Creating a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of California Gill Tract in Albany
A preliminary proposal by the
Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA)
for a partnership with
the University of California at Berkeley and
the Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
BACUA, a coalition of more than 30 non-profits and community organizations in the Bay Area, proposes that the University of California enter into a university/community partnership in order to create the world's first university center on sustainable urban agriculture and food systems. The purposes of the Center would be to promote research, education, extension and outreach on the various social, environmental, economic and ecological dimensions of urban farming and sustainable food systems. The expansion of urban agriculture and alternative food systems is a worldwide phenomenon that has caught the attention of policy makers, activists and funders as a new response to issues of food security, economic development, poverty alleviation, urban blight, waste recycling and environmental preservation. The proposed Center would be located at the Gill Tract in Albany and would benefit the university community as well as a diverse array of constituencies in the Bay Area, California, the U.S., and internationally.
Peter Rosset, Ph.D., Co-Chair of BACUA
and Executive Director of The Institute for Food & Development Policy (Food First)
398 60th Street
Oakland, CA 94618
The Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA), a coalition of more than 30 non-profits and community organizations in the Bay Area, proposes that the University of California enter into a university/community partnership in order to create the world's first university center on sustainable urban agriculture and food systems. The purposes of the Center would be to promote research, education, extension and outreach on the various social, environmental, economic and ecological dimensions of urban farming and sustainable food systems. The expansion of urban agriculture and alternative food systems is a worldwide phenomenon that has caught the attention of policy makers, activists and funders as a new response to issues of food security, economic development, poverty alleviation, urban blight, waste recycling and environmental preservation. The proposed Center would be located at the Gill Tract in Albany and would benefit the university community as well as a diverse array of constituencies in the Bay Area, California, the U.S., and internationally.
I. Background And Justification
Fighting Hunger through Urban Agriculture
A recent report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) highlighted the growing worldwide importance of urban farming. According to this report, fully one seventh of the planet's food supply is grown in cities and there are some 800 million urban farmers in the world. People grow food on public and private lands, vacant lands, in and around homes, alone or in organized groups. In many cities a great number of low-income families rely on farming for survival, while richer inhabitants garden for dietary diversity and a healthier food supply, and entrepreneurs have created thriving agricultural businesses. Recognizing the potential of urban agriculture to help solve problems of hunger and unemployment, the UNDP and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs have just established the Global Facility for Urban Agriculture to be housed at the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in Canada. The Facility's mission will be to fund and foster research and promotion of urban farming worldwide.
A Growing Movement
In the United States it is estimated that about 30% of the agricultural output originates within or on the edges of metropolitan areas. Urban farmers and gardeners come from a wide range of economic levels, ethnic backgrounds and relationships to the market. In the Bay Area there are private businesses, neighborhood groups, youth programs, projects for seniors, for the homeless, and for people in recovery, all of whom farm some part of our urban habitat. A growing number of educators are also recognizing the potential of school gardens as tools for the teaching of ecology, biology and other sciences as well as the teaching of food production. Throughout the U.S. an alternative and perhaps more sustainable urban food system is arising, which includes urban farms and gardens, farmers' markets, metropolitan food security councils, community supported agriculture (subscription farms), and other relatively recent phenomena. Yet no land grant university has taken a leadership role by placing urban agriculture and sustainable food systems squarely on the agenda for research, education and extension. This is a unique opportunity for the University of California to both serve its local community and to put itself in the vanguard of a worldwide trend that is receiving growing attention from policy makers and funding agencies.
Composition of the Coalition
The Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA) is composed of a diverse group of non-profit and community-based organizations. Represented are sustainable farming advocates, concerned UC faculty, prominent community members, urban farmers, groups working on hunger issues, policy think tanks, community gardening associations, school gardening organizations, farmers market organizers, educators of children, youth and adults, groups working with at-risk youth and unemployed adults, environmental organizations, foundations, and neighborhood organizations (see list of endorsers in Appendix 1). These groups formed BACUA to join efforts and establish collaborative projects to promote research, education, extension, information exchange and community outreach in urban farming and alternative food systems.
