Holy Cross Abbey’s Sustainability Journey

Click on this image to precede to the WVPT website to view the film

Click on this image to proceed to the WVPT website to view the film

Want To Know What Sustainability Is?

The Cistercian monks of the Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia are on a journey to maintain the monastery, their way of life and a 1,200-acre farm on the Shenandoah River.  Saving Place Saving Grace is a documentary about a community on a path to sustainability.  You can stream the 57-minute film from the links provided here.

Sustainability leader, Father James

Father James, one of the Cistercian monks at the Holy Cross Abbey.  Click on this image for a one-pager fact sheet about Father James and fencing cattle out of the river.

These are the monks that make the fruitcakes in the Shenandoah Valley.  I’m not a big fan of fruitcake but I love their fruitcake slices dipped in dark chocolate; they call them fraters and oh my, moist, decadent, and pair well with a good Port wine.  The fruitcakes, fraters and other items make great gifts and they ship.

Sustainable Fruitcake

Holy Cross Abbey Monks making fruitcake in Berryville, Virginia

Sustainability: It’s More Than Just Selling Fruitcakes.

Sustainability means using “place” without diminishing its beauty or bounty and…staying in business.

This one-hour documentary describes the journey to sustainability with breath-taking imagery and storied dialogue.  Their journey includes upgrading the ovens that bake the fruitcakes, a green cemetery, fencing cattle out of streams, converting cropland to forests, improved farming techniques, open-space easements, a CSA (community supported agriculture), recruitment of monks and more.

Filming sustainability

Gus Gomez, left, George Patterson and the late Keven Raullerson filming at the Abbey.

The film was produced by George Patterson and Deidra Dain of Picture Farmer Films.  It first aired on WVPT in Virginia and will be shown soon on other PBS stations.  They are still in need of funding so please go to their IndieGoGo site and contribute if you are so moved.

Ecology Meets Theology

The film interviews many people involved with the sustainability journey including forest ecologist, explorer, and educator, Dr. H. Bruce Rinker, a lifelong friend of the monastery.

Producer Deidra Dain interviews forest ecologist, Dr. H. Bruce Rinker for the film

Producer Deidra Dain interviews forest ecologist, Dr. H. Bruce Rinker for the film

One leg of the sustainability journey was improving water quality in the streams.  Holy Cross Abbey is bordered by three miles of the Shenandoah River, and the historically important Cool Spring bubbles up out of the ground within a few feet of the Abbey.  When I arrived to provide technical assistance, cattle were tromping the banks of the river and the stream flowing from Cool Spring.  Cattle were standing in the stream up to their bellies in muck.  The stream was a quagmire of sediment and cow manure – polluting the stream, the Shenandoah River, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Improving the Waters of the Chesapeake Bay

Fencing cattle out of these water resources was paramount in achieving sustainability.  The monks enrolled their land in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and Virginia’s Agricultural Best Management Practice Program.  The farm now produces food and clean water.  The monks are proud to be part of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

I am proud that I am part of their journey.  I’ve been a consultant to the monks under contract by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  My involvement started with a phone call from the Shenandoah Riverkeeper who wanted to know if I could help them get their cows out of the river.  Click on the image below for a trailer on my involvement produced by Picture Farmer Films.

Trailer For Bobby’s Part in the Film: Click on the Picture Below

George Patterson, left and Father Robert, right discussing the stream fencing project with CBF contractor, Bobby Whitescarver

George Patterson, left and Father Robert, right discussing the stream fencing project with CBF contractor, Bobby Whitescarver.  Click on this image to a short trailer on my involvement.

To see sustainability in action watch the film.  The monks are doing it.  Get on board, support the monastery and help us restore the Chesapeake Bay by improving the stream where you live.

All of the pictures in this post were taken by Picture Farmer Films and are copyrighted.



  1. George L. Ohrstrom II says:

    Great job plugging the film. I haven’t seen it yet, but am looking forward to it. Keep it up, Amigo!

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      Thanks George, you know you can live stream it from the blog post or the WVPT website.

      • Anne Nielsen says:

        It was such a privilege to work with you and students briefly years ago. You continue to put yourself on the line to push us all toward genuine sustainability. Slow as it is, and with all the bumps in the road, it’s happening. Thanks Bobby! Anne

        • Bobby Whitescarver says:

          Anne, so good to hear from you. I miss you! Thanks so much for posting your heartfelt comments. It keeps me going!

  2. Hi Bobby,
    This looks so interesting, and right on target for Envirothon this year! I can’t view the video on this site, nor on WVPT site. Any suggestions?
    Ginny Hoffman

  3. Hello Bobby,
    Always good to keep up with your good work to improve our water, rivers, and land.
    Thank you.

  4. Joe McCue says:


    Your ending sentence, “If we can work on this, one small watershed at a time, we can get a lot further, quicker.” is such a powerful statement. Thank you for saying this once again, and thank you to Holy Cross Abbey for their willingness to be a part of the solution.

  5. Bobby,
    Thank you so much for all your help at Holy Cross Abbey and on the film! Your lifelong commitment to conservation is quite evident in “Saving Place, Saving Grace.” The authenticity of your words, along with the other stakeholders and the monks, speaks volumes about what can happen on lands and watersheds around the world. As you have said to me on numerous occasions, “You can’t do it all, but you can do one farm at a time.” You and Jeanne lead by example…keep on “walking the walk,” and in the film, “talking the talk!” Keep up the great work….Best, George

    • Bobby Whitescarver says:

      George, thanks so much for your kind words and for your leadership in getting the word out. Great photography, film and dialogue!

  6. Rich Shockey says:


    Thanks so much for sharing. I did watch the film and I wish more folks could see it.

    Let me know if your discover any ideas to move forward. I have been doing the things with my church and I hope to do more. This gives me some great ideas.


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