Photo: Alec Jacobson

A boy holds a pepper in a field surrounded by other people.
Photo: Alec Jacobson


Building a diverse workforce for innovation needed to feed the world

By Coleman Cornelius | Jan. 3, 2022


An industry that feeds 7.9 billion people in the world today – and anticipates feeding 9.7 billion by 2050 – needs all the sharp thinking and game-changing innovation it can find.

That is the foundational concept of Together We Grow, a think tank that draws together some of the world’s largest food and agriculture companies, as well as universities, government agencies, and nonprofits concerned with agriculture and education.

Together We Grow is a high-impact consortium hosted by the Colorado State University System and based at the new CSU Spur campus. Its goal is to help build a more skilled and diverse workforce for U.S. food and agriculture.

“We are focused on diversity because the research is very clear that more diverse teams outperform homogenous teams. That’s true for boards, that’s true for leadership teams, that’s true for R&D teams, it’s true for all working groups,” Kristin Kirkpatrick, executive director of Together We Grow, said. “Diverse teams are more innovative and generate more solutions to any given problem. When we’re looking at the challenges we face in feeding the world, we really need that level of innovation.”

That need is especially pointed in the face of climate change and limitations on key resources, notably water and arable land. Moreover, agricultural companies, both large and small, operate in a highly competitive, global marketplace; that demands an increasing level of cultural competence, which is directly linked to workforce diversity, equity, and inclusion, Kirkpatrick said.

Together We Grow arose from conversations involving U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa and former president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. He served as an adviser to the CSU System on food and water initiatives before joining the Biden administration last year.

The consortium’s members are among the world’s biggest food and agriculture corporations, including ADM, Cargill, JBS USA, Nutrien, and Tyson Foods. Its membership also includes about 20 colleges and universities across the country, as well as government agencies and nonprofits, including FFA and the National 4-H Council.

With representatives of these member organizations, Together We Grow seeks to identify and share best practices in employee recruitment, hiring, training, and other business concerns. It also sponsors research and invests in pilot programs that promise to help build an increasingly diverse workforce. That starts with exposing K-12 students to professional opportunities in food and agriculture – a key goal of the new CSU Spur campus.

“The reach we have in our industry is so broad, and we can’t solve any of our big global challenges without involving food and agriculture,” Kirkpatrick said. “Food is a common language and a place where we do all come together.”


They embody the scientific and technical knowledge, creative thinking, hard work, and dedication needed to feed the world.