University/Community Partnership for mutual benefit
It is becoming increasingly common throughout the world for public institutions, and universities in particular, to form partnerships with non-profits. The University of California needs to be embedded within a supportive community to carry out its land grant mission. Urban agriculture and sustainable food systems is an area where the University can continue serving the public good. Research can help increase food security in our cities, can help farmers cut costs and develop ecologically sound and economically sustainable businesses in urban areas, and can help build educational and training programs that help fight unemployment and isolation.
BACUA is proposing the creation of a partnership with the University of California at Berkeley (UCB), both a campus of excellence and the Land Grant institution in the Bay Area. UCB has a large body of faculty, researchers and students in the College of Natural Resources and in other academic units such as Geography and City and Regional Planning, comprising an incredible collection of human resources, technical expertise, and research specialists relevant to urban agriculture. The urban location of the Campus and its strengths in natural resources make Berkeley a prime candidate to position itself as the leading academic institution in urban agriculture in the world. By interacting with community organizations the potential exists for enhancing the relevance and immediate and wide application of the science-based urban agriculture knowledge generated at the University.
Non-profits can provide public support as well as contact with target communities, and in turn, non-profits can benefit from the infrastructure and expertise that the University offers. It is envisioned that such a partnership, with the synergism between university professors, researchers, extension agents, students and committed non-profits working in the new and rapidly expanding field of urban agriculture, could achieve levels of excellence that none could reach alone. Professors and/or university units would apply for jointly funded projects with non-profits. Non-profit staff would support university research, while professors and students would participate in the outreach and teaching done with community groups.
The Gill Tract
Among the many resources of relevance for activities in urban agriculture and food systems available at the University is the Gill Tract located in Albany. This site served for decades as the headquarters of the Division of Biological Control, a world pioneering research and educational unit promoting alternatives to pesticides in urban, agricultural, and forest environments. The Gill Tract contains one of the largest pieces of farm land remaining in the East Bay. This land has been farmed organically for twenty years and has provided scientists and students with opportunities to conduct research on biological pest control and agroecology, as well as training activities on ecological horticulture to many students from the United States and abroad. The Gill Tract also has a number of greenhouses, laboratories, office space, and other facilities that through the years complemented research and educational activities.
Recognizing that the Gill Tract is now currently under-utilized due to budgetary and other constraints, and honoring its history and tradition, BACUA proposes that UCB -- in partnership with BACUA -- create on the site a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems, to promote research, education, extension and outreach in urban farming and alternative food systems. Nowhere in the world is there such a Center. This unique Center would allow the UCB-BACUA partnership to provide world leadership in the field and make it a prime candidate for funding from the Global Urban Agriculture Facility and other funders. The Foundation for Deep Ecology in San Francisco has already provided seed funds to BACUA and is willing to assist in fund raising efforts to bring other foundations to support the Center's activities.
II. Goals And Objectives Of The Partnership
The current central goal of BACUA is to enter into a partnership with the University of California, Berkeley, to create a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems at the Gill Tract in Albany. The center would be jointly managed on a model along the lines of Ft. Mason or the Presidio, and would ideally house Cooperative Extension, University faculty and programs as well as non-profits working on urban agriculture and sustainable food systems issues. This center would promote research, training, and extension-outreach in the technical, nutritional, and socio-economic aspects of urban farming.
Specific objectives of the Center would include:
- to conduct research on the various ecological, socioeconomic, nutritional, policy-related and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture and alternative food systems.
- to set up, within a working urban farm, experimental plots where various alternative technologies of crop management (e.g. biological pest control, organic soil management, intercropping designs, raised beds, biodynamic farming techniques and permaculture, etc.) are researched for optimal yields, sustainability, economic viability, and land/labor productivity.
- to establish programs to teach graduate and undergraduate students the theory and practice of urban agriculture and alternative urban food systems.
