Urban Farming Program Produces Fresh Herbs, Sets Standards for Correctional Education
Agriculture is one of the largest industries in the United States, with 22.2 million jobs in the agriculture and food sector in 2019. Recognizing the importance of this growing field, Windham School District (WSD) established an Urban Farming program to teach students the necessary skills to obtain future employment and meet increasing demands.
The Urban Farming program teaches students the fundamentals of horticulture, landscaping, aquaponics and hydroponics. In aquaponics and hydroponics, fish and aquatic animals are used to produce nutrients to grow plants without soil. This is vital to producing fresh herbs and produce in a prison system where soil is lacking. Through the hands-on training received in this program, students receive a well-rounded education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) as well as business and marketing.
Today, the program has achieved a new milestone, becoming the first program to receive an endorsement from the Aquaponics Association, an international, non-profit organization dedicated to expanding the practice of aquaponics through education, advocacy and connection.
Through this partnership, WSD and the Aquaponics Association will collaborate to enhance WSD's Urban Farming program, revamp programming curriculum, and ensure national standards are met. In addition, the Aquaponics Association will provide a third party, industry-recognized certificate to students who complete the program.
"The district's Urban Farming program began last year and it's amazing to see how much it has grown in this short amount of time," WSD Superintendent Kristina Hartman said. "Our team works hard to continuously improve the program and develop innovative curriculum for our students. This new endorsement is a testament to the strength of the program and will be valuable in providing our students with an exceptional education and future employment opportunities."
The Aquaponics Association plans to use the inaugural endorsement with WSD as a pilot program to help establish correctional standards for creating aquaponics programs in other state prison facilities and education systems.
"WSD's innovative integration of aquaponics into Texas prison facilities and their educational programs shows the power of aquaponics," said Aquaponics Association Chairman Brian Filipowich. "Everyone needs to eat, but not everyone has access to arable soil. Through their system, WSD has shown the potential of using aquaponics systems to successfully grow organic food in any environment."
Currently, there are 90 students enrolled in the Urban Farming program. Upon completion of the program, students will graduate with a Aquaponics Association Certificate, Servesafe Food Handler Certification, Texas Certified Landscape Associate (TCLA) Certification, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Certificate and Windham Urban Farming Certificate.
With their education, skills, and certificates earned in the Urban Farming program, students will be able to obtain employment in a variety of fields upon release such as landscaping, culinary, plumbing, and business.
ABOUT WINDHAM SCHOOL DISTRICT:
Windham School District (WSD) provides academic, Career and Technical Education, and life skills programs to eligible individuals within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). We serve a unique population of incarcerated individuals who were unable to complete their basic education in the past and others who need technical training and soft skills to better equip them for the future. With 86 campuses located in TDCJ facilities across Texas, WSD strives to prepare students with the necessary education and skills to successfully reenter the workforce within their communities.