José Garcia puts on and takes off many hats during the average week, owing to the extension, teaching, and research dimensions of his work as Extension Assistant Professor in Rural Sociology. For instance, as Coordinator of the Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program at MU (CFSSA), Garcia spends most of his time doing outreach with rural communities throughout the state. A common misunderstanding some people have about the term “sustainable agriculture” is that it rejects technology, harkening back to an earlier time when people worked mainly with their hands. Quite the contrary, Garcia clarifies: sustainable agriculture uses the most recent technology in its approach to farming (and to food itself), in which economic viability and environmental impact, along with social responsibility, are at the center of every decision. In relation to this last dimension, approaches to sustainable agriculture ask such questions as the following: “How socially responsible are farmers? What is the impact of their operations on communities, families, and workers? And how connected to the community are they? ” Garcia explains the complexity of the situation: “All of those kinds of things need to be taken into consideration when making decisions because food and agriculture are totally connected to people, to communities, and to laborers.” Thus Garcia provides information and training to people about various aspects of agriculture – whether that involves farms, factories, schools, or other community organizations. He hopes to see a ripple effect, with the information he gives to various community educators in Missouri being spread throughout the state.
Garcia describes a few projects within the realm of sustainable agriculture. For example, Garcia trains extension educators on various sustainability issues. The educators may then go back to their communities and work directly with farmers and workers, “so that those farmers are more exposed to sustainable agriculture issues, including, for example, sustainable agriculture practices, natural resources, conservation issues, and funding opportunities for sustainable agriculture projects for their farms.” Garcia works as well with MU’s community of students, staff, and faculty, offering a monthly seminar called, “What’s New in Sustainable Food and Farming.”
While he sometimes presents workshops directly to Latino farmers and agricultural workers, often Garcia targets employers of food and agricultural workers. He provides them with information about legal issues, communication, and culture necessary in order to hire and retain Latino agricultural workers.