- to establish a clearing house/resource center to meet the particular needs of K-12 public school teachers and administrators. Such a resource center would offer information about curricula and activities which help integrate gardening into the current curriculum and meet the state mandated subject frameworks, offer funding information and ideas for developing a sustainable gardening program, offer information about coordinating a school garden with the school custodial staff, lunch program, local businesses and the larger school community.
- to train community members in environmentally sound methods of food production through hands-on learning and field practices in organic horticultural methods, field days, workshops, seminars, plant clinics, etc.
- to provide assistance and training in the business and marketing aspects of urban agriculture to community members.
- Extension, Outreach and Development
- to establish links with consumers of all ages, socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds through educational events to enhance the understanding of their role in sustainable food systems and the importance of food security, growing and eating healthy food, and establishing social relations through food production activities.
- to establish or maintain a working farm that would serve as a demonstration area for training community members and as a research site for the University, while providing jobs to local youth and food to local residents.
- to establish a set of urban garden plots, perhaps within the farm, to demonstrate various methods of ecological horticulture to raise food crops and ornamentals.
- to assist and promote the development of community gardens, school gardens and other related activities by developing working models, workshops, resources and connections.
- to assist and promote the development of farmers' markets and community supported agriculture-type projects for the purposes of direct marketing of urban agricultural products and consumer education.
- to create capacity among local community groups to develop alternative food systems, and to allow them to fully participate in all of the goals and programs by providing resources, training, and community representation in the Center's decision-making structure.
III. Proposed Programs Of The Center
Though millions of people produce food in cities, little known about how much potential remains unfulfilled--for increasing the food supply, improving production methods, improving urban economic security, and restoring a form of "common good" to community life. The following are important areas for further research conducted by members of the Center in close collaboration with University professors and students:
- Economic potential
Understanding the impacts and benefits of urban agriculture on income generation and enterprise development, marketing dimensions and linkages between farmers and consumers and between farmers and farming input industries. It will be important to determine the effects of urban agriculture vis-a-vis pricing, access to market, distributional equity, etc. on the local community.
- Food security and nutritional potential
Exploring the benefits of urban farming activities on the general nutrition and food self sufficiency of various social groups, and on the empowerment of poorer sectors to feed themselves and thus reduce the need for food subsidies. It will be crucial to determine to what extent people in cities can grow staple crops, such as corn, beans, potatoes or yams. Studies are needed to determine which combination of crops would produce the higher food value on a lot of given size (say 100 square meters), intensively cultivated, in various climates. Since many urban dwellers already produce their own chickens, eggs, or fish in urban settings, often in the informal economy for which little data exists, it is important to determine the protein potential of such operations.
- Environmental enhancement potential
Examining the sociology of urban agriculture and alternative food systems. Urban agriculture has the potential of improving the environmental quality of cities through the recycling of city waste for composting, thus reducing waste management costs, by putting to use unused land, by converting degraded and unkempt vacant lots into healthy green areas, thus contributing to city beautification and by promoting organic and other low input technologies for the management of soils, pests, diseases and weeds.
- Social, cultural and human potential
Exploring the effects of urban gardening on getting urban inhabitants in touch with their food supply systems, and in appreciating the importance of a healthy food system. Assessing the impact of such activities on the change of consumption patterns of consumers and on the nutritional status of poorer populations, especially children will also be crucial.
Polluted air or soil could be a serious impediment to growing food in some cities. How can city administrators most effectively make soil testing and soil cleaning services available (or mandatory) to people who want to rehabilitate empty lots? In areas where leaded gasoline is still used, or where lead, PCBs, and other contaminants may be present in soil where buildings have been demolished, what affordable means are available for reconditioning the soil for growing food? It would be especially useful to determine the extent to which the technologies used for toxic waste cleanups, such as bioremediation, could be adapted to routine revitalization of urban neighborhoods.
- Land use planning and policy
Fruitful research areas in land use planning could include assessing what incentives exist, or could be created, for cleaning up and using empty lots for growing food. In the United States, existing policies pull developers centrifugally away from the city, to bulldoze farmland outside the city for new suburbs--and drive farms farther from the places where their produce is used. The question is how to reverse the incentives that now drive people out, so that central city lots become valued locations for new residences, workplaces, schools, recreation, and gardens--in short, all the elements of a fully functioning community.
