Although one might not expect it to be, one of the more remarkable exhibits at the 2013 Chicago Flower & Garden Show was the booth for Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. One might think that there are hundreds of Ag-focused high schools in the US, but there are actually only a handful, and Chicago’s is the only one in the Midwest. Think about that for a moment. All those states raising all those crops, and the one high school prepping kids in this part of the country for careers in the industry is here. Remarkable.
Of course, in Chicago, an Ag school isn’t just an extension of FFA (Future Farmers of America), three of the four students that were at the booth when we came by are in the “Agricultural Finance” track at the school (they also offer Animal Science, Agricultural Mechanics, Food Science, and Horticultural Landscape Design programs). The CHSAS is a “selective enrollment” school, and they primarily take students who are strong in math and science. Located on the far south-west side of the city (at 111th & Pulaski), the school has a rather large footprint, allowing space for crops, orchards, and areas for animals, including “beef and dairy cattle, swine, sheep, horses, and poultry”.
The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences was founded in 1985 with a unique idea and an ambitious mission – to create a college preparatory high school that prepares urban students for professions and careers in agriculture. Since then, CHSAS has captured national attention as the premier model for secondary agricultural education.
Students Allison Nash, Kate Patnett, Ayen Affaneh, and Michael Jackson spoke to us about the school, and their participation in the Flower & Garden show:
As one might expect, given the miniscule number of high schools offering this sort of curriculum, the students at CHSAS have a wide array of educational and internship opportunities while they’re still at the school, with formal relationships in place with a few colleges, and scholarship programs available at many institutions featuring Ag programs. Having CHSAS in the city is just one more piece of the puzzle for how Chicago is growing into a major hub for “urban agriculture”, and I’m guessing that they’ll be playing a far more active role in preparing new farmers to take part in “The District” and other projects coming on in the next few years.
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