Name: Mark Stewart
Title: President & CEO, Agriculture Future of America
What is your background and how did you find your way into the ag industry?
I didn’t grow up directly tied to agriculture — I’m a generation removed. My parents had a small farm in northwest Missouri but I was the youngest in the family and don’t remember it. They sold it when I was young and I was born and raised in Springfield, Mo. – a city boy!
Why is diversity important to you and your organization?
The way I was raised and the influences in my life have all pointed to being respectful of other people and to be open to different perspectives. I played college athletics and was part of the building of a football dynasty at our university. As I reflect on that experience, it was done by bringing great people from all backgrounds, belongings, and upbringings together for a common goal, and we were all treated with the same respect and dignity by our coaches. That atmosphere is the epitome of what we should all desire to be a part of in life — whether at work, with family or friends. I’ve personally carried this perspective into the workplace and am in a position, I hope, to create the same environment that allowed me and my teammates to thrive. And we strive to be an example for the young leaders we serve as well. It’s cyclical, it’s about a better tomorrow, and we all deserve to be happy.
What current diversity initiatives do you have planned or ongoing?
We kick started a pretty significant change within Agriculture Future of America in the fall of 2017. We were incorporating more learning experiences on diversity, valuing different perspectives, etc. into our collegiate programming, were growing and diversifying our leadership, and through a series of circumstances it became apparent we had a lot of growing to do as an organization. We’ve been heavily committed to learning, growing, improving, and preparing the leadership of our organization to embrace this change with us. We’ve implemented new programming this year to facilitate uncomfortable conversations for college students. This includes some education, but mostly allowing space for conversation on sensitive topics while providing resources for them to call upon. We will be expanding this work in addition to providing more space for the young professionals we serve to do the same. While we do this, we’re undergoing an audit of ourselves again and evaluation of what more we can do in this space for the young people and industry partners we serve.
In your opinion, what is the most exciting thing happening in the industry currently?
There is a heightened awareness of the need to grow and change than ever before. Additionally, I believe there is a true desire to do and be better like never before.
What is your vision for the future of agriculture?
My vision for the future of agriculture is it being the most appealing industry for young people to aspire to work in. For kids growing up in the 80s, many wanted to be astronauts and work for NASA. How do we make agriculture the new NASA, where kids truly want to work in this industry and see it for all the excitement it holds? If we create that excitement, diversity will come by nature of our population. With well prepared employers, workplaces will embrace diversity even more, and we truly will be prepared to feed billions because we’ll have the talent to take the challenge on like never before.
Is there anything else you would like people to know about your organization or the agricultural industry?
For the next generation coming up that truly do care about doing good, working to make the world a better place instead of just to making money, and having a great appreciation for the environment, there’s no better industry to fulfill your passions than in agriculture!
About Together We Grow
Together We Grow is an agribusiness consortium with members that include major agricultural commodities companies, educational institutions, government agencies, and others committed to improving and expanding diversity in agribusiness. The consortium sponsors research and provides a platform to share best practices for building future workforce capacity; it will have its permanent home at the Spur Hydro building. For more information, visit twg.csusystem.edu.
About Spur: CSU System at the National Western Center
Coming in 2022: CSU System will open Spur, where innovative ideas and unforgettable experiences come to life at the National Western Center. Spur’s three buildings at the center of the landmark project in north Denver will ignite and fuel new ideas around water, food, and health and their impact on our lives and our world. Spur is where learning is open and accessible to all. Where researchers tackle the world’s most pressing problems around water, food, and health. Where art and culture challenge and surround you. Where rural and urban, local and global intersect. Learn more at csuspur.org.