- Water use
The water requirements of cities are already in conflict with those of agriculture in many regions. Growing food in cities imposes new demands for water and, presumably, could exacerbate already existing problems of supplying adequate water for household and industrial uses. In what areas can urban farming succeed with natural rainfall, and in what areas would it need supplementary water? A critical consideration is the extent to "gray" water, or waste water from showers and sinks, etc., could be reused in urban agriculture
- Alternative design
The is a vast area to be explored in terms of alternative design and utilization of space to promote urban agriculture. For example, the flat roofs of Bay Area cities constitute what may be called a "vast wasteland" of unused space. Extensive research has been done on the possible uses of this space to capture solar energy and rainwater--and, in fact, the technologies of rooftop photo voltaic and rainwater cisterns are in fairly wide use. Since solar energy and water are two of the essential inputs to agriculture, an obvious question is whether synergistic designs can be developed. A laudable challenge to architects would be to design rooftops that combine optimal insulation, passive solar heating, photo voltaic electric power, rainwater collection, and agricultural production.
- Education and Training
U.S. and foreign students and researchers would study the research accomplished and methods developed at the Center in order to promote world-wide understanding of urban agriculture and alternative food systems.
Educational courses and internships could be established for serious full-time practitioners of the development of urban agriculture, including farmers, organizers, municipal administrators and local and foreign students.
- University students
As part of the University's educational program, undergraduate and graduate students could complement their training through hands-on learning of the various dimensions of urban agriculture. Existing courses or newly devised courses could include academic activities and internships linked to the Center for broader exposure of students to food issues in the city.
- Children and youth
There is the potential to establish environmental education projects where the importance of biodiversity, nature's cycles, life cycles of organisms, living soil, beneficial insects, etc. can be taught to children through urban agricultural field projects. The Center has the potential to educate K-12 teachers, administrators, students, their families and the community about economic botany, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, etc. The Center could help design hands-on curriculum in food related issues for elementary school teachers/classrooms.
The Center could offer students opportunities to become interns. Interns might fulfill a service learning opportunity by tending to a community garden, supporting the physically challenged to gain agriculture experience, or by participating in an inter-generational group to increase knowledge and use of fresh produce or ethnic foods.
Educational activities that directly involve the community would help to increase the consciousness of a critical mass of consumers about the importance of raising their own food for income generation, food security, environmental preservation, and urban landscaping. This would in turn promote a social energy that could potentially influence what people eat, what supermarkets offer, what schools teach, what policy makers decide and, especially for the elderly, recovering substance abusers, and the terminally ill, a way to personal fulfillment and possibly healing. Community members could be trained through workshops, short courses, experiential learning, etc. on a variety of issues.
- Extension and Community Outreach
- Creating an urban farm as a model for community-based sustainable economic development.
We believe that a working farm is the ideal setting for research and demonstration activities. [In this light we note that The East Bay Asian Youth Center and the University of California Cooperative Extension Youth Development Program in Alameda County have already established an urban farm at the Gill Tract. This project, The Urban Farm Collaborative, has a three-year agreement with the University of California for the use of one acre of agricultural land, a greenhouse, and storage space at the Gill Tract.]
- Experimental/Educational Garden Plots
A portion of the available land could be used for community-organized demonstration garden plots. Through community involvement, the actual spatial/temporal layout, composition and management of the plots could be determined in a participatory way. In these plots, participants would be exposed (through direct field work, field days, practical workshops, etc.) to the cultivation requirements of vegetables, herbs, flowers, and fruit cultivars, the specifics of soil organic management, composting, sowing, cultivation and alternative methods of weed, insect, and disease control. Participants could also be exposed to the strategies of marketing though connections with the on-site farm program and through local farmers' markets. Special workshops, short courses, and seminars on various topics ranging from specific issues such as how to deal with pests and diseases, how community based urban garden projects might contribute to the viability and progress of cities, to the effects of biotechnology and globalization on food issues would expose participants to the interconnectedness of agriculture, politics, and health. Plant clinics could also be set up at specified times to allow citizens to bring their diseased plants, or their questions about plant health.
