The college first courted the idea for a School of Agriculture in 1909 with the purchase of a farm west of campus across the Elkhart River. In the early 20th century, the majority of students who attended Goshen College were from rural areas and many had grown up on farms. This farm was to keep the farm life tradition alive while simultaneously easing the college’s financial strain. Administrators planned for the farm to aid with dining hall supplies and provide jobs and tuition scholarships for students taking prescribed programs.
Less than 10 years later, the farm was traded in for 60 acres closer to campus. The new farm was one half mile east of the campus, along College Avenue, and by 1916, Goshen College boasted a full-fledged School of Agriculture. The school provided courses in dairy-farming, butter-making, grain production, animal husbandry and horticulture as well as courses that combined Bible and agriculture.
Early on, a major impetus for Goshen College’s School of Agriculture was the call of church leaders such as Daniel Kauffman. Kauffman requested that the college specialize in agriculture in order to encourage Mennonite youth to return to rural communities where their talents could serve Mennonite churches. Leaders also were determined that the college not create class distinctions. They felt the college should emphasize the importance of trades in modern society along with its liberal arts focus and “culture for service” motto.
Unfortunately, World War I prevented the School of Agriculture from excelling. The government made provisions to keep agriculturalists at their posts and maximize production in the time of war, resulting in fewer male students. World War I hurt agriculture programs throughout the country, and at Goshen College, that strain resulted in the department’s eventual dissolution.
Again in the 1940s and 50s, Goshen College offered courses in agriculture in hopes of serving Mennonite youth who would return to the farm after a period of study. Students could take courses on soils, rural sociology, rural economics and farm management. An instructor of agriculture was hired in 1953.
Today, Goshen College furthers the dream of working with the land in the context of Christian stewardship. The College’s Environmental Science Program and the Agroecology Summer Intensive at Merry Lea embody this desire.