FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
STUDENTS WIN DIALOGUE FOR A FOOD INITIATIVE ON THE GILL TRACT
April 22nd, 2014
Berkeley, CA – Students and community members gathered today at the University of California, Berkeley to celebrate Earth Day with a march for positive environmentalism. A delegation from Students for Engaged and Active Learning (SEAL) had a very specific message to deliver to top UC administrators: “halt commercial development of the Gill Tract and meet with us in a collaborative dialogue about the future of the remaining twenty acres of this historic farm.”
The Earth Day march ended at the UC Architecture and Engineering building, where a delegation from SEAL entered to deliver the petition. Students and community members from the march flooded the building in support of the delegates while others maintained a vigil outside, joining in chants and holding signs. Police officers were sent to clear the crowd, but the group held its ground and refused to leave until a meeting had been scheduled between students and community members and Vice Chancellor for Real Estate Robert LaLanne. Eventually, an administrator scheduled a meeting for May 7th, and conveyed that no progress on the development would occur on the Gill Tract before that date; SEAL’s delegation emerged in high spirits.
UC President Napolitano’s recently announced ‘Food Initiative’ has set the stage for the University to recognize its student leaders, and to take concrete actions necessary to realize the potential of the Gill Tract. Tract is uniquely suited to meet the cornerstone goals of President Napolitano’s Food Initiative: farming, economics, culture, and public health for a model food system, and there has been talk of an urban agroecological research center and community farm on the Tract. On the other hand, developing the Tract would pave over valuable and rare agricultural land and increase pollution in an area that is already in the ninetieth percentile in terms of diesel emissions. Student and community groups have been fighting the UC’s proposed commercial development of the Gill Tract for more than 17 years.
“I want the administration to recognize that students are already pushing the boundaries of innovative food systems education. We are working with the College of Natural Resources and the Berkeley Food institute to develop a Food Systems Minor, and our student-taught Organic Gardening and Food Justice class has over 200 hundred students enrolled,” said Maggie Barrett. “We’re excited about finally engaging in dialogue with the campus administration, to show them that a collaborative project on the Gill Tract could take this work to the next level and really be valuable to the future of UC Berkeley.”
Although the dialogue with UC administrators is a productive first step, the clock is still ticking on the development proposal. Without follow-up action, a unique opportunity to fulfill the goals of the University and the community may be lost. UC administrators have not agreed to enter in to a collaborative process with students and community members to plan for the future of the Gill Tract, and although administrators have said no development is expected before May 7th, they have made no guarantees beyond that.