Heartland Farm: an exciting Dominican ministry of rural religious life
By Charlene Scott Myers
Special to the Register
RUSH COUNTY, KS – It was a drizzling, cold day for the Farm Day celebration Oct. 6 at Heartland Farm, but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the hostesses – the Dominican Sisters of Peace– or of their guests with umbrellas who toured the farm.
Heartland Farm will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. The 80-acre farm is located 14 miles west of Great Bend, and features 11 Alpacas, 60 chickens, and two organic gardens (one 250 x 50 feet for vegetables, and the other 50 x 50 feet for herbs and a flower garden.)
“The Great Bend Dominican Sisters began the farm in 1987 as a ministerial project,” explained Sister Jane Belanger, O.P., who has lived with four other sisters in the farm’s 100-year-old farmhouse for four years. The Great Bend Dominicans established three Heartland Ministries: the Heartland Center for Spirituality, which hosts retreat programs, clergy conferences, and ecumenical events; the Heartland Center for Wholistic Health storefront which offers holistic ministries, such as a chiropractor, massage and wholistic products, and Heartland Farm.
“Heartland Farm was a vision of all these things that go together: body, mind, and spirit in a rural setting,” Sister Jane said.
While some guests explored the labyrinth cut into the grasses on the farm’s prairie fields, others visited a straw bale arts studio in which Sister Mary Ellen Dater sat at a spinning wheel turning Alpaca fleece into two-ply yarn.
Her feet flying on the wheel’s two pedals, Sister Mary Ellen said she had to keep those pedals moving “because the wheel isn’t automatic!”
“I do this about two hours some days,” said the patient sister who taught in Liberal for 20 of her 44 years of teaching, and has lived at the farm for 18 years.
“I wish I could work on it every day,” she said of the spinning wheel. “It took me a year to get the feel of it; it’s all in the practice. It takes six hours to fill one spindle.”
Other sisters knit or weave the yarn into gloves, socks, scarves, and hats, “but I just spin as the early settlers used to do,” explained Sister Mary Ellen as guests crowded around her to watch her spin.
The Alpaca products are sold at the farm’s gift shop, where guests also can purchase other crafts such as soaps, creams, and pottery. An inviting outdoor sale of organic veggies grown on the farm featured squashes, peppers, tomatoes, okra, zucchini, onions, and sweet potatoes, among other items.
The farm’s lovely land offers many trails, a wooded creek, and two ponds that are habitat for native species that dwell there. It’s not only birds that flock to the farm, however. The setting offers space for retreat and renewal, study and prayer, learning and creative expression.
“We have two comfortable guest houses, as well as individual spaces, including our straw bale hermitage,” Sister Jane said.
The farm can provide meals or guests can bring their own food, staying overnight for $25 per person or $40 a couple. Three meals a day are offered for $15 per person. When she is not spinning, Sister Mary Ellen also
offers therapeutic massages for only $45 for one hour.
When the farm began, a Mennonite couple, Larry and Laurie Hessed, and their three children assisted the three Dominicans who lived at the farm at that time. Other couples, families, and individuals have been part of the farm community over the years.
Both children and adults are charmed by the friendly Alpacas of different sizes, colors, and ages.
“They are fairly meek, gentle, and approachable,” said Sister. Jane. “Sister Terry [Wasinger] saw them in Terre Haute Indiana, and fell in love with them. We are reluctant to have animals to kill. Alpaca are carefree animals. You don’t have to milk them, and they graze. They are very sought after for their fiber.”
The eggs produced by the farm’s four breeds of colorful chickens are sought after too. Their eggs of rainbow colors and produce from the farm are sold each summer at the Great Bend Farmers Market.
“The farm is a family friendly place,” Sister Jane said.
“Folks who want to make a retreat and volunteers always have been welcome here. Our fifth sister at the farm is Sister Marilyn Pierson, who wears many hats, including care of cats and dogs, hospitality, publicity, and record keeping.
“The farm’s mission as a ministry of the Dominican Sisters of Peace is how do we express the charisms of peace and solidarity with the earth and our neighbors in a rural environment.”
Remaining programs at the farm for 2012 include a retreat day Nov. 3 on “Remembering” for persons grieving someone they have lost, and an Advent Day of Reflection Dec. 1, which will include a labyrinth walk and time to make a personal Advent wreath.
Heartland Farm is a host farm member of WWOOF – World Wide Organization of Organic Farms, and also a visitor site for Harvest Hosts.
Contact the farm at (620) 923-4585; e:mail: www.heartlandfarm-ks.org. To drive to the farm from Great Bend, go west for 12 miles on 10th St. to the Barton County line; continue west on a gravel road one mile, then drive half a mile south on Rush County Road #390. The farm is on the west side.
Heartland Farm Program Offerings
Heartland Farm, 1049 CR 390
Pawnee Rock, KS 67567
JAN 18-19: Fiberspace I
Friday 7-9 p.m, Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
An exploration of several fiber skills: Spinning, knitting, crochet and knooking. Stay overnight or commute. $75. Ask for registration brochure. Lunch included on Saturday Overnight and alpaca materials extra.
FEB 15-16: Fiberspace II
Friday 7-9 p.m, Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Try out more fiber options—this session includes loom weaving and bobbin lace.
MAR 23 Lenten Labyrinth Walk
Saturday, 1-4 p.m.
Enter into the Lenten spirit with a guided, meditative walk in an outdoor prairie labyrinth. Refreshments. Freewill donation.
APRIL 13 Solar Sustainability:
Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Learn the basics of solar design and principles and see practical applications in this hands-on workshop. $75 Lunch included. Overnight stay Friday or Saturday optional.
MAY 4 Spring Blessing:
Saturday 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Join in the annual spring Open Farm Day with tours, demonstrations, prizes, refreshments and lots more, culmination in our blessing of the new growing season. Free.
JUNE 10-14 Peace Camp
Daily 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.
A Day Camp experience for boys and girls 8-11 years old. Transportation from Great Bend available. Send for registration brochure. $60 per child plus $10 transportation; scholarships available.
AUG. 10-11 Stargazing:
Saturday 7 p.m. until ??
Start the evening with a cookout--relaxing to live music. Spread your blankets and lawn chairs watch the night sky with all its surprises. May camp or stay in guest houses—or just go home when you’re tired. $15 per family of 4; over-nighters can share a
cookout farm breakfast for $15 a family (or $5 each). Guesthouse extra.
SEPT. 21 25th Anniversary Celebration at Heartland Farm: Details to be announced
OCT. 5 Open Farm Day
Saturday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bring the family for a fun-filled day at the Farm, enjoying harvest time, the alpacas, tours, refreshments, prizes and good times. Free.
NOV. 16 Bread and Jam workshop
Saturday 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. This very hands-on workshop combines two favorite skills now lost to many of us. Go home with your own loaves and jars full of wholesome delights. Lunch (and samples)
DEC. 7 Advent Day of Reflection
Saturday 9 a.m.- 4:30 p.m. Come for the day or plan to stay the whole weekend. Remind yourself of the deeper meaning of the Christmas season, sharing a cozy time with others. Lunch included. $25 (overnight stay extra)