Patrice Bailey, the outreach director for the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, has been appointed as an assistant commissioner of agriculture, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday.
Bailey will oversee outreach, agricultural marketing and development, dairy and meat inspection and food and feed safety. Bailey said the department’s records are not definitive, but he is almost certain he is the first black assistant commissioner of agriculture in state history.
Bailey is a native of Harlem who went to college in Texas, worked in the U.S. Virgin Islands and earned his master’s degree at Iowa State before moving to Minnesota in 2005. He wants to sell young people, especially young people of color, in Minnesota on a more expansive vision of what agriculture is and what a career in agriculture could be.
“How do we get beyond the bib-overalls, John Deere-hat stereotype?” Bailey said in an interview.
With thousands of baby boomers moving on from jobs in agribusiness and on farms in coming years, Bailey said he hopes his work on outreach and marketing can persuade more people of color to pursue those careers.
“I think this is a huge opportunity for people of color to get into the STEM fields because I believe that’s where the jobs are,” he said, referring to areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Bailey has in recent years helped communities of color lobby at the Capitol for the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage. Before moving to Minnesota, he worked at Wartburg College in Iowa, running the community service office. He moved to the Twin Cities when he married his now ex-wife, a native Minnesotan. They have two children.
He has taught at the U’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences and at Bethel University.
Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, who appointed Bailey to the job, said “his expertise working with communities of color and his passion for agriculture will be tremendous assets to our agency.”
Bailey said he wanted to be a lawyer but his mother suggested agriculture because of the geographic versatility it would give him and he took her advice.
He earned his undergraduate degree in agricultural studies at Prairie View A&M University before attending Iowa State University, where George Washington Carver was the first black student in 1891.
“I never saw anyone that looked like me that was in agriculture at all other than George Washington Carver, and that was 130 years ago,” Bailey said. “Changing the message, changing the narrative, and changing the face of it too. That’s not an overnight process.”