VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (LETTER)

Agriculture is about far more than farming

Marc S. Schulman, President
The Eli’s Cheesecake Co

Published June 30, 2005
Chicago — It was with great dismay that I read “Farms run by African-Americans in Illinois are `mighty few’ at 59″ (Business, June 12). The conclusion of the article was that the opportunities in farming and agriculture for African-Americans are on the decline. The article referenced a comment by David Gilligan, the principal of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, that rather than being a school for farmers, its mission is training future agribusiness executives.

What the article fails to comprehend is that agriculture today is far more than farming and that CHSAS is at the cutting edge of training its students to be leaders in the agricultural industry. I know that well, as recently I was fortunate to be the speaker at the graduation for the class of 2005 from CHSAS and have also served as the co-chair of the Business Advisory Council for CHSAS for the past four years.

Every one of the 116 students in the class is a member of the FFA (formerly the Future Farmers of America) and of those 116 students, 70 are African-American. CHSAS has the largest FFA chapter in the state of Illinois and the second largest in the country.

All students who enter CHSAS spend two weeks working on the 72-acre CHSAS farm, which gives them an insight into how crops are grown and also into the population of animals that are raised at CHSAS.

There are five agriculture-related career paths in the school, one of which must be pursued by students when they enter their junior year. They are horticulture, animal science, food science, agrimechanics and agrifinance.

It is of note that the FFA changed its name from the Future Farmers of America in 1988 because it recognized that agriculture and agricultural education encompass more than 300 careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.

This year Gov. Rod Blagojevich increased spending for agricultural education by 50 percent in Illinois. Recently Elliot Regenstein, the governor’s director of education reform, visited the school. He made the following observations about the importance of agricultural education in a speech earlier in the year:

Agriculture education gets results for a wide range of students all across the state. People in the state capitol know that agriculture education isn’t just about rural areas; it’s also about Chicago and the collar counties.

Agriculture education isn’t just about preparation for the workforce, it’s about preparation for college, about getting students ready for the coursework they’ll face when they move on to higher education. The rigorous curriculum of a good agriculture education has been the foundation of college success for countless students over the years.

CHSAS was among the first urban agricultural high schools in the country. Today its graduates are sought out by the finest agricultural programs in the country: Cornell, University of Indiana, Southern Illinois University, Illinois State University and Iowa State, to name just a few. The agricultural leaders of the future will come from CHSAS and will go into farming as well as those 300 careers that relate to agriculture.