Early on a Saturday in rural Maryland, about 200 high school and college students, largely from urban Baltimore and Washington, D.C., gathered to learn about careers in agriculture. Many have little or no connection to farming themselves.

“My closest relation to agriculture is that my great-grandfather raised hogs,” says Tyler Reid, an agriculture major at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), a historically Black land grant university located in the heart of rural Maryland’s agricultural region. Now, she’s planning a career in agriculture—and she says getting exposure to the industry, and to industry leaders of color, was critical to her decision. It was events like this one, where a group made up mostly of city kids hear from professionals representing the private and public sectors, that helped her find her path.

Karl Binns, the president of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS), says that face-to-face time is key for the nonprofit organization, which promotes academic and professional advancement of people of color. “We see a massive transformation when we can get those students in front of people of color who are in the industry.” As a result, more students realize opportunities to both get help paying for college and starting a career.

Despite their interest in agriculture, the student leaders of UMES’s MANRRS chapter who hosted the workshop overwhelmingly say careers in farming aren’t part of their plan. Instead, they want to work in science, research, and outreach.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a farmer,” Reid says. “That’s just not what we want.” Though these students are interested in growing their own food, working in traditional ag production doesn’t appeal to them. (MANRRS may be well-suited to non-production ag jobs; the group’s board of advisors includes a number of representatives from large agribusiness and food-science companies, including BASF, Cargill, Corteva, and others.)

While MANRRS is working to diversify the agriculture workforce, whether in food production or elsewhere, while some farmers of color and farm networks are helping more people of color earn a living from the land. But throughout the agriculture system, efforts to increase diversity face a number of systemic, geographic, and demographic challenges.

Read the full article about rural students of color by Sarah Mock at Civil Eats.