BA Offers Unique Agriculture Program, FFA Opportunities
by Mellanie FB Smith, Bethlehem Academy Parent and Board Member
Bethlehem Academy (BA), in Faribault, MN, is located in an agricultural area and surrounded by farmland. In an effort to connect students to their community and provide vocational opportunities to students interested in becoming stewards of the natural resources around them, BA looked to expand its educational offerings.
In the last two years, BA has developed an agriculture studies program unique to Catholic schools in Minnesota. In a rare arrangement, the program offers courses not only to BA students, but to students from nearby Faribault High School (FHS) as well. This year, students from both schools have taken Introduction to Agriculture; Plant Science; and other agriculture, food, and natural resources courses. The classes are offered on the BA campus and allow FHS students to take agricultural classes not offered to them in their school. The classes also allow BA to expand their course offerings with the help of additional students. The program looks to continue to grow with the installation of a greenhouse on BA property in the spring and summer of 2020 and the development of a horticulture class that will draw more students into the program and into the school and broaden the curriculum.
In addition to the agricultural program courses, BA and FHS have joined forces to create a new Future Farmers of America (FFA) program, housed at BA. While the area around Faribault is rural, Faribault itself was without an FFA chapter and students had to go to other communities to participate in the program, which promotes student agriculture education and leadership. With the formation of this new FFA program, students can now go out into their own community and explore topics that inform the agricultural industry. In its first year, students involved in the Faribault-BA FFA chapter have donated a goat to a rural family in Pakistan; planted trees; sold meat, cheese, and fruit to raise money for chapter activities; and competed in four regional contests in livestock, fish and wildlife, and crops and agricultural mechanics. In upcoming months, students will compete in a regional discussion meet, visit local elementary schools using “Ag in the Classroom” materials, and promote FFA in both BA and FHS during FFA Week. Activities will continue at the State FFA Convention in St. Paul in April and with county and state livestock shows in July and August. FFA is led by officers comprised of students from both BA and FHS and meets before school during the week.
Both the Agriculture Studies program and FFA go hand in hand with the Dominican pillars of community and study. Supported by local agribusinesses and others with funding for curriculum and materials and with opportunities for hands-on learning, BA students are connecting with the agriculture community to learn more about and to contribute to an aspect of life that is vital to their region and beyond.