- School Gardens
A demonstration school garden could be established as an educational tool for teachers and administrators. Perhaps this garden could be maintained by children from local schools and could be used for school tours and projects.
- Community Gardens
The Center would generate on-site information about the design and management of sustainable urban gardens. By networking efforts with other Bay Area urban agriculture organizations (e.g. EBUG, SLUG, etc.), the Center could organize cross-visits and engage in exchange of written and oral information. The sponsorship of common events such as seminars and field days would be actively promoted, involving gardening and environmental groups and the UC Cooperative Extension. By creating a documentation and information exchange mechanism, the center activists would strengthen information resources on community gardening and urban farming, and foster the building of information exchange networks in the area of urban agriculture.
- Restoration of the Gill Tract
In addition to the agricultural land, the Gill Tract has many gardens, woodlots, park-like areas and a creek that need restoration. Ecological restoration projects at the Gill Tract can be undertaken with volunteers from the community and the University. Planting riparian trees and shrubs along Village Creek would prevent erosion, protect wildlife and help maintain the health of one of the few remaining stream side environments in the Albany-Berkeley area. Some of the wooded areas need to be cleaned of undesirable vegetation and excess plant biomass, and several sections need to be revegetated following designs that will enhance beauty and ecological balance. Community access to restored areas should be encouraged.
- Farmers' Markets in the Urban Agriculture Plan
As the Center at the Gill Tract develops, teaches, coordinates and promotes increased food production on urban land from San Francisco to Richmond, the new growers can turn to the already established network of certified farmers' markets for help in marketing their produce directly to urban consumers.
Certified farmers' markets contribute to the sustainability of small and urban farms as ongoing self-supporting businesses by providing regular weekly marketplaces where the growers sell at retail prices, thus eliminating the middle persons and giving the growers a higher price for their products than if they sold wholesale. An environmental benefit is the elimination of the need to burn fossil fuel transporting food to wholesalers' and distributors' warehouses. A benefit to the consumer is fresher, more varieties of and often tastier produce than that found in the grocery stores. Certified farmers' markets, regulated by state direct marketing laws which are enforced by county agricultural commissioners, provide a regular direct contact between growers and consumers. This face-to-face interaction allows each to educate the other. City people who may have never seen a farm can talk regularly with the people who actually grow the food, who may also be their neighbors. Children, youth, formerly unemployed people and part-time urban gardeners and farmers can all build their self-sufficiency and self-esteem and learn marketing and other aspects of small business management by selling their locally-grown produce at farmers' markets. They can also develop and sell processed foods, such as jams and sauces at the farmers' markets. Certified farmers' markets can be utilized and studied through the Center in their various aspects as food security enhancers, business training and development workshops, community gathering places and nutritional and environmental education forums.
- Other Activities
A variety of other possible projects which could enhance the goals of a UCB-BAUAC partnership have been proposed, or might be thought of. Those proposed include a Demonstration Native and Medicinal Plant Garden, a Resource Yard and Recycling Workshop, an Urban Design Studio, a Greenhouse Mobile, etc.
BACUA proposes that the facility be managed as a joint university/community partnership. Various models exist for partnerships between public institutions, non-profits and community groups, notably the local cases of Ft. Mason and The Presidio. One possibility is to create a non-profit management corporation with University, Cooperative Extension, and BACUA representation on its Board. BACUA stresses that in whichever form the policy board takes, local organizations from groups which serve economically disadvantaged communities must be meaningfully represented. The role and responsibility of the Board in overseeing the functioning and implementation of objectives and activities of the Center would be clearly laid out in a UC-BACUA cooperative agreement.
Urban agriculture is an emerging world trend which has attracted much interest as well as funding (e.g. the Urban Agriculture Global Facility located at IDRC). The University could seize the initiative and seek funding by creating the first University-based center in the world dedicated to urban farming research. A large grant from the facility or other foundations could provide seed monies to initiate some of the key programs of the Center. Rental fees paid by the non-profits using office space at the Gill Tract, as well as from the various weekly workshops and courses, could provide additional funds for core programs, facility maintenance, and for site restoration/improvement.
