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Sustainable living: White Violet Center for Eco-Justice interns learn from the land

Tara and John Michael Elmore took a year off to learn about farm life as interns with White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.

Tara and John Michael Elmore took a year off to learn about farm life as interns with White Violet Center for Eco-Justice.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin wrote that the white violet represents the best of what she wanted Sisters of Providence and students to be: strong and enduring; rooted where they are planted; women whose goodness and beauty radiate beyond Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Today, at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice (WVC) at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence, there are interns who represent those traits, as well.

John Michael and Tara Elmore signed on for a year-long internship at WVC beginning in March. Tara works with the alpacas and John Michael works in the 5-acre organically grown garden.

They have a passion for learning everything they can about farm living. They wanted to be immersed in a farming experience to see if they were cut out for having their own farm someday. Or not.

The story of how they arrived at WVC is interesting. They met in college, both graduated in 2000 from Indiana State University in Terre Haute and started working. John Michael in banking and Tara in both radio and childcare.

Although happy in their careers for many years, they began thinking they might want a change. John Michael didn’t like staring at a computer screen all day and Tara was needing a break from working challenging hours as a radio disc jockey who worked weekends and last minute events.

After much discussion, planning, saving and training, they decided to quit their jobs and try to walk across the country.
“We dipped our toes in the Atlantic and began our journey westward,” Tara said.

“We got about 850 miles to somewhere in the middle of Illinois and we broke down physically,” John Michael said.

They took a short break and decided to finish their adventure by hitting the highway by car, trying to follow as close to where they would’ve walked as possible.

“So we kept driving out west for another two and a half months,” John Michael said.

Whether by foot or by car they relied on strangers for places to put their tent and sleep every night.

“Typically that’s going to be farmers because they’re going to have enough land for that,” John Michael said. “So we spent some time on some small farms.”

Tara has friends from high school working on a sustainable farm in California, so they spent about a week there helping plant nut and fruit trees, harvesting plums and raspberries and cleaning up after chickens and ducks.

“We really just kind of fell in love with that whole lifestyle,” John Michael said. “We think.”

So that led to more discussion, planning and exploration about owning a farm someday. They decided to try to sell their house in Terre Haute and explore farm learning experiences.

“We thought better than just go buy 20 acres and see if we can make it happen that we better practice first,” John Michael said.

Sister Paula Modaff suggested to John Michael’s mother that they check out the internship program at WVC. They did. They applied and were accepted. Their house sold in February and they began their internship in March.

“It’s Providential, right?” Tara said.

Since then they have experienced the day-to-day of organic gardening for a Community Supported Agriculture program and farmers’ market and caring for about 40 alpacas.

“We’re trying to learn as much as possible about all aspects,” Tara said.

Being on the other side of the fence for a year will give the Elmores the experience they need to decide what the next step on their life journey will be. If they decide to someday own a farm that allows others to do what they’ve done at WVC or whether they join the Peace Corp and help people grow food in their communities, the nuggets they take from WVC and the Sisters of Providence will stay with them always. They’ll be strong and endure, but always be rooted where they were planted.

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Cheryl Casselman

Cheryl Casselman worked as a marketing manager for the Sisters of Providence for twenty years. She grew up in Camby, Indiana and now lives in Sullivan County, Indiana. She has a bachelor's degree in communications from Indiana State University and master's degree in Leadership Development from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

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