Le Sueur-Henderson agriculture program cultivates student interest in debut

New teacher Elizabeth Risacher is bringing the farm to the classroom at Le Sueur-Henderson Middle School/High School.

From a young age, Risacher developed a passion for agriculture. She spent her childhood on a black angus beef cattle farm near the small town of Wright, Minnesota — about 47 miles southwest of Duluth — where she cultivated an appreciation for animal science. As a freshman in high school, Risacher decided she wanted to share her love of farming as an agriculture teacher.

Today, Risacher is living her dream, kickstarting a new agriculture and Future Farmers of America program at Le Sueur-Henderson Middle School/High School. She began her teaching career this fall semester leading a number of new agriculture classes including: Intro to Agriculture; Floral Design; Animal Science; and Wildlife Management.

Not only is it Risacher’s first year teaching at LS-H, it’s her first year teaching as a full-time instructor, period. Prior to joining the LS-H faculty, Risacher interned in the agriculture education program at Sibley East, student taught at Forest Lake and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Communications Leadership from South Dakota State University in spring 2022.

Though it was somewhat nerve-wracking to balance building an agriculture education program in her first year teaching, Risacher was up for the challenge.

“It’s definitely a lot of work; it’s also a very rewarding position. I love the kids; the students are amazing; I wouldn’t trade this job for anything,” said Risacher.

In her classes, Risacher frequently incorporates hands-on lessons into student learning whether its blind taste-testing different varieties of milk (dairy, almond, soy, coconut etc.) for the dairy foods unit or getting a new batch of fresh flowers each week for students to create floral arrangements in the floral design class.

These lessons are designed to get students engaged with agriculture beyond what’s in the textbook as well as broaden student perspectives of what falls within the agriculture industry.

“I try to incorporate this is the type of the job you can do with this type of animal in Animal Science, or this is the type of job you can do in this sector,” said Risacher. “They’re always very surprised to hear that a certain career is within the realm of agriculture, because there are many careers within the realm of agriculture that you might not even realize or they don’t even realize.”

This approach has proven popular with the students. The number of kids enrolling in Risacher’s spring semester courses has grown from the amount in her fall classes.

“I used to show cattle and I’m in 4-H so it’s nice to have another way to go into Ag,” said junior Anna Berger, who taking Floral Design and is involved in the FFA. Berger is interested in pursuing a career as a livestock veterinarian and appreciated having access to animal science courses before college.

Two new classes, Landscape Design (replacing Floral Design) and Aviation have been added to the spring semester. Aviation is currently one of the most popular ag classes yet. The course will be taught by both Risacher and Superintendent Jim Wagner and gives students the knowledge they need to take the test for a pilot’s license.

Not only are Le Sueur-Henderson’s agriculture classes growing, so is its recently relaunched Future Farmers of America (FFA) program. Through FFA, students can apply the knowledge they’ve learned in their agriculture courses in monthly Career and Leadership Development Events — competitions which test students on a wide range of topics from agronomy to livestock evaluation, food science and technology, floriculture, forestry and more.

Le Sueur-Henderson’s FFA chapter was off to a slow start in September with just five students attending the CLD event. But by November, there were so many students interested in participating, Risacher said she had to turn some away because there were no more open spots. Today, Risacher estimated there around 30 active FFA members attending competitions.

“The kids seem to really like to go and apply what they’ve been learning in the classroom to contests like that. I think It’s been a very rewarding experience for them,” said Risacher.

LS-H FFA already has a few success stories under their belt. Last month, Le Sueur-Henderson’s Farm Business Management team became the district’s first state qualifiers, ranking second overall. Individually, two LS-H students ranked in the top 10. Hattie Tuck earned third place and Willy Sampson was awarded seventh.

“I didn’t go into it expecting that much. I was hoping our team would go to state because that’s cool, but I was not expecting third,” said Tuck.

The LS-H student said she never would have imagined herself being involved in FFA until this year.

“I joined Ag class and it was one of those things where if you’re in an Ag class you go to FFA,” said Tuck. “I am in Wildlife Management and everyone in Wildlife Management was going to this event.”

Like Tuck, Sampson said he didn’t go into the FFA competition with high expectations and was surprised by the results. Sampson was inspired to join since his own father, a local dairy farmer, was involved in FFA when he was in school.

The new slate of Ag classes has also given Sampson a few electives he can feel enthusiastic about.

“It’s really awesome because I didn’t have any elective classes that I wanted to take this year,” said Sampson. “But now that we have Ag classes I was able to take some elective classes that I’m interested and can learn more about agriculture.”

Sampson added that he likes working with the cows on his family farm, so he enjoys learning more about animals and livestock in classes like Animal Science and Wildlife Management. He’s even taken away lessons he can apply on the farm.

“We learned about what spooks cows and how to move them around more efficiently and I’ve definitely been able to use that a little more on the farm,” said Sampson.

In the coming months, Risacher is hopeful the school can produce more state qualifying teams.

“Every month we’re growing,” said Risacher. “It’s really cool to see it grow and kids get more interested as the years go on.”

LS-H agriculture program cultivates student interest in debut

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