The program--started over 30 years ago by science teacher Bob Johnson--has grown to a state-of-the-art instructional program. Many aspects of learning are incorporated into the curriculum. Students are assigned a project and must track expenses and profit margins as well as the actual plant production.

This type of learning falls under the title of Career Technical Education (CTE). This program is called Hands on Education and has proven successful at the national, state and federal levels. The Botany (agriculture) program at this school is the only one in the county which encompasses Detroit and the suburban area. With the cutbacks in educational funding the other career paths are not being funded at this time.

We need to ask our school leaders and politicians why there are not more of these programs being funded for our young people

There are six career paths that students can follow under CTE in the fields of agriculture, food and nutrition and natural resources.

There is a state-of-the-art greenhouse on the campus, as well as a florist shop where students operate the business as any other commercial operation would operate. Recently added is a fish-rearing facility. Aqua agriculture is one of the fastest-growing aspects of farming. The students are raising Tilapia, a species that is found in almost all restaurants that offer seafood on the menu. The young people monitor the tanks; as soon as the young fry are hatched they are moved to a separate tank to mature. (The adult fish will eat their young.) The students monitor growth rates as well make sure the fish are getting the correct nutrition so they will grow quickly.

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Students feed the fish in one of several tanks Tilapa is the species of fish being raised

In the greenhouse the students are growing vegetables, herbs and flowers for sale at the market, which is also run by the students.

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Grooming hanging baskets Harvesting hydroponic grown lettuce for use in the school cafeteria

Hydroponics as well as traditional methods are being utilized to produce the crops, much of which is used in the school cafeteria for lunches.

These young people are also landscaping the school grounds and local public areas. During the spring and summer, the area is ablaze with color as the annuals and perennials bloom. What a great way to learn, get your hands in the soil and beautify the community at the same time.

Johnson also established a FFA chapter at the school. Previously known as Future Farmers of America, this program is now available to young people in urban areas, too. With the huge growth of urban agriculture is this an important program for young people in our cities.

Many large urban areas throughout the country have seen an exodus to the suburbs leaving vast expanses of vacant land within the city limits.

Plans are underway to convert this land into commercial farming operations. Up to now much of this land is being used for smaller community gardens that serve needy neighborhoods. With the foresight of these urban pioneers, much more food can be grown locally. This lowers transportation costs as well as provides jobs during the record-high unemployment period we are experiencing.

If this concept sounds like a winning idea, I urge you to contact your local school officials and ask them to offer more CTE to students.

Photos by author