July 26, 2021 at 3:13 p.m.
How can we be more inclusive?
The dairy community is woven together with the most hard-working, vision-seeking individuals I have ever met. Whether a young, first-generation dairyman or woman, or someone with the drive to carry on their family’s century farm through the niche of on-farm processing, the opportunities available to the people who have a desire to milk cows is limitless.
The industry has evolved to meet consumers’ demand for dairy products both in the United States and for our international marketplaces. With this growth, more individuals than ever before are involved in the food supply chain – from farm workers, processing plant employees, distributors and everyone in between.
As diverse and progressive as the industry as a whole is, I urge you to think of our missed opportunities, specifically with the people who are arguably the unsung heroes of our community. How can we be more inclusive and accepting of their cultures, their goals and the value they bring to each aspect of getting dairy products on the dinner plates of American families?
This spring, AgriSafe Network released a report from a think tank project that took place in November 2020. The objective of the virtual workshop was to recognize racism as a public health crisis and explore the impacts of racism on the agricultural workforce all in an effort to develop emerging themes for the network to address in various capacities moving forward.
The network is a non-profit organization based in Iowa that represents health professionals and educators who strive to reduce health disparities in the agriculture community.
Think tank participants were asked to identify themselves by gender, race and ethnicity, as well as a home state to which they were registered for the interactive webinar. Of the 334 participants nationwide, more than 70 were from Minnesota. Of those who responded, 52% identified as female, 18% as male and 85 identified as Caucasian or white.
Throughout the think tank, participants were asked a series of questions. Those included questions such as: What are barriers to racial equality and accepted diversity in agriculture? What future training or webinars regarding diversity and racism would be helpful for your work in agriculture? How can residents and small business owners in rural communities make an impact and address this issue?
Without delving into the entirety of the responses, I want to point out a few pieces of input that stuck with me in reviewing the report.
Of the questions listed above, participants thought there is ineffective communication, inequality by social determinants (such as housing, education, where you live) and cultural biases that lead to barriers. They too thought these barriers could be addressed by communicating and listening with the minority communities, celebrating and valuing cultural differences, and workplace promotion of diversity hiring with equal pay structures.
It may also be important to note that participants could share challenges they have experienced as Black, Indigenous or persons of color, or observed in minority populations. Those responses sent a message that whether by purpose or not, the minority groups that make up the agriculture industry feel undervalued in the way they are treated, spoken to and the responsibilities they possess.
Following the think tank, AgriSafe committed to address these issues through a series of webinars on cultural competence, the historical context of racism in agriculture, populations at risk, and the mental health and impact of economic racism. These webinars have yet to be scheduled.
Given this small amount of feedback from a critical population in the agriculture industry, how can we help address the disparities at a farm level?
Without much thought to that question, I can think of many ways I have seen farmers and others in the dairy industry promote inclusivity. One farmer hosts an appreciation lunch once a month for their employees and family members; another brings their employees to educational events such as Central Plains Dairy Expo And, others have farmyard signs that read “You matter” and “Don’t give up” in their employees’ native tongue. In our first issue of the paper each month, Jorge Delgado, with Alltech, provides tips to communicate more fluidly with Spanish-speaking individuals.
Our industry is one to be proud of – proud of the products that are produced sustainably and efficiently, proud of the people who dedicate all their time and efforts to this livelihood, and proud of the opportunities dairy can provide for each searching for their American dream. Let’s be proud of even more, and make agriculture as inclusive as possible. There is more work to do outside of the barn.
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