Agriculture

Diversity in the workplace should be more than a PR checkbox

In an ever-changing and growing society, diversity and inclusion have become commonplace in many businesses and institutions. We hear about diversity requirements in the workplace, we say representation matters, and we care about equality – but what does that really mean? Why do we strive to diversify our institutions and be inclusive with others around us? Are these just fashionable words with no real meaning?

When they see that certain corporations or institutions are striving for diversity, their purpose in doing so in their messages does not seem to extend beyond “representation.” While this is not necessarily the case wrong, does not even capture the whole truth. We need more than just a company photo with diverse people, with the caption “equality for all!”

Diversity is not a checklist, and inclusion does not mean recruiting marginalized communities into your institution and leaving it there. Social problems related to diversity do not go away when you suddenly hire different communities for their work.

If you’re not sure what diversity and inclusion mean right now, don’t worry, because I’m about to break down diversity in a context of social justice so you can understand how and why agriculture applies. .

It’s no secret that the agricultural industry lacks diversity among stakeholders. According to the US Department of Agriculture, from 2019, 81 percent of farm operators In my home state of California, I’m white. If you’ve ever been to California, you may know that this statistic doesn’t reflect the total population. But I don’t need a statistic to see that. Like someone from one of the most agriculturally prolific and socially diverse in the nation, even I can see this only by looking at my classmates and co-workers.

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Mexican-American workers in a vineyard in the San Joaquin Valley of California (Image by Richard Thornton, Shutterstock)

When I think about it, I can’t help but wonder about the opportunities that marginalized farming communities miss. Opportunities in employment, academia, research, leadership development, food sovereignty, ecological literacy, etc.

When I was at the FFA in high school, I noticed an obvious inequity in the involvement of diversity not only in our members, but also in the teachers, graduates and parents of FFA members. My chapter consisted of three high schools, and mine was the most urban and diverse school in the chapter. That being said, it also had the slightest involvement of the FFA – myself being one of the exceptions.

I had a great time during the FFA and I benefited so much from it. I gained interpersonal skills, leadership skills and awards, and organization was one of the main factors for many of my college scholarships. The FFA has benefited me in so many ways, I just want my colleagues, my community and other diverse communities to have the same opportunity.

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When I asked him “why not join?” Many responses referred to lack of representation, lack of resources or opportunities due to socio-economic class or even stigmas around people of color and the role they have historically played as agricultural workers.

For some it becomes personal when their families are agricultural workers.

More people like me (with my perspective, background, education and vision) could get scholarships, learn valuable skills or even pursue post-secondary education in agriculture. But this opportunity is lost when we fail to include marginalized communities in these spaces.

When we work to diversify agriculture, we work to provide marginalized communities with opportunities for food literacy, scholarships, personal development, and more. Failure to do so will only obstruct many opportunities for the various communities that are already struggling to establish and share their stories in agriculture.

With just over 1 percent of the nation’s people working in agriculture, we should get more people on the pole – especially when that 1 percent itself is far from diverse. Marginalized communities tend to be hit hard by food insecurity, and our goal as farmers is to make food and agriculture accessible to all. We can do this by giving marginalized communities more opportunities in agriculture.

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Bre Holbert (right) and another FFA member are interviewed for a podcast.

However, as we noted earlier, it is not as simple as recruiting a variety of people to work in agriculture or to enroll in agricultural education. They need to be given a reason to stay just like the rest of us – our passion.

Agricultural high school education and FFA must be accessible to students who cannot afford to participate in overnight trips, do not have reliable transportation to and from FFA activities, or do not have the housing or financial capacity for an SAE project. The curriculum should include information on the role that marginalized communities have played in FFA and agriculture. Educators need to develop a cultural and social awareness of the various communities in order to better understand where their students come from. What’s the use of having a diverse class or an FFA program if your students are struggling to attend?

Agricultural education in higher education also needs some work, by incorporating several classes of agriculture in general education, so that non-agricultural specializations are exposed to the field. They also need to incorporate social science courses into their curriculum so that future industry leaders are aware of the impact their work has on society.

The workplace is not exempt from this either. In my experience, the most diverse part of the job is the workers and other agricultural workers. Only then are we represented on a large scale.

Diversifying agriculture and being inclusive does not mean hiring people for the sake of diversity; this is not a treasure hunt. Diversifying agriculture means giving opportunities to those who are struggling to share their stories in agriculture.

If you are a business owner who wants to diversify your staff, ask yourself why. If you think that you can create a good public image, remember that this is not a checklist or a coloring book that we are dealing with here, but human lives and opportunities.


Saul Reyes serves as an agriculture communications intern in 2022 at the American Farmland Trust at AGDAILY, with a focus on helping to amplify the diversity and voices of minorities in agriculture. Alum FFA, Reyes is now a student at California State University-Chico and has a dual specialization in plant and soil science and multicultural and gender studies, while studying intersectional Chicanx / Latinx and public relations.

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