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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Farm-Themed Festival Brings Countryside to Campus

By Mason Edwards, Features Editor for the University Echo

Students met many different animals at the petting zoo. Saturday, August 19, 2023. Lexi Foley, Assistant Sports Editor

Over 400 students, many of them freshmen, experienced their first taste of UTC’s southern hospitality as they wandered into an annual farm-themed festival hosted by The House: University Ministries of Chattanooga on Saturday, Aug. 19th.

As the evening sun cast a warm, golden glow across campus, students found an arrangement of rustic activities, including cornhole, a petting zoo, soap-carving and button-making. The smaller tables encouraged students to interact with one another while they channeled their inner creativity or collectively awed at the fluffy animals.

Over at the button-making table, Lilly Cleveland designed two wearable pins, one of which featured a space-age, science-fiction illustration. She thought about crafting another, but she wanted to ensure others also got a chance to express themselves.

“There’s a bunch of different books, with different visuals, and then you take this cutting mat and… it cuts it out in a perfect circle,” Cleveland explained. “Then you press down to connect the paper with the plastic material, and then you push it down again to get the metal part on it. It’s really cool.”

Underneath a wooden pavilion, nearly two dozen young adults gathered around the soap-making table. One student, Abby Akers, created a snail-shaped bar of soap for her first ever attempt at carving.

“It was very challenging, but in the end, it ended up really fun,” Akers added. “I would do it again, ten out of ten.”

Aker’s friend, Abigail Neeley, whittled a flower. Despite slicing her hand in the process and flinging soap all throughout her hair, she laughed off her experience and said she had fun.

“I guess my hands slipped away from the soap, and it just nicked my other hand,” Neeley said.

Freshman Sophia Blockley, like many other students, heard of the event through The House’s chalking near the University Center. After leaving her two cats at home, she was happy to spend time with other animals.

“I got barbecue, talked to my friends, got lemonade and pet the animals,” Blockley listed. “I also pet the alpaca– I think it is. It was really soft.”

Noah’s Little Ark, the event’s petting zoo provider, brought several goats, chickens, ducks, a miniature cow, bunny, donkey, pony, sheep and an alpaca. According to their owner, Cindy Lavalla, the animals love the events as much as the people do.

“As you pet them, they love to be touched, see how interactive they are with people,” Lavall said. “Everybody loves animals, and it brings everybody together.”

Besides socializing, event-goers meandered to the barbecue, sweet tea and lemonade, laid out blankets on the lawn, and danced to a variety of essential country music songs. A local farmer from Soddy Daisy even loaned their giant red tractor, thereby giving students a meaningful backdrop for their social-media-worthy selfies.

The event, organized and operated by a large group of volunteers including students and alumni as well as staff, created an environment reflective of The House’s ideals. In the minutes leading up to the event, The House Director Jason Leonard urged everyone to grow meaningful relationships and foster deep connections with their guests, rather than try to introduce themselves to everyone.

Leonard summarized himself, “the whole point is, it’s all compassion.”

The House Student Intern Lexie Fleet, a senior, felt a personal connection to the event, as she nearly transferred schools before finding her comfort zone through The House. When she visited, the group’s members introduced themselves and went out of their way to be hospitable.

“I had not experienced that in any other clubs or spaces before,” Fleet reflected. “We hope to make freshmen and returning students feel welcome.”

According to Alumnus Matt Nicoll, the Farm House event not only provides students with an activity, but it also tends to introduce new students to their community.

“A lot of freshmen tend to come, they don’t know what to do with themselves,” Nicoll explained. “We do it on a Saturday because it's the weekend coming in.”

According to Nicoll, he wanted to further his relationship with religion, but didn’t know how to approach it until meeting members of The House.

“The House formed me into who I am,” Nicoll said, before pausing to bear hug a friend off the ground. “Following Jesus is really serious. It’s the best way of living my life, but it means giving up what I want."

Active on campus since 1994 according to their website, The House is one of several campus-affiliated ministries offering community, discipleship and religious guidance to UTC students. More information, including meeting times, can be found via their website.

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