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Day 4- Atlanta, GA

We started the day off making sure we packed our patience when the bus didn’t arrive to take us to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  Ride share to the rescue, and after only a slight delay, we made it!  Although Coronavirus is obviously an important topic at the CDC, we focused on a number of issues that more directly impacted agriculture. 

We started the day off with Dr. Diane Harris, Senior Scientist and team lead for Healthy Food Environments and Dr. Art Liang, who both gave an overview of the CDC structure and where they fit in in it.  Both were gracious to join us for the full day.  Dr. Harris shared with us how the CDC and her program were working to develop optimal nutritional access thorough various life stages and institutions.  There are a number of programs in place looking at working with schools to buy locally and seasonally to reduce food costs and improve healthy eating.  Dr. Liang led a very relevant discussion around food born diseases and answered a lot of questions around outbreaks, disease, and food.

California Agricultural Leadership Program Class 50 with Dr. Diane Harris and Dr. Art Lang at the CDC.

We also had a great talk and discussion around the principals of risk communication and food safety with Laura Whitlock, a Health Communications Specialist.  She gave an overview of when and how decisions are made to communicate and how the CDC works with both the USDA and FDA to determine the source of an outbreak.  There was a lot of discussion around cost to producers verses the need for public safety and how, perhaps, there can be an improved dialogue when issues arise.  Her review of communication processes gave some valuable insight that is very transferable to other types of communication also.  During an outbreak (or crisis, or other stressful time), people look to credible trustworthy sources, and people often remember the first thing they hear during an emergency- even if it is wrong.  The trust is essential particularly when dealing with topics that are connected to us emotionally, have incomplete information, and can be highly technical and difficult to understand (sound like something you’ve had to communicate before?).  It is clear that the trust building has to happen before the emergency so that when the emergency comes it is already there. 

In order to lead to action, advice needs to be specific, clear, and complete.  We challenge everyone to work towards being a source of credible information so that people trust and look to you when a question arises. We can do this in our home and work lives, with friends, and on social media.  This trust and relationship has to be developed and tended to, and we can do that be being the source of actionable information. 

We were planning to have a tour of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), however they have been in full activation mode for Covid-19, and we were unable to visit.  The current activation level is close to maximum capacity of the currently available space.  We were able to have the next best thing, Wes McDermott, Emergency Management Specialist came to us.  He gave us a great overview of what happens when the EOC is activated.  The Incident Command Center is structured in a way that is flexible, scalable, and adaptable to any specific incident.  Teams are designed to do a specific task that is clearly communicated to them based on the leadership objectives.  There is a database of who has what skills, and each position on the team is a role.  That role can be filled by multiple people in order to be staffed 24/7. Being able to pull the person with the needed skills from this database allows for large numbers of people to be mobilized quickly.  Imagine how much more efficient and adaptable our organizations could be if we allowed to this type of quick action with clear direction. 

Our last stop at the CDC was the David L. Sencer CEC Museum- the only portion of the CDC that pictures were allowed.  Our tour was led by Heather McCann, Museum Educator.  Heather did a great job explaining the history of the CDC, specifically focusing on how smallpox was eradicated, what is being done to eradicate polio, and we were able to see an iron lung that was formerly used by Barton Hebert following his paralysis from polio.  We needed more time to go through all the interesting and historical displays at the museum. 

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Barton Herbert’s Iron Lung at the David J. Sencer CDC Museum.

After the CDC, we went to the Georgia Capital Building, where we had arranged a discussion with Representative Sam Watson, lobbyists, and State Farm Bureau Representative.  Sam was able to get permission to take us on the house floor, where he gave us an overview of the governmental processes in Georgia. 

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Class 50 in the Georgia State Capital building.

They all shared with us some of the issues facing farmers and ranchers in Georgia.  Rep. Watson knows them well, as he not only represents a rural district, but is a farmer himself.  Although there are certainly differences between Georgia and California, some of the challenges are the same, and were issues we discussed in Sacramento- promoting locally grown food in schools, cost of production, urban/suburban and ag interfaces.  One of the strong themes, like in California was communication and relationships.  Rep. Watson said “Before I got here, I thought people were against us.  It turns out they just don’t know.” We, as agriculturalists, need to do a better job building relationships, understanding others, and communicating what we do and the impact.  Perhaps some lessons from the CDC can be put into practice on this. 

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Representative Watson discusses the legislative process in Georgia with Class 50. 

We were honored to have Georgia Agricultural Commissioner, Gary Black join us for a great discussion on government, agriculture, and leadership.  Commissioner Black was entertaining and insightful, and also stressed the importance of keeping people talking to bring them together.  He stressed the importance of “staying out of the corners.”  Avoiding looking for the angles and the position to defend, but look to come to the circle and talk politely.  He also made us honorary citizens of Georgia, provided we spent all of our money while we were there! 

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Georgia Agricultural Commissioner Gary Black shares his story and advice with Class 50.

From the Capital Building, we went to Mary Mac’s Tea Room for an amazing dinner. In 1945, Mary McKinzie opened her Tea Room. At this time, women couldn’t open a restaurant, however they could open a “tea room.” This tea room has some of the best southern cooking we’ve ever tasted! We were also treated to two amazing renditions of “Happy Birthday” sung by the staff to Adrian Calixtro.

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Class 50 at Mary Mac’s Tea Room.

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