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Reflections from the Road: USDA Journeys to Texas for its Second Regional Equity Convening

Posted by The Equity Team in Equity
May 16, 2024
Conference participants visited Hub of Prosperity in Edinburg

The USDA, in collaboration with USDA Equity Commission (EC) members, embarked on a significant journey to the heart of Texas, where the vibrant spirit of agriculture intertwines with the pursuit of equity. The occasion? The Texas Hispanic Farmer and Rancher Conference (THFRC) and Food Summit 2024 in McAllen, Texas, held from April 24-27, 2024. This gathering marked the second Regional Equity Convening, following the Inaugural Regional Convening in Michigan, where USDA leadership stood shoulder to shoulder with stakeholders to champion equity and engage with the transformative recommendations outlined in the USDA Equity Commission’s final report (PDF, 2.0 MB).

The convergence of the THFRC and Food Summit, organized by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Center for Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Advancement (SARA), served as a bilingual platform uniting diverse voices from agriculture, policy, education, activism, and community advocacy. With a focus on fostering a resilient and inclusive food system in la Frontera, these events became pivotal arenas for dialogue, collaboration, and action. USDA’s leadership presence underscored its commitment to advancing equity, engaging with stakeholders to catalyze change at the grassroots level, and amplifying the importance of the Commission’s recommendations.

Throughout the four-day event, senior leaders from USDA Farm Production and Conservation (FPAC), Rural Development, and Marketing and Regulatory Programs engaged in various roles, from opening speakers to panelists and moderators, driving home the message of equity as an imperative for progress.

Dr. Alexis Racelis, Associate Professor and Director of Agroecology and Resilient Food Systems Program, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, representing the EC's Agricultural Subcommittee, and Arturo S. Rodríguez, President Emeritus, United Farm Workers, EC Co-Chair, contributed their invaluable leadership and vision as they co-hosted and helped facilitate the event.

From left to right: (Arturo S. Rodríguez (Equity Commission Co-Chair), Cecilia Hernandez (USDA’s Designated Federal Officer of the Equity Commission), David Josue Carasquillo Medrano (EC Subcommittee member), Dr. Alexis Racelis (EC Subcommittee Member), Valerie Beel (EC Subcommittee member), and Dr. Dewayne Goldmon (USDA’s Senior Advisor for Racial Equity).

The gathering drew over 450 attendees from a diverse array of stakeholder groups, including farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, policymakers, students, and advocates of sustainable agriculture. Their collective presence underscored the urgency and importance of addressing equity within the agricultural landscape in the Rio Grande Valley and beyond.

From illuminating workshops to insightful discussions, breakout sessions provided a fertile ground for exchanging ideas and exploring solutions. Attendees delved into topics ranging from equitable participation in USDA programs to envisioning an inclusive and resilient local food system for the Rio Grande Valley.

“The Texas Hispanic Farmer and Rancher Conference and Food Summit has been an excellent opportunity for new and experienced farmers and ranchers to learn more about USDA programs and services,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Texas State Conservationist Kristy Oates. “USDA was able to demonstrate to the participants that it has programs and services available for all agricultural producers, no matter the size or type of their operation.”


“USDA has resources available to help with your farm or ranch. We are ready to help you be in conservation, agricultural financing, helping recover from a disaster and more.”
- Gloria Montaño Greene, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm Production and Conservation


DUS Greene delivers opening remarks on Day 1 of the event.

To kick off the event, Deputy Under Secretary (DUS) for Farm Production and Conservation Gloria Montaño Greene provided welcoming and opening remarks. She discussed some of the many programs that USDA has to offer which can provide support to everyone that helps get food to our tables. She elaborated on how USDA is working to address each producer’s individual needs and break down barriers to access programs and improve USDA services.


“No matter where you live across America, you should be able to get affordable, high speed internet, whether in downtown Dallas or the Colonias here in Texas.”
-  Agriculture Deputy Secretary Torres Small


Deputy Secretary Torres Small delivers a keynote address.

During lunch on Day 1, USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small continued to set the tone with an inspiring address, emphasizing USDA's dedication to fostering equity in agriculture for the benefit of all. She passionately addressed the need for connecting every community with affordable, reliable internet and recognizing the broader impact to our country. She also announced the USDA is partnering with rural cooperatives, local organizations and Tribes to support high-speed internet deployment in 11 states. The $5.2 million award in cooperative agreements is being made through the Broadband Technical Assistance Program, which is funded through President Biden’s historic Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Deputy Secretary Torres Small noted, “At USDA, we are committed to investing in and building a more fair and equitable future for everyone who participates in agriculture.”

