In mid-November, CalCAN staff and partners participated in a three-day advocacy skills training for women farmers and ranchers, organized and hosted by the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center, a CalCAN coalition member.
The women, all actively farming and ranching, came from all across California, from the heart of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys, as well as from coastal areas stretching between San Diego and the North Coast. Participants represented a cross-section of California agriculture with regards to age, race, scale of operations, and also in terms of crops and management practices including conventional and organic livestock operations, orchard and row crops, and grains.
Throughout the training, participants discussed and shared stories and strategies about policy change they are passionate about, including incentives for climate-resilient agriculture, equity issues in agricultural policies and programs, farmworker rights and health, sustainable groundwater management, immigration reform, removing policy barriers to economic viability of operations, and more.
Various presenters provided information on a range of advocacy skills including state, federal, and local legislative processes, strategic frameworks for change, opportunities for engagement, and communications strategies to influence policy. “It was helpful to practice actually saying what I would want to say in a meeting with my representatives, so that I could make sure it was the message I want them to hear,” one rancher from Sonoma County said.
Kendall Dunnigan, Director of the Permaculture Program at the OAEC and primary host of the training, facilitated rich dialogue that allowed participants to share their experiences as women in agriculture. Executive Director Renata Brillinger organized and facilitated the advocacy training content along with three presenters who offered the collective wisdom of decades of agricultural policy experience.
Janaki Jagannath and Judith Redmond joined the training to educate participants on their experience with campaigns for policy change on key issues in California agriculture, so participants could learn from past successes and obstacles. Janaki is a student at UC Davis King Hall studying agriculture and land-use law. Previously, she coordinated the Community Alliance for Agroecology, a coalition of rural nonprofits that works to advance agricultural and environmental policy towards justice for communities in the San Joaquin Valley. Judith is a co-owner of Full Belly Farm, a 400-acre certified organic farm in Yolo County that grows vegetables, fruits, nuts, and flowers, and has been a long-time advocate for family farmers.
CalCAN Policy Director Jeanne Merrill lent her expertise to the room as she illuminated the political landscape of California and the legislative processes therein, using CalCAN policy campaigns as case studies. A diversified vegetable and fruit farmer from Ventura County said, “Learning the ins and outs of the state legislative process made it feel accessible, and like something I could see myself participating in.”
A recurring theme throughout the training was the challenge and necessity of addressing institutional inequity in the food and farming system. Though sustainable agriculture educators, producers and advocates have long recognized the importance of the three “E’s” of sustainability—economic, ecological and equity—the group grappled with how much more effort is needed, especially with regard to the political, economic and cultural barriers for people of color in the food system at large. Though there are no easy answers or roadmaps, the perspectives, conversations and stories shared during the weekend will be carried into the work of many who attended, including CalCAN’s.