A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine

Pearson Ripley
Photographer based in Asheville, North Carolina
A Spirit of Abundance
for Commonweal Magazine

Last fall I was asked by Commonweal Magazine to visit a homestead outside of Alderson, West Virginia for a story on contemporary religious communities. Bethlehem Farm is a Catholic, sustainable living community in Central Appalachia. Resident volunteers, or caretakers, live long-term at the homestead, farming the land, caring for the animals and developing the property. The farm makes any effort possible in pursuit of sustainability, including keeping bees, maintaining an array of solar panels and using compost toilets.

The caretakers meet each day for morning prayer, which often takes the form of a topical discussion seen through the lens of scripture; “brain drain” in Appalachia, or the migration of highly trained or college-educated individuals out of the region, was the topic the morning I visited. Breakfast follows, which is when the days tasks are assigned. Meals are eaten as a group at the farm and cooking duties are shared as all others are. The farm also provides at-cost home repair for people in need that live in the Alderson area, with the work performed by the caretakers.

The people I spoke with ended up at the farm for a variety of reasons. Most, though, mentioned a desire to live a more simple life in closer communion to the planet, one that allows them a different way to engage with their spirituality.

Here’s a selection of photographs from my day in Alderson.

A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Tori Llorens, a caretaker from Los Angeles, pulls weeds at dusk in one of the gardens at...
Tori Llorens, a caretaker from Los Angeles, pulls weeds at dusk in one of the gardens at Bethlehem Farm.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Molly Sutter stands in the orchard with the chickens at dawn. Feeding them is her first duty for...
Molly Sutter stands in the orchard with the chickens at dawn. Feeding them is her first duty for the day following morning prayer.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Colleen Fitts places a sweet potato on a tarp while harvesting root vegetables.
Colleen Fitts places a sweet potato on a tarp while harvesting root vegetables.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Steve Rassa greets one of the donkeys on the property.
Steve Rassa greets one of the donkeys on the property.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Colleen Fitts waters flowers and herbs in the hoop house.
Colleen Fitts waters flowers and herbs in the hoop house.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Molly Sutter clears the back of the work truck after moving mulch from one side of the property...
Molly Sutter clears the back of the work truck after moving mulch from one side of the property to the other.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Birds fly above the road leading up the mountain to the farm.
Birds fly above the road leading up the mountain to the farm.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Colleen and Eric Fitts, cofounders of Bethlehem Farm, stand in the hoop house where vegetables...
Colleen and Eric Fitts, cofounders of Bethlehem Farm, stand in the hoop house where vegetables and herbs are grown for the community.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Steve Rassa has been a caretaker at Bethlehem Farm for the past several years.
Steve Rassa has been a caretaker at Bethlehem Farm for the past several years.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The barn is one of the original structures standing on the property when it was purchased by the...
The barn is one of the original structures standing on the property when it was purchased by the Fitts in 2004.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - A message to the caretakers inside of the toolshed sumarizes their daily duties.
A message to the caretakers inside of the toolshed sumarizes their daily duties.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Eric Fitts stands for a portrait in the barn.
Eric Fitts stands for a portrait in the barn.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Kevin removes the frame from the freshly poured concrete in front of the farm's new garage.
Kevin removes the frame from the freshly poured concrete in front of the farm's new garage.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - A train towing dozens of cars filled with coal thunders by the home where two of the caretakers...
A train towing dozens of cars filled with coal thunders by the home where two of the caretakers are doing renovations.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Sarah spreads mulch under a row of berry bushes.
Sarah spreads mulch under a row of berry bushes.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The farm keeps bees as part of their commitment to the health of the land and surrounding ecosystem.
The farm keeps bees as part of their commitment to the health of the land and surrounding ecosystem.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Tori Llorens after an evening of tending the gardens.
Tori Llorens after an evening of tending the gardens.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Tori Llorens, a caretaker from Los Angeles, pulls weeds at dusk in one of the gardens at Bethlehem Farm.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Molly Sutter stands in the orchard with the chickens at dawn. Feeding them is her first duty for the day following morning prayer.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Colleen Fitts places a sweet potato on a tarp while harvesting root vegetables.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Steve Rassa greets one of the donkeys on the property.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Colleen Fitts waters flowers and herbs in the hoop house.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Molly Sutter clears the back of the work truck after moving mulch from one side of the property to the other.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Birds fly above the road leading up the mountain to the farm.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Colleen and Eric Fitts, cofounders of Bethlehem Farm, stand in the hoop house where vegetables and herbs are grown for the community.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Steve Rassa has been a caretaker at Bethlehem Farm for the past several years.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The barn is one of the original structures standing on the property when it was purchased by the Fitts in 2004.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
A message to the caretakers inside of the toolshed sumarizes their daily duties.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Eric Fitts stands for a portrait in the barn.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Kevin removes the frame from the freshly poured concrete in front of the farm's new garage.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
A train towing dozens of cars filled with coal thunders by the home where two of the caretakers are doing renovations.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Sarah spreads mulch under a row of berry bushes.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The farm keeps bees as part of their commitment to the health of the land and surrounding ecosystem.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Tori Llorens after an evening of tending the gardens.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Tori Llorens saves a praying mantis that emerged from the rosemary bush she was trimming.
