When we’re out and about doing food safety work, we often have the pleasure of meeting exceptional people dedicated to our mission of preventing foodborne illness.
In 2019, our CEO, Mitzi Baum, met one such impressive young lady while touring the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences—Ms. Amaya Butler, whose sparkling personality and self-professed “nerdiness” for food science has us swooning.
In our Q & A below, we’re shining a spotlight on what drives Amaya’s passion for food science and her future plans for making a positive impact in the food safety world.
Q: Let’s start with your unique school. Tell us what makes it different than a typical high school and how it’s similar.
A: The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) was established in 1985 and started off with just a handful of students in a really small building that’s still on our campus today. It’s called the “Old Building.” Through the years, the student population grew bigger as did the infrastructure of the school. Today, CHSAS welcomes around 200 new students each year as freshmen.
CHSAS is unique because it’s the only original working farm in Chicago that also functions as a high school. A high school with a 72-acre farm and a huge greenhouse. The students in the animal science pathway take care of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, alpacas, and goats learning about the role of animals in our society’s food and fiber system.
Yet CHSAS is quite similar to other high schools in the Chicagoland area as it offers all the regular core classes you’d expect along with agricultural courses incorporated into our studies.
Specifically, during freshman year, students take an introduction to agriculture class. Then, in their sophomore year, they take a Science/Technology/Engineering/Math (STEM) class in addition to a 30-day rotation between six different career pathways offered at CHSAS. At the end of the sophomore year, students pick one of the pathways as a focus area for his or her final two years. The pathways are:
CHSAS offers an incredibly enriching and fun educational experience. We really do have it all including sports team and school dances. CHSAS is such an exciting school, and I love being a student!
Q: Now tell us about you and your career plans.
A: First, I want to get something on the table: I’m a HUGE nerd for food science! From earning my sanitation license to studying product development on yogurt using stevia applications, I absolutely love this field. I’m currently in the Food Science and Technology pathway at CHSAS and really enjoy learning new things every day.
Since I was at an agricultural school, I decided to step out of my comfort zone and join the National FFA Organization (which started in 1928 as the Future Farmers of America). I started as part of the leadership team in the position of historian! Since I knew this would be ongoing throughout my time in High School, I wanted to get involved in making it the best experience possible. FFA membership has landed me numerous opportunities! I have networked with people from different agricultural businesses, as well as traveled to different states and met all kinds of FFA members. In fact, one of the best experiences I had was going to an FFA Washington Leadership Conference in June 2019. While there I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the globe! It was so great to discuss subjects I care about such as Food Science, Food Insecurity and Urban Agriculture, with FFA members from different backgrounds and experiences. That experience humbled me, because I now realize what a unique establishment CHSAS is, and I’m grateful to go here.
As far as college is concerned, I plan to study Food Science, though I haven’t chosen a college just yet. I am in the process of figuring out what’s next in my plan.
Q: What do you think consumers need to be more aware of as it relates to the food they eat?
A: I believe that personal food safety in the workplace should be discussed more. The reason being that being food safe and sanitary doesn’t come naturally to a lot of people and knowing WHY they need to know how to properly wash their hands can convince a lot more people that it’s the right thing to do. A lot of bacteria and other germs are spread through dirty hands. This is a conversation that employers of all kinds should have with their employees.
Q: What’s ONE thing you recommend our readers do to improve their food safety game?
A: Wash their hands. And not be afraid to tell your coworkers why you do it and how it’s important to keeping the workplace safe. Not only food safe, but especially this time of year with the prevalence of colds and flu it’s important to wash your hands.
Amaya Butler is a senior at Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences. She firmly believes that anything is possible. She says, “You have to work hard and put your mind on what you want to accomplish.” Being an African American female, Amaya never thought that she would, not only be part of an agricultural organization that was started exclusively for white men, but also serve in the role of Chapter President!
Amaya hopes that younger students take a page out of her book and are inspired to make what may be a very scary step for them.
She’s where she is today, in part, because of an African American woman who inspired her: Dr. Maya Warren. Dr. Warren is an incredibly smart and savvy food scientist that specializes in ice cream and other frozen treats!
Amaya says, “Seeing Dr. Warren’s success with Food Science has given me more courage to pursue my dreams and aspirations with the subject, and to never take “No” for an answer.” (Dr. Warren if you’re reading this Amaya would also love to meet you someday!) “It’s an exciting time,” Amaya says, “because leaders in the world of agriculture are becoming more diverse.
And with diversity comes a wider range of ideas, inventions, and successes. I believe that in the near future when agriculture more accurately reflects the face of our city and country, the unbelievable things that America’s farmers will do will amaze everyone!”