Earthworks – Education through Experience

Monday, 31 January 2011


Sister Sue Rogers, director of Earthworks, stirred the delicious smelling lentil soup she was preparing for market. The warm building beckoned me welcome, its hardwood floors and thick walls offering protection from January’s blustery wind. My tour of Earthworks ministry started with a history lesson.

Earthworks began in an old farmhouse many years ago on the shores of Lake Gilbraith. An outer shell was added for insulation, thickening the walls and making all the windowsills deep. It gives the place a cob house or hobbit-like feel.

As the ministry evolved, the house was remodeled, expanded and a deck was added to the back for an outdoor classroom. The aging farm was repurposed, becoming a beautiful teaching facility for children and adults. Earthworks is located at the PHJC Ministry Center in Donaldson, Indiana and is sponsored by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ. The ministry is lead by a dedicated and talented board of directors that add energy and vitality to the Earthworks’ mission. Sister Sue Rogers is a seasoned teacher that keeps the ministry focused on education.

The kitchen classroom is where bread baking and culinary arts are taught. Students stand around the large center island and talk about where ingredients from their recipes originate. All the ingredients are whole and natural. Organic farming techniques, buying local and minimal processing are emphasized. “Children today really care about their environment and the protection of the planet,” Sister Sue affirmed. “There’s a growing awareness that what we eat is crucial to our health, and our impact on the environment affects us all. Healthy soil and water are the critical building blocks of everything.”

My tour continued with a stop at the back office. “Cheri handles anything to do with numbers.” Sister Sue smiled in appreciation of her office assistant Cheri Ringer. Cheri has been with the Earthworks ministry for six years busily keeping everything straight from supplies to accounting.

On the wall in the living room are the framed pictures from the last photo contest. Children are taught to look at nature in a reflective and relaxed way, and to zero in on meaningful images. The pictures are beautiful. It’s hard to pick a favorite.

“In our programming, we connect everything to the earth!” explained Sister Sue.

I peered out the window at the barn, corrals and greenhouses. The sheep in the field were unaffected by the snow. The rest of the animals sought protection in the barn.

“The animals are not a petting zoo, but an educational tool. Do you know why goats have rectangular pupils?” Sister Sue asked. I didn’t know the answer. “They are a herding animal, and need excellent peripheral vision to know what’s happening on each side of them.” Sister Sue and her team of college students teach programs about the animal’s characteristics and how they are raised on a farm. Many children do not know where their food comes from. The farm helps them to understand how they are personally connected to the world around them. “Children learn through experiences. That’s what sticks!”

Earthworks is a long time supporter of a local food co-op program. Working with United Natural Foods, members of the co-op join together to order a wide variety of organic and natural food products. Orders are placed monthly. New co-op members are welcomed.

Sister Sue talked excitably about the new Earthworks Market at 701 E. Jefferson Street in Plymouth. It will house both the store and the baking operation. Imagine the experience of Earthworks supporters as they walk in and smell the freshly baked bread. Ahhh.

If you haven’t yet tried Earthworks Bread on the Waters, you are missing a special treat. The wonderful varieties from Honey Wheat to Cherry Walnut are all made from natural ingredients with no preservatives. I love to broil thick slices of Multigrain to serve with a hearty soup, dip Asiago Onion in garlic-spiced olive oil and prepare French toast with the Cinnamon Raisin.

Earthworks partners with local farmers to provide other healthy, natural options at the market like Ancilla Beef, pork, chicken and eggs. The partnerships with our neighbors demonstrate the resource friendly philosophy of buying local. On the kitchen island I see small packets of spices. Sister Sue explained that they are sold at the market for just $1.00, which makes trying new recipes affordable.

The new Earthworks Market has a classroom allowing educational programming on site. Sister Sue is starting with a series of movies aimed at teaching ecological responsibility. Volunteers are requested to help with the remodeling and the move. Contact Sister Sue or Cheri to see how you can help.

May God bless this interesting and exciting ministry with continued growth and may the new Earthworks Market be a wonderful resource to the Plymouth community. For more information visit the Earthworks website at or call the education center at (574) 935-4164.