By LaKeshia Myers
Wisconsin farmers have been in the news recently. While recent publications have focused on explaining the hardships and losses in the field, little has been written to underscore the lack of diversity that exists in agriculture. Of the two million farms in the United States, nearly ninety-eight percent are operated by families – individuals, family partnerships or family corporations. Of this population, African-American farmers make up less than two percent of all farmers in the nation. Meanwhile the number of farm operators of Hispanic or Latino origin is roughly thirteen percent (112,000).
While serving on the Assembly Committee on Agriculture, it has occurred to me that agriculture and all of its components are ties that bind our state together. While the rural populace of our state continues to decline, population growth, especially that of ethnic minorities, in our cities should be something our farmers capitalize on. Farms need workers and cities need jobs. This should be a match made in heaven.
In speaking with agricultural advocacy groups and employment agencies, I notice that lack of education exists on both fronts.
From the urban perspective, the general public is undereducated about the role agriculture plays in their daily lives. Aside from going to the grocery store to shop, there is little understanding of how food gets from the farm to the kitchen table. There is not enough understanding about the field of agriculture itself; agriculture is much more than “Old MacDonald had a farm”. Professions such as food inspection, agricultural economics, forestry, aquaponic engineering, park ranger, and environmental conservators exist in the continuum of agriculture to ensure the food we consume is as safe as possible.
From the farm perspective, some see farming as a “city folk vs. country folk” conversation. But this mindset has slowly begun to change. There are greater opportunities for rural farmers to find workers in the city centers of our state. The distribution possibilities are endless. By outsourcing production of goods to cities, farmers win because their product is moving and cities win with job creation. Both entities could also benefit from economic savings such as Tax Incremental Financing that is often available in cities.
As we move into the future, agriculture is imperative to the success of job creation and diversity in the agricultural workforce is certain to provide sustainable outcomes for all of Wisconsin.