How Farmers Learned About Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion from their Tractors

Art by Grant Haffner via Tax Collection

It’s easy for people living in rural areas to claim that urban issues don’t affect them. But when multiple harrowing events happened throughout 2020 including the murder of George Floyd, the board of the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) realized that this wasn’t an urban vs rural problem. Instead, the board — all local beef farmers across Ontario — saw an opportunity to learn about people and communities they don’t often get the chance to know locally. To build a solid learning foundation, the BFO chose to work with Bloom to deliver our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) signature learning experience.

Jennifer Kyle, the Manager of Public Engagement and Digital Strategy at BFO, explained why the organization chose to work with Bloom and how the DEI experience left a lasting positive impact on the organization and the participating farmers throughout Ontario.

Starting from square one

After the murder of George Floyd and the multiple other tragedies of 2020, board directors of the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) noted the absence of a voice from the Canadian agricultural community speaking up on what would likely become the defining social issues for the year.

“It’s easy to put your head in the sand and say urban issues don’t affect us in rural areas,” said Jennifer. “But this was our board’s way of saying these issues matter and we need to stand with communities that may not have the same experiences we do.”

After the board resolved to do something, a glaring concern came up: the BFO members didn’t have a foundational knowledge of DEI concepts, and the board didn’t want to create something haphazardly. In response, the board developed a values statement but also realized they needed an external third party to help them build a learning foundation.

“We felt it was hard for us to come up with a tangible work plan without first having a solid understanding of DEI concepts,” said Jennifer. “We were starting from square one on a lot of topics and wanted to learn so we could feel confident in making action plans.”

Why BFO chose Bloom

Jennifer was tasked with finding a high-quality training program for the BFO. Recognizing the concept of DEI would be very new to most participants, she looked for a comprehensive learning experience that started at the very beginning..

Bloom initially came as a recommendation, but Jennifer and the team ultimately chose Bloom for a few key reasons:

1. Comprehensive DEI experience: When discussing the DEI learning experience curriculum, Jennifer liked that Bloom’s team has in-depth education on DEI topics versus being a top-up offering on a generic consulting service.

2. Willingness to be a strategic partner: Jennifer liked that Bloom took time to understand their needs and plans, then offered a roadmap of how education would tie into them being empowered to create tangible work plans.

3. Custom-built programs: The DEI learning experience curriculum is standardized, but the Bloom team built a custom plan that would resonate with the BFO board and staff and their experiences, as well as offer the opportunity to open up the learning experience to other beef farmer members and agriculture industry partners.

“We were initially a bit hesitant because it was a big-time commitment during one of the busiest farming seasons,” said Jennifer. “But, ultimately, we understood this is not something you can learn in 1–2 hours, so Bloom helped us structure the program so everyone could join in a way that was convenient for them.”

Learning about DEI from a tractor

Bloom facilitated a seven-week DEI learning experience for BFO:

  • Two foundational sessions teaching DEI vernacular and terminology.
  • Three sessions explaining anti-racism and becoming actively anti-racist.
  • Two sessions on restorative healing and helping people digest the learnings.

This learning experience took place from May to July 2021, right in the middle of many farmers’ busiest seasons. The team was concerned participation might be low or would wane as fieldwork needed to be done. However, virtually everyone who attended the first session continued to attend every session in the workshop.

“We even had farmers calling into sessions on the phone while they were driving their tractor and planting crops or making hay,” said Jennifer. “They were engaged and curious enough to do the learning from wherever they happened to be.”

The other unique element of the BFO learning experience is they invited other industry partners — The Ontario Federation of Agriculture, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, and Ontario Sheep Farmers — to attend the DEI sessions. Each organization took them up on their offer and sent representatives.

“Other associations joining in confirmed to us that we weren’t the only ones who felt this learning was important,” said Jennifer. “It was great to see the community being open to it.”

For Jennifer, the best part of the program was getting feedback from farmers. She said the farming community tends to be quite conservative and the team expected they might receive some pushback, but ultimately, people were quite open to learning and said they enjoyed the experience.

“We had some people express concerns at the start who then followed up saying they really enjoyed the sessions,” said Jennifer. “It was great to see that, while they had initial reservations, they still participated with an open mind and took the time to engage, ask questions and learn.”

Getting ready to take action

Now that the sessions are over, the BFO board is feeling far more confident in their foundational knowledge. Not only are they happy with their own learning, but they are also encouraged by how many farmers showed up to learn.

What’s next? The BFO board has established a permanent DEI committee to plan and monitor their initiatives and key metrics going forward. Oh, hey sustained action! In the meantime though, Jennifer said that a lot of conversations are continuing as people explore the knowledge they’ve gained from the learning experience. Discussion about DEI will be on every board meeting agenda going forward (we love to see it!).

“Big kudos and thank yous to the Bloom team,” said Jennifer. “They made the experience fit what we needed and it was great. We learned a lot and are looking forward to putting those learnings into action.”

One more thingAt Bloom, we help growing organizations build better workplaces. We help the world’s best companies build successful teams. We can connect you with the industry’s best talent, develop equitable hiring systems and design inclusive recruiting practices so people can bring their authentic selves to your workplace. From building a magnetic talent strategy, facilitating Diversity, Equity and Inclusion learning experiences, to making your first hire, we build through the lens of inclusion. If you are interested in learning more about our Signature Diversity Equity and Inclusion learning experiences, we should chat! You can learn more about our programs here and book a time to chat with our Founder, Avery Francis, here.

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