There is growing interest in urban agriculture and food security in the foundation community. For example, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, which for years has supported a variety of non-profit, community, regional and international efforts to demonstrate the viability and strength of non-chemical agriculture, has expressed interest and a commitment to help raise funds and connect the Center with other donors to obtain the necessary funds so that the infrastructure provided by the Gill Tract can be enhanced to allow a variety of groups to participate in the program. The California Wellness and Blue Cross Foundations are set to launch food security initiatives. In all cases, these foundations stress community participation and involvement.
VI. Expected Impacts And Outcome
- Partnership for International Leadership
As agriculture transcends the rural limits and becomes a focal point in the integration of food production and urban life, establishing a university-community partnership to create the first Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems in the world can contribute to scientific basis as well as the mechanism to make urban communities more sustainable and secure. The impact of the Center's educational, research, and outreach programs can transcend the Bay Area region and catapult Berkeley to international leadership in the field.
- Guiding urban food policy
Momentum for expanding the practice of urban agriculture is building, and the Center's work could be vital to guiding such expansion so that cities can draw plans that include provisions and policy mechanisms for urban farmers to prosper and for collaborative grassroots projects to produce food for low-income communities.
The impacts of the Center's programs and how they translate into changing concepts about food and consumption patterns of consumers cannot easily be assessed in the short term. However, initial success of the program can be evaluated by considering the number of participants in the various activities, and the economic viability of the on-site farm. Getting a key number of faculty conducting research and students to serve as interns will also be important. Low-income groups becoming active in promoting community gardens in their own neighborhoods will also serve as an indicator of the impacts of the Center's projects on community empowerment.
BACUA is submitting this proposal to UCB in the hopes that UCB will sit down at the table with us to discuss forming such a partnership. Then it will be possible to begin the work necessary to reach agreements regarding feasibility, budget, governance, fund raising, and activities to be carried out in the Center. We hope that the next, more detailed version of this proposal will be a joint product of the University and BACUA. This is a unique opportunity for the University to take positive action in partnership with a supportive community while taking an international leadership role in an important new field.
Appendix I. Endorsers Of This Proposal As Of 2/5/97Organizations
1 Ecology Center
2 Alameda County Food Bank
3 Mothers and Others
4 Bio-Friendly Gardens/Berkeley
5 Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative
6 East Bay Urban Gardeners (EBUG)
7 California Adolescent Nutrition and Fitness Program (CANFit)
8 Global Vision 20/20
9 Center for Ecoliteracy
11 Abya Yala Fund
12 The Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First)
14 Center for Urban Education About Sustainability
15 Foundation for Deep Ecology
16 Berkeley Youth Alternatives
17 Voice of the Soil
18 Strong Roots Youth Intergenerational Gardening Program
19 Alameda County Office of Education
20 Rural Urban Dynamics, Inc.
21 East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse
22 International Society for Ecology & Culture
23 CRS Student Organization - UC Berkeley
24 Contra Costa County Food Bank
25 Pesticide Action Network North America Regional Center
26 Global Exchange
27 Earth Regeneration Society
28 Urban Habitat
29 Berkeley Farmer's Market
30 Berkeley Region Exchange & Development
31 San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners (SLUG)
32 Community Supported Agriculture West (CSA-West)
Dr. Lloyd Andres, ex-director USDA Lab formerly at Gill Tract
Alice Waters, Chez Panisse
Carrie Core, Seventh Generation, KPFA
Dale Bartlett, aide to Berkeley
Councilman Maudelle Shirek
Irene Tinker, City and Regional Planning
Don Dahlsten, Associate Dean, ESPM
Miguel Altieri, ESPM
Michael Watts, Director, Institute for International Studies
Richard Walker, Chair, Geography
Claudia Carr, ESPM
Ignacio Chapela, ESPM
Paul Gersper, ESPM
Joe Hancock, ESPM
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