Op-ed: Making Land and Policy Connections

Two undergraduate students reflect on the 2022 California Climate and Agriculture Summit.

December 9, 2022
By Shuge Luo and Gustavo Gutierrez

On November 14, the BFI staff and a group of UC Berkeley students traveled to UC Davis to attend the 7th California Climate and Agriculture Summit, organized by the California Climate & Agriculture Network. This is the third in a series of blog posts reflecting on the summit.

Click here to read the first post, a recap of the healthy soils workshop.

Click here to read the second post, an op-ed from Goldman School graduate student Allegra Roth.

Shuge Luo:

While I have experience in environmental organizing and clean energy, I don’t have as much knowledge of the food system. At the same time, I am super passionate about food; food is an intersectional space where we can nourish ourselves and connect with each other and our ecological systems. Therefore, I was excited for the opportunity to attend the CalCAN Summit.

One of the biggest details I heard at the conference is that there can be a disconnect between conversations at the policy level and what is actually happening on farms. I paid attention to this at a panel on farmworker health and wellbeing.

The impacts of climate change are already here. There’s extreme heat in the Central Valley. California is suffering intensifying droughts and a lack of water. Wildfires displace farmworkers during key harvest seasons. Plus, the pandemic was a serious burden on farmworkers. One of the panelists, Lucas Zucker of the organization Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, pointed out that solutions like temporary shade covers or N95 masks are just bandaids for the problems faced by farmworkers. Shade covers are sparse or do not cool the farmworkers down sufficiently, and farmworkers should not be expected to wear masks throughout an entire, laborious shift.

Overall, I learned at the conference that crafting policy and creating change should include the people that policy would serve. That is why I found the CalCAN Summit a great opportunity — it helps connect people from different sectors of the food system with each other, and with students like me. I am not always aware of the work that goes into the food I eat every day. It’s my goal to get closer to understanding and appreciating everyone who works hard in this food system.

Gustavo Gutierrez:

As a student of agroecology and member of Berkeley Student Farms, I have been encouraged by the intellectual work of the organization La Via Campesina, which is based on the frameworks of food sovereignty and popular agrarian struggle. According to La Via Campesina, people have the right to produce food in their own territories. Therefore, agriculture plays an important role in social, economic, and ecological reform. To me, that means that an agrarian revolution would not operate in service of industrialization but instead would unite urban and rural populations in class struggle and uplift traditional ecological knowledge — what the state of California often calls nature based solutions — the can flourish unabated by neoliberal directives.

This was my lens going into the the CalCAN Summit. This framework guided me to ask myself if the policy and climate plans and solutions discussed at the conference sufficiently addressed the material conditions of farmworkers and marginalized communities, particularly the perpetually exploited class of migrant farmworkers.

Several panel sessions at the conference included discussions that weaved this thread of capitalism and inequities in the agricultural sector. Namely, one panel on secure land tenure as a climate solution, in which academic Liz Carlisle, farmer Javier Zamora of JSM Organic Farm, and Thea Maria Carlson of Agrarian Trust, discussed land access for farmers of color as a necessary avenue for climate justice. It was clear to me that farm advocates and scholars have identified the gap between climate change adaptation policies and equity. New entry farmers face certain structural barriers to accessing land. I think it’s necessary that policymakers focus on ways to transfer land from market forces to the public commons through a combination of community land trusts and rematriation as a climate solution.