By Blanca Chávez – Chicago Liaison
On June 16, the president of National Latino Farmers and Ranchers, Rudy Arredondo, its deputy director, Eugene Pickett, and I, visited the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, a unique college preparatory school located in the southside of Chicago.
Its mission is to provide opportunities for young people across the city to study urban agriculture with the goal of developing marketable skills as well as college-level competencies.
It is a magnet school for over 800 students from a wide range of neighborhoods, who enroll through a lottery process.
The tour was led by Paulina Arellano Zapata, Tabitha Wagner, Amaria Raynes, Janet Pacheco, Karen Turner and Estela Escobedo, the school’s events coordinator. We visited a number of classrooms including one for welding, a computer lab, a classroom for agricultural careers and leadership, and one for food science and technology studies. We also visited a greenhouse, a barnwhere they keep pigs, cows, goats, llamas, and a mare belonging to Paulina Arellano called Felice. The tour concluded in the horse riding arena. The visit was both exciting and informative.
The school, which is part of Chicago Public Schools, focuses on teaching urban agriculture. In doing so, it plays an essential role in the community. Due to the reduction of farming in rural areas, learning how to cultivate in urban areas has become a pressing need. And it has the added value of evading transportation costs.
It is one of the few interdisciplinary college prep- schools in the Midwest that offer hands-on learning in urban agriculture, and has an innovative, award-winning STEM curriculum with seven agricultural pathways.
Established in 1985, the school boasts 73-acres of land, of which 32 are used for farming, the market garden, the beehives, an area to store hay, and the corrals for livestock.
It even has a farm stand that travels specifically to food insecure neighborhoods in the city.
The school grows its own sweet corn, peppers, greens, pumpkin, cucumber, tomatoes, squash, and melon. It is especially known for its honey, soy candles, zucchini bread, goat milk lotion, among other specialty products. The students also raise chicken, cattle, goats, alpaca, pigs, turkeys and tilapia.
The school is regarded as a role model for others of its kind across the nation. It is also certified by the Magnet Schools of America and has an acclaimed special education cohort for students with disabilities.
During the tour, Mr Pickett offered to donate three horses, while Rudy Arredondo offered to fund some scholarships for outstanding students, on behalf of the Latino Farmers & Ranchers.
The visit ended on promising agreements for the students, and a commitment for the school and organization to maintain an amicable and productive relationship going forward.