“Use your pivot foot!” I can hear my basketball coaches yelling this from the sidelines as if it were yesterday. It’s a phrase I haven’t thought about much in recent years but seems to pop in my head weekly as I explain to people what we’ve been up to at Bellwether Farm. In basketball, a pivot foot is used when a player has the ball and comes to a complete stop. With the pivot foot held down on the floor, a player can spin and move around as long as their pivot foot stays grounded. The pivot foot opens up new possibilities, helps one see different angles, and often allows a player to squeeze out of tight situations. With COVID-19 continually reshaping our communities and personal lives, all of us have, in one way or another, had to use our pivot foot. We’ve had to find new rhythms and perspectives, ask difficult questions, and re-think how we interact with each other in the world.
This summer at Bellwether, one of the difficult decisions we had to make was cancelling summer camp and postponing many retreat groups. Given the fact that much of the food we produce normally goes to the dining hall to feed guests on site, our question was, “How do we pivot this year?” More specifically, “What do we do with all the food coming off the farm?” After discussing this and getting some advice from Bishop Hollingsworth, we decided not to start something completely new, but rather partner with some of our well-established meal programs in the diocese to help get fresh food to people who really need
it. We applied for and received an Episcopal Relief & Development COVID-19 emergency grant for the program we named “Feeding the Beloved Community.” The grant has enabled us to leverage a range of valuable assets, including vegetable and pork production at Bellwether, a number of well-established meal programs in the diocese, Bellwether’s summer internship
program, and many committed parochial outreach volunteers.
Each week, volunteers deliver a share of produce and protein from the farm which gets incorporated into hot meal programs in Painesville, Cleveland, Oberlin, Lorain, and Tiffin. When asked about this collaborative partnership during COVID-19, Kelcie Dugger, the Youth Outreach Specialist at St. Luke’s, Cleveland, replied, “Now more than ever it's important to check on your neighbors and offer them support. Although COVID-19 changed the way we serve food, we're still serving quality meals that are hot and hearty, even more so with the help of Bellwether Farm. Every week they send fresh produce to be included with our changing menu. We've been blessed with spring lettuce, cucumbers, squash, bell peppers, cabbage, and much more. We've added some of these fresh vegetables to our meals, but our favorite way of using it all is in preparing 100 fresh salads to accompany our hot dish. Our community has been thankful for this added touch.”
Another important decision was to continue our farm-to-table internship program in the midst of the pandemic. It took a lot of intentionality, flexibility, and coordination among the Bellwether staff to provide a safe environment, but we successfully hosted one culinary intern and three farm interns for eight weeks of the summer. These four college students proved to be an integral part of the “farm-to-parish” Feeding the Beloved Community program, bringing lots of energy and passion to Bellwether, while boosting our farm and culinary work. As a camp, retreat, and education center, these internships provide a great opportunity to tap into the educational heart of our mission. Along with daily animal chores and meal preparation, the interns helped plant, harvest, pack, and deliver food. They served food at Christ Church, Oberlin; loaded food into vehicles at the mobile pantry at the St. Luke’s, Cleveland; and even helped establish a community garden with Church of the Redeemer, Lorain. In an article for the College of Wooster, one of our farm interns, Jenna Smith, noted, “I was able to follow through with my internship because of [Bellwether’s] symptom checking routines, social distancing protocols, and staff quarantine. We diligently ensured one another’s safety by following guidelines for citizens and businesses, and I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have had this opportunity. While I couldn’t give farm tours or convince 8-year-olds to eat tomatoes, I’ve gained a holistic, loving experience through interactions with my amazing team and the beautiful property.”
Personally, this farm-to-parish program has given me a new appreciation for the good work that so many in the Diocese of Ohio are doing. The relationships that have formed and the experiences I’ve had in the wider church have lifted my spirit during this challenging time. While my pivot foot has stayed grounded at Bellwether, I’ve had the chance to stretch and shift my vision outward, seeing fresh possibilities and opportunities for collaboration. It is my hope and expectation that Bellwether will continue to partner with parishes as we re-open our doors to welcome and reach out to feed the Beloved Community.