Agriculture education grows in the city

More urban schools like John Browne High School in Queens offer ag ed in their curricula
By: | February 10, 2017

Barely 5 miles from the hustle and bustle of LaGuardia Airport in Queens, students at John Browne High School in Flushing are plowing and tilling a field, tending to chickens and picking apples to sell.

While John Browne is the only New York City high school with a dedicated agriculture department, many other urban schools—such as Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences and Walter Biddle Saul High School in Philadelphia—offer farming programs, with more likely to follow.

Schools are increasingly adding agriculture education, or “ag ed”—about 12,000 agriculture educators teach programs in the U.S., says a National Association of Agricultural Educators survey.

In New York, the state education department received requests to create 65 ag-ed programs with certified ag teachers last year. And school administrators expect the number to grow.

Interestingly, more ag-ed programs are appearing in urban areas, says Jay Jackman, executive director at the National Association of Agricultural Educators. “Many rural schools already offer ag education, so they don’t have room to add new programs” he says.

Urban schools don’t particularly need farmland because most agriculture courses cover subjects beyond traditional production farming, such as food science, urban forestry, greenhouse management and aquaculture.

Ag ed doesn’t necessarily prepare students to become farmers, says Jackman. It teaches applied science and math courses through lab instruction, experiential learning and leadership development.

In math, for example, students learn the Pythagorean theorem by solving equations. In ag ed, they use the theorem to calculate how long something that includes a right angle must be, like when constructing a fence, Jackman says.

Keeping with tradition

Browne High’s popular ag department still provides traditional farming education, as the school sits on four acres of Queens farmland. “For every student application I accept, I turn away three” says Steven S. Perry, the school’s assistant principal of agriculture.

Browne High collaborates with the New York labor department’s Farm Cadet Program by placing juniors and seniors on farms upstate or on Long Island. Students live with a farm family during portions of the school year and summer, and must complete 300 hours of work experience by graduation.

Students can also complete the mandatory hours by working internships at city veterinary hospitals, florist shops, nurseries, garden centers, pet shops, zoos and aquariums.

“Ag instruction can supplement what goes on in the traditional math and science classroom, and contribute to student achievement as measured by standardized test scores when done correctly” Jackman adds.

Learn more about agriculture education by visiting the National Association of Agriculture Educators.