August 14, 2011; Source: The Taos News | A new collaborative program between an alternative high school and a new nonprofit in Taos, New Mexico is providing students with an appreciation for the land, as well as the routine challenges that come with growing food. According to the Taos News, this summer a partnership between Chrysalis Alternative High School and A.I.R.E. (Agricultural Implementation, Research and Education) gave students hands-on experience planting and cultivating crops along with an understanding of how generations of Pueblo peoples helped plants adapt to the harsh climate of the Upper Río Grande.

The collaboration began last spring, when Miguel Santistevan, AIRE’s founder and director and a Ph.D. candidate in biology in the University of New Mexico’s Sustainability Studies program, came to Chrysalis to talk with students about farming and the politics of agriculture. But it was his samples of the actual seeds used by his ancestors that captured the students’ imagination. One of them, Joseph García, told the Taos News, “Frankly, at first, I didn’t really get into it. But when he comes in with these seeds . . . It kind of hit me —that the natural way of growing seeds is the way.” After the presentation, García followed Santistevan out to his car and said, “I’m feeling everything you said. I want to be a farmer.” García went on to become one of eight students to enroll in the pilot program, which produced crops of squash, corn, lentils, potatoes, garbanzos, wheat, oats and buckwheat using traditional methods.

The A.I.R.E-Chrysalis partnership is an example of what might be a broader national trend. Melissa Hincha-Ownby of the Mother Nature Network points out that sustainable agricultural programs are on the rise at the college level. Hincha-Ownby attributes this development to the aging population of American farmers and the high demand for organic and sustainable food in the U.S.

Do NPQ’s readers have other such stories of students initiating or helping to initiate programs at the high school level?Anne Eigeman