Social and racial justice have dominated conversation this year, prompting individuals and organizations alike to discuss internal diversity, racial bias, and inclusivity efforts with the hopes of developing targeted actions toward curbing systemic maladies. The Society of Organic Seed Professionals has been no exception.

The SOSP mission statement clearly states our values and ideologies as an organization: “… SOSP fosters learning and collaboration among the diverse people working in organic seed systems… SOSP values diversity, interdependence, and regeneration in the SOSP leadership… [we] seek leaders with varied backgrounds and fresh ideas…” But, as we’ve seen this year, these ideologies must be constantly reexamined and upheld by our actions.

We [SOSP] want to take actions that dismantle systemic racism within our organization and our various professional spheres, and we know that work requires self-reflection first. This past August, SOSP board members conducted a four-week inclusivity “intensive” to help us understand the historical and cultural context of SOSP and engage in self-reflection as an organization before designing outward-facing social and racial justice agendas. The intensive was comprised of a series of motivating questions, readings/resources, and reflection prompts to provide subject background and facilitate further reflection. Major questions addressed during this intensive included the following:

  • Self-Reflection: Who am I as a member of SOSP?
  • Intersection of Social Identities: Who are my colleagues and partners in SOSP?
  • How and what am I communicating to my colleagues and partners?
  • What are steps toward making change within SOSP?

This material and subsequent discussion was challenging at times, especially given the current socio-political climate. We faced uncomfortable conversations regarding the lack of new leadership, a relatively homogeneous board, small numbers of graduate student memberships, and a tendency towards insularity as a niche professional society. Many of our conversations highlighted the fact that we exist within a larger system of agriculture rooted in oppression and inequities. These conversations served to remind us that we have a lot of work to do to systematically change how we reach and engage a broader audience about organic plant breeding and seed systems.

Since completing the intensive, we have continued to discuss new ways of creating an open door for conversation with diverse audiences outside of our existing spheres. Initial points for action include diversifying our programming to offer online discussions, webinars, a book club, and career-exploration workshops to expand our current network. Internally, we are writing inclusivity and diversity goals into each subcommittee’s annual work plan, thereby creating multiple levels of accountability across SOSP’s board.

Our place in the larger context of unjust agricultural systems is small, but we believe that through continued conversation and directed action we can affect positive change in our community. We recognize we are far from having an embedded structure that consistently allies with BIPOC, LGBQT+, and other marginalized groups, but we are primed to put in the hard work to ensure that SOSP is truly an equitable and racially just organization.

Note: Many of the resources, readings, and prompts were derived from Cornell’s “Teaching and Learning in the Diverse Classroom” course offered in Spring 2020. Materials presented in that course were reframed and adapted to inspire reflection and conversation specific to our organic seed organization. Cornell’s TLDC course has transitioned to a massive open online course (MOOC) format.  If you are interested, you can find more information at