The Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture has proposed the establishment of a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture at UC Berkeley's Gill Tract in Albany.
Why urban agriculture and food systems?
The majority of the US population lives in cities or urbanized areas at present.
There are growing problems with assuring a stable, high quality, sustainably produced food supply that is accessible to all urban residents. This makes urban-centered solutions to problems of food production and access very urgent, and an appropriate focus for academic research and education.
This focus should include all aspects of the food system: how and where food is produced, how it is distributed, who can afford it, economic impacts and potentials, and many more.
It also includes the growing area of direct food production within cities proper, which now accounts for one-seventh of the global food supply.
What is our proposal?
We propose a community-university partnership with the University of California at Berkeley to establish and operate a research and education center at the Gill Tract agricultural research facility. Based on premises of sustainability and equity in food production and consumption, the center would conduct fundamental technical, economic, and sociological research and education into ways cities can create food systems that serve citizens and the environment well through localized, economically healthy and ecologically sustainable production and distribution. This would range from research into effective use of small urban plots for food production to policy analysis on land use, alternative distribution systems such as Farmer's Markets and subscription purchase arrangements, and more.
A key emphasis in the proposal would be support for the full range of school garden activities, from technical assistance to curriculum development. This is an area gaining recognition as an unmatched educational opportunity for our children.
The proposal is innovative in its focus (it would be the only academic center in the U.S. devoted to urban agriculture and food systems) and in the partnership it proposes between U.C. and the community organizations most intimately connected with urban food and agriculture issues.
Who is BACUA?
The Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture is composed of over thirty Bay Area organizations concerned with the full range of urban agriculture and food system issues, as well as many concerned individuals. BACUA was formed in response to the University's withdrawal of support for sustainable agriculture research at the Gill Tract, the birthplace of biological pest control methods, and in recognition of the stellar opportunity the facility provided for the crucially important area of urban food systems research and education.
Why is the Center important for Bay Area cities?
The Center would explore the many obstacles and opportunities in current urban food systems with the goal of developing community-based solutions. The Center would focus on these and other issues:
Mainstream, globalized, industrial agriculture is ecologically unsustainable in production, processing and distribution. How can cities create sustainable food systems?
Food products are increasingly inadequate nutritionally and inconsistently available to low-income residents. How can cities ensure equitable food systems?
Urban sustainable food production has clear potential not only for feeding people but for:
-education of urban dwellers (children in particular) about how food is grown, good nutrition, ecological sustainability and biodiversity;
-economic development of small enterprise in food production or processing;
-urban greening and biodiversity support;
-healthy and life-affirming physical activity for urban residents.
Localization of the food economy through urban and regional food provisioning gives consumers more connection and input to the way their food is produced, and strengthens the regional economy.
Urban based organic food processing enterprise is a very promising avenue for small business and local employment (both small-scale and locally based, the organic food sector is by far the fastest growing agricultural sector in the United States). How can policies and infrastructure facilitate this?
Who has endorsed the proposal to date?
Endorsers include forty-four Bay Area organizations (including BACUA's thirty-two organizational members); ten concerned UC faculty, most from within the College of Natural Resources; and many individual citizens (see list on reverse).
Why is this an appropriate initiative for University sponsorship?
The University of California at Berkeley is a land-grant institution. As such it has long-established responsibilities to conduct agricultural research and education in the public interest, responsibilities recently strengthened by Congressional mandate in the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Act of 1998. The BACUA proposal fills a gap in these responsibilities with a research center that is a perfect match for the capabilities of this great urban university.
Also, the proposal harmonizes perfectly with the stated mission of the College of Natural Resources:
The mission of the College of Natural Resources is to increase knowledge, promote the sustainable utilization of natural resources, and provide the foundations of wise and responsible environmental management. We do this by: engaging in teaching, basic research, and applied research that integrate the natural and social sciences to address ecological problems in rural and urban systems, including those in agriculture, urban landscapes, rangelands, forests, wetlands, and watersheds; evaluating the complex interactions between the natural environment and society; recommending policies that will meet fundamental human needs; and serving the public by transferring research findings to society.
The BACUA proposal directly addresses most of these goals, in stark contrast to the recent research funding agreement with Swiss biotech giant Novartis.
What is the University's position?
University leadership has consistently refused a fair hearing to the BACUA proposal. Instead, we have been told that only faculty can develop new research initiatives. This is despite the aggressive courting of corporate investment by the current Dean of CNR for an agricultural biotech research program, resulting in the widely opposed Novartis agreement.
Our response: the University has the right and obligation to promote research programs for the public good. Our proposal has serious faculty interest and wide public support, it addresses issues squarely in the public interest, there is ample funding available, and the Gill Tract is the perfect facility for the program. The University has many options available to facilitate this important proposal. It needs to be convinced to exercise these options.
What can you do to help?
Tell University Chancellor Robert Berdahl that you support the BACUA proposal and want to see him give it his active support by sitting down with BACUA representatives to explore ways to create this important research and education center. Contribute an op-ed piece to your local paper, circulate a petition or initiate a postcard campaign among your membership or constituency, send an official organizational letter to the Chancellor and/or request a meeting with the Chancellor to explain your support for the proposal. Request that CNR allow you to tour the Gill Tract with supportive faculty and BACUA representatives. Local political leaders may wish to organize a resolution from their particular legislative body, etc.
For frther information on the BACUA proposal and how you can help:
BACUA Co- Chairs: Peter Rosset (Food First) 510 654 4400 Shyaam Shabaka (Strong Roots Garden Program) 510 653 5915 Terrel Brand (BACUA Steering Committee) 510 534 2552