On Feb. 10, 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture officially announced members of the Equity Commission and Subcommittee on Agriculture. This is just one of the many actions the USDA plans on enacting as a result of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, an act meant to support Americans across the country in the wake of COVID-19 and among the systemic social injustice our country has seen over the centuries.
While attending the 2022 California FFA State Leadership Conference in March, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross, gushed over California’s plan to enact diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives within the department and those who are impacted by the CDFA. During the conference, she shared that the department began a DEI Committee in January 2021 to work on advancing racial equity and lifting the voices of marginalized people from across the state within the department and out in the industry.
Ross acknowledged California can do better to meet every consumer and producer’s needs, while also meeting them where they are culturally and equitably.
Even though California’s efforts began a little more than a year prior to the federal government’s enactment of the committee, both are aligned in hopes of fostering an inclusive and diverse agriculture industry. (To read more in depth of California’s Farmer Equity Act and equity initiatives, visit this link).
The federal actions of the USDA and those of the CDFA have acted as a model for many state departments of agriculture. As a result, many state departments have enacted their own strategic plans and actions toward a more socially equitable state department of agriculture for themselves, producers and agriculturalists, and the communities fed within their state.
Of the 50 state departments of agriculture, less than a third of state departments of agriculture have or have had initiatives. Of those that have attempted to begin DEI initiatives, many have approached an internal committee for direction on whether or not to enact a DEI committee or equity committee, to then dissipate and have no trace of action put toward the cause again.
While other states have had more success and longevity in this march toward an equitable agriculture industry within their state. State such as Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, and Missouri have current establishments or already sprouted fruits of labor from equity committees, grants, and policy changes to progress toward inclusivity of all; Commissioner Nicole Fried of Florida’s Agriculture and Consumer Services writing in a statement, “Our citizens expect, our laws require, and our values demand that everyone will be treated equally when doing business with the State of Florida … let our actions today be part of the continued march towards progress.”
When researching the term “equity,” “DEI,” and/or “diversity” within the departments of agriculture of all 50 states, there was a common term that arose before any mention of cultural and identity equity. It was the idea of “weights and measures.”
The Texas Department of Agriculture defines “weights and measures” as a way to protect consumers and businesses by ensuring that equity prevails in all commercial transactions involving determination of quantity. But what about when it comes to racial and social identity?
In basic terms, most departments of agriculture have a program or department whose job is to enforce regulations of weight and measurement devices and quantity control per price point in order to ensure we all have an equal opportunity in the free market to buy, sell, and trade. No one can mark up the price of one item egregiously, if that is truly not what the commodity is worth.
While considering the equity of the free market to ensure fair transactions for folks who buy, sell, and trade their goods, we must also consider racial and social equity as a hindrance to fair treatment of all in the free market as well.
There is more work to be done to ensure that each state and state department of agriculture is providing an equitable free market to buy and sell produce, but also an equitable free market for the folks who buy and sell produce who were once excluded or seen as less than equal in our country to have some skin in the game — a seat at the table.
There are state departments who see this and are making efforts within their DEI committees to ensure spaces like these are created, because they are necessary. But for those who haven’t, or have let their ideas dissipate-when will we rise up and mitigate these challenges? What is stopping us, and how can we get those folks who may be challenging the cause on our team; to see the change that is necessary?
When will we talk and walk the walk, offering truly equitable spaces for all producers and agriculturalists state department and state wide for the sustainable future of our country?
Bre Holbert is a past National FFA President and studies agriculture science and education at California State-Chico. “Two ears to listen is better than one mouth to speak. Two ears allow us to affirm more people, rather than letting our mouth loose to damage people’s story by speaking on behalf of others.”