Meet our CalCAN Advisors

Posted on Thursday, December 2nd, 2021 by Tessa Salzman

In September, CalCAN kicked off a new virtual conversation series with our advisors, who are farmers, ranchers, scientists and technical assistance providers from across the state. 

Our next conversation is Thursday December 9th from 2-3pm with the three advisors listed below. Register here.

  1. George Davis, Porter Creek Vineyard, Sonoma County, wine grapes
  2. Jutta Thoerner, Manzanita Manor, San Luis Obispo, walnuts, wine
  3. Amélie Gaudin, Professor of Agroecology, Department of Plant Sciences, UC Davis

Diving Deeper

Our CalCAN advisors guide our policy platforms and advocacy with their diverse expertise, professional practice and farming experience. The purpose of connecting via Zoom with each of them is to deepen our understanding of their current work and to share it with our statewide network of farmers, advocates, technical assistance providers and scientists. In each of these informal discussions, a small handful of our advisors will highlight projects they are working on and policy changes that would help scale up their efforts. While their expertise is wide ranging, we will draw connections between the dynamic and interdependent web of approaches they champion. 

Please join us each month to learn about statewide efforts at the intersection of agriculture and climate change, such as grazing for wildfire mitigation, building healthy soils, ecosystem preservation, water efficiency strategies and much more.  

 The Kick Off Conversation

In our first conversation CalCAN staff Becca Lucas and Tessa Salzman chatted with: 

  1. Devii Rao, UC Cooperative Extension Livestock and Natural Resources Advisor, San Benito, Monterey, Santa Cruz Counties
  2. Stephen Wheeler, Professor, Department of Human Ecology, UC Davis
  3. Wendell Gilgert, former Working Lands Program Director, Point Blue Conservation Science

Devii Rao

Devii talked about her research and community education on managed grazing and prescribed fire—or what she calls “good fire”—as two wildfire mitigation strategies that can be used separately or in tandem. She is connected to over 300 people through the Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association (PBA) mailing list and works directly with dozens of partners like ranchers, burn bosses (individuals qualified to plan and execute prescribed burns), land trusts, vineyards, and other land managers to teach prescribed fire techniques and establish shared “tool libraries.” Devii emphasized that when burns are planned and performed under specific conditions at the right time of year, this tool can reduce the severity and frequency of wildfires in California, which not only destroy agricultural land, but also surrounding vegetation and homes that contain plastics and chemicals. 

If you’d like to be added to the Central Coast PBA email list, let Jared Childress know:

Stephen Wheeler

farmland conservation

Steve, who takes a systemic approach to urban planning, highlighted the fact that CalCAN’s advisors’ expertise and approach to policy change ranges from tactical, hands-in-the-soil projects, like Devii’s work, all the way to landscape and systems level conceptual thinking. This is required when taking on climate change. Steve directed the research that led to CDFA’s Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation grant program by quantifying the greenhouse gas emissions associated with urbanizing farmland. In Yolo County they found that an acre of urban land emits 70 times more greenhouse gases compared to an acre of irrigated cropland. During our conversation, he focused on the importance of pairing conservation projects at the urban edge with new farmer training, enhanced farm to school relationships, incentives for urban infill, and stronger linkages between urban communities and agricultural production. 

Wendell Gilgert

Wendell, a life long conservationist recently retired, also emphasized the importance of deepening our urban-rural connections, noting that most people haven’t witnessed the cycle of life and death. After 45 years of working in conservation, Wendell shared that to him stewardship is another word for passion. While at Point Blue he worked with hundreds of ranchers to regenerate and monitor the health of their rangeland using indicators like bird diversity, soil properties, percent invasive species in the forage and others. The data and empirical evidence are key, but he considers cultivating an ethic of land stewardship “heart work” and aims to engage people on an emotional level, which is what he observes in ranchers as a driving force. Wendell also shared with us that while 15% of CA used to burn each year, the location and intensity are now different. We need to learn from our history and from indigenous practices including fire management to continue promoting the good work Devii discussed. 

One thread that emerged from this rich conversation is that political power must be used to make agricultural land accessible to young people going in to farming. By tending specifically to the land at the urban edge—whether that means growing vegetables, grazing animals or introducing “good fire”—we can reap multiple benefits like producing food, buffering our communities from extreme weather and climate emergencies, and promoting opportunities to learn about and cultivate an ethic of stewardship among urban and rural dwellers alike.  

We hope you join us to learn more about our advisors each month. Register here.

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