Reflections on CalCAN’s Summit 2022

Posted on Monday, November 21st, 2022 by Renata Brillinger

On November 13 and 14, approximately 400 people gathered in the Davis, CA area at the two-day California Climate and Agriculture Summit organized by CalCAN. The Summit included a day of farm tours followed by a conference with workshops and poster presentations. It was a cauldron of inspiring conversation, smart strategizing, and relationship nourishment.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be publishing a series of CalCAN staff blogs to share our reflections on aspects of the Summit. To kick us off, what follows are some of the themes and trends that I observed and heard reflected back to me.

We have missed gathering in person.

For many, this was the first time since the beginning of the pandemic to be among so many others, and the energy was high. Lots of people told me how much they felt the need to be with others committed to taking action on climate change, and how inspiring it was to be together.

The network has grown.

During the plenary session, a visual hand raising poll showed that almost half of the group had not attended any of CalCAN’s previous six Summits. People came from further away, including folks I met from all over California and other states such as Idaho and Colorado. There was also a contingent from other states who arrived to attend a two-day strategy meeting immediately following the Summit, members of the CalCAN-facilitated National Healthy Soils Policy Network from Oregon, Ohio, Wisconsin, and New York.

Sessions grappled with structural and cultural barriers to climate solutions.

Structural and cultural challenges and solutions to advance racial and economic equity in the food and farming system were better integrated throughout the sessions compared to past summits. There were opportunities to grapple with the consolidation and commodification of land and land access and tenure as severe constraints on scaling up climate smart agricultural solutions. 

At times, the impact and limitations of white-dominant framing, language and experience were explicitly held up. For example, several people who joined the Agricultural Solutions to Enhance Wildfire Resilience workshop reported the important distinction made by Clint McKay of the Intersectional Land Stewardship Project between land stewardship and land management. A panel of farmworker advocates broke down some of the artificial distinctions between farm owners and farmworkers when it comes to curbing climate change. 

Being among such a multi-disciplinary group is invigorating.

This was the most common observation I heard during our two days together. There were farmers and ranchers from around the state, including growers of tree crops, wine grapes, dairy and other livestock operations, row crops and fiber. They and the technical assistance providers who serve them kept us grounded in the practical realities of farming economics. Scientists of many disciplines presented posters and spoke on panels. 

Urban farmers, food access advocates, and food businesses reminded us that we have to pay attention to the connection between farmers and eaters, particularly those most at risk of food insecurity. The Food and Farm Resilience Coalition shared the story of how the fragilities in our food system revealed by the pandemic catalyzed a campaign to secure $2 billion in state funds for rebuilding healthy and just farm and food system infrastructure across the whole supply chain, including improved housing conditions for farmworkers. 

As was noted repeatedly during the panel of Climate Leadership Award winners, the only viable approach to the complex and multi-dimensional climate crisis is through multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural collaborations and partnerships that apply systems thinking to identify the most profound solutions. 

There is more momentum than ever to address the climate crisis by unleashing powerful agricultural solutions.

The Summit was a microcosm of the range of emerging ideas in this space and the evolution over time of what is necessary to address. Everyone who attended suffered from the dilemma of having to choose which workshops to join.

Evidence of the growth of the field is found when considering government investments in agricultural climate strategies. California’s budgets for climate smart agriculture are at historic levels (though we will have to fight hard to maintain them with a projected state budget deficit in the coming year). The Biden administration has made climate action a cornerstone of its agenda, and the USDA has $20 billion to invest in agricultural climate strategies. An interactive Summit workshop explored the potential opportunities and threats of the USDA’s new Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities program which funds projects taking a market-based approach to climate smart agricultural products.

The accelerating impacts of the climate crisis were the impetus for two workshops focused on strategies for coping with the drought, and one exploring regenerative grazing as a strategy for mitigating and recovering from wildfires. There were two workshops looking at the importance of establishing robust technical assistance and workforce development for this burgeoning field of work.

We all have a part to play.

At CalCAN, we made a conscious decision not to open the Summit with a keynote speaker, believing that in this time, no one person or organization could adequately frame the event. We believe in the power of partnerships, systemic thinking and shared leadership. We believe that everyone has a part to play in moving with the necessary speed, creativity, resources, and scale. 

During the plenary session, I invited the participants to share a few minutes of small group conversation with their neighboring fellow thought leaders and actors. I will end this report back by reiterating the questions I invited them to share with each other, questions that I invite you the reader to ask yourself repeatedly as you continue to stay engaged in this work:

  • What would you say if you were the keynote speaker at the California Climate and Agriculture Summit?
  • What agricultural climate solutions are you most interested in?
  • What plans, ideas and visions do you have?

Please share your replies at

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