Growing vegetables, building furniture and competing in a livestock judging contest might sound like different areas of interest, but at Bethlehem Academy, they all fit under the agriculture umbrella.
Now that BA has its own chartered FFA chapter, licensed ag teacher and greenhouse, the possibilities are almost endless.
Casi Story, ag instructor at BA, said ag programs function as a three-legged stool composed of the classroom agriculture piece, FFA and supervised agriculture experience (SAE). The SAE piece takes a while to develop, providing an extra level of ag education outside of school, but the classroom and FFA aspects have kicked off with opportunities to grow.
“The old traditional saying of FFA is ‘cows, sows and plows,’ but it’s evolved to be so much more,” Story said.
Currently, Story estimates 15 to 20 students are involved in FFA through BA. Up until this school year, when Faribault High School started its own ag/FFA program, BA was the sole institution providing FFA and ag education in Faribault. FHS has what’s called an affiliated membership in which all students enrolled in ag classes are automatically enrolled in FFA. But at BA, Story said she personally likes to give students the choice to register.
In Minnesota, FFA is open to grades seven through 12. Story teaches beginning level ag classes to grades six through eight, and once students start high school, they have a plethora of ag-related classes to include in their schedules.
As a licensed ag teacher, Story can teach not only classes related to plants, animals and wildlife but also industrial tech classes. She teaches intarsia, which involves fitting different shapes of wood together to create mosaic-like pictures. Other classes include woodworking, plant science and AFNR (Ag, Food and Natural Resources). Through a work release class, BA students receive work safety training by going out into the community to obtain hands-on experiences.
Next year, Story said BA will focus on building more electives like animal science and a fish and wildlife course. The woods classes will be restructured into a tiered model in which students first learn the basics of building structures like nightstands and then advance to a second class that teaches detailed finishing skills. The final tier, the most advanced class in woodworking, would allow students to choose their own project to complete. Story also plans to offer an engines class next year.
After taking Introduction to Agriculture as a prerequisite, BA students can branch out into one of three pathways: plants, animals or fish and wildlife. Story said she would like to break down the broad plant science pathway into more classes, like floral design, in the future. But since the installation of the greenhouse this past year, students have been growing tomatoes, peppers, kohlrabi and flowers.
“It’s meant to be a learning experience and to make as many lifelong gardeners and garden enthusiasts as we can,” Story said.
BA sophomores Karlie DeGrood and Brooke Johnson are both enrolled in the plant science class.
“We’re growing a lot of plants right now to sell in May,” DeGrood said. “We’ve also done a lot of experiments with different soil mediums.”
Interested in possibly studying agronomy one day, DeGrood said the plant science class has helped her to expand her knowledge in that field. Johnson said she was curious about the science aspects of plants.
DeGrood and Johnson are both FFA members as well.
“FFA highlights are meetings and getting to compete with other chapters,” Johnson said.
DeGrood added that, even with COVID-19 limiting interactions, the FFA program connected with the community by selling butter braids, and far more than last year.
“And even though we’re still a beginning chapter, we still have quite a few kids willing to come to meetings,” DeGrood said. “We’re definitely more of a relaxed chapter because we’re just beginning.”
In FFA, BA students competed in three contests this year: floriculture, general livestock judging and general dairy judging. The teams didn’t advance to state, but for competing at a time of change within the ag department, she said, “I’m actually pretty impressed with how well we did.”
Next year, Story said the chapter plans to expand its focus to three to five areas and go from there.
“We have so much potential, and so much support from the community,” she said.