Since its launch in 2021, StoryCorps’ One Small Step (OSS) has brought strangers with different political beliefs together for a conversation—not to debate politics—but to get to know each other as people. Currently, the initiative is intensively focused in three Anchor Communities including the Fresno/Central Valley region. The success of OSS in each location is largely due to the advocacy of local partners and individuals who believe strongly in the OSS mission and are willing to work alongside the OSS team as advocates.

One such advocate is Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and protecting agriculture. StoryCorps sat down with Ryan to talk about his passion for One Small Step and why he thinks the Fresno/Central Valley area is the perfect location for an Anchor Community.

How did you first become aware of OSS?

In January of last year, I saw the OSS feature on “60 Minutes” and around this same time, I also started to hear about Fresno/Central Valley being picked as one of just a handful of communities nationwide to lead OSS. My first impression was ‘this is terrific’ because we need to be able to do something to counter the hyper-partisanship in America today. 

We also had Dave [Isay, StoryCorps founder and president] here to speak to our Rotary club and afterward, I think we all felt very supportive of OSS and proud that we were chosen to lead this project.

Why do you think Fresno/Central Valley is a great choice to be an OSS Anchor Community?

This area is different from people’s perceptions of what California is. For example, we are purple — with a real mix of politicians from both sides of the aisle and a very diverse population. Historically, many different groups have come here to farm over the generations and that diversity is borne out by the fact that 59 languages are spoken by students and their families within the Fresno Unified School District. The Central Valley feeds the rest of the country with over 350 different types of crops.

You participated in an OSS conversationwhat was that experience like for you?

I want to assure anyone who is hesitant to participate in a conversation that there is nothing to worry about. The conversation process is so easy because the facilitator who leads the discussion is highly trained and makes sure you and your partner feel comfortable the whole way through. I’ve encouraged lots of people here to participate in a conversation and no one has had regrets. 

As an OSS Community Advisory Group (CAG) member, why are you continuing to support OSS?

As a member of the advisory group, I am here to be the voice of the community. I’m invested in OSS because I believe that we all have much more in common than we have differences and the current divisions in our country are not good for us. We need a better way forward and OSS is just that: one small step in the right direction.