Think about all the things that change in life. School, family situations, class schedules, careers, the cities where we live. One community that stereotypically is more reluctant to change, is farming and the agricultural community.
The Fargo Moorhead area is experiencing an influx and change to its population group. People are re-locating from all over the county, and even the world to this area. Professionals from large cities such as New York, LA, Dallas, and more, are relocating to the FM area for the professional opportunities and companies. However, along with this influx of professionals, comes a wave of New Americans.
During a recent interview with Dr. Charles Stoltenow, the director for Agriculture and Natural Resources for NDSU Extension Service, he discussed this as a growth opportunity, as long as farmers could have an open perspective. “In North Dakota, Minnesota we always feel of ourselves as engaging and friendly. Sometimes in small communities we’re not that welcoming. We need to broaden our horizons on ethnicity and other cultures.” Stoltenow said.
As of 2015, Fargo, North Dakota is 84.2% Caucasian. This is followed with the next ethnicity of African American as only 5.7%. Follow by Hispanics at 3.4%, and lastly Asians as 3.2% of the population. North Dakota and its residents have heavy roots in agriculture, and most North Dakota natives have some experience or connection to agriculture. What do these statistics mean for North Dakota agriculturalists? It means that while most of the area fits into the “classic” stereotype of what a farmer or agriculturalist should be and look like, there is still an opportunity to change it up.
The average age of farmers is steadily increasing, with some farm children not coming back to take over the family farm, and the age of retirement being pushed back farther and farther. There is another wave of immigrants coming in, which is such an opportunity to have help on the farms, and to share our love of agriculture and farms with different culture groups and ethnicities. Some farms simply do not have anyone left willing to take it over. Farm hands a great way to get experience if there is not family farm to work at, but can seem to be a drag on the workers if there is no foreseeable future available as partners or potential ownership. “Operations are getting bigger and bigger and families are getting smaller and smaller. We need to be thinking broader.” Stoltenow said.
“Working as a veterinarian, the Hispanic culture loves animals and they’re great at working with them. We need to expand our view at who will be caring for them, and the best don’t look like us.” Stoltenow said. More and more industrialized farms and cattle operations are hiring these workers of different ethnicities, and seeing a benefit in their operations. Riverview Dairy looks to hire bi-lingual workers, and have programs to combine their workers together to teach the English speakers Spanish and the Spanish speakers English.
While having a large influx of different cultures and people groups trying to meld together will most likely have some kind of negative results mixed in, the Fargo-Moorhead area has many opportunities and reasons to relocate. A vibrant and growing community couldn’t happen without an influx of new residents. Fargo has the largest 4-year university in the state, North Dakota State University, however it is not a college town. NDSU students only account for around 15,000 people. Fargo has numerous successful businesses, a thriving social scene, farmers markets and events in its downtown district, and big city feel in a state that has more cattle than people.
In addition to the things there are to do, the FM area also has benefits that are appealing to many people groups. Fargo has an un-employment rate of only 1.9% (September 2015), closely under the state un-employment rate of 2.2%. Low crime rate, great schools and family programs, phenomenal opportunities, friendly residents, and horribly frigid winters.
Agriculture in North Dakota is varied anywhere from small grains operations, sugar beets, soybeans, beef cattle, and even sheep, hogs, and chicken farms. Throw some of North Dakota’s specialty crops such as canola and sunflowers and you have nearly every crop needed grown in one place. Something else that makes North Dakota agriculture special besides the diversity in its crops, it its strong family values and heritage.
NDSU Extension runs a sizable amount of the educational programs to the rural and urban areas of North Dakota. A change we could happen is the way those programs were run to include other ethnic groups. Stoltenow shared an example about one of the largest programs in Extension, which is 4-H. Parents for the most part drop their children off at a community center, church, or school for the meetings, and come back to get them at the end.
Think about how foreign this would be for a different ethnic group, in a new country they are not used to or fully comfortable with. Most parents would not be comfortable dropping their child off to a “mysterious” meeting, with no exact idea of what will be covered. They would want to go with their child, check out the validity of the program, and make sure that their family member is in safe hands.
Quite a few 4-H parents in North Dakota have some experience with the program, or send their children with family friends and feel safe sending their children. Some reasons for the parents to go to meetings are to talk to the leader and volunteers, to see what it was about, and to feel more at ease. In Hispanic culture, for example, everything is more of a family activity due to their incredible family values. The concept of simply dropping one of their children off at a meeting could be seen as foreign, and even unsafe.
Making changes to the way 4-H meetings are run would be a change that could be done to include these different ethnic groups. Having family nights for new members and their families, having additional activities for siblings or cousins who are unable to be a 4-H member for various reasons. If more of the agriculture industry would be able to implement changes to become more welcoming to other ethnicities, just imagine the differences that could be made in just the FM area.
The agriculture community in the FM area has such an in-valuable opportunity to share and expand their livelihoods with differing cultures. “We in agriculture need to open our arms to those who aren’t like us in so many different ways” Stoltenow said. If the agriculture industry can make slight changes, they will be able to reach so many diverse people and welcome them into our region.