Natalie Arroyo is a senior “Aggie,” one of 600 New York City public school students enrolled in a specialized, four-year agriculture program at John Bowne High School in Queens. She plans to become an agriculture educator after college. Photo by Lela Nargi for NPR.
Some 600 of the city’s public school students are enrolled in Bowne’s specialized, four-year agriculture program.
By Lela Nargi
January 5, 2017
Like most of their schoolmates, the Aggies follow an ordinary curriculum of English, math and social studies. But they also learn the building blocks of diverse careers in the booming industry of agriculture, which sees almost 60,000 new jobs open up in the U.S. every year, according to the USDA. The Aggies grow crops, care for livestock and learn the rudiments of floriculture, viticulture, aquaculture, biotechnology and entrepreneurship.
While high schools in rural farming areas have long prepared students for these sorts of jobs, they can’t come close to meeting the demand. So some urban public high schools are stepping in to fill the void.
Since 2007, students at the Food and Finance High School in midtown Manhattan have grown tilapia and lettuces in interconnected, water-based labs built by a Cornell University agriculturist. The city’s Harbor School on Governors Island has so far graduated three classes of aquaculture students, who have hatched trout and worked on oyster farms that supply restaurants.
Bowne’s program is much older — it harks back to World War I, when city boys were recruited to fill in for upstate farmers serving overseas. Today, it attracts a diverse array of students, including many girls. Many are low income; some have parents who hail from Central America and the Caribbean, where more than a few once grew their own subsistence crops.