Agriculture goes urban: New academy plans to show city students that there's more to horticulture than farming

June 4, 2007

Indiana's stature as one of the nation's top producers of corn and soybeans is as enduring as the fertile farmland in which the crops are grown. But a new initiative plans to introduce urban high school students in Indianapolis to a bushel of opportunities within the agriculture industry that extends well beyond farming. The Hoosier Agribusiness and Science Academy is a partnership between state government and Ivy Tech Community College in which students from the Lawrence Early College High School for Science and Technologies will be exposed to careers in agriculture. The three-week pilot program runs from June 1 through June 21 and provides first-generation, college-bound students of the public charter school a curriculum in animal, plant and soil science, as well as horticulture, agribusiness management and landscaping. Students this year will earn high school credit for completing the course. The aim, though, is to eventually offer college credit and add schools to the program. A likely candidate is Indianapolis Public Schools' Emmerich Manual Star Academy. If successful, the agribusiness and science academy ultimately would be rolled out to other Ivy Tech locations throughout the state. "We want to teach the students that there are far more opportunities in agriculture than farming," Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman said. "Of course we want Indiana to be a leader in agriculture, but we want to be a leader in the science and business of the industry, too."

To be sure, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels hopes to reap the benefits of the state's burgeoning agriculture industry after creating its own department in 2005 and a coinciding economic development initiative.

In the last two years the state has landed $2 billion in food and agriculture investments that have produced 2,500 new jobs, according to Skillman. Overall, the industry contributes $25 billion annually to the state's economy and employs more than 573,000 people.

Much of the recent activity involves increased ethanol and pork-processing production, and advances in the hardwood industry. Future investment in those areas will require more jobs that may be coveted by urban students who otherwise would not be exposed to opportunities related to agriculture, Skillman said.

Roughly 20 students are participating from Lawrence Early College High School, a partnership between the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township and Ivy Tech. The charter school was launched last year with a freshman and sophomore class, and received seed money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It is located at the McKenzie Career Center on East 75th Street and pays tuition to Ivy Tech for students who want to earn early college credit.

Besides its participation in the academy, the school this fall will begin offering an existing state-approved course-the Basic Fundamentals of Agri-Science and Business.

Lawrence Early College High School Director Kay Harmless welcomes the possibilities. A visit last fall from Andy Miller, state director of agriculture, piqued the students' interest in the academy.

"I just think it is so smart that one of our government agencies is reaching out to [urban] kids to grow these leaders," she said. "[Agriculture] is brand new to them."

For its part, Ivy Tech is hosting the academy in existing classrooms and laboratories at its Lawrence campus, although corporate outings will comprise much of the curriculum. Field trips to companies such as Dow Agro-Sciences in Indianapolis, Red Gold Inc. in Orestes and Fair Oaks Farms in Fair Oaks are on the itinerary.

Ivy Tech is a novice at providing agriculture-based education but is quickly plowing into the area of study. This fall it will unveil two degrees, an associate's of applied science and associate's of science in agriculture, as well as an agri-business concentration under its business degree.

The college opted to introduce an agriculture curriculum after receiving inquiries from representatives within the industry, said Kathy Lee, Ivy Tech's dean of academic affairs.

"We look at the work force needs in the state and match our programming with that," she said. "Agri-business isn't something that people in downtown Indianapolis or students [in cities] often think about, but it's important to the state. It's a golden opportunity."

The two-year degrees Ivy Tech will begin offering in the fall are transferable to Purdue University. Known for its engineering and agricultural programs, Purdue also is attempting to make a career in agriculture appealing to youngsters. It already sends agriculture professors to Manual Star Academy to teach advanced life sciences courses.

Many students enrolling in Purdue's agriculture program are interested in preveterinary medicine, turf management and food science, said Dale Whittaker, the department's associate dean and director of academic programs.

"The industry needs more students at all levels and employees who know what they're doing," Whittaker said. "Agriculture has become a complicated business."

Indeed, and one in which opportunities abound. Ninety percent of graduates of Purdue's agricultural program have jobs within four months of leaving school, said Whittaker.
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