The future of agriculture can’t be imagined by a panel of white men

When I was in college, I had an opportunity to spend a week in Louisville working in the newsroom at the FFA National Convention. It was thrilling. It had the hustle and bustle of a press room covering an event with 60,000 attendees. I had a badge. I got to meet and interview some super cool people. I had a first-row seat to the inter-workings of an organization I literally grew up in – a massive youth organization that prepares future leaders in science and agriculture.

My excitement of the week hit a roadblock on the final day, when I had to help report on the newly elected national officer team: Six white men.

*****

A few years later I found myself at a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine workshop on “Creating the Future Workforce in Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources.” I was one of very few women in attendance – and I was by far the youngest. In fact, I found myself sitting next to then- CEO of the FFA Organization Dwight Armstrong at lunch, and actually brought up my observations about the ironies that so few members of the “future workforce” were actually invited to a workshop on our future. I was a bit disgruntled that he had not recognized this himself; he showed little sympathy with my frustration.

*****

I highlight these two experiences (of many) I’ve had in spaces explicitly designed to imagine and prepare for agriculture’s future — yet which remain uncommitted to accepting that if young people, women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups of people are an important part of that future, we need a seat at the table today.

For many in agriculture, this sexism and racism is a daily occurrence. If you don’t believe me, just spend a few minutes on Ag Twitter.

 
Earlier this week when January’s Land Investment Expo speaker lineup was announced, my exhausted 2019-is-finally-ending brain melted:

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It’s absolutely critical to step back and understand how yet another exclusively white male agriculture conference is possibly happening in 2020.

The conference website notes that this “Expo grew into one of the nation’s premier forums focused on the future of agriculture.”

BUT GUESS WHAT?

Women & people of color aren’t going to magically appear as equal players in the idealistic agriculture future this conference seeks out to collectively imagine.

The agricultural technologies that many of the keynote speakers will undoubtedly passively advocate on behalf of cannot possibly have a role in a more sustainable (in all forms of the word) and socially just future without the inclusion of more voices TODAY. Now. Like yesterday.

There’s literally no role for a “futurist” in this conversation until this problematic history and status quo of privilege and power in agriculture and land conversations gets recognized.

John Coupland is over here inventing words and I am here for it:

 

BUT ALSO this take by an employee of the conference host, which would make for hilarious satire if not written with such conviction — IS NOT IT:

 

But wait, there’s more! This, from the President of the hosting organization: 

 

I’m lucky my work is on the periphery of this industry, so I have a bit of protection and insulation. This privileges me to step out of the conversation over bias and harassment in agriculture when I don’t have the mental energy to deal with it. That privilege is why I’m here and angry and calling this nonsense out.

Cheers to 2020? Let’s do better.

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