Tori Llorens saves a praying mantis that emerged from the rosemary bush she was trimming.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The dozens of chickens on the property provide eggs for the residents and fertilize the orchard...
The dozens of chickens on the property provide eggs for the residents and fertilize the orchard where they roam.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The residents rotate cooking responsibilities and eat as a group.
The residents rotate cooking responsibilities and eat as a group.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The group shares dinner outdoors at sunset.
The group shares dinner outdoors at sunset.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The last light of day at the homestead outside of Alderson, West Virginia.
The last light of day at the homestead outside of Alderson, West Virginia.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - A portrait of Oscar Romero—the Archbishop of San Salvador assassinated during the...
A portrait of Oscar Romero—the Archbishop of San Salvador assassinated during the Salvadoran Civil War—hangs in the living room. A picture of the solar array on the roof of the main living space can be seen at the bottom right.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - After morning prayer Steve Rassa prepares the eucharist for the following day, placing the wafers...
After morning prayer Steve Rassa prepares the eucharist for the following day, placing the wafers into the Eucharist Chalice.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Morning fog envelops the property.
Morning fog envelops the property.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The property the farm was rennovating had been damaged by flooding from the nearby river,...
The property the farm was rennovating had been damaged by flooding from the nearby river, resulting in an unhealthy amount of mold in the home.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Tori Llorens looks out of the door that will eventually open to the deck of the new house they...
Tori Llorens looks out of the door that will eventually open to the deck of the new house they are building.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Plastic bags dry for reuse above the kitchen window. The farm is committed to any and all efforts...
Plastic bags dry for reuse above the kitchen window. The farm is committed to any and all efforts towards sustainability, from the smallest to the largest.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Tori and Sarah were sorry to find a house sparrow that had been trapped in the house they were...
Tori and Sarah were sorry to find a house sparrow that had been trapped in the house they were building while they were gone for the weekend.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The Greenbrier River runs through the heart of Alderson, a town of just over one thousand in...
The Greenbrier River runs through the heart of Alderson, a town of just over one thousand in Central Appalachia.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The donkeys roam the property eating grass and wildflowers.
The donkeys roam the property eating grass and wildflowers.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Tori Llorens (seen through the siding of the greenhouse) as she picks herbs for dinner.
Tori Llorens (seen through the siding of the greenhouse) as she picks herbs for dinner.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - The gardens, barn and hoop house at dawn.
The gardens, barn and hoop house at dawn.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - A resident of Alderson rides their bike away from the center of town.
A resident of Alderson rides their bike away from the center of town.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine - Bethlehem Farm, as visible from the mountain to the east of the property.
Bethlehem Farm, as visible from the mountain to the east of the property.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Tori Llorens saves a praying mantis that emerged from the rosemary bush she was trimming.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The dozens of chickens on the property provide eggs for the residents and fertilize the orchard where they roam.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The residents rotate cooking responsibilities and eat as a group.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The group shares dinner outdoors at sunset.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The last light of day at the homestead outside of Alderson, West Virginia.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
A portrait of Oscar Romero—the Archbishop of San Salvador assassinated during the Salvadoran Civil War—hangs in the living room. A picture of the solar array on the roof of the main living space can be seen at the bottom right.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
After morning prayer Steve Rassa prepares the eucharist for the following day, placing the wafers into the Eucharist Chalice.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Morning fog envelops the property.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The property the farm was rennovating had been damaged by flooding from the nearby river, resulting in an unhealthy amount of mold in the home.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Tori Llorens looks out of the door that will eventually open to the deck of the new house they are building.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Plastic bags dry for reuse above the kitchen window. The farm is committed to any and all efforts towards sustainability, from the smallest to the largest.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Tori and Sarah were sorry to find a house sparrow that had been trapped in the house they were building while they were gone for the weekend.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The Greenbrier River runs through the heart of Alderson, a town of just over one thousand in Central Appalachia.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The donkeys roam the property eating grass and wildflowers.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Tori Llorens (seen through the siding of the greenhouse) as she picks herbs for dinner.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
The gardens, barn and hoop house at dawn.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
A resident of Alderson rides their bike away from the center of town.
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Bethlehem Farm, as visible from the mountain to the east of the property.
Public Story
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine
Copyright Pearson Ripley 2022
Date of Work Oct 2021 - Oct 2021
Updated Sep 2022
Topics Media
LOVE
A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine by Pearson Ripley A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine by Pearson Ripley A Spirit of Abundance for Commonweal Magazine by Pearson Ripley
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