Plowshares Farm Announces Closure | LaRueCountyHerald.com
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll not only on families, but also on many businesses in the region.
Among these businesses is the Plowshares Farm Center for Education and Spirituality, located near Highway 210 midway between Hodgenville and Campbellsville.
Although the small farm will continue to operate, its center, which was his heart and soul for owners Bob and Sharon Ernst, will cease.
A 501c3, private, non-profit, the center used the land, facilities, livestock, gardens and woods of Plowshares Farm for various educational and spiritual programs that touched the lives of young and old alike over the course of over the past 21 years.
For the Ernsts, the business was a dream come true, a place that offered individuals, school groups, business organizations and others a chance to see God in the wonders of nature among animals and on the rolling acres of grass and wood.
“When we first got to the farm, Sharon was working as a nurse at Hardin Memorial Hospital and I was freelance writing for the Delaware and Kentucky state parks agencies,” Bob explained.
With a bachelor’s degree in zoology, teaching degrees, and a master’s degree in environmental education, he quickly put his training as an educator to good use and took a few animals, props and a dulcimer to schools under the name of “Close Bob.” Touring the state to share the story of farms and food with elementary school children.
“We had been on the farm for 11 years and, over time, we got to know and love this place not only as our home, but also as a wild place and a place of peace, a place where people could. meet what we call the “sacred mystery,” God present in the incredible diversity of life that surrounds us in the woods and streams, the fields and the barn, ”observed Bob.
The couple, he shared, had also come to more fully recognize their deep connection to Earth and God through the food they produced.
“We wanted to give people a chance to face this reality, so after several years of traveling to schools, we thought, ‘Why don’t we bring the schools to us’, and that thought turned into Plowshares Farm Center. for Education and Spirituality, ”he explained.
The couple, who had moved to the farm in 1989, began the process of forming the association in 2000, offering their first programs in 2001. Bob was the executive director and sole employee of PFCES and Sharon was his volunteer. n ° 1. PFCES also had a board of directors which helped guide the development of the center over time.
The programs offered were often a combination of education and spirituality. An exception was the purely educational program offered to children in public schools.
‘A Day on the Farm’ education for the second grade kindergarten students provided three hours of hands-on animal encounters, lively discussions, stories, songs and role-playing to help children better understand the link between farms and food and the role farmers play in the production of food and fiber, ”explained Bob.
The 90-minute preschool program, “Farmyard Explorations,” offered younger students a sensory exploration of seasonal realities on the farm, including hands-on encounters with farm animals and engaging activities.
Specific activities included a demonstration of hand milking, butter making, a visit to the henhouse to collect eggs, a stop at the sheepfold to explore the life of sheep and the wool they provide, a dramatic presentation of the “Little red hen” story, an introduction to cereals as food, a role play on growing plants and close encounters with chicks, lambs, hens and sheep.
“We also worked with some college groups, offering the same basic ideas that we did for kids, but with opportunities to deepen the meaning,” Bob said. “Part of these meetings was an opportunity for the students to establish a visceral connection with food as part of the real transformation of a chicken into meat. These experiences provided an intimate look at avian anatomy, physiology and biology as well as a deeper consideration of the sacred fellowship we all share with other living things that support us.
The spiritual aspect, noted Bob, has evolved in their lives over time.
“He was formed through a number of personal experiences such as retreats and workshops, as well as extensive reading and a simple, lived experience of the sacred nature of life here on the farm,” he said. he points out. “We were both brought up in the Catholic faith, rich in symbols and rituals as well as a deep awareness of the sacramental nature of all life.
“Our understanding of Christ, living in the universe forever and embodied in Jesus who walked the earth, has influenced our sense of the sanctity of all life and the deep fellowship that exists among all living things, the earth, the earth, the earth. larger universe, And God. Such a prospect demands from us a humble reverence and a deep sense of concern for the gift of creation.
Plowshares offered retreats and immersions that were encounters with farm life that invited practical participation in agricultural life combined with opportunities to reflect on the connections that were revealed and the sense of the sacred that was experienced, he noted.
“We encouraged participants to look through the prism of eco-spirituality: recognizing the love of God embodied in the lives of all beings, the intrinsic worth of every living being, the sacredness of the earth and the deep communion experienced in the relationships discovered in the ecological web of life, ”said Bob,“ in the hope of conveying the idea that everything is connected and that we cannot tinker with one thing here without affecting something else there- low. Human beings have a responsibility to take care of the planet that offers us life.
The Center has offered retreats for groups of students from junior high to adults. These were opportunities to participate physically in farm life (feeding and daily chores; cleaning stalls; planting, weeding, harvesting in gardens; simple construction and repair) interspersed with opportunities to sit in a silent reflection in the woods or at the stream, to share around a campfire, to take a silent walk in the woods in the dark of the night, to pray, to eat good homemade meals, to play games, just chilling out in the woodland retreat camp.
The retreats were generally day or night experiences for groups of 10 to 20 participants.
“We generally did dips for high school students,” noted Bob.
These were longer, more intense, and intentional immersions into daily farm life that also included opportunities for morning and evening prayer and reflection. In addition, they contained built-in educational elements such as introductions to on-farm wildlife and hands-on learning of skills such as lighting flint and steel fire, splitting wood, and throwing a spear with the old tool, the atlatl.
The Center has worked with local churches and other social service agencies, providing fresh produce, USDA-inspected processed chicken and eggs from the farm for distribution to food banks.
“These efforts were supported by grants from local Catholic religious women communities,” noted Bob.
In recent years, the groups have organized free farm meetings funded by grants for clients of alternative educational institutions and a domestic violence shelter, as well as a meditative walk followed by a simple soup meal and bread, attracting locals as well as residents of Louisville. and Cincinnati.
“We had three summer solstice concerts on the front lawn, bringing in Minnesota singer-songwriter Peter Mayer for two of them and a local bluegrass band for the other,” a- he explained. “Since the fall of 2013, we’ve been hosting The Harvest, a big fundraising event in Louisville, offering a farm-to-table meal with meat and farm produce, music, educational entertainment, cake walks, silent auction and overall good time for up to 140 people.
“The evening served to educate and entertain the donors who have supported our work and anyone else interested in learning more about what we have done. “
Visitors The Center hosted groups from 11 counties in Kentucky as well as Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio and Nicaragua.
“We had an educator from Marburg, Germany who spent time on the farm observing a high school immersion experience, and we had many school groups from Catholic schools in Louisville as well as many parish and parish schools. counties from surrounding counties, ”said Bob, adding that the kindergarten classes at Hodgenville Elementary School were among their first visitors and have been coming to the farm every year for 15 years.
“Students from Marquette University, St. Catharine College and Bellarmine University have retired here several times over the years,” he added. “The largest group we had here for a program consisted of about 60 children, parents and teachers who came for ‘A Day on the Farm’. “
And after? The pandemic brought programming efforts to a halt, and earlier this year, just as things started to open up again and the Center began inviting and scheduling groups, new restrictions came with the COVID variant. Delta.
“The farm has become more difficult to maintain at the desired level to engage program participants,” said Bob. “In our opinion, it is time to close. “
The couple said they were grateful for the incredible opportunities they shared with people – stories, food, fun times around the campfire, as well as the challenges of hard work.
“To see the joy and excitement in the eyes of young children who have new experiences, enjoy a good story, hold a baby chick; it’s all about the relationships that make sense of our lives, ”said Bob.
The two have no other plan but to continue to cultivate on a small scale and enjoy the kindness that comes to them every day with gratitude.
“We are open to whatever emerges,” said Bob.