Chicago Heights students eye possible futures in urban farming

School leaders at Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 want to give their students an opportunity to pursue their passions at a young age. This year, the district began an agriculture science program for its 8th-grade students at Michelle Obama School of Technology and the Arts that takes place at the Barack Obama School of Leadership and STEM in Chicago Heights.

And earlier this month, the district’s agriculture science class chartered a Future Farmers of America chapter making it the first middle school in the Chicago area with such a charter. Students can get their hands dirty in a greenhouse, tend to crops growing in an aeroponics tower, study plant science, create salads from their own homegrown veggies, and learn about agriculture as an industry, school leaders said.

Valerie Valente, director of technology and STEM programs for District 163, said urban agriculture is a fast-growing industry, citing urban farms in Chicago and aeroponics farming facilities at O’Hare Airport. While not known for farming, the suburban communities that make up District 163 are not a far drive from the expansive farms of rural Illinois, she said.

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