The event continued on Day 2 with site visits for attendees to get familiar with local operations and how they have implemented sustainable agricultural practices as well as utilized USDA and/or local resources. Highlights from the site visits included two stimulating trips focused on urban agriculture at Proyecto Desarrollo Humano in Peñitas and Hub of Prosperity in Edinburg.

EC Co-Chair Arturo S. Rodríguez serves as a panelist highlighting the Equity Commission’s final report recommendations.

Later that day, a live stream session was held that provided attendees with an overview of the Equity Commission's Final Report (PDF, 2.0 MB) as well as a better understanding on how the actionable recommendations to modify USDA programs might affect local communities. The discussion offered an opportunity for meaningful dialogue with some of the key communities it is intended to serve, with attendees asking questions and providing comments to panelists USDA Senior Advisor for Racial Equity Dr. Dewayne Goldmon alongside EC Members Arturo S. Rodríguez, Dr. Alexis Racelis, Valarie Beel, and David Carrasquillo Medrano. The panel was moderated by Cecilia Hernandez, Designated Federal Officer of the USDA Equity Commission, and available via livestream.

“When it comes to nutrition, we don’t just want to make sure people are fed, we want to make sure people are fed well.”
- Stacy Dean, Deputy Under Secretary for the USDA Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services


Deputy Under Secretary Dean delivers opening remarks at the Food Summit in McAllen, Texas.

Deputy Under Secretary (DUS) for the USDA Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services (FNCS) Stacy Dean opened the Food Summit by providing an overview of how USDA is thinking about food and nutrition through the lens of equity. She emphasized that “our goal is a food system that supports optimal health and wellbeing for everyone.”

“The NextGen program was born out of people who shared experiences like yours. It’s about giving people an opportunity that they never would’ve had before.”
- Sanah Baig, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics


Deputy Under Secretary Baig engages with local students on panel.

Throughout the four-day conference and summit, youth groups were meaningfully engaged, particularly during a panel discussion centered on how youth envision our food system. In this panel featuring USDA Deputy Under Secretary (DUS) for Research, Education, and Economics Sanah Baig, students discussed their experiences with farm to school activities, share ideas for improving the food system, and discuss their hopes for the future. USDA has invested a more than a quarter billion dollars through the NextGen Program to provide transformative opportunities for our future food and ag leaders, who have unique and valuable lived experiences, to work with USDA and ensure their perspectives are heard.

Under Secretary Moffitt delivers keynote address.

As the event neared its conclusion, keynote speaker Under Secretary (U/S) for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, Jenny Moffitt, seamlessly weaved together her visionary outlook, strategic insights, and personal story when highlighting the importance of community action that fosters economic growth and well-being.

U/S Moffitt compassionately shared about her experience as a 5th generation farmer and how she effectively partnered with local organizations to improve her farming, which informs her vision and dedication to the work.

Additionally, the participation of Cecilia Hernandez and DUS Greene alongside EC Co-Chair Arturo S. Rodríguez in a Spanish language event underscored USDA’s commitment not only to language access and cultural inclusivity but also to effective leadership. In this event, Hernandez and DUS Greene connected deeply with participants by sharing their personal stories and motivation for this work and joining in meaningful dialogue.

“That is one thing we all really appreciated from this distinguished group—that you all were there to genuinely learn and listen, to share the why of what you do, and to lend an understanding ear to those who want to engage with the USDA and their programs,” said EC Member Racelis about USDA’s leadership presence.

In conclusion, the second Regional Equity Convening in Texas served as a lively and significant event fueling more hope and possibility, igniting a collective resolve to build a future where equity thrives in every facet of agriculture. As USDA continues to march ahead on its equity journey, the echoes of this milestone event will reverberate far and wide, inspiring action and driving change for generations to come.

USDA plans to continue this tour around the country to engage with communities on its journey to improve access to programs and services for all communities with the next Regional Equity Convening to be held on May 16 in Albany, GA at The Sherrod Institute’s Annual Farm Field Day.

Deputy Secretary Torres Small and EC member Dr. Alexis Racelis talk with The University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley [UTRGV] students about their impact on the future of agriculture.
Category/Topic: Equity
Tags: equity