top of page

WIAS23 Takeaway: Ag to Gen Z

By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (March 5, 2024)


From the empowered, fearless generation (Millennials) to those with a penchant for face-to-face connections and expressed loyalty to jobs and companies (Baby Boomers), to Gen X, noted for viewing work as a means to an end and who thrive in flexible environments, there are many different demographic characteristics to consider when assembling the ideal employee base.  

While today’s workforce is a melting pot of individuals from these demographics, Gen Z, who have lived most of their lives online with those at the end of the spectrum being the newest to enter the workforce, are getting much attention. Since they comprise about one quarter of the U.S. population, it’s a group to understand and consider. And Glassdoor has projected that Gen Z will overtake Boomers in the full-time workforce next year.


Are you fully capturing the opportunity they hold? Are you hearing from them directly? To provide valuable insight, Women in Agribusiness welcomed four panel participants to discuss this at the 2023 Summit in Nashville.


But first, to note: Those considered Gen Z were born between 1996–2010. This is a generation whose identity has been shaped by the digital age – working, shopping, dating, and making friends online – as well as a shifting financial landscape, global wars, and COVID-19. They also report thinking about the fate of the planet on a daily basis, i.e., experiencing “climate anxiety”.


The WIA Summit panel included:

  • Jill Bramble, president and CEO, National 4-H Council

  • Dacia Ringo, student, agricultural science and biotechnology, Tennessee State University

  • Patricia Tarquino, president, Grow 2 Learn Cooperative

  • Amy Dunlap, agriculture and natural resources extension agent, Davidson County, Tennessee

  • Elizabeth Sanders (moderator), extension county director, Davidson County, Tennessee


Here are some key discussion points from the session… 


Jill Bramble:

  • I am from a dairy family, operating for generations on Maryland's eastern shore.

  • Four H was founded 120 years ago on the idea that young people are uniquely positioned to drive innovation and positive change in their communities, so it is fitting that we are speaking of Gen Z. Now it's our turn to pay it forward and impact the next generation, which is so critical, especially in the ag industry.

  • We know that technology is transforming jobs and economies in the ag sector. We are committed to preparing our young people for these changes, with programs offering the latest in ag innovation, from precision farming to crop analytics and more. We know Gen Z – they are purpose-driven, they’re digital natives, and they're expecting more from the workplace.


Patricia Tarquino

  • I was born in Cali, Colombia, South America, and I’m an immigrant.

  • I was introduced to agriculture when I was in Appalachia working as an organizer around the extractive industry of coal. The elders in that community taught me how to have a garden, tomatoes, okra, how to look for dryland fish. They taught me about connection to the land.

  • When I came to Nashville and I started my own family, I wanted to have access to land to be able to grow the food that is native to my country, so I can share that with my children.


Amy Dunlap

  • I am from Florida -- the land of Disney World, Mickey Mouse, four-lane highways -- where production ag does not have a big presence.

  • Growing up, I knew I loved the outdoors, I knew I had a connection to the natural world that felt really strong, but I didn't necessarily see a way to incorporate that into a job or to turn that into a career and a livelihood long term.

  • I graduated from a University of Florida plant science program. It wasn't until I was driving down the road one day, and I saw the student gardens and thought, I really want what they have that looks amazing, I would love to be a part of that. I ended up working at Disney World at some of their hydroponic greenhouses.


Dacia Ringo

  • I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and being an African American student there, you don't really hear much about agriculture. Growing up, my mom always said you need to find a scholarship.

  • In fifth grade, I decided I wanted to be a neurosurgeon so when applying to colleges, I applied under biology so that I would be on a pre-med track. Somehow I ran into a scholarship at Tennessee State, a farm bill scholarship in agriculture. And I saw that there was a biotechnology option, which was pre-med. Once I got into agriculture, I started being more involved and said, “Wow, I love agriculture!”

  • My parents asked me why I was changing my path and I said, by being a neurosurgeon, I could help thousands of people, but being in agriculture, I could help millions of people. So that's why I'm here today. And that's what I'm trying to do. Just help as many people as possible.


Elizabeth Sanders

  • I grew up on a small farm in a little town about an hour east of here [Nashville] showing sheep and goats. I also loved plants. I'm still a plant girly. I recognized the impact of forage and extension work in agriculture, and that there's room at the table for all of us, and that we are needed at the table too.

  • One of the challenges I think we face on a national level is having the human capital to go out to do the education to be the introductory piece to agriculture, and recognize the need to modify and change our workplaces. I think we're seeing a lot more people being remote, but also thinking about how we're measuring progress. Is the upward mobility solely based on how long you've been there? Or is it about the things that you're bringing to your company, and making sure that it's a welcoming space? We've already talked about culturally but thinking about how generations work across work with one another, and how we're cultivating workplaces that really cultivate an environment where people can thrive. I think that's what Gen Z is looking for. I think that's what we all want for ourselves to be able to go to work and never say, ‘I don't want to go to work today because of a workspace’. We all have challenges, but making sure that we have opportunities for leadership, for mentorship, for growth, and more. What a beautiful thing it would be for everyone walked away with a positive experience, knowing that they had greater skills and a connection to the organization that helped them grow. And especially with women in ag, we're oftentimes a minority.


