As it has for all of us, this year has presented novel challenges for Bellwether Farm, as well as it has provided unexpected opportunities. The cancellation of summer camp and the closing of dining and retreat accommodations brought operations to a disappointing halt. Personnel changes and restructuring of responsibilities demanded creativity and flexibility on everyone’s part. And primary concern for the safety of visitors has required that we develop new ways of providing the hospitality and experiential formation that mark the farm’s ministry. The net result has been to use this period of uncertainty to explore new procedures and develop new protocols, and to employ in new ways the remarkable human and natural resources with which we
Through the summer months, with the collaboration of four wonderful agricultural and culinary interns, staff members established ways of incorporating farm volunteers, family visits, and you-pick-it opportunities, all within state, county, and diocesan COVID-safe parameters. Small groups of youth, young adults, and others were able to meet outdoors, masked and socially distanced, and sometimes receive a farm-to-table meal, individually plated and safely provided. Last month, we were able, on a limited basis, to begin receiving overnight guests for family and individual self-guided retreats. A number of people have participated in two Bellwether Book Clubs, each with a virtual meeting, one including the author. Another group purchased bags of Bellwether-grown ingredients for homemade pasta sauce, and were provided with a video link to a farm-to-table cooking class featuring Farmer Kyle Mitchell, Chef Lonny Gatlin, and Program Director Amy Melena. Following a successful “virtual” retreat earlier this year, Bellwether recently hosted a day-long, in-person “Homesteading” retreat, with staff and volunteer leaders, as well as two in-person anti-racism trainings, one for adults and one for youth. And the Rev. Anna Sutterisch has begun monthly, Sunday afternoon spiritual walks through the fields and trails. We even provided a sold-out, COVID-safe Harvest dinner for 24 lucky diners. As we are learning how to use this facility in a new and challenging context, all of this has been possible only through the creative efforts of many, to find innovative, secure, and
reliable ways to gather and benefit from the healing gifts of farm, field, and woods.
One of the most substantial pivots of this coronavirus time has been the redirection of produce and livestock grown at Bellwether to five parochial hot-meal feeding programs in what we’ve called Feeding the Beloved Community. Just because we have not had the expected campers, retreatants, and other groups to feed since April, farm operations were not reduced. In fact, they were expanded. Produce crops were increased. Laying hens were added. Pigs and meat chickens were raised and harvested. Dozens of turkeys were fattened up for the holidays. For $100, purchasers bought two turkeys, one for themselves and one for Feeding the Beloved Community. For six months, Bellwether has provided hundreds of pounds of vegetables and a half-ton of ground pork to urban and ex-urban parish outreach programs, whose volunteers have cooked and served thousands of take-out meals to children, women, and men in need. And not one ounce was at a cost to the parish. This effort has been fully underwritten by a COVID-19 emergency grant from Episcopal Relief and Development, private foundation support, and diocesan outreach funds.
Unlike similar facilities, Bellwether does not have a long history and generations of former participants to support it during challenging times like this. Therefore, to all those who have made financial contributions and the many volunteers who have given of their time and talent, our gratitude is as bountiful as our gardens. Bellwether is a start-up, and indeed now, because of this pandemic, a re-start, and the companionship of all who have put a hand to the plough, a seed in the ground, a shoulder to the wheel, or a check in the mail has made this year a year of growth, promise, and hope. Thank you!