Building Climate, Food & Land Justice in the Central Valley: An Encuentro

Posted on Monday, May 8th, 2023 by Renata Brillinger
Photo Credit: Original artwork donated by Jose Arenas

On Earth Day weekend, a unique and important gathering took place in Madera, CA, just north of Fresno. Called the “Salt of the Earth: Cultivating Climate, Food, and Land Justice,” the gathering  was organized by the Pan Valley Institute (PVI) which formed 25 years ago to strengthen the leadership capacity and foster the civic engagement of Central Valley immigrants. One of the reasons it was important for CalCAN to attend the Salt of the Earth event was to better understand how our work on climate and agriculture policy can advance the vision and solutions offered by Central Valley farmers and rural communities, and to continue building relationships with farmworker advocates.

Photo Credit: City of Madera

The three-day event (see the full program here) was multi-faceted, including a farm tour, theatrical and artistic offerings such as a photo gallery, and amazing food showcasing Oaxacan, Hmong, Mixtec, and Native American culinary traditions. On the day I attended, there was a series of pláticas (dialogues in English) on a variety of topics such as land ownership and access, the impact of agribusiness on climate change, alternatives to industrial scale agriculture, Farm Bill advocacy, cooperatives, and more.

The event highlighted several recurring themes throughout the day and talk of a vision for the future that also very much aligns with CalCAN’s vision. The importance of biodiversity and soil health was held up as a critical element of justice and health for people, agricultural ecosystems, and farm businesses. There was a recognition of the need to shift markets towards those that reward organic and climate-resilient practices. Central Valley communities’ dependence on the agriculture economy and jobs that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change was also discussed, especially given recent intense heat, drought and flooding. The lack of secure land tenure for smaller, beginning, and immigrant farmers and the trend towards consolidation of land ownership in the Valley was another recurring theme.

In the written program, the organizers eloquently described their motivation for the gathering [encuentro in Spanish) as follows:

Like most people and organizations around the world, Pan Valley Institute was forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans were disrupted or put on hold as we supported communities in navigating difficult times.

As we resumed working in person, we returned to a new reality. Rapid climate change was having profound impacts on farmworkers and other disenfranchised communities that we have stood with throughout our history. 

Recognizing that these times urgently called for creativity and a radical reimagination we decided to organize a national encuentro gathering, “Salt of the Earth,” to reflect on strategies for building climate, food, and land justice for all. This is the first time in Central Valley history that small farmers, farmworkers, cultural organizers, academics, and climate, food and land justice activists are coming together to share experiences and exchange ideas. We are here to amplify each other’s voices, support one another in solidarity, and work together to create a different Central Valley that is more just, for its people and its land, and where all its residents can feel a true sense of belonging and opportunity.

The encuentro was also rich with a sense of community and solidarity, and the cultural traditions woven throughout communicated the vibrancy and resilience of the people who live, work, and raise families there. Even though there were significant challenges discussed, I came away inspired to  deepen our relationships with leaders in the Central Valley who are grappling with the challenges and to learn more about the agricultural future they want to see manifested.

Photo Credit: Eduardo Stanley

We recognize climate change disproportionately threatens the livelihoods of both small and medium-sized producers and farmworkers, who all depend on the land and natural resources for their livelihoods. CalCAN is continuing to explore ways to ensure that the policies we advocate for advance safe working conditions and thriving rural communities for farm owners, operators, and farmworkers alike.

CalCAN is in the process of forming a working group to guide our efforts on this issue. If you are a farmer or rancher and would like to know more about the working group, please email Anna Larson, our Senior Policy Associate, at

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