Female #FoodHeroes

Jean Lonie

Jean is the relationship manager for Nuffield International Farming Scholars. She works with farmers, ranchers, fishers, and agri-professionals around the world to encourage and support them as they use travel and research to grow as people and, ultimately, as leaders in agriculture.

 

How did you become involved with Nuffield?

The Nuffield Farming Scholars program dates back to just after WWII, when it was founded in the UK to encourage their farmers to travel the world to find best practices they could bring back to their farms and communities.

I am a 2018 Nuffield Scholar myself, and one of just four Nuffield Scholars to come from the United States. I first connected with the Nuffield program back in 2010 and was so inspired by what the group was doing in terms of capacity building for people in agriculture, I quit a wonderful job in the livestock industry to work at a fantastic university – Penn State – and earn a PhD in Agricultural and Extension Education. My research explored how Nuffield Scholars might contribute to public value.

Why do you love your job?

I love that through Nuffield, those involved not only get to travel the world to see new ideas and explore different cultures, but that there is an expectation within the Nuffield program that you share what you learn.

Being a Nuffield Scholar means you are part of an amazing network of curious thinkers who want to work with others to help shape what the future of agriculture looks like. We are all passionate about agriculture and our role in providing for a growing world population – but we also understand that agriculture contributes more than food. It is an economic driver, a workforce provider, and a critical anchor that stabilizes communities around the world.

My job is also a great reminder that it is the relationships in agriculture that matter – not just the production!

How did you get here?

Oddly enough, I grew up in the city of Philadelphia. My family wasn’t too familiar with agriculture, other than we had a great garden and some prize-winning dahlias. But I found my way to an agricultural high school in Philadelphia, and never looked back! I have been fortunate to work for some amazing agricultural organizations, including public and private sector experience. This was important to me, because I wanted to learn how to affect change and contribute to the agriculture industry through different channels. I also wanted to make sure that I had the opportunity to work directly with agricultural producers, because they truly are the backbone of our communities and of civilization.

Stumbling into agriculture as a teenager truly was life changing for me. No matter where I have been in the world, there is a sense of community within the agriculture industry that you don’t find anywhere else. The people are passionate, they are smart, and they are truly trying to do what is best for their fellow humans and our planet.

 

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Why is it important to engage youth in agriculture?

I’m a big supporter of youth in agriculture, and this was one of the reasons I became Director of Student Recruitment for the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. I loved working with young people and sharing the opportunities that the agriculture industry holds for their education and careers.

Less than 2% of the US population is actively engaged in production agriculture, yet the larger agricultural industry holds enormous education and career potential. Growing up in a city, it was important to me to find ways to share that with those who might not understand they are impacted by agriculture every day. And, to be honest, it’s never a bad day when you get to work with and support the men, women, and families who continue to find ways to produce the food, fiber, and fuel that sustains us all!

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

We need young women to come into agriculture and bring ideas about food production, sustainability, and community. We need you to be curious and excited and help us look forward as an industry so we can continue to strive to ensure that we are even more sustainable tomorrow than we are today!

So thank you to all the young women who want to contribute to sustainable food and farming! It has been incredible to see the growth of women in agriculture – even from the early days of my career to now.

  • Your path may not look like everyone else’s. My professional background is very varied and diverse, which may not make sense to everyone. But there were settings and experiences I wanted out of my career, because I believed they would make me better able to contribute to an industry I absolutely love! My path is my own, and it’s allowed me to grow both personally and professionally in ways that were important to me. Just remember that it is your path, and different isn’t bad.
  • When a door opens, walk through it. There are going to be moments in your life when an opportunity seems big and a bit scary. Remember that we grow the most when we’re out of our comfort zone and stretched!
    If you are interested in sustainable food and farming, find people locally to engage with or shadow. See if there are programs that you can attend or farms you can volunteer or work with. Reach out to professionals and ask them for advice and insight. It’s important to know that sometimes you can make opportunities happen simply by talking to people!
  • Nurture your passion. The beautiful thing about being in sustainable food and farming is that you will be surrounded by people who love what they do and why they do it; it’s both a profession and a passion. Find ways that you can become part of that network, so you can grow your technical knowledge, but also be inspired by the others who have insight and experience you may still be developing. If you can’t find a group, don’t be afraid to start one!
  • Explore. Be open to new (scientific) ideas and insight that can help you think about how to address the challenges of feeding a growing world and managing our limited resources. Challenge yourself to approach issues and opportunities from different perspectives, and to learn from those who see the world a little bit differently.

How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

One of the things that I admire about the people in agriculture around the world is that they are problem solvers. The evolution of agriculture is amazing, and it has allowed us to provide for a rapidly growing world. Yet we continue to struggle with the reality that there is a stunningly high number of people without access to food, and that some of the technology we could use to feed them is being restricted.

While we are more global than ever as a society, agriculture is still very local. Most people in developed countries are disconnected from farms and production agriculture, as are the lawmakers who are setting food and rural policies. And most consumers have very strong opinions about agriculture that are not rooted in facts.

Finding ways to help people understand the science, labor, and resources required to produce food is important to ensuring those in agriculture retain a social license to grow and manage their operations. While it is not realistic to think we can educate every consumer in the world, we can share our realities, passion and knowledge to help demystify the process of producing food.

It is vital that those of us in the industry lend our voices to discussions on food policy and using technology to feed the world. We must continue to advocate at all levels for policies and regulations that rely on science, are forward-looking, and take into account the complexities of producing food – and getting that food to consumers. It will take a myriad of production methods and practices to end hunger and ensure sustainable food production, which means it also requires a variety of stakeholders in these conversations and decisions.

 

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What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

This is a great time to be a woman in agriculture – there is huge growth in the number of women producers in the developed world, and in developing countries women and agriculture are critical parts of the societal fabric. But there are still moments where we bump into challenges.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced is that of perception. The work women do in agriculture is sometimes perceived by the outside world “cute” rather than the hard, risky, wonderfully rewarding work that it is. And if you are working with a partner, there are the moments when the conversations are directed at someone other than you – simply because of gender.

Perceptions are changing as the number of women of all ages coming into farming and food production grows, but there are things you can do to address this. Commitment and knowledge can help overcome stereotypes and misconceptions. And get involved! There are some fantastic women in agriculture groups that can be wonderful resources both to those who are new to the industry, and those of us who have been around for a while.

When I was younger, I wasn’t sure that a woman’s group was a good idea because I wanted to be in the room with the guys, so I didn’t miss anything. It turns out that it’s not one or the other, and I missed a lot of opportunities for mentorship and advice because I didn’t connect with other women who had a lot to share with me.

 

Jean is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.