After the dust settled from the bus, I began to walk towards the front door. As I walked, I took a deep breath. Smells of pigs, fresh-cut grass, and spring filled my nostrils. I heard the sheep bellering in the pasture and agars filling the feeders for the pigs. The ground was soft and beginning to turn green. To my left, the neighbor’s tractor was slowly moving, signaling that planting had begun. I was home, and all I could think about was that after snacking on a bag of carrots and watching Arthur, I was going out to do my chores.
At the time, I truly had no idea how much this picture, this act of going out to do chores each day would impact my life. From a young age I knew that I enjoyed working outside—working with the animals, going on adventures to the farm store with dad—I loved it all. It wasn’t till I was 16 though that I started to connect why I enjoyed going out and doing chores so much, and my enjoyment became a passion. This passion was sparked when I met Mrs. Marcia Kilgard, my agricultural instructor at Iowa Mennonite High School (IMS) in rural SE Iowa.
In 2003, just four years before I began high school, Marcia started the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program at IMS. There had always been a standing agricultural program there, but no private school had ever chartered an FFA chapter before—until Marcia came along. This is an important piece to this story because what Marcia did actually started a domino effect in Iowa. IMS became the first private school in the state to install an FFA chapter and in the years that followed, at least ten private schools have started agricultural programs in the state.
I share this because Marcia not only gave me insight on how to start a chapter, but also modeled to me how faith and farming go hand in hand. Up until that point, I had never viewed what I did each day on the farm as anything more than just chores. I had no idea that my faith walk could be intertwined with my passion for agriculture, and when I started to make those connections in agricultural courses and involvement in FFA, I started to feel that I had found home. I felt like I had found where all the gifts and talents God had given me fit and how I could use the skills I developed from my daily chores to impact and encourage others in their passion for agriculture from a Christian perspective.
I went on to Iowa State University in the fall of 2011 to pursue my degree in agricultural education. I quickly knew that I was in the right place with my degree and could not wait to get on the other side of the desk. Throughout my four years I had wonderful experiences, grew tremendously in my faith, and deepened my passion for agriculture through the various communities and experiences that agriculture presented me. It was also during those four years that God placed a goal in my mind to someday, sometime, start an agricultural program. Of course I assumed it was going to be later on in life. As always though, God had a bigger and better plan. When I was 22, God not only said, “hey you’re going to go after this goal now,” but also presented the opportunity for me to share about agriculture from a Christian perspective. He gave me the chance to give back to students the connection that I had made just a few short years ago: that farming and faith rely on each other.
There really is no other area of study that so concretely relates back to faith. Think about it. When a crop farmer goes to plant his seed each spring he simply has to have faith that God will allow those seeds to germinate. When a cattle farmer goes out late at night to find a cow down, she has to have faith that God will heal her to walk again the next day. When a community member decides to start up a new bakery, they have to have faith that the flour they need will arrive on time each week to meet their customers’ needs.
So why do students in private Christian high schools need to have the opportunity to develop faith through agriculture? From my personal experience as an agricultural student and teacher, there are three main reasons why private high schools need to be offering agricultural courses and an FFA chapter:
- To invite students to grow in a discipline they may never have known was one (like and unlike myself).
- To provide opportunities for students to practice sharing the gospel through agriculture.
- To develop passionately faithful agriculturalists to grow the future of agriculture.
1. Introduction to the Discipline of Agriculture
As I shared in the beginning, it wasn’t until I was 16 that I realized that agriculture was actually something I could grow in—something that I could learn about in school and was good at. I’m not saying that I was a poor student, but I am saying that oftentimes the students that come into my classroom are the ones that think they are “bad” at other courses in school. And then they come into the ag room. A whole new world is opened to them. A space in which the chores that they do each day after school are relevant and valued. A space where they feel like they are at home. A space where they start to see their faith connected to something concrete that they know and understand.
Not every student that takes agricultural classes, however, has a production (farming) agricultural background. In fact, only 1.3% of the entire United States population is directly involved in production agriculture (Leply, 2019). This means that providing an agricultural education program in schools also allows for students that don’t have an agricultural background to learn about the opportunities agriculture can offer and the impact agriculture has on their lives.
It’s important for both sides to know where their food comes from. If we don’t provide this opportunity, aren’t we missing out on a chance to really dig into the creation story and the importance of stewarding our land well (Genesis 1:26)? With our population growing further away from production agriculture, it is more important than ever to equip our students to know and understand not just where their food comes from, but how we steward the commodities that we use each day. Besides, without those that are directly involved in production agriculture, those of us that are not would not be able to complete simple daily tasks. For example, your crayons? Those come from soybeans, which make them less toxic for children (NCSoybeanProducers, 2019). The leather in your car that drives you to school each day? That comes from cattle hides (McElroy, 2015). Oh and of course your daily meals. Those all come from agriculture. Providing agricultural learning opportunities for both types of learners allows for our students to steward and share their knowledge about how agriculture affects their day-to-day lives.
2. Sharing the Gospel Through Agriculture
By implementing an agricultural education program in our schools, we are providing opportunities for travel, networking, and community building—we are cultivating leaders. The FFA mission states that members are “…dedicated to making a positive difference in the lives of others by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth, and career success through agricultural education” (FFA.org, 2022). As Christians, practicing these skills through a platform within and outside the education system provides an opportunity for students to actionably practice verses such as Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 4:13–16, and Mark 12:31, just to name a few. FFA encourages students to get outside of their comfort zones, meet new people, serve, and so much more. As a Christian, these opportunities provide students with means to see how much our hurting world needs Jesus.
3. Developing Faithful Agriculturalists
In the end, the hope is that when a student leaves after four years, an agricultural education program will not have just developed a student that has found their niche, or one that is willing to get out of their comfort zone, but an individual who is equipped to passionately serve Jesus through agriculture. That they have the tools to share about the importance and impact that agriculture has on their life through their experiences in FFA. That they have the ability to verbalize to others how faith and farming go hand in hand from their agricultural education courses, and have hands-on experiences through their work-based learning projects to serve in their communities. These are the makings of a passionate, Christ-following, agricultural leader.
On the white board in the ag room in which I have gotten to teach over the past seven years, you will often find the verse Colossians 3:23. It says, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” This verse not only allows the agricultural leaders that are growing here to remember why they are doing what they are doing, but it also serves as a reminder to myself. While those first few years starting the program required a lot of hard work, I can confidently and humbly say, the work has been worth it. Watching students just like myself find their niche, get out of their comfort zones, and learn how to passionately share their love for Christ through agriculture—it’s a dream come true.
FFA.org, (2022). “FFA Vision, Mission and Motto,” FFA.org. https://www.ffa.org/about/who-we-are/mission-motto/.
Leply, S, (2019). “9 Mind Blowing Facts about the US Farming Industry,” Markets Insider. https://markets.businessinsider.com/news/stocks/farming-industry-facts-us-2019-5-1028242678.
McElroy, R., (2015). “Where does the leather in your car seats come from?” Car Keys. https://www.carkeys.co.uk/news/where-does-the-leather-in-your-car-seats-come-from.
NC Soybean Producers Association, (2019). “Uses of Soybeans,” NC Soybean Producers Association. https://ncsoy.org/media-resources/uses-of-soybeans/.