Family Farm Schools: an effective formation for finding a first job
With the aim of helping to improve the quality of life for families living in the countryside by offering professional, cultural, human, and spiritual formation, the Family Farm Schools (EFAs in Spanish, for Escuelas Familiares Agrarias) were started in Spain some fifty years ago. Modeled on the French Maisons Familiales Rurales, whose history began in the thirties of the last century, the EFA system of instruction was pioneering and innovative in Spain. The training at first was directed to helping students carry out their work better, which for the great majority was of an agrarian and family nature. Later, the areas of instruction were broadened to include other specialties required in the rural environment such as hospitality, health, mechanics, etc.
Some of the EFAs now also provide secondary education, as well as courses to constantly update workers’ training and skills. Families are invited to take part in classes directed towards acquiring a solid culture and an appreciation of the importance of growing in human virtues. A Christian vision of the person and the world underlies all the activity of the EFAs.
Origin and development
The origin of these initiatives dates back to St. Josemaría Escrivá, who saw the need to help improve the living and working conditions of people in rural areas. In the sixties in Spain, many of these people had a difficult life. St. Josemaría encouraged a group of professionals to put within reach of rural families effective means to improve their professional and human preparation, as well as their Christian life. The founder of Opus Dei in his youth had had close contact with the rural environment, and was very aware of the need to bring the Christian message to those living there.
Joaquin Herreros and Felipe Gonzalez de Canales played a big role in the initial creation and development of the EFAs, with the help of their own families, specialized technicians and local business people. Together with Francisco Molina, in 1967 they began the first two schools in two locations in the province of Seville: Lora del Rio (the Molino Azul EFA) and Brenes (the Casablanquilla EFA). Soon afterwards, having quickly confirmed the value of these farm schools, they began others in various parts of Spain.
Today twenty-six institutions of this type are operating in Spain, but the model has leaped over borders and one can now count by the dozens the EFAs existing throughout the world. As a consequence, the specializations offered have been greatly multiplied. Now not only courses in agriculture, stock raising, and forest cultivation are offered, but also courses in grapevine culture, management of natural resources, hostelry and tourism, childhood education, and even supplementary health care and dental hygiene.
In Spain, EFA La Serna, in Bolaños de Calatrava (Ciudad Real), now offers classes in secondary school studies, business management, cooking and food preparation. EFA Piñeiral, in Arzua (La Coruña), has courses in baking and confectionary, business, commercial management and marketing. EFA La Noria, in Pinseque, Sarragosa, offers practical nursing and dental hygiene. EFA Torrealuda, in Llombai, Valencia, offers secondary studies and diagnostic imaging. EFA El Soto, in Chauchina, Granada, has courses in forestry and nature conservation, agroecological production, landscape resources, and professional safety.
In Spain, the EFAs are grouped into various federations: Western Andalusia, Eastern Andalusia, Aragon, Castille La Mancha-Madrid, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, and Valencia. In 1978, the National Union of Family Farm Schools (UNEFA in Spanish) was formed, which presently includes most of the centers in Spain that are carrying out professional formation and assistance in rural areas.
In turn, UNEFA forms part of AIMFR (Asociacion Internacional Maison Familiale Rurale), an international association that includes 353 schools in Latin-America, 129 in Africa, 6 in Asia and 531 in Europe. UNEFA also offers advice to new EFAs that arise in Latin-America, and tries to foster awareness of the needs of third world countries.
Mission and working method
The working method of the EFAs is based on a close tie with local businesses. The combination of classes with apprenticeship in the fields, the factory, the workshop, etc., is a strong spur to the formation of the young people.
Another pillar of the working method is the close relationship between the family and school. The participation of families in the activities of the center gives the EFAs a special link to the parents in the education of their children.
The contribution of these schools transcends the theoretical content in the classrooms, and aims is to further the formation of the students as persons. Therefore responsible freedom is fostered, as well as a concern for professional ethics and growth in human virtues.
The EFAs contribute to the development of the areas where they are located, not only through the training given to young people but also through courses for updating professional skills. Their influence also extends to many people who in a variety of ways take part in its activities: teachers and families, parents of students, alumni, collaborators and friends.
Since an integral element of these centers is a concern for Christian formation, the spiritual attention provided has been entrusted to the Prelature of Opus Dei. Besides the professional formation imparted, the schools strive to foster the students’ Christian and human virtues, including honesty, respect for others, defense of freedom, and industriousness.
Fernando de la Calle, Chief of the Microbiology Department of PharmaMar, has had close ties with one of the EFAs. He says that “we have hired three or four girls from there and I can truly say that, in my view, we are very luck to have this center nearby.”
Nares Muñoz, personnel director of Our Lady of Solitude and Mt. Carmel, a residence for the elderly in Madrid, says that whenever they have to hire more staff, the EFAs “are always our point of reference.”
Cristina Garcia, who studied at the El Gamonal EFA, says that “the stress placed on work and effort at the EFA center has really helped me in my life.”
Some interesting statistics
About 23% of the Spanish population lives in rural areas. In the total world population, this figure reaches more than 45% (World Factbook).
In 1970, 29% of the rural population dedicated itself to agriculture in Spain. Today that number is less than 5% (UNEFA statistic).
The teaching staff of the EFAs in Spain is made up of well-qualified personnel who are committed to the project’s goals. An important labor exchange is provided by the broad network of collaborating businesses (about 3,000). EFA graduates enjoy a high level of success in finding professional employment. Those currently taking classes number about 5,000.
With more than 70,000 graduates already, these schools have helped to form many young people and families in the rural areas of Spain, and to make it possible for them to raise their standard of living. They have also contributed to the development of the rural areas in which they are located, helping to prevent depopulation and migration to cities.
In 2005, Rialp Publishers published the book Roturar y sembra” [To plow and sow]. In it, Felipe Gonzales de Canales and Jesús Carnicero recount the history of the development of these schools, and emphasize the influence of St. Josemaría in their origin.