Agricultural training teaches self-confidence and brings awareness to the food production system.
By Audrey Hambright
A unique beef cattle operation near Okeechobee, Florida, is proudly announcing their Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certification.
What makes the operation unique is that it is a “Rural Model” campus that is a part of Faith Farm Ministries. Faith Farm Ministries is a faith-based, addiction recovery program with residential services for more than 445 men and women who have lost control of their lives due to alcohol and/or illegal and pharmaceutical drug addictions. It is a free, nine-month minimum program with an opportunity to extend for leadership training.
The rural campus near Okeechobee is a men’s only campus, ages 18 and up. Home to around 90 students at a time, the program usually has a waiting list six weeks long for admittance. The campus runs multiple microenterprise initiatives that provide approximately 94 percent of the funding for programs as opposed to raising funds.
According to Allen Patterson, assistant campus director for Faith Farm Ministries, the campus started raising beef cattle in partnership with ranchers in the county years ago. The herd now numbers close to 265 head and is primarily Angus-based.
Upon admittance to the campus, students agree to work therapy as a part of their recovery program. They are assigned into different work areas, from checking pastures and building fences to feeding. Students are involved in every aspect of the working cattle ranch.
“The program revolves around work. It’s healthy for a guy to get his hands on tools and be productive,” Patterson said.
The idea to become BQA certified was brought to him by Jeff Clemons of the Okeechobee Livestock Market. Clemons teaches hands-on classes at the campus from moving cattle through pens and chutes to vaccinations. In the recent free promotional offer from Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica for BQA certification, all full-time employees of the Okeechobee Livestock Market became certified. Patterson made the decision that it would be beneficial for those involved in the daily cattle operation at Faith Farm to do the same.
“The BQA program is a great training program to ensure the security of US beef, and we jumped at the opportunity to be a part of it,” said Patterson.
All full-time employees and program graduates achieved certification, making this the first drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in the nation to receive this accreditation.
“Having BQA certified employees and students verifies that all cattle we produce and send to market are handled under consistent guidelines with sound and safe practices,” Patterson said. “We are incorporating this BQA certification process into our Comprehensive Work Training (CWT) Program, which all of our students are involved in.”
In addition to the training, Patterson also hopes that students of the program, who are not returning to a farm or ranch after graduation, will gain a basic understanding of where food is coming from.
“If they never step foot on a farm again, we want them to understand the process of the nation’s food market and to appreciate that the cattle are being treated safely and humanely,” he said.
Additionally, for those who aim to stay in the industry after graduation, he hopes that the program training gives them the self-confidence to work with livestock, and that they have learned something about themselves that they didn’t know before.
“Having these guys work with calves and cows helps them realize that there is more to life than the addiction they came here with; something else in this world is dependent on them.”