Sustaining the future of organic farming
Intern grows ecology forward
“The Villa garden and Sister Lucy ignited my love for growing good food!”
This is the perennially ripe and juicy fruit Bethanee Wright, a former Viterbo University student, harvested from her agriculture internship seven years ago in the care for creation that is FSPA farmland at St. Joseph Ridge in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Farmer Beth, as she coins herself to the families she now feeds from Winterfell Acres, LLC, the organic CSA business she owns and operates, learned some of what she knows about turning the soil in the Villa organic garden, cultivating the craft from the hands of Lucy Slinger, FSPA ecological advocate.
Tending and teaching ecology grew from the heart of Francis of Assisi, patron saint thereof, who lived his life in part to be a steward for the heavens and Earth. FSPA has been nurturing the responsibility of inviting others to learn about and experience God’s presence in nature by using its land resources to model sustainability practices and spirituality for others, continuing its perpetual education ministry.
Bethanee recently reached out to Sister Lucy, and “Perspectives” jumped at the opportunity to ask a few questions about how her love and cultivation of food—care for creation—has grown.
Perspectives: What did you do during your time at Viterbo?
Bethanee: I studied as both a freshman and sophomore in psychology and environmental studies with a softball scholarship, and was lucky enough to secure and serve the internship in 2010.
Perspectives: How do you describe your experience in the FSPA organic garden?
Bethanee: In the Winterfell Acres newsletter I tell that part of my story like this: “I landed an internship on a whim at a two-acre farmette at a retirement home for Franciscan Sisters near La Crosse. I decided to stay there the summer after my first year of college to farm with a radical Franciscan Sister who has, among others, a degree in plant pathology. I learned so much: mostly how to weed effectively but also how to care for young fruit trees, dig carrots, braid garlic, discard blighted tomato plants and conduct various soil-quality testing techniques. Simply, I was in love with it all. But at that point, I never thought about farming to make a living—we were just growing food for the retired sisters to offset grocery costs.”
Perspectives: What was it like to work with Sister Lucy?
Bethanee: Sister Lucy taught me how to work hard. She was always busy in the garden getting something done. I really am glad I learned that ethic from her because I practice it every day on my own farm.
Perspectives: What have you been up to since then?
Bethanee: I transferred to University of Wisconsin to pursue sustainable agriculture graduating two years later. I also interned on CSA farms and served in management for a large grower who had 250 members.
In 2014 I started Winterfell Acres with 20 shares and aim to serve 100 families this year. We’ve just begun building our farmstead (including planting a two-acre orchard and constructing a house), and I was recently awarded a National Resources Conservation Service hoop house grant. I didn’t expect to receive it the first year I applied so I’m really excited. It’s a game changer for me!
Perspectives: You began living a life of sustainable agriculture by providing for the Franciscan Sisters seven years ago, and have been feeding hundreds more ever since. What role do you think education serves in the future of organic farming? Healthy lifestyles and ecological advocacy?
Bethanee: Education is the core tenet of sustainable agriculture and sustainable living. Every year, I work hard to teach my CSA families what it means to truly “eat with the seasons” and how to cook with produce picked at the peak of ripeness.
And education for future growers is paramount. It’s what got me started growing good food for my community. If Sister Lucy hadn’t taken the time to teach me that summer, I’m not sure I would have ever realized ‘this is my passion and I have to follow it.’
To learn more about Farmer Beth and her CSA farm, visit www.winterfellacres.com.