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Ontario farmers take huge step towards social justice

They say that culture eats strategy for breakfast. But lately, Ontario farmers got both right.

Within days of each other, Ontario Beef and the Grain Farmers of Ontario issued strategic statements committing their organizations to a new culture of diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI).

Beef farmers were first.

“The Ontario beef industry is an ally against discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and ability (visible and invisible), as well as linguistic discrimination,” says their statement. “We recognize that we are not always a diverse industry, but we believe in fighting racism and discrimination in all its forms.”

The grain farmers followed suit shortly after.

“Diverse life experiences, backgrounds and ideas at the table make organizations stronger, and finding ways to make the inclusion of everyone systemic will benefit every organization regardless of industry. We all have a role to play when it comes to inclusion and working to end discrimination within the industry.”Grain farmers finished by praising the beef farmers for being the first to step forward.

Congratulations to them both. Besides being good for the organizations, making them take a look at themselves in a new and different way, it’s important for business.

A DEI proclamation is required by some business partners and expected by others. Consumers are moving quickly on this front. Cattle producer Joe Dickenson of Petrolia, the point person for beef farmers for this endeavour, says the beef sector needs to be more sensitive to them.

In Ontario, such a diverse province, beef consumers come from many different ethnicities and interests. If you want to serve them, you’d better understand them and support them.

“Our consumers don’t necessarily look like us,” says Dickenson, “and I think we have to better connect with them.”

Further, he notes, white people like him are a majority when it comes to farming and beef production, but not in processing. Ontarians avoid dirty, tough manual labour, which often falls to new immigrants and temporary international farm workers.

Predominantly white management overseeing predominantly non-white workers is a scene from days gone by, not from 2021. And definitely not from the future. Any sector seen to be locked in the past is unlikely to develop a social contract with is customers.

The same goes for the grain industry, which is gaining ground with people gravitating towards plant-based proteins. It’s the right time for grain farmers to take a DEI position, as beef did.

As Dickenson points out, there’s no hiding the fact that appearance-wise or culturally, farmers are fairly homogeneous. They come from limited ethnicities.    

“The [DEI] policy is an acknowledgement from the Beef Farmers of Ontario that, for the most part, the organization is primarily white and male, but that consumers and many in the processing industry are a lot more diverse in gender, cultural background, and more,” he says. “If we restrict ourselves to the same look that we’ve had for the past number of decades, we’re probably not going to be moving forward for much longer.We have to be able to bring in the best from any walk of life, from any background, and see how we can use their energy and their excitement, their experience to make this industry even better than it is now.”

So well put.

The beef farmers’ proclamation ignited social media. One user urged others to follow the beef farmers’ lead.

That will surely come. Really, it must.

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