FEATURE - April 2018
Jerusalem Farm: Green Living in Action
By Barbara Kietzer Roberts
When exploring how to incorporate green living into our lives, we have a wonderful resource to follow in Jerusalem Farm, a Catholic intentional community located in the historic northeast Pendleton Heights neighborhood in Kansas City. Founded in 2012, with the support of Avila University and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, Jerusalem Farm is built on the four cornerstones of prayer, community, service, and simplicity. They strive to transform their lives and those around them through sustainable living, service retreat experiences, and home repair to neighbors in need.
Jessie and Jordan Schiele lead the community. Jessie, who serves as Executive Director, and Jordan, Project Director, live at the farm with their two children and three full-time community members. “The more I live in community, the more I become a believer that our current consumeristic society is unsustainable. I think we are seeing that in climate change. By living in a learning community, encouraging [your] faith, living with less resources, you’re able to give to others more freely because you yourself have a stronger sense of the community network,” says Jordan.
Originally a convent, the Schiele’s, with help from a multitude of volunteers, transformed the space into an ecofriendly community, in keeping with the farm’s mission to care for the earth and reduce their carbon footprint. An example of this can be found in the solar panels they installed. On most days, these panels provide more power than the farm needs. The extra power then goes back to the utility company. The farm’s utility bills are only for service fees, which run from $15 to $25 per month.
To show awareness and conserve electricity on Thursday evenings from 7 p.m. until daybreak, no electricity, not even batteries, are used. This provides all at the farm the opportunity to “live in solidarity to those who don’t have access, and to illustrate how our dependence on electricity can be detrimental,” shares David Armstrong, Jerusalem Farm chairperson and Director of University Mission and Ministry at Avila University. Moreover, all volunteer work groups are asked to not use their cell phones while at the farm.
A three-thousand gallon rain collection and irrigation system provides all of the water for the community garden, in addition to helping with general water needs. To further conserve water, residents and retreat participants are challenged to take only three showers during the week, one normal and two bucket showers.
A community garden provides the produce needs, as well as extra to share with their neighbors. The greenhouse was built with repurposed materials, including wine bottles and used tires for the walls and recycled corrugated steel for the roof. Only the tempered glass around the wood-fired stove was made with original materials. The heat from the stove runs under the greenhouse dirt, keeping the seedlings and plants warm during the winter.
The farm community not only embraces composting, they established the only curbside compost program. Once a week, over eighty neighbors’ food scraps are picked up and added to the farm’s compost site, which is later used as fertilizer in their garden.
The chicken coop, made from recycled material, is home to a rooster and a dozen hens. Enough eggs are laid to take care of the farm’s needs. After four years, when the hens no longer produce eggs, they are processed for consumption by the community and neighbors in need.
Residents and volunteers wear repurposed t-shirts, which are donated or purchased at a local thrift store. From there, the shirts are turned inside-out, tie-dyed, and embossed with the farm logo. They also sell the repurposed t-shirts for five dollars.
The farm’s mission of repairing homes soon evolved into also providing restorative justice services to neighbors facing city codes violations. These services allow neighbors, many elderly, to stay in their homes. Labor is provided free of charge, with neighbors only paying the cost of materials. Repayment is flexible to what the homeowner can afford—some pay as little as $5 per month. If they are struggling, the farm forgives the loan.
When repairing homes, care is taken to salvage as much torn out materials as possible. From there, the materials can be reused in another home. Soon after beginning this service, Jordan noticed that neighbors had the skill but lacked basic tools for home repairs. This inspired him to open a tool library, where neighbors can check-out any needed tools.
Part of the Jerusalem Farm’s original five-year plan was to have two buildings to carry out their mission. In April 2018, they will move into a new Common Home, while also having completed renovations to their current farmhouse. With the additional space, more volunteers will be able to experience and then share with their own community, the joy of green living while serving their neighbor.
With land obtained via the city’s free land-grant program, ground was broken in February 2017. The home, the first new construction in the neighborhood in fifty years, includes common living space, a reading room, sacred prayer space, along with nine bedrooms, four bathrooms, a communal kitchen and laundry room. Generosity from donors and volunteers has helped to keep construction costs, “far below average building costs,” says Jordan, who also serves as the project’s general contractor.
The new home is being built sustainably. Its energy saving features include insulated concrete form technology (ICF), triple paned windows, and solar panels. A wood stove supplements a highly efficient HVAC system that can be controlled in each room.
This year marks the sixth anniversary and beginning of the farm’s seventh year. In the Old Testament, the seventh year was considered the “Sabbath year.” In celebration of this, Jerusalem Farm will match all payments on all homeowners’ loans. They hope by doing this, they can provide financial rest to their neighbors. “We take a lot of inspiration and wisdom from the sisters who have lived in community for hundreds of years. We want to keep that tradition, the sense of community, and being good stewards of the earth alive,” says Jordan.
Jerusalem Farm provides a vibrant model of green living not only for their neighbors, and those who participate in service retreat experiences, but to the general public as well. As community member Sunny Hamrick shared, “We are showing people that through the small changes with love and compassion, you can reap radical love.”
Jerusalem Farm Sidebar Item
- Open House of Common Home and renovations to Farm: Saturday, May 19, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Community Night Dinner: Every second Tuesday of the month, 5 p.m. Please RSVP by Sunday before.
- Jerusalem Farm is looking for new community members as well as 1-6 Sojourners.
- For more information on these events, how to volunteer, or donate, go to www.jerusalemfarm.org
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Barbara Kietzer Roberts’ writing includes award winning essays, short stories, and a novel. She is Vice President for Whispering Prairie Press and is the Mission Advancement Director for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Kansas City. For more, go to www.barbarakietzerroberts.wordpress.com