Over the course of a 500-mile, week-long journey to the heart of California agriculture, the largely-urban Coro Fellows dove into an immersive learning experience of systems analysis. They explored how disparate systems and issues (land use, water management, air and quality control, government regulations and labor) interact with stakeholders (farmers, dairymen, cattle ranchers, winemakers, University of California researchers and extension agents, regulators, and rural county supervisors) to form a food system responsible for a sizable chunk of the nation’s food and dairy production.
Fellows started out with a “Don’t Know-What-You-Don’t Know” mindset to learn from expert sources — NASA scientists experimenting with future of growing food for space exploration, small, urban farm manager engaging with San Jose neighbors to improve access to fresh produce for low-income families, the operations manager Taylor Farms in Salinas (processors of 70% of North America’s packaged lettuce), and boots-on-the-ground, multi-generation farmers farmers facing their most important challenges — the availability of a labor force to get products from farm to distribution systems and the availability of water during drought years.
“I didn’t realize how little I knew about agriculture” and “it felt like a blur” were common responses to the depth and richness of Agriculture Week. The week concluded near Davis, where fellows had the opportunity to “break bread” with Rich and Shelley Collins to discuss 40 years of farming. Agriculture Week gives Fellows the opportunity to leverage the Coro tools in order to reflect and connect systems, issues and stakeholders. It’s a set of skills and knowledge valuable to future leaders, policy makers and change agents.