Skip to main content

Moving the Needle on Racial Equity in Extension, Part 3 of 3


Authors: Sonja Brodt and Gail Feenstra, Univ. of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

The 1862 Land Grant institutions were founded during the immediate post-Civil War, post-slavery period for the benefit of white farmers and homesteaders and were built on the wealth generated by land expropriated from indigenous peoples across the U.S. (Joseph A. Myers Center, 2021). With a history so fraught with racial oppression, our public sector extension service faces an enormous task not only in righting past wrongs, but in moving forward in truly meeting the needs of contemporary people of color.

Today we take up the third topic in this three-part series exploring lessons learned from a racial equity in extension initiative launched by the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), together with many other colleagues spread throughout the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) system.

Lesson Learned:

Rethink the meaning of the term ‘collaboration’, especially with respect to knowledge systems and science.

Collaboration with indigenous tribes, African American farmers, and other communities of color often needs to be viewed as cross-cultural work. Doing so entails going beyond accounting for farmers’ goals and information needs, to recognizing that the cultures of these communities may differ substantially from scientific worldviews in how they view and communicate about key topics, and thus in how they shape their goals. For example, where mainstream science considers elements like rock and soil minerals as inanimate resources, indigenous tribes may consider these as living beings in their own right, with which humans must cultivate a right relationship (Dongoske, et al. 2015; Kohler, et al. 2019). Moreover, indigenous people’s relationships with land often encompass a deep sense of spiritual responsibility. Failing to account for these spiritual implications might result in failure of relationship-building and extension efforts. Successful collaborations balance attention between diverse paradigms and ensure that the contributions from each party along different dimensions are treated as valid and respected by all, even if they fall outside of another party’s worldview. This approach requires inclusion of cultural advisors and sufficient background knowledge of the cultures with which one is engaging (Durie 2004).

More broadly, meaningful collaboration with racially diverse groups might require looking for knowledge and expertise in unexpected places. For example, extension specialist Samuel Sandoval-Solis noted in one of our webinars, that farmworkers often have their own information networks that they bring into play, sometimes by using social media apps, to solve farm problems, such as pest outbreaks that are happening across different farms in a larger region. Working only with farm owners or managers will miss this potential font of collective knowledge. Likewise, in internal institutional DEI work, staff at many different levels of the institutional hierarchy, including those in non-leadership roles, may possess unique life experiences and expertise to contribute to the DEI-building effort. Thus, in both internal and external work, initiatives in which leaders work truly collaboratively with the grassroots are more likely to achieve robust results.


          Making progress on DEI in the extension arena requires working in new ways and with new people, both within and outside of our institutions. Having the mindset and skills needed to do so respectfully and effectively will help all to find productive ways forward. We hope that these lessons that we learned along our own journey will be useful to others traveling similar paths.

Access recordings of a series of 4  UC SAREP webinars on Racial Equity in Extension


Dongoske, K., Pasqual, T., & King, T. (2015). ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Silencing of Native American Worldviews. Environmental Practice, 17(1), 36-45. https://doi:10.1017/S1466046614000490.

Durie, M. (2004). Exploring the Interface Between Science and Indigenous Knowledge. 5th APEC Research and Development Leaders Forum: Capturing Value from Science. March 11, 2004. Christchurch, NZ.

  Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues & Native American Student Development. (2021). The University of California Land Grab: A Legacy of Profit from Indigenous Land. A Report of key Learnings and Recommendations [Report]. University of California, Berkeley.

Kohler, F., Holland, T.G. (2019). Embracing diverse worldviews to share planet Earth. Conservation Biology, 33(5), 1014-1022.

Photo by John Schaidler on Unsplash.

Add Comment

Comments (0)


About the Extension Foundation

The Extension Foundation was formed in 2006 by Extension Directors and Administrators. Today, the Foundation partners with Cooperative Extension through liaison roles and a formal plan of work with the Extension Committee on Organization and Policy (ECOP) to increase system capacity while providing programmatic services, and helping Extension programs scale and investigate new methods and models for implementing programs. The Foundation provides professional development to Cooperative Extension professionals and offers exclusive services to its members. In 2020 and 2021, the Extension Foundation has awarded 85% of its direct funding back to the Cooperative Extension System, 100% of funds are used to support Cooperative Extension initiatives. 

This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

Link copied to your clipboard.