1). How can the agriculture industry evolve to better engage Gen Z as you all are getting ready to enter into the workforce?


Dacia: I would say a big thing would be to just be connected. We're in an age where being connected with people is so much easier. Take a technology like FaceTime, which can really help advance agriculture. If you're having a problem on your farm, you could FaceTime a plant pathologist or Zoom call a pathologist, and you can possibly come up with a solution. I would say the generation of farmers who are out there now need to adapt these technologies and be more connected with more people. We have the resources for that, which is a way that Gen Z can really hit the ground running with agriculture is through technology advancement.


2). What are some of the trends that you're seeing in Gen Z, all the way through Boomers, and how they engage our community through ag and through volunteerism?

Amy: I coordinate our Davidson County Master Gardener volunteer program. One of our main focuses is looking to capture all audiences here in Davidson County, urban Nashville area. We've been trying to find the central thing that really connects us all, which is food. Many Gen Zs are looking to captivate alternative audiences and realize that farming is associated with many different communities and can bring together those from urban, rural, and non-traditional audiences. This can include farmers, educators, communicators, advocates, and the future talent pool of agriculture as well. I would to look to expand the reach and the audience to capture both and realize that we all are in this together.


3). How have you seen young people innovatively impacting agriculture?


Amy: We are part of the Master Gardener Program, which has been collaborating with 4H and getting into schools here in Metro Nashville, especially in the downtown area, or areas that we might have been identified as being food deserts. We’ve worked with the kids over the semester in a community garden and they’ve really gotten excited over watching something grow and taking ownership of the project, seeing it through its lifespan and understanding that they made an impact in creating something.


I think it’s important to get into schools, particularly in areas where there's little to no connection with food production, or very little understanding of where your food comes from, and help establish that connection.


4). What do you and your student peers see as things that not only women in ag, but Gen Z, are impacting in the ag industry?

Dacia: I had the opportunity to go to Senegal, with Elizabeth [Sanders, the moderator of this session] and a group of students from Tennessee State University and Virginia Tech. We were there on a food insecurity project teaching women in the villages how to can tomatoes and mangoes so that when they're out of season, they still have access to those resources. We were able to come up with innovative ideas, we were able to teach them firsthand and use our ideas and resources to come up with good ways that we can communicate because there was a language barrier. It was very innovative, and I was like, wow, this is the next generation who's going to be leading us. And I'm excited to be led by them. I would say that women and Gen Z are important because they are leading through innovation and thinking outside of the box. That really stands out to me.


5). If you had to describe or give three words to describe how we can engage Gen Z, what three words would you use?


Dacia: Communication, education, and networking.


Amy: Independence, authenticity, and empowerment.


6). When you think about entering the workforce, what are some key descriptors of what you believe Gen Z is looking for? What kind of if you want to speak to salary if you can speak to remote versus hybrid? What are the cultures that you are looking for? When you are thinking about yourselves, your peers and going into the workforce?


Amy: For me, I graduated in 2019 and initially took a corporate tech job and transitioned to ag, which is a big switch, and I was in software sales during COVID. Comparing the two, and what I see in my peers and other people who have gone on from Oracle to do different jobs, I think there’s a lot of value in freedom. I'm seeing a lot less loyalty to companies, truthfully. I think people are really looking for a sense of purpose and there is that salary thing, which is really important because you have to live, you have to eat, you have to pay rent. So that's huge. And that is a limiting factor sometimes when it comes to agriculture, because sometimes the salaries are not as competitive as some of what other industries offer. Also, remote work and flexibility is something that I see desired a lot in my peer groups – the traditional nine to five doesn't always work for people. They are looking for that sense of freedom, to not only have a purpose, but to be independent enough to chase that purpose.


Dacia: So being that I do graduate this year, I've talked to a lot of my peers about what they're looking for when they're looking for jobs, and freedom and the independence is a really big part of that they want. Also, I know a lot of people look for companies or jobs that have a nice culture, those that respect diversity and make you feel included and welcomed. That's a really big part of it. And of course, making enough money matters. But at the same time, a lot of people I know are looking for jobs that they enjoy -- they don't want to go to work every day thinking I have to go to work, they want to go to work, thinking I'm going to work, I love going to work. So independence, freedom, and the opportunity to actually enjoy working in a good environment are what I’ve seen appealing to Gen Z workers.



Learn more about our dynamic speakers and topics from WIA Summit 2023 here, and get ready for the 2024 Summit in Nashville, September 24-26.




Do you have a story you'd like to contribute to WIA Today? Or a suggestion for a story, or comments about an article? Please reach out to Michelle Marshall at and share your thoughts. We'd love to hear from you.

bottom of page