CalCAN Summit 2022: Reflections on the Movement

Posted on Friday, December 2nd, 2022 by Tessa Salzman
Workshop CalCAN 2022 Conference

Being with many of you at our 7th Climate and Agriculture Summit reminded us of the deep diversity, energy, expertise and passion that you all hold as part of the sustainable agriculture movement in CA – and the “N” for “network” in CalCAN.  The Summit, for me, demonstrated the important perspectives and knowledge we all have to share across our specific areas of practice to ultimately strengthen our organizing and policy work.  

Thanks to the wide range of individuals and organizations at the Summit, the gathering highlighted our collective need for holistic thinking and solutions. Amidst the 400 participants, we had representation from all scales of farmers and ranchers, farmworkers and other land stewards, and researchers and advocates of soil science, drought management, land access, community food systems, innovative cooperative models and wildfire resilience.   

After two dense days of farm tours, an opening panel, workshops and side conversations, I’m sharing a synthesis of what I heard as some of our collective interests and demands, ripe for policy action:

  1. A hopeful call to our movement to be humble, collaborative and visionary, in the context of extreme climate conditions and existential challenges to our food and farming system.
  2. A critical imperative for racial and economic justice to be centered in all that we do.  
  3. Land should be stewarded for biologically diverse ecosystems, human needs and future generations. 
  4. Ecological agriculture practices must be considered and promoted in tandem with supportive market conditions and long term, secure land access. 
  5. Land access is top of mind for many. We must direct the transition of agricultural land towards the public good and slow and reverse land consolidation and speculation. 
  6. Solutions should be flexible to account for regional variation and context as well as unpredictable future conditions.  
  7. Stronger consultation with marginalized communities and a genuine commitment to learning from these communities is needed, especially among advocates, academics, and policymakers.
  8. Our collective priorities are all intimately linked and interdependent, and like stacking soil health building practices, the outcome is more robust when paired with compatible efforts.   

As CalCAN’s organizer, the last two resonated most with me. First, I think about the potential to weave our movement’s statewide community organizing efforts more tightly into the policy creation and advocacy process. For many of us, that means deeper partnership with community based organizations, farmers and farmworkers. For some of us that looks like working with those most impacted to define our research questions and to ground truth priorities, as was mentioned during the opening panel discussion. And for policymakers in particular, this means being agile and responsive to program feedback and avoiding onerous eligibility requirements to shrink the gap between policy goals and outcomes on the ground.  

From amoeba to murmuration

Second, we each have a niche in this movement. Collectively, it sometimes feels like we’re an amoeba of overlapping efforts and activities, but I think we have the ability to harness the power of a starling bird murmuration, which is how the Summit reception felt, bursting with energy, joy and rich conversation. I heard the call loud and clear from many people that in order to reach our full potential, we must strengthen relationships across organizations and understand how our goals are not only compatible but deeply dependent on the others to succeed.  

In times of crisis, diversity means resilience. Our communities will inevitably need to problem solve together rather than approaching the same challenges separately. The Summit was one opportunity to put our heads together and many positive collaborative examples were shared, such as farmer owned and operated produce distribution, tool sharing models, collective land stewardship and farmers giving employees the opportunity to farm their own plot, the Food and Farm Resilience Coalition’s success, and so many more. At the California state agency level, some of us were encouraged to learn that the Multibenefit Agricultural Land Repurposing Plan grants administered by the Department of Conservation have been awarded to applicants with an average of 13 partners and collaborators to ensure diverse interests and priorities are represented. 

Given all of these reflections, what would you add to the list of core principles that should be held up in the movement for ecological agriculture and a just, resilient food system? We’d love to hear from you. 

Another opportunity to convene

In between Summits, we work to maintain the momentum and one way is by hosting twice annual CalCAN partner briefings. These are virtual calls where we share CalCAN’s priorities in addition to bill and budget news related to climate smart agriculture. As we move into 2023, we’d like to invite you all to join these network calls to listen in and to share your priorities, plans and progress with us and the group. If you’d like to join the next one in March, please let us know by filling out this form.

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