Farmworker given mask - photo credit CAUSE

COVID-19 & the Knights Landing Environmental Health Project

The pandemic proved transformative for this cancer research project

Quick Summary

  • The Knights Landing One Health Center provides linguistically competent and culturally relevant healthcare services to the rural underserved in the Knights Landing area.
  • The Knights Landing Environmental Health Project operates under the One Health Center and began in 2016 when grad students Skye Kelty and Alfonso Aranda won an Idea Pitch Award from the UC Davis (UCD) Environmental Health Sciences Center.
  • While their idea focused on cancer, the project's community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach helped it pivot quickly during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic compounded existing environmental and health injustices experienced by residents of agricultural and unincorporated communities like Knights Landing, so our interdisciplinary team working on the Knights Landing Environmental Health Project went to work right away with our dedicated promotora-researchers. Our immediate response involved deploying personal protective equipment to essential workers, direct aid like supplies and food, as well as intensive advocacy for testing and vaccination resources in the community. Beyond these emergency needs, longer-term concerns emerged related to:

  • The crisis youth faced losing family members to Covid-19 and coping with serious health issues, financial difficulties and lack of support and services
  • Questions about cumulative impacts of COVID-19 infection and existing exposures on lung health.

To address these issues, we partnered with senior and junior promotora researchers who represent Knights Landing, Woodland and Firebaugh. Senior promotoras are established community leaders, while junior promotoras are apprentices. The role of junior promotora was new for our project. We also brought on UCD SAYS, Dr. Manzo from UC Merced and the Institute for Diversity, Equity and Advancement to bolster our ability to support youth in rural California and Sacramento. A grant from the UC Davis Public Impact Research Initiative supported this work.

Our youth participants are now documenting their pandemic experiences in communities with a history of environmental injustice through democratic production of knowledge, art, photography, poems and spoken word. Affirming the significance and legitimacy of “community knowledge” — or the knowledge of those most affected by a particular set of social problems — and the mutual construction of expertise in the production of sound policy solutions as well as research, we use a CBPR approach, which ensures participants in research are active agents or “co-intellectuals” in the process.

We're also building our capacity to measure lung function under the leadership of a Chicana/o Studies MURALS student Julianna Ramirez, with supervision by Dr. Deeb-Sossa. With support from EHSC's Integrative Health Sciences Facility Core and spirometry, Ramirez is using CBPR to better understand the lung health of farmworkers in Knights Landing. The idea for this study originates with farmworkers whose lung health is affected by working conditions, smoke, heat and COVID-19 exposure.

Ramirez is hoping to do the tests at the UCD Knights Landing One Health Center. If farmworkers agree to continue with the study after Ramirez graduates, Dr. Deeb-Sossa is planning a longitudinal study to be conducted by medical students or undergraduate volunteers at the One Health Center. Our hope is this data can help farmworkers demand better working conditions and make healthy decisions regarding their lungs.

Additionally, we've agreed to a community partnership in an application for a UCD grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that would fund household air filters during wildfire smoke season.

Dr. Natalia Deeb-Sossa is a Professor in the Chicana/o Studies Department at UC Davis. Her latest book is "Community-Based Participatory Research: Testimonios from Chicana/o Studies."

Dr. Skye Kelty is the co-principal investigator and co-founder for the Knights Landing Environmental Health Project. Skye is a translational environmental toxicologist and aspires to be a resource for communities overcoming environmental pollution.