Showing Urban Students That Ag is More Than Tractors and Cows

- Kelly Miller

What big-city urban high school students (and their parents) know about agriculture comes mostly from the news and social media, often with a derisive perspective of farming and agribusiness. It is important that young people learn and understand what is going on in our industry. They hear a lot of negative comments about agricultural chemicals, GMOs and farming’s effect on pollinators and the environment. We are doing what we can to work with Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) to provide an opportunity for students to come inside an agribusiness and see how they can be involved in agriculture even if they don’t want to be a farmer.

Nufarm and other agribusinesses participate with the CHSAS to help provide its more than 700 urban students a positive perspective on agriculture and the professions and careers it provides. The school operates the only farm within the city of Chicago, a 40-acre tract adjacent to its campus. CHSAS has Illinois’ largest and the United States’ fifth largest FFA chapter.

We want to put out a positive message about what we really do. Students job shadow at our two Chicago-area facilities. They spend time learning about the business aspects of our company. We explain the role of marketing, regulatory, R&D and product testing.

“The most important part of the program is explaining the realities of agribusiness,” says Tim Birkel, Nufarm Americas vice president strategic markets and accounts. “Hopefully, we can have some people who are interested in a career in agriculture.”

As we are providing real-life experiences for their students, the school loves our participation. We have several activities and projects to involve students. Several years ago, we borrowed their planter to plant rows of sunflowers next to our fence along Interstate 294, a major corridor in Chicago. We talked about the importance of pollinators and how the seed industry is actively involved in efforts to protect and sustain them.

In another activity, students submitted designs along with a business plan for a garden according to a set of specifications we provided. We evaluated their designs and selected one which a landscaper then prepared and planted. This gave them experience in following a business plan from start to finish. We also help judge their annual science fair, which provides us an opportunity to interact with students on a variety of topics.

Feedback from the CHSAS, students and their parents has been enthusiastically positive. The students take home the positive realities that they hear about agriculture. Not all of the students will go into agricultural careers, but they will always take with them their high school experiences and what they learned about agriculture and agribusiness.