Farming volunteer program joins Quakers, Mennonites

Participants will explore agriculture through faith lens on Pennsylvania farm

Mar 13, 2015 by , , and

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Peace Farm, a new voluntary service program born out of a collaborative effort between Quakers and Mennonites in Bally, Pa., is preparing for its inaugural season, beginning in May.

Krista Showalter Ehst harvests vegetables at Valley Run CSA in Bally, Pa., where a new voluntary service program, Peace Farm, will start its first season in May. — Peace Farm

Krista Showalter Ehst harvests vegetables at Valley Run CSA in Bally, Pa., where a new voluntary service program, Peace Farm, will start its first season in May. — Peace Farm

The venture brings together the practical work of farming and exploration of the connections between peace, food justice and faith.

Farmers Krista and Tim Sho­walter Ehst operate Valley Run CSA (community-supported agriculture), a diversified, sustainable farm in the Butter Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia.

Along with local farmers, they will host Peace Farm apprentices for the daily work of cultivating organic vegetables, raising pastured animals and helping with other agricultural tasks.

As part of the hands-on apprenticeships, the Showalter Ehsts will also facilitate reflections with participants about what it means to approach agriculture and land cultivation through the lens of faith. Themes within the Peace Farm curriculum address scarcity and abundance, food deserts, migrant farm labor, sustainable living and rest, and agricultural practices as a form of peacemaking.

Farming as vocation

The Showalter Ehsts’ journey toward farming as a vocation and lifestyle began at Goshen (Ind.) College, where they studied theology and food production and distribution.

Neither grew up farming, although Krista was raised in a 200-year-old farmhouse on 80 acres of Pennsylvania farmland, and Tim in rural Virginia near Harrisonburg.

After graduating from Goshen College, where they read authors such as Wendell Berry, Michael Pollan and Vandana Shiva, the two decided to pursue a farming apprenticeship in Kentucky. They’ve been interested in this type of work ever since.

“Studying theology and then moving right into learning about farming made both of us keen to find intersections between our faith commitment to Anabaptist-Mennonite theology and this work of tending to the land,” said Krista, who also pastors Alpha (N.J.) Mennonite Church, a Franconia Mennonite Conference congregation in Mennonite Church USA.

She said their commitment to living discipleship “found natural expression in the daily tasks of cultivating food in ways that respected the goodness of God’s creation and the interdependence of healthy human communities with healthy landscapes.”

While Krista earned a master of divinity degree at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Tim helped start another farm. Oakleaf Mennonite Farm is a diverse urban farm on the six-acre property of Berea Mennonite Church, also in Atlanta.

After getting it off to a good start, Tim took a position as interim director for DOOR (Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection) Atlanta, which is affiliated with Mennonite Mission Network. While Tim directed DOOR — working closely with young adult volunteers — the dream for a faith- and farm-based voluntary experience began to take root.

“We knew that there were lots of experiences for young adults to spend a year in a faith-based voluntary service program, and we also knew that there were tons of farming internship opportunities,” he said. “But there weren’t many opportunities for young people to learn about sustainable agriculture through the lens of faith.”

Faith and the land

After Krista finished seminary, they moved back to her family farm in Pennsylvania and started a successful CSA — a cooperative farm where members help with start-up and operating costs in exchange for food.

They brainstormed with Christina Repoley, a friend Krista made in seminary who directs Quaker Voluntary Service.

Then Glenn Balzer, director of DOOR, joined the conversation.

Quaker Voluntary Service and the DOOR program have signed on as program partners. And the Showalter Ehsts received a grant from the Fund for Theological Education that helped finance the development of the program.

“We began to imagine what it would look like for these peace churches to develop a program that centered on sustainable agriculture and food justice,” Krista said.

While most voluntary service programs start in August or September, Peace Farm will begin in late May. By the time they leave at the end of November, apprentices will have experienced not only the ins and outs of a sustainable farm but also will have engaged in conversations about how spirituality and faith can inform a healthier relationship with the land.


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