When asked why the Beef Farmers of Ontario (BFO) recently announced a policy to focus on inclusion within the beef value chain, Joe Dickenson says it should have been done years ago.
Dickenson is a beef producer from near Oil Springs, Ont., and a feedlot director for BFO. He’s also been instrumental in moving this policy forward within the organization.
Described as a work in progress, Dickenson says that the policy is an acknowledgement from BFO 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.
The policy (you can read it here) commits the organization to not just a statement, but to action. Dickenson sees the year ahead as a time for putting thought into how the commitment to diversity becomes real, whether through guest speakers, webinars, committees, or other means.
“I think the best first step would be increased conversation with communities that aren’t necessarily involved when we’re talking about beef farming: women, people of colour, different ethnicities, different religions, that sort of stuff; and better engagement with our consumers. Our consumers don’t necessarily look like us, and I think we have to better connect with them. So the first move would be just seeing more communication between the consumers and between us as a whole. And by us, I mean the industry itself, not just necessarily BFO.”
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A collaborative effort, Dickenson says the policy was written in concert with Jordan Miller and Craig McLaughlin from the board, with support from staff members Jen Kyle and Katherine Fox.
Overall, the board and industry have been supportive, but Dickenson knows there is pushback out there.
“The fact of the matter is that there are people out there who don’t see the need for doing this, or they may have an issue with one or two of the groups that we’ve identified as being marginalized, and that’s really unfortunate. We as BFO need to look out for our members, and our members do include people from every different group out there; we probably don’t see much diversity in ethnicity, but we do have some members that are people who are non-white, and there’s a couple who are of very high esteem within the industry, and we want to make sure that they feel comfortable,” he says.
Change is constant, and the face of agriculture is changing. “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,” Dickenson says.