The Struggle for the Gill Tract

The Gill Tract Farm
The Gill Tract Farm is the last remaining 20 acres of what was a one hundred acre farm that the UC has owned for almost a century.  Capital Projects, the Real Estate division of the University has had plans to privatize this entire piece of public land since the late 1990s, and they are imminently planning to pave over about 6 acres within the coming year. The land under the Gill Tract has a long history, and the people who have lived, farmed, taught, and dreamed here have endured repeated dispossession, silencing, and repression. This privatization project is effectively a corporate land grab from the people.

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Gill Tract Map 3

 #GillTractDefense
Occupy the Farm is organizing alongside a coalition of local community members, UC students, and regional stakeholders, to halt the paving of the Gill Tract. We are reclaiming this land to grow food, combat pollution and climate change, and to serve as a Center for Urban Agroecology and Food Justice, driven by the research and education needs of the community. Following Occupy the Farm’s 3-week land occupation in 2012, 10 acres of the land were transferred back to the College of Natural Resources until 2022.
See the trailer for the Occupy the Farm Film:

Since then, we have worked to help mentor students within the University, who in 2014 started Students for Engaged and Active Learning. Together, Occupy the Farm, SEAL, and long-time community members currently support the UC Gill Tract Community Farm, the new Community-University partnership project on the site, as we continue to organize to save the south side of the land through #GillTractDefense.

 

Breaking it down: The Community, The University, and The Land 

The Community Struggle
For 20 years, the local community and UC students, alumni, and faculty have attempted to create a Center for Urban Agriculture on the land. Through the late 1990s, the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA) proposed that the UC enter into a partnership with the community to create the world’s first university center on urban agriculture. Many other community groups emerged over the years, including Urban Roots and the Albany Farm Alliance, who organized to preserve the land for urban agriculture and food justice. This legacy has continued through to today. The Gill Tract Community Farm is currently governed by a wide community, including Albany neighbors, student families in UC Village, students at Berkeley and local K-12 schools, workers in local businesses, as well as the broader climate, environment, and food justice communities. Many of these same community members are involved in the struggle against the paving of the southern acreage of the tract.

READ MORE ABOUT THE INSUFFICIENCY OF THE COMMUNITY PROCESS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT IN SEAL’S REPORT TO UC BERKELEY’S CHANCELLOR NICHOLAS DIRKS, PAGE 25

 

The Privatization of the University
Through the past half-century, the defunding of the University of California has gone hand in hand with increased corporate funding. This has shifted research and education away from the interests of the public towards the interests of private corporations. The history of the Gill Tract Farm is an emblematic case study of this shift. The late 1990s saw the final stage in the dismantling of the Biological Control Research Station, a pioneer in integrated pest management, as well as an unprecedented donation to the College of Natural Resources from the biotech-company, Novartis. Today, much of the land is used for corn genetics research for patents, and is under threat of privatized development into a green-washed corporate supermarket.

“…preserving [The Gill Tract] as a productive farm is consistent with public policy and the public interest.  Such preservation would also honor the history of the Gill Tract, which has housed researchers who, since the 1940s, conducted research on biological pest control, protecting California agriculture from exotic pests without the use of chemical pesticides.”  – Miguel Altieri, 2012, UC Professor of Agroecology and researcher at the Gill Tract for over 30 years

Read more about the history of the biocontrol research center in SEAL’s Abbreviated History of the Gill Tract Farm. 

Read more about our new campaign to build public power in academia and shift this trend of privatization, check out the new Coalition for the Commons.

The Land
In an era of increasing drought, climate change, and hunger, the Gill Tract Farm provides a rare resource for urban agriculture, a living museum of the long history of the East Bay, and an irreplaceable habitat and resource for building resilient communities. The Gill Tract is the last remaining 20 acre piece of historic farmland in the now densely populated East Bay.  Until Spanish colonization, this land was stewarded by the Ohlone people, and today we attempt to honor this legacy by connecting with local indigenous communities, and respecting traditional indigenous agricultural knowledge. For centuries, the land has been fed by the rising and receding of three creeks, creating rich soil and habitat for diverse ecosystems. The UC’s proposed paving of this land does not responsibly steward this irreplaceable resource that they hold in the public trust.

To read more, see the virtual tour.