MANKATO — For the first time in decades, Mankato high school students can study agriculture.

The Mankato Area Public Schools district is introducing a new “agriculture, food and natural resources” career pathway next year and is asking area agribusinesses to help make it a more immersive experience.

Kim Mueller, the school district's career and college readiness coordinator, met with interested business partners Wednesday.

The gathering was organized by GreenSeam, a division of Greater Mankato Growth that promotes agribusiness. GreenSeam Director Sam Ziegler said the return of agriculture to the high schools is long overdue and will help grow interest in a field that is in high demand.

The number of agriculture-related jobs jumped by 26 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The agriculture, food and natural resources career pathway will be a four-year plan of suggested classes and internships.

Thirty students at East High School and 30 at West High School have signed up for the district's first offering next fall — a yearlong introduction to agriculture, food and natural resources class. 

The class will follow the already established Curriculum for Agricultural Science Education, developed by the National Council for Agricultural Education.

The district also is working to embed more agricultural applications into other courses such as science and robotics, Mueller said.

The district is looking for agribusiness officials to serve on an advisory committee to help the district grow student opportunities.

Mueller said she hopes businesses will offer apprenticeship and shorter-term job shadow experiences, host field trips and visit the schools to give presentations.

Several meeting attendees, who included educators from the Southern Agricultural Center of Excellence, warned it could be challenging to find a qualified teacher to lead Mankato's new class. Like the rest of the industry, agriculture teachers are in high demand, they said, and a few other area districts also are hiring as they expand their programs.

Attendees also suggested the district should start an FFA chapter for its students.

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