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MPS’ Vincent High School starts new urban ag program

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MILWAUKEE -- The city of Milwaukee has always focused on urban agriculture.  Organizations like Growing Power and Sweet Water Organics have worked to build community gardens. Now, a Milwaukee Public School is taking part, and students are benefiting in more ways than one.

This school year, Vincent High School started an urban agriculture program.  It’s the first school within MPS to develop a program of that kind. The school has always had roots in ag, but now, it’s with a 21st Century focus.

“It's about creating opportunities and access.  Many of our children had not had the opportunities or the access.  We have now created something special,” MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton said.

Thornton and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett attended the program’s open house Thursday.  At Vincent High School, there is now a greenhouse, a honeybee farm, compost piles, and a “hoop house” or high tunnel.

“It's called a high tunnel to extend the growing season during the winter time.  We're going to put in cold weather plants and we're going to experiment with regular plants, like tomatoes and peppers, to see if we can start them early,” Ed Tech teacher Kevin Hatch said.

The new resources allow courses for students like urban gardening, botany, biotechnology, aquaponics and even veterinary science.

“Seeing this experience and how things grow, and just to create life with the help of everybody else is just great,” Vincent High junior Raquel Stewart-Noble said.

Educators say it's this knowledge that will ultimately help the teens beyond high school by connecting them to real-world jobs related to the agriculture and food industries.

“I can tell you the amount of career opportunities awaiting you if you decide to take a path in the food industry -- it's pretty remarkable,” Shelly Jurewicz, Executive Director of the Food and Beverage Manufacturing cluster at the Milwaukee 7 – a regional economic development group said.

The Milwaukee Area Technical College and the University of Wisconsin have also partnered to help build the curriculum for the urban agriculture program.