Dear Dean Gilless,
The initiatives and efforts you outlined in your letter to the Albany City Council & Citizens of Albany on March 4, 2014 deserve congratulations and have not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. However, your letter did not acknowledge the significant student demand and involvement that made these initiatives possible and successful. Additionally, the statement in your letter about the College of Natural Resources receiving funding from the South part of the Gill Tract development plan in order to maintain its support for these programs came as a shock, and we ask for full transparency in how much funding you are receiving and where exactly it will go. We are curious as to how significant this funding must be for CNR to openly support the development of invaluable urban open space and to disregard the immense potential for research, innovation, and investment that could come from a globally-recognized Urban Agroecology Research Center at the epicenter of urban gardening here in the East Bay of California.
We request a meeting to have a conversation about this situation.
The new initiatives you outlined in your previous letter showcase our university’s potential to channel student and community partnerships towards innovative programs that strengthen student skills while meeting community needs–this University is full of more potential. This semester, over 200 students use the 1,100 square foot Student Organic Garden on the corner of Walnut and Virginia St. to ground lecture hall theories in hands-on experience and skill-building. When the University threatened to sell the land to EBMUD in the 1990s, students united to save the garden. Despite limited land and financial resources, little institutional support, and unpaid leaders balancing their roles as full time students, garden managers, and educators, the Student Organic Garden has become an integral part of many people’s educations at UC Berkeley. The 20 acre Gill Tract has 1000 times the space as the SOGA garden, creating an incredible potential to be utilized to expand the educational efforts that are rapidly increasing at the Student Organic Garden.
It is clear that we have run out of space for providing this critical educational resource to the University. Practical agriculture knowledge is in high demand from students who recognize the magnitude of the changes that will need to occur in our food system if we are to sustainably feed all communities and adapt to the imminent spectre of climate change that already marks our generation. These are lessons that we have learned in most CNR classes. Developing the Gill Tract is the conventional, expected action. Students see and believe in CNR’s ability to provide passionate, brilliant minds with the resources needed to explore new alternatives–ones that will give us a livable future.
Students have been actively engaged and at the forefront of each of the steps CNR has taken to “expand its a footprint in the emerging areas of food systems, urban agriculture, local and sustainable food production, and food justice.” Students have played an active role in moving forward with the creation of the Food Systems minor, attending the job talks and meetings with all three candidates for the Sustainable Agriculture Systems faculty, securing ESPM 117: Urban Garden Ecosystems for another semester, engaging in the participatory research project at the Gill Tract, and facilitating or enrolling in numerous DeCal classes, in addition to the one sponsored by SOGA. It is important to recognize the work of the Berkeley Student Food Collective, and many other student initiated groups and campaigns also dedicated to furthering innovative solutions to the industrial food system.
From the student perspective, the area of the Gill Tract under CNR control is not sufficient to fully expand on the momentum spiraling out of classroom discussions and into tangible action.
The letter you wrote to the City Council represents a limited vision of the land’s potential for education, research, and community-engaged knowledge production, and one that contradicts the CNR’s demonstrated commitment to prioritizing the kind of education needed for a future with a just and sustainable food system. As important collaborators in the innovative programs that are developing within CNR, we ask that you meaningfully engage with us in a participatory dialogue about the Gill Tract, and recognize our stake in this project.
Students of the University of California, Berkeley