Agricultural Careers are for EveryoneHow Indian American Sim Sandhu is breaking down racial barriers and encouraging diversity in Illinois Agriculture
Sim Sandhu has advice for students thinking about their future career field: “Whatever you want to do professionally, you can find it in ag.”
Sim Sandhu is the manager of business analytics and innovation with the Illinois Farm Bureau. Although he was born in Bloomington and lived there for most of his life, Sandhu is not a farmer – and he doesn’t have a farming background.
His parents farmed in India before they emigrated from India in the 1980s. He has visited his father’s family farm in India while there on vacation.
“It isn’t anything like the farms we know and see here in Illinois,” Sandhu said. “It is small, and they use very little equipment. Four families work on the farm together. They grow a little bit of everything. Whatever they want to eat over the next few months, they grow it.”
Growing up, Sandhu didn’t dream of one day working for the Illinois Farm Bureau. He didn’t really know much about the farm bureau until he heard about an internship available through a friend that worked for COUNTRY Financial’s human resource department, which also oversees the farm bureau’s HR.
At that time, about 10 years ago, Sandhu was working on his undergraduate degree in an IT-related field and was working part-time at Best Buy.
“It was around that time that I realized that as much as I like technology and computers, I didn’t want it to be my 9-to-5,” Sandhu said. “I wanted it to be more of a hobby and an interest than a full-time job.”
Sandhu later received a graduate degree in economics, which he describes as “combining math and what goes on in the world.” Sandhu decided to stay in the agricultural industry “because it is ever-changing, and I want others to realize that agricultural careers are for everyone.”
“When most people think of agriculture, they think of an old white man in overalls standing out in a field,” Sandhu said.
“But the industry isn’t like that at all. Ag industry is very diverse. The question shouldn’t be ‘How do I become a farmer?’ it should be ‘How do I get into the ag industry?’ At the Illinois Farm Bureau, there are five divisions: legal, finance, news and communication, PR and programs, and governmental affairs. There are so many career options in ag. You don’t have to be a farmer.”
Sandhu hopes to encourage more youth to consider jobs in agriculture.
“We need people from all walks of life sharing their diverse voices,” he said. “We need farmers’ perspectives, but we also need 20 more perspectives, everyone sitting at the table.”
Sandhu recently started the Sandhu Minority in Agriculture Scholarship, which is administered through the IAA Foundation, the charitable arm of the Illinois Farm Bureau. The annual scholarship will be available to racial minority students from Illinois interested in a career in agriculture.
“I want everyone to know that everyone can have a career in ag if they’re passionate about the industry,” Sandhu said.
“Don’t look for a path to follow. Look at what you like to do and make that your own. Take a leap of faith. You’ll never know if the position you were interested in turns into the career you love.”
Sim Sandhu can be reached via email at [email protected].