[Author Richard Strong describes himself as a consulting soil scientist with a practice in the East Bay. He has been part of the Association of Applied Insect Ecologists and was a friend of van Den Bosh at the Gill Tract Bio Control in the 1970s. He later worked with BACUA in the 1990s. In May, he gave a talk at the Albany Library about the Gill Tract soil. Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor. Email email@example.com for details.]
In 1890 a horticulturalist, Edward Gill, bought 104 acres of land in Albany to use as a nursery. He planted ornamental trees and plants from around the world for use in landscaping. He died in 1909 and his son John Gill carried on. In 1945 he gave the University of California 36 acres to develop a research facility. Later the university bought more land bringing the total to 194 acres; but the northeast corner was to be an academic reserve for agricultural experiments.
In 1862 Lincoln had signed the Morrill Act allocating land to each state "for education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions of life." California used the federal funds to support the idea of an Agricultural, Mining and Mechanical Arts College in Berkeley. By 1868 U.C. was established as a Land Grant University and teaching commenced the next year with 40 students and a faculty of 10. Berkeley was the major agriculture, mining and forestry school in California for half a century. Davis was started as the University Farm in 1905 and Riverside as the Citrus Experiment Station in 1907, both becoming general campuses in 1959.
Other federal enabling laws related to U.C. Berkeley were the Smith Lever Act of 1914 creating agricultural extension In 1960 the Gill Tract land came under the Department of Entomology Science (also called the Department of Biological Control). In 1985 and additional provision was made for an Urban Grant which is applicable to the use of the Gill Tract as a resource for research and teaching in urban and organic farming. Three other grants added to the Morrill Act were: the Sea Grant (1966), Space Grant (1988) and Sun Grant (2003).
What transpired in Albany during the sixties and seventies was the development of a world center for bio control. Bio Control is controlling farm pests and diseases through importation of parasites, predators and pathogens from locations from which our trees and crops originated. These organisms evolved at the same time as the pests they preyed on and controlled their numbers. Walnuts, apples, pears, cotton, tomatoes and citrus all had been separated from beneficial insects when they were collected from their country of origin.
Much of bio control work done by researchers is done by a man climbing a tree, looking at bugs with a hand lens and understanding what it feeds on and how it survives. These beneficials are collected and colonized and often totally eliminate the need for agrichemicals. Permanent reduction of the use of chemicals on 421 pests has been accomplished in 196 countries, and complete control of 60 major crop pests locally, over a period of 100 years.
The great names of pioneers in this work: Huffaker, Dalsten, Smith, van den Bosch, Michelbacher and others worked in the green houses, laboratories and offices at the Gill Tract. They, along with colleagues from UC Riverside, collaborated with countries around the world in discovering beneficial organisms that facilitated the natural control that is effective on imported trees and crops. It was a golden time and a strategy welcomed as a response to Silent Spring’s warning of the side effects of pesticides.
Land grant universities perform nearly all research to further the public interest in the extractive industries. The intent of the 1862 Morrill Act at its passage was to help farmers, miners and loggers in developing the frontier. These were small operators. The science level at that time was so rudimentary that the advances were basic, that is, in the service of mankind. What has transpired in the academy is that these universities now produce applied, specialized technical knowledge for the benefit of the corporations.
In 1995 the Gill Tract was put under the administration of the College of Natural Resources. During the nineties, a broad-based group called Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA) proposed partnership with the University for a center for sustainable urban agriculture at the Gill Tract. BACUA had been concerned about soaring land costs and the interest of such giants as Novartis in getting a foothold on land worth millions. Of the original tract, 90 percent had been already developed into non-agricultural land use. The University has transferred the remaining land from the College of Natural Resources to the UCB Capital Projects, a commercial arm specialized in “development.”
In 1995 the green houses, labs, classrooms and offices of the old Bio Control Division were bulldozed. In 2003 the University commissioned a report by LSA Associates, specialists in environmental reports of development projects. Part of the land is now scheduled to be used for food retail and senior housing rentals. Ecological crop protection research at UCB is pretty much non existent. In 2004, in the Albany Master Plan, the land was redesigned from an academic reserve to a category covering recreation and open space. Recently an Albany citizens group, Albany Roots, has tried, unsuccessively, to preserve the land.
The Occupy Movement took on the University’s Gill Tract plans in April 2012 by sneaking onto campus property and growing vegetables for low-income people.
At first, the University turned off the water but left them alone for three weeks, then, in an early morning raid, they eradicated the community including the kitchen, library, classroom, children’s park, and the many tents next to rows of crops.
The goals of Occupy The Farm are to use the remaining land, about 10 acres, for ecological, urban agriculture, including research. This is consistent with the intent of the gift of the original 36 acres to the University. In the U.S. 30 percent of agricultural output comes from cities or the edge of cities. No land grant university has taken a leadership role in urban farming. It is not too late for UCB to take advantage of this opportunity before the last, best prime land in the East Bay is lost.
It is time for the University to renew its commitment to the public good. The University could promote a center for research, education and outreach for safe and ecological urban agriculture.
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