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.
Most of Jose Garcia’s work involves doing outreach and teaching about sustainable agriculture to various groups of people, from farmers in rural Missouri communities to students, faculty, and staff at MU. There are three dimensions emphasized by use of the term “sustainable agriculture” explains Garcia. “Because food and agriculture are totally connected to people and to communities and to laborers,” sustainable agriculture refers to an approach to farming and food, in which economic viability, environmental impact, and social responsibility are considered in any decision.
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.”
In addition to teaching farmers and extension educators, Garcia teaches a class at MU in sustainable agriculture, part of the undergraduate major in sustainable agriculture that began last fall.
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.
Garcia and his colleagues across the state rely on “virtual meetings” over the Internet with extension agriculturalists to touch base about certain issues related to sustainable agriculture.
As the Missouri Coordinator for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (SARE), Garcia tries to “keep the discussion on the table that Latino farmers (and other minority farmers) need to be more exposed to sustainable agriculture,” and he helps people better understand the need to reach out to those audiences. Garcia also serves on the steering committee for the National Immigrant Farming Initiative, a network of organizations across the country working with immigrant and refugee farmers (in Missouri that means Latino and Hmong workers).
“I do these things not because it’s only part of my job responsibility, but because I believe in the things that I’m doing….I don’t think that industrial agriculture is that sustainable. …I think we need to give a long-term perspective to the things we do, and sustainable agriculture has that long-term approach. It’s about future generations. It’s actually leaving our kids and our kids’ children the same opportunities, the same natural resources and the same access to services that we enjoy now.”