Cultivating a Bilingual Meatpacking Workforce: USDA Grant’s Impact in Indiana

September 27, 2023

// Workforce & Talent Development

Before the steak sizzles on your grill, a lot happens behind the scenes of the meat counter – and most of it depends upon reliable communication.

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A newly awarded Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) aims to provide free technical assistance and scholarships for training workshops to bridge the communication gap between English-speaking and Spanish-speaking workers in small and emerging meatpacking/meat processing agribusinesses.

As referenced in Planning That Feeds the Region, the Kankakee-Iroquois Regional Planning Commission (KIRPC) region and four other regions across the state launched an Agricultural Strategy Plan. One of the priorities of KIRPC’s plan is Ag Workforce, specifically bilingual training. A component of the plan states: “Breaking down the language barrier between operators, hiring managers, and other business leaders and the region’s Spanish-speaking population is a critical step toward expanding the ag-sector workforce.” That’s exactly what the funding from USDA is intended to do.

The 36 counties that participated in developing the Agricultural Strategy Plans will be potential recipients of scholarships for Purdue University’s Boiler Butcher Basics Workshops, if they meet the following criteria:

  1. Fewer than 50 employees
  2. Meat processing startup or from a company with less than $1 million in gross revenues.

Scholarships could be used for any session of the Workshops, starting in October 2023. Dr. Stacy Zuelly, a professor of Meat Science who designed the workshops and organizes them annually, will conduct the workshops in English, but an interpreter will be available for each session of the skills training workshop to assist those whose native language is Spanish. A schedule of workshops will become available soon at

As part of the grant award, PCRD and the Indiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Agribusiness Initiative are looking to hire a part-time, bilingual SBDC advisor (LinkedIn) who would provide technical assistance to meat processing startups and agribusinesses expanding into meat-packing/meat processing over the one-year grant period – and hopefully beyond if there is sufficient demand for the service.

In addition, one session of Reality Spanish/Reality English (in collaboration with Ivy Tech Community College) for agribusiness will be piloted with a small meat-processing/meat-packing business to facilitate employee communication between speakers of both languages. The instruction will be focused on specific job-skill instruction for safety and team-building purposes, using a “connection not perfection” hands-on, language learning approach.

This is the first of what PCRD hopes will be many trainings focused on native-language, job-specific skill and workplace English as a second language (ESL) instruction for emergent bilinguals in Indiana.