Nestled into the curves of the Vermillion River, Bellwether Farm is a camp, retreat, and education center dedicated to exposing the wider community to the creation that sustains all of life. As a working farm, its life focuses on four primary activities.
Facilities & Grounds
Bellwether Farm is a unique and affordable option for your next gathering. The center offers brand new facilities featuring a green technology, renewable energy, and water reclamation systems.
From the very beginning of envisioning the new camp and retreat center, Bishop Hollingsworth and the project team have worked to incorporate environmentally sustainable systems wherever possible. Areas of focus, originally articulated in the master plan, include: buildings and energy demands, water resources, site ecology and wildlife, construction materials, and agricultural production. Our first task was to secure a design team that could create buildings of high environmental standards that also fit well within the site and sustain or improve the health of the encompassing ecosystems. The team chosen for the project had a proven history of developing projects that meet Passive House standards while incorporating ecologically based landscaping. Indeed, one of the distinctive features of the partnership between GO Logic and Ann Kearsley Design is that they work collaboratively from the beginning of each project. The landscape architect team guides much of the site construction to ensure that impact on the site is minimal and landscape elements are incorporated in all phases of the site construction. For our project, the civil engineer, Jim Demboski from Environmental Design Group in Akron, and Ann Kearsley, the lead landscape architect, have jointly designed the stormwater systems to be visible and part of the aesthetic landscape. Features will include vegetated swales, which are rain gardens of beautiful and functional plants that collect storm water and slowly drain it back into the ground or to underground cisterns. The cisterns are key to another strategy: to capture available water resources to use for agricultural and property management purposes. The Farm and Land Stewardship Committee, which includes Chet Bowling from St. Paul’s, Norwalk and Mary Holmes from St. Christopher’s-by-the River, Gates Mills, is advising the engineer and landscape architects on how to provide water resources for the farm that make sense both environmentally and financially. The plan entails capturing rainwater from the farm buildings into an underground cistern that will store the water until it is needed for drip irrigation to the vegetable crop fields located behind the farmhouse. That water will also provide water for animals we house at the farm. Two existing wells and an old cistern will provide additional water resources for the farm. The site contractor will install a second cistern closer to the new dining/meeting building. We will capture stormwater by Katie Ong-Landini Camp & Retreat: Marks of Sustainability coming from that building's roof and those of the adult retreat buildings for use in the children’s garden that we plan to build near the kitchen entrance. That water may also be accessed for additional landscaping needs. In excessively dry weather, the farm team can access public water through the water line that will provide potable water to all the center’s buildings. With a tight landscaping budget, the design team is creatively using the existing landscape as the aesthetic landscape. This is exemplified in the summer camp area. They sited the sleeping cabins within the canopy of the white pine forest on the southern-most slope down to the Vermilion River valley. Looking through the windows at the back end of each cabin, campers will feel as if they are in a tree house, tucked into the shade and green of the woods. Not only will this keep the temperature comfortable in the cabins during the height of summer, but the position of the cabins on the slope of the hill will provide ventilation and moisture control. In addition, the project team enlisted the services of Frank Lupino, the forester that advised us in the master planning process, to edit the dead and non-native species in the camp area, so that the design team could site each of the 16 cabins in places that would minimize disturbance of the tree canopy. Frank will continue to edit other areas of the property that the project team has identified as gathering spots. We can then continue to take advantage of existing trees and shrubbery that will define outdoor spaces and offer shade and texture. A crucial aspect of green building is to incorporate environmentally sustainable and repurposed materials into new structures. The design team has long emphasized sourcing materials that meet a high standard, not only in manufacturing, but also in longevity and maintenance. Much of the material the project team is considering is natural, non-toxic, and sourced responsibly. That includes reclaimed wood from local sources. When the structural engineer examined the Galion barn timber frame that we are repurposing as a worship space, he recommended using the rest of the wood from the barn as finish material in other buildings. The project team will find someone local to mill the old boards for reuse. Other materials choices include: cement board for the new farmhouse, cedar siding on the camp cabins and the adult retreat buildings, steel roofs, and recycled plastic decking and boardwalks. Finally, the project team wants to use the upcoming construction period to showcase sustainable agricultural practices, as farming will become the focus of the programming at the new center. This year, the Land and Farm Stewardship Committee is working with two farmers who will help us transition the farm fields from conventional soy and corn crops to certified organic vegetable and fruit production. We will also create capacity to raise farm animals. Shawn Belt, who previously worked at Ohio City Farms, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens’ Green Corps farms, and Spice Acres in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, is working with the project team this season to guide some of that transition. Shawn has already pruned the apple trees in the orchard along State Route 60 and has tended to the grape vines that sit along the orchard’s western edge. He will work with the project interns this summer on building and tending a couple of vegetable garden beds that the project team can use for hands-on demonstration activities throughout the summer. Intern Grace Gamble from St. Paul’s, Cleveland Heights and a student at The College of Wooster, will develop a curriculum for using the gardens that the project team can easily adapt for future use. Shawn and Grace, with help from Natalia Perkins, a second intern from Christ Church, Shaker Heights and a student at Smith College, will plan activities using the garden for various events this summer and fall, including the groundbreaking ceremony now scheduled for Saturday, October 1 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition, neighboring farmer Chris Hilaman will implement a cover crop planting plan, designed by Chet Bowling who operates an organic farm in Wellington. These plants will build important nutrients in the soil that we will need to support organic vegetable production and pastureland. In addition, they will prevent soil erosion, especially along the bluffs down to the river, and suppress weeds naturally. The seeds planted will include sorghum-sudangrass, alfalfa, buckwheat, and winter rye. Stay tuned to the project website, dohiocampandretreatfarm.com, for more news about activities planned for the summer, as well as the progress of the construction.
Bellwether Farm is a model of green technology featuring passive buildings, renewable energy, and more. It is a vehicle through which we can teach the wider community about fidelity to the environment, nutrition, physical and spiritual wellness, local food sourcing, food justice, and sustainable living.
Volunteer around Bellwether Farm. Opportunities are posted as they become available.