Adapting in Times of Uncertainty: a CalCAN Story of Responding to the Unfolding Pandemic

Posted on Wednesday, March 25th, 2020 by Lauren Lum
Webinar training to prepare participants for CalCAN’s 2020 Advocacy Day

Farmers and ranchers are constantly adapting to the uncertainty of what the next season will bring: too much rain or too little rain, early heat waves or late frosts, wildfires, floods or new pests. Maybe because they are used to responding to variability, when we had to call off our plans for an advocacy day at the state Capitol last week due to the spread of COVID-19, the farmers, ranchers and allies in our network were flexible, supportive and understanding.

CalCAN’s Lobby Day 2019

Each year CalCAN brings together farmers, ranchers and food system advocates to Sacramento to inform legislators of the importance of the Climate Smart Agriculture programs. Our annual advocacy day provides an opportunity for farmers, ranchers and allies to share their stories of how climate-friendly practices benefit their operations, deliver powerful climate solutions, and improve environmental health in both urban and rural communities. Each CalCAN partner brings a different perspective on the value of investing in climate smart agriculture to share with their representatives.

This year we had planned to bring 30 farmers, ranchers and advocates from across the state to join us in meetings with 27 legislators and their staff. We also planned meetings with the Governor’s office, the Air Resources Board and the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. We wanted to impress upon them that California’s farmers and ranchers are ready to do their part to curb climate change, and have the tools to do that, given sufficient funding (see here for our specific funding requests).

Our advocacy day was planned for March 18th, and by March 11th it became clear that an in-person event could increase the spread of the virus and put our participants and policymakers at risk. Instead, we decided to host video conference calls in lieu of in person meetings so our partners could share their stories while staying on their farms and in their homes. CalCAN staff ramped up our video conferencing technology and scrambled to reach out to participants and legislators and inform them of our new plan. To their credit, legislative staff tried to accommodate this new format even as the uncertainty and impact of the pandemic was increasing and some were shifting to working at home themselves.

“I was super impressed with how organized this lobby day was – it must have taken so much time and energy! I so appreciate all your efforts. I look forward to participating in [meetings] if/when it gets rescheduled.” – Jessica Wohlander, farmer in Monterey County

However, in the days leading up to our planned advocacy day, more COVID-19 cases were confirmed throughout the state and shelter-in-place orders had been issued for six Bay Area counties. On March 16th the legislature voted to take a three-week recess, and it became clear that even our adapted plan was no longer possible. Like everyone else, CalCAN staff transitioned to work from home, and our advocacy plans for the spring—including a farm tour for Central Valley legislators, an urban farm tour for legislators in Los Angeles, and several in-district meetings with constituents and their elected representatives—are now on hold.

The COVID-19 pandemic is upending business as usual and challenging all of us to reconsider how we do our work. At CalCAN, we find ourselves thinking about the connections between the disruptions caused by coronavirus and the disruptions caused by climate change. We are also playing close attention to our societal and political responses to the pandemic and what we might learn and apply to the climate crisis.

There is one thing we are sure about: Whether it’s a climate crisis or a public health crisis, we all depend on our farmers and ranchers and their ecological stewardship of their land and natural resources to keep us healthy.

In the coming weeks, virtual advocacy will be essential as we struggle to keep climate change and climate smart agriculture issues on the policy agenda. We have three requests:

  1. Can you commit to amplifying CalCAN’s messages with your state Senator and Assemblymembers via calls and letters?
  2. Can you tell others about our work so our voices get louder?
  3. Can you share with us ideas you have about the link between coronavirus and climate change, and how both impact farmers and the food system? Please do that here.

By listening to each other, by being creative, and by continually adapting during this unprecedented disruption, we will find ways to continue to ensure that California’s farmers and ranchers are supported for using resilient and regenerative practices that benefit ecosystems and us all.

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