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Cook County invests in the future of urban agriculture

carolyn banks

URBANA, Ill. – From helping backyard gardeners provide locally grown foods to supporting the growing urban agriculture system, new University of Illinois Extension staff are dedicated to meeting the needs of diverse communities.

Carolyne Banks joined Illinois Extension last fall as an educator working with more than 800 students at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Science and its surrounding communities. She is developing agriculture mentoring programs and is working with students on artificial intelligence farming, as well as gardening for pollinators.

“Carolyne’s experience working in public gardens, educating the public about environmental science, and coordinating elementary and middle school science competitions will allow us to deepen our connection to the community,” says Extension County Director Willene Buffett. “Her collaboration with the high school will strengthen Extension’s ability to expose youth to new career opportunities while helping them develop the marketable skills needed to be successful.” 

Banks hopes to increase environmental and agricultural awareness and systems thinking by using educational best practices to make research-based information accessible and engaging for all learners.

“Extension and the Agricultural High School have a long legacy and I am very proud to be working with both institutions” says Banks. “I have also enjoyed learning more about the rich cultural, agricultural, and environmental history of the Chicago region and sharing that information with learners.”

Before joining Extension, Banks managed a nationwide middle school academic competition and taught out-of-school science education programming. She also worked in a public garden and greenhouse.

Banks has a master's degree in Environmental Science with a focus on Environmental Education from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Her Master's thesis explored African American youth environmental identities. She has a bachelor's degree in Biological Science from Wellesley College.

Banks works out of the high school and can be reached at

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.