Update on Bellwether Farm, the Camp, Retreat, and Education Center of the Diocese of Ohio for the United Thank Offering
October 29, 2018


We are very pleased to provide this final grant update our UTO Grant #2017-20. Our grant was used to fund the first-year cost of two staff positions: one to develop program curriculum and one for farm management.Bellwether Farm, Camp, Retreat, and Education Center offers a model for sustainable living that promotes physical and spiritual wellness, fidelity to the environment, and social justice by incorporating farming, food production, and environmental stewardship into land-based educational programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. It is centrally located in the Diocese of Ohio, easily accessible to our 16,000 members. Developed on 137 acres of land, the property consists of agricultural fields, woodlands, meadows, a three-acre swimming lake, and recreational areas with sports fields, playgrounds, and picnic pavilions. It is bordered on three sides by the Vermilion River and offers exceptional and diverse opportunities for educational activities. It includes a camp for 96 children and youth that will offer day and overnight programs, as well as a serene adult residential retreat and education space with 40 overnight rooms that can be single or double occupancy. Bellwether Farm provides a place to live out the Gospel by joining our hands in common work and play. It also serves as an incubator to develop programming and practices for the people and parishes in our diocese, the wider Church, and the broader community to gain knowledge about care for the environment and to develop disciplines that focus on sustainable living.

Major construction was completed at Bellwether Farm during 2018. This included the completion of a youth summer camp, adult retreat lodging, a dining and meeting building, multiple barns, and a farmhouse. The facility has already hosted well over 1,000 people, many who participated in education programs such as tree plantings, rain barrel workshops, composting education, farm-to-table kitchen demonstrations, nature hikes, birding outings, and much more.

Our UTO Grant helped us to hire two key positions: Jessica Miller as land stewardship and program manager and Kyle Mitchell as farm manager. Jessica Miller joined the team in March 2017. Jessica studied ecology and English at Calvin College. She worked with the Creation Care Study Program in New Zealand and has been an environmental and agricultural educator in multiple nonprofits, schools, and organizations in the Northeast Ohio area, including work as a field botanist for the Cleveland Metroparks and in natural areas conservation at the Holden Arboretum.

Over the past year, Jessica has developed and led adult and youth programming. Jessica also led the creation of a 25-year land stewardship and management plan. In September 2018, Jessica left the project to pursue another opportunity. She continues to provide advice, counsel, and hands-on leadership on programming and land management as a volunteer.

Kyle Mitchell, farm manager, joined the team in December 2017. Kyle has a degree in religious studies from Southeastern University. While teaching religious studies at a boarding school in Southern India in 2009, Kyle planted carrots with one of his students. Three months later, much to his surprise and delight, the carrot seeds had produced beautiful carrots! This miracle and gift of seed to carrot changed his life, so much so that he and his wife, Lynea, decided to drop their jobs and go on a journey to learn where food comes from.

After working on farms from Vermont to Florida to all over Central America, Kyle and his wife returned to Cleveland. Throughout the past five years, he has grown food in Cleveland with two different urban farming initiatives, balancing food production, education, and social outreach. Kyle and Lynea live on site at Bellwether Farm.

In 2018, Kyle developed and planted approximately two acres of vegetables at the farm. The crops were planted in 15 plots with 14 beds of 50’x3’ rows. Every seventh row is planted with flowers and other pollinator supporting plants, both to represent the Sabbath and to attract beneficial pollinators such as birds, bees, and butterflies. During this past year, the Bellwether Farm chickens have been fertilizing more acreage for planting next spring.

The farm has been very prolific. Produce has been used for farm-to-table meals for groups staying on site and those attending recreational or educational programming. We have sold produce through our farmers markets, and we have hosted several pick-your-own days, when members of the diocese and others harvested their own produce in exchange for donations. We also have provided fresh vegetables to several parishes who host community meals.

Key Learning

Every day is a learning experience at Bellwether Farm. Many factors, including inclement weather and delayed construction, have impacted the startup of Bellwether Farm. Our recommendations to others are to be flexible in planning and willing to adapt, engage partners and stakeholders in the mission and communicate progress frequently, and do research and seek out experts.

Best Outcome of This Award

Even in the early stages of its existence, Bellwether Farm is exceeding our expectations as a vehicle for teaching the wider community about fidelity to the environment and care for God’s creation. Bellwether Farm is providing a place to live out the Gospel by joining our hands in common work and play. It is also serving as an incubator to develop programming and practices for the people and parishes in our diocese, the wider Church, and the broader community to gain knowledge about care for the environment and to develop disciplines that focus on sustainable living. Members of the diocese have enthusiastically adopted Bellwether Farm as a centerpiece of our diocesan identity. Neighbors and friends in the wider community have embraced our mission and enthusiastically endorsed our work there.

The Hardest Lesson

Along the process, we have had to accept things that were beyond our control. During the construction and development of the facility, staff have had to delay some projects that they were eager to start until the construction was complete. This included delaying the start of a full season of summer camp.

What Others Are Saying

  1. In August, the staff at Bellwether hosted a seed saving workshop, presented jointly with the Cleveland Seed Bank. The workshopoffered participants the opportunity to learn the basics of how to harvest and save different types of seed – from vegetables to wildflowers – and how seed saving benefits communities and biodiversity. One participant, Kathryn Lucey, from Cleveland shared, “The staff was so welcoming and knowledgeable. I was blown away by our tour of the farm and learning more about native plants and vegetables. I never knew I could get heirloom vegetable seeds from my library! I was also encouraged to see how care for God’s earth was firmly at the center of all they are doing at the farm.”
  2. Perhaps fittingly, our Episcopal Church Women were the first group we hosted at Bellwether Farm. They had their annual meeting in the Worship Barn in the spring of 2018. Barbara Jones, president of the Ohio ECW shared, “Bellwether Farm has lived up to our expectations as a setting where we can gather and celebrate all that God’s creation has to offer. The ECW diocesan board looks forward to holding many meetings and events at Bellwether in the years ahead.”
  3. St. Paul’s in Cleveland Heights held a summer Reading Camp for children whom teachers have identified as falling behind in their reading level. The program volunteer organizer, Betsy Hockey, shared, “For many of the rising 4th and 5th graders attending Reading Camp, Bellwether provided many “firsts” – the first time petting a goat, the first time getting close to bees rather than running away from them, the first time swimming in a lake, and their first connection between planting crops and their food. The amazing staff geared learning and recreational activities to the children’s level, supporting them through their nervousness and celebrating their accomplishments. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Reading Camp at Bellwether!”

Future Plans

We have ambitious and far-reaching goals for Bellwether Farm. This includes the expansion of our farm, the continuation of our land stewardship efforts, and the implementation of diverse and inclusive programs and activities that will enable Bellwether Farm to serve as a model for sustainable living.