By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Jerusalem Farm, an intentional community founded in 2012 by Jordan and Jessie Schiele, has grown exponentially over the past 5 years. The community began with 3 adults, a toddler (Nathaniel, Jordan and Jessie’s son) and two non-residents, Kansas Citians Dave Armstrong, director of campus ministry at Avila University and Jude Huntz, then-Chancellor of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph. Today along with the Schieles and their two children, Nathaniel and his little sister Jubilee, the community of 13 living at the Farm is comprised of two other married couples and their children, two single guys and three sojourners, individuals who live and work in their community for one to six months.
Jerusalem Farm offers retreats, prayer, Bible studies, English classes for those in the area wishing to learn the language; week-long volunteer programs; community, simplicity and service. The back yard is divided into vegetable and herb garden plots, fruit trees, a greenhouse constructed of recycled wine bottles and old tires, heated by a wood-burning stove, and a chicken coop run by a strutting rooster or two lording over about a dozen hens. There are also two recently acquired large water collection tanks which, when settled on a concrete pad and hooked up, will collect rainwater to water the garden plots and more. The farm is worked and maintained by members of the Jerusalem Farm community.
In fact, Jessie said, five community members plan, organize, administrate, manage, supervise, operate and evaluate all the programs at the farm.
The community’s charism is service to the neighborhood: home repair and a tool-lending library where members can borrow a power tool like they would a library book. The Jerusalem Farm community advocates for homeowners with code violations. There is also a weekly collection of neighborhood food waste for composting. Jordan Schiele said Jerusalem Farm collects about 600 lbs. of food waste in five-gallon buckets weekly from about 70 neighbors, using a bicycle towing a trailer. In 2015, the records of its first four years showed growth: the number of youth service groups rose from three the first year to 19; volunteer service hours from 10,965 to 25,351; the value of the home repairs grew from $123,996 to $364,410, and over those years, Jerusalem Farm had collected and composted 8.75 tons of food waste.
Jerusalem Farm is, after five years of building relationships with and service to their neighbors, a staple in the neighborhood.
Jordan and Jessie met and fell in love while living and working with others in Americorps, rebuilding houses in Mississippi in the path of Hurricane Katrina. In 2009, they began a 3-year sojourn with Nazareth Farm, a Catholic intentional community in rural Appalachia, which for more than 35 years has been helping the poor of rural West Virginia.
It was at Nazareth Farm that the Schieles met Dave Armstrong. The Avila campus ministry director had volunteered and brought students with him for years, and he saw the benefits of a faith-based communal farm. He had the idea to bring Jordan and Jessie to Kansas City to start an urban farm based on the same cornerstones as Nazareth Farm: prayer, community, simplicity and service. The diocese embraced the idea and worked to get the not-for-profit farm started.
Soon after moving to Kansas City in 2012, the Schieles rented a vacant building near Independence Avenue and Garfield in the Old Northeast neighborhood. The building, originally the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet when they taught at St. John the Baptist parish school back in the 1960s and 70s, had been part of the parish plant sold to Don Bosco Center for its family services offices in 1991. Don Bosco Center was no longer using the building and it was falling into disrepair.
The Schieles moved in that April, and immediately started repairing and remodeling their new home. Other young folks with similar ideas on life, faith and service soon joined them. As the residents gutted and rebuilt the house, added a better kitchen, started the garden and created a chapel for community prayer and group and private meditation they also grew in faith and a desire to serve others. Not to mention they became skilled in home repair and building, plumbing, wiring and painting.
Jerusalem Farm, named as Nazareth and Bethlehem farms were, for places associated with Jesus, opened in May 2012. The next year, armed with a $10,000 grant from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, they purchased the building, and with the generosity of donors, managed to pay off the 15-year mortgage in just two years. They have installed solar panels on the roof for power production, built the green house and the chicken coop, and maintained the farm and house with skill and love all while building community, great neighborhood relationships and repairing, rebuilding and upgrading the homes of neighbors. The labor is done without charge; homeowners are asked to foot the bill for supplies and materials.
The Sisters are still connected and involved with Jerusalem Farm, and, as Jordan said, the “Farm lives out a similar charism to that of the Sisters, love of the dear neighbor: serving them, listening to them, advocating for them.”
Currently, with 13 adults and children living together in the house, despite nine bedrooms, it’s reached the point where more room is needed. Jessie noted in a booklet about the farm, “As we continue to grow, we have more volunteers who want to experience the farm and work with us, more homeowners requesting … assistance, more neighbors who could compost, more fruits and vegetable to be planted and harvested, more community gardens to partner with, more interest in our Sojourner program and more applications for community members. But we do not have more space.”
The community decided to build a new common home around the corner from the current farm, on land owned by Jerusalem Farm. About a year ago they started designing and drawing floor plans, talking to construction companies, banks, architects and interior designers. And on May 1, 2016, they announced the start of Expanding Our Common Home, a 5-year capital campaign to raise $400,000 for building materials, skilled labor costs and updates to the current home, which will become The Farmhouse, a retreat center. As of the first of 2017, Jordan said they have $223,000 pledged, not counting in-kind donations, and $85,000 already in the bank.
The board of directors and community members, have been working with Jacob and Kara Palan, an architect with Helix Architects, and an interior designer, who generously donated time and their expertise and talent, even purchasing a home next door to where the new community home will be built around the corner from the farm, and the community has just about finalized its plans. A ground breaking ceremony was recently held, Jordan, who also serves as Project Director, said. The Schieles have received building permits from Kansas City.
On a cold windy morning, a group of community members and sojourners were busily cleaning the plot of land, “perfectly” stacking logs of recently removed scrub trees next to the Palan’s home, and preparing the land for excavation. Kissick Construction will do the excavation and grading for Jerusalem Farm.
Because the Jerusalem Farm community and volunteers will work together on building the new home, the cost per square foot is estimated at below the average cost.
When completed, the 4,000 sq. ft. common home will have nine bedrooms, four baths, family living areas, a meditation room, kitchen and dining area. The third floor loft will be dormitory-like for sojourners and single members. Because the Pendleton Heights neighborhood is a historic area, the exterior design of the house must keep the architectural integrity of the block it will sit on. The new building will be all-concrete – Styrofoam-wrapped blocks with attached rebar which are stacked, fitting together like Lego blocks, Jordan explained, and then filled with concrete. The resulting wall is tight, except where windows and doors will be. This will prevent air and heat loss, bringing down power costs.
The goal is a home that, according to Jessie’s booklet, will be “completely solar-powered, highly resource-efficient, and include sustainably sourced building materials and furnishings.”
The current community home, to be known as the Farmhouse, is to become a retreat center, a place for community nights, English classes, Bible studies, communal meals and accommodations for visiting out of town groups. The vegetable and herb gardens, fruit trees, green house and chicken coop will remain in place, and probably expand.
Jerusalem Farm is growing, but will remain in the neighborhood the members love and which loves them.
To contribute to the building budget, visit wonderwe.com/farm, (a local faith-based crowd sourcing platform). To learn more about Jerusalem Farm, retreats, classes and volunteer opportunities, visit www.jerusalemfarm.org.