I also worked in the kitchen, baking bread and peeling potatoes and apples. Working as a team and sharing responsibility made the work fun.
Simplicity is a lifestyle. Solar panels are used to reduce the carbon footprint. There is an automatic washing machine; however, drying is done the old-fashioned way, on clothes lines hung from an upstairs opening. I also experienced a saw dust toilet. A bucket with some saw dust is placed under a toilet seat. After using the toilet, you cover it up with more saw dust. When the bucket is full, it is taken outside and emptied in to piles until it can be used for composting.
I loved my experience at Bethlehem Farm and plan to go back “home!”
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