Diversity, Racism and Inclusion in the Agriculture Sector

Farming in Orkney, Scotland and across the UK is about to undergo huge changes. The exit from the EU, the potential trade deals with countries like the USA, that will threaten our food standards and the effects of climate change. The Orkney News has covered the Agricultural Bill and as of the date of this article, now at the committee stage in the House of Commons: Link – Are Our Food Standards and Farming Industry Under Threat of a ‘Stack it high, Sell it low’ Mindset ?

Agriculture is a devolved issue but the Bill when enacted will affect the farming and crofting sectors in Scotland.

The sector is also looking itself at how it can adapt to the many changes and challenges coming its way.

These changes include personal attitudes and biases held within the farming community.   A conference held before the lockdown restrictions examined how farming and rural communities could engage more with diversity.

This was discussed at a joint Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) fringe event organised by The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission and AgRespect.

To support the need for rural diversity, the OFC is launching the session online, as part of its #OFCbitesize series.

Six speakers tell their own personal stories about diversity and acceptance.

Matt Naylor, the 2020 OFC Chairman, and founder of the Agrespect network, said that the OFC has a reputation for being middle-aged, grey and ‘gammon’, but that this fringe session demonstrated how far from reality this perception is today.

He emphasised the importance of the conversations the fringe encouraged, to ensure that rural communities become more tolerant and accepting of any differences.

Matthew Naylor, OFC Chairman 2020 speaking at the conference in January

Matthew Naylor, OFC Chairman 2020 speaking at the conference in January

Matt said:

“Since I first joined the board of the OFC, I really wanted to start a conversation about how diversity is a positive thing. The best way to solve a problem is to look at it from as many perspectives as possible so we have tried hard to get representation from a lot of talented people who don’t fit the traditional mould of those in the farming industry.

“Many people feel you have to conform to a stereotype in order to fit into agriculture, this really isn’t true. I realised from my own experience that feeling able to be completely open about my sexuality has meant that I can contribute to the industry more authentically and to better effect. This was one of the main drivers for Agrespect, we wanted to show that agriculture can be a rewarding and welcoming career for everyone.”

Sue Prichard, Director of the RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, added:

“A divided and polarised society is getting in the way of tackling the critical issues in front of us – from the climate and nature crises to increasing mental and physical ill-health in communities.

“But we’re all at risk of feeling disconnected, whether through things like race or sexuality, or through feeling that you simply don’t ‘belong’ anymore…challenging prejudices, breaking down barriers, restoring empathy and compassion, these things matter now more than ever, and our speakers today have all shown how they are bringing the kind of leadership we need.

“Will Evans’s brilliant Rock & Roll Farming Podcast, Navaratnam Partheeban’s ground-breaking work with the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society, the fabulous ‘She Who Dares Farms’ campaign – and simply telling our own stories with honesty and courage. It was so encouraging to hear delegates wanting to build on the inspirational work we have heard from the speakers – to speed up progress and spread it across the farming and rural sectors.”

Lydia Slack, an upland farmer’s daughter, gave a raw insight into her story.

“I knew that I liked girls when I was 10 years old, but couldn’t imagine any way that I could live the life that I knew I wanted.”

She described how she had considered marrying a man, having children and ignoring him as well as committing suicide. Eventually, she told her Mum that she was gay, and is now engaged to her fiancé, Amelia; the couple now live on Lydia’s family farm and, together, they plan to take on a farm tenancy.

“Thinking back to when I was 10 years old, I could never have dreamed that I would be living the life that I am, and I owe a great debt of gratitude to Agrespect.

Bryony Gittins, a farmer from Wales spoke about being a woman farmer, she said:

“I was so excited and delighted to have been on the opening panel at the Oxford Farming Conference, discussing important matters that affect us all.

“Knowing we are not alone, having strong role models, staying positive and making sure we keep smiling. Put these in your tool box and go do what you love. I love being a Farmer, and I am proud to be a female one.”

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