CPS students take advantage farming lessons

May 11, 2009 11:04:07 AM PDT
Some believe it's one of the Chicago Public Schools' hidden gems. It's also one of few places in the country where students can get a full college prep education -- while also learning to work the land.

You don't expect to see these kind of kids in high school. And a potbellied pig is out of the question, unless you're at the Chicago High School for Agricultural sciences on the city's far south side.

"This school is so different with its agriculture program," said Melissa Nelson, a junior at the school."You get everything that all the other schools get, plus more."

Some students say the program encourages a greater appreciation for the planet and its resources.

"In the city, you have all the garbage and debris everywhere and when you come to a school like this, you learn how that can affect the animals around the city area, like the squirrels and the birds," explained junior Edward Bates.

Students also get hands-on lessons in food production and raising farm animals using natural feeds. "What animals eat is very important when we consider consuming the animals, said junior Naomi Harper. "We feed them different things that help them with what they do, like our pigs get a supplement that gives them proteins and the nutrients that they need to get bigger because they are for market."

In the aquaponics room, students raise tilapia for harvest. The waste water from the tanks is treated and then recycled. It's used to irrigate the basil they are growing in these raised beds.

"It's all local production. It's all sustainable. We've been doing that long before it became hip," said principal William Hook.

As urban farming and local food production become integral to the emerging new economy, Hook believes his students are already ahead of the curve.

"A lot of people say, why are you teaching city kids about farming? Well, agriculture is so much more than farming. Twenty-five percent of jobs in Illinois are based in agriculture. And I think there's such a demand for urban agriculture, sustainability, locally grown products. I think we really fit a niche."

The students use their business skills to sell almost everything they grow - from the piglets in the barn to the flowers in their greenhouse. Products not sold are used as ingredients when they cook in their food science lab. Students say the lessons learned here foster a new appreciation for what ends up on their own dinner plates.

"Before now, I really didn't think much of animal care," explained Harper. "I didn't know how to take care of large animals and come into the barn and learning how they help plants and other cycles in the earth, I developed more understanding of their importance on Earth and the fact that they're not just companion animals -- that they can help us."

The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences also has seventy-two acres of land on which the students grow a variety of vegetables. They run a community farmstand throughout the summer where they sell their harvests to the public.

Farm stand telephone number:
773-535-2877

http://www.chicagoagr.org

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