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Reaping Friendship: Juniata Ministry Office Begins Interfaith Project on Area Farms

(Posted October 31, 2011)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- A handful of Amish and Mennonite farmers may find themselves with some extra help this year at harvest and planting time thanks to a new Juniata College service project overseen by Americorps and the college's Campus Ministry office.

The project, called "Planting Seeds," will reach out to two or three local farms on Saturday, Nov. 5 in the "Big Valley" area between Reedsville and Allensville and offer student assistance to harvest crops, glean produce after harvest and perform various other agricultural jobs, according to Grace Fala, special assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion.

"A lot of Juniata students in our community are very interested in sustainable agriculture, organic farming and healthy eating, so it seemed that a service project based on the local farm community was a natural idea."
Lauren Seganos, Americorps employee and interfaith service coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Campus Ministry Office.

The farm visits will start at 10 a.m. and proceed to two farm operations owned by Amish families. In addition, a third visit to a Mennonite dairy farm may be scheduled depending upon availability of the owners.

"A lot of Juniata students in our community are very interested in sustainable agriculture, organic farming and healthy eating, so it seemed that a service project based on the local farm community was a natural idea," says Lauren Seganos, an Americorps employee and interfaith service coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Campus Ministry Office. "The project also is an opportunity to learn about religious communities (the students) haven't been exposed to."

The Juniata project was hatched as a result of President Barack Obama's Interfaith and Community Service Challenge. Created by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the programs challenges colleges and universities across the country to create service programs that "have the ability to build social capital, strengthen social cohesion and address social problems."

"More than 150 colleges and universities are creating programs in response to the idea and this is just Juniata's version of it," explains Seganos, a 2011 Juniata graduate and native of Johnstown, Pa. "We have almost a dozen students interested in participating and we have started recruiting among the college's religiously oriented student clubs."

Seganos explains that the project will visit several area farms to propose the project and perhaps expand the program as the students and supervisors make more local farm connections. She says that the Juniata students can offer help at harvest times and during spring planting. "We will come out hopefully as often as they need us," she says.

After each farm session, Seganos will also teach a "reflective session" that asks the Juniata students to discuss their philosophical views on service and faith. "It's a way to learn more about other religions, reflect on their own religious beliefs and build respect and common ground."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.