Manhattan, KS— The Rural Education Center in Kansas State University’s College of Education and the Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom received a $150,000 grant from the National Institutes of Food and Agriculture to attract students to degrees in agriculture and food science.


Career Awareness for Rural Agricultural Sciences Through Tower Gardening, or Project CARAT, will pilot the use of a vertical gardening curriculum to teach a range of agricultural sciences career-related skills to high school students.


USD 108 Washington County Schools is the pilot location for the project and is a member of the center’s Rural Professional Development Schools Network. J. Spencer Clark, Rural Education Center director, and Lori Goodson, center assistant director, are co-principal investigators for the grant and have faculty appointments in the College of Education’s department of curriculum and instruction.


While Project CARAT will begin in a rural school district, researchers are already planning to share the curriculum online, making it available to any school. Following the completion of the pilot program, the researchers will offer professional development through telepresence or in person for schools interested in implementing the curriculum as soon as fall 2023.


Nancy Zenger-Beneda is the lead principal investigator and serves as executive director of the Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, an affiliate program of K-State.


“This project directly supports the foundation’s mission of connecting classrooms to Kansas agriculture by developing resources for educators that incorporate agricultural concepts into core curriculum using experiential learning,” Zenger-Beneda said. “These resources will lighten the burden of lesson planning for educators while providing high-quality learning for students in our rural schools and others interested in educating youth about agriculture.”


Debbie Mercer, dean of the College of Education, believes there is power in unifying strengths.


“What’s so effective about Project CARAT is that it will amplify the results of the otherwise siloed efforts of our organizations, and by working together, this program will introduce and entice students to consider careers in these much-needed fields,” Mercer said. “This project will support rural secondary teachers who are on the front line of students making decisions about their majors.”


The funding from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture is through the Secondary Education, Two-Year Postsecondary Education and Agriculture in the K-12 Classroom Challenge Grants Program.