Inspired by the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement and angered by the racist, violent murders of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, our lab first met in June, 2020 to discuss our complicity in racism and settler-colonialism. We established goals and actions as a lab to move towards antiracism in our research, lab, classrooms, department, academia, and beyond. After much reflection and discussion, we revisited our commitments and actions over the course of 2023-2024. We pursue these actions both as a lab as a whole, and as individuals within the lab, including by supporting each others’ work.

We know antiracist actions are critical to fostering an inclusive and equitable environment where we can all thrive and find a sense of belonging. The principles and  actions listed below represent our attempts, however small and incomplete, to create this expanded sense of belonging in our lab and at UC Berkeley. We hope to address historic exclusion of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) from academia, and the ongoing extraction and hoarding of knowledge from BIPOC communities by universities. We also recognize that we are embedded within broader systems of oppression, including but not limited to land access, economic dispossession, and mass incarceration. When possible, we strive to connect our work to these broader struggles, as academia is interwoven with these systems that contribute to the underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and other scholars of color in academia.

The commitments below are contextualized to our work in agriculture, agroecology and food systems. Science is inherently political because it is always nested in a broader societal context and history. As agroecologists, we believe that “the concept of agroecology goes much farther than just ecological-productive principles…[but also] incorporates social, cultural and political principles and goals” (Wezel et al. 2009). Thus, we recognize our responsibility as agroecologists to commit to anti-oppressive work, and that this work always progresses and is never truly finished. Hence, this is a living document that we will update as our work continues.  As members of the Berkeley Agroecology Lab, we commit to the principles and practices outlined in the sections below. We commit to following our Lab, Field, and Professional Guidelines, Community Guidelines, and Anti-Oppression agreements, which make explicit our commitment to an inclusive, equitable, supportive work environment.

As political actors, the Berkeley Agroecology Lab is committed to pursuing actions listed below as steps towards dismantling the deeply rooted systemic racism and settler-colonialism in academic institutions. These actions are inspired in part by the 2020 letter ESPM graduate students wrote to faculty on taking anti-racist action in the department, as well as “Ten simple rules for building an anti-racist lab(Chaudhary and Berhe 2020).

  1. We commit ourselves to an ongoing process of self-reflection and action.

We commit to holding ongoing discussions regarding both this document and our role as scientists, agroecologists, and members of an academic institution so that we may constantly and constructively reflect, act, and uphold the values that prompted this document’s creation. We will revisit these commitments at least once per semester and at our annual lab retreats. 

  1. We strive to understand our complicity in settler colonialism and systemic racism, and aspire to uplift movements for sovereignty and justice.

We acknowledge that our lab sits within the territory of xučyun (Huichin), the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo-speaking Ohlone people, the successors of the sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land continues to be of great importance to the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, the Confederated Villages of Lisjan, and other familial descendants of the Verona Band. 

Agriculture in the U.S., and the fortune of the U.S., were built on the enslavement and exploitation of Black people. Today, approximately 75% of farmworkers in US farms are Indigenous and Latinx-identifying –– many having left their own farms due to policies that have disenfranchised rural communities around the world (Reid and Schenker 2016; Arcury and Mora 2020). In sharp contrast, white people account for 96% of the owners, 97% of the value, and 98% of the acres of private U.S. agricultural land. This is not an accident, nor has it always been this way. Decades of racist agricultural policies have systematically discriminated against Black farmers, and today Black farmers only make up 2% of land-owners and less than 1% of total acreage (Newkirk II 2019). In this way, from slavery to the present day, our agricultural system has always relied upon the labor of Black and Indigenous people of color—often lacking labor protections and voting rights—and land grabs via the displacement of Black and Indigenous people of color from their own rural communities. As a research group working with and for farmers, it is important for us to acknowledge this history, and actively seek to work with farmers of color through our research collaborations and outreach. 

UC Berkeley was founded in 1868 as a land-grant university with funds from the First Morrill Act of 1862. The Morrill Act aimed to establish public universities that served communities through the advancement of agricultural and applied sciences. However, the land sold to found the university was stolen from Indigenous communities, dispossessing Native Peoples from their land. We acknowledge the indelible interconnectedness of the Land-Grant system with ongoing expropriation and colonization of Indigenous Lands and government-sanctioned genocide against Indigenous people. These atrocities are tied to our institutional history. For more, see the UC Land Grab Report.

Nearly 30 years later, the Second Morrill Act of 1890 established many of the public Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). However, this Second Morrill Act did not allocate any land and therefore did not create a base of fundraising for HBCU’s endowments. This cemented the unequal access to education that Black scholars still face today. To endeavor a response to this historical wrongs, however small and inadequate, we commit to these four primary actions: 

  • We honor our lab’s presence on unceded Chochenyo Ohlone territory by internally raising money each year to pay Shuumi Land Tax to the Sogorea Te Land Trust, an Ohlone women-led land trust, and to the Muweka Ohlone Preservation Foundation, an Ohlone-led land trust working towards cultural and land revitalization.
  • We seek out partnerships with HBCUs, in particular by Tim co-founding and co-directing the HBCU-Berkeley Environmental Scholars for Change program. This allocates resources from UC Berkeley and beyond to students from Tuskegee University and Spelman College, and to two-way learning between students, faculty and staff in ESPM and HBCUs. 
  • When possible, our lab strives to include funding for Black and Indigenous-led projects in our grant writing and fundraising. We strive to make these concrete acts of reparations in each region that we work. As an example, members of our lab have raised over $50,000 in grant funding for Indigenous-led programs in the East Bay. We strive to continue and deepen these kinds of partnerships, increasing the portion of funding allocated to them.    
  1. We approach agroecology as our primary means to achieve a just food system transformation.

Transforming agriculture and food systems toward justice and sustainability is more important than ever (Tomich et al. 2011; Webb et al. 2020). We approach agroecology as an integrated, holistic framework and process that offers the most promising pathway toward this transformation. Agroecology aims to be transdisciplinary and action-oriented, encompassing science, practice, and social movements (Gliessman 2018)

  • As agroecological scientists at UC Berkeley, we strive to build research programs that:
    1. are cognizant of structural systems of oppression;
    2. address research questions co-created with farmers, whenever possible (see Collaborations); 
    3. are locally- and policy-relevant; and 
    4. seek to generate knowledge that fosters just agricultural systems. 
  • We contrast this with how scientific research often has, and continues to be, used to uphold the oppression and dispossession of Black, Indigenous, and other farmers of color around the world.  
  • We also understand that scientific knowledge is but one form of knowledge, and that a dialogue among scientific knowledge and traditional, experiential, and local knowledges is essential to agroecology. In academic settings, we have a responsibility to help redefine what forms of knowledge are valued.
  • We also recognize that food system transformations will not happen without grassroots movements that push for justice, antiracism, decolonization, and sovereignty in food and agriculture. Transformations also will not occur without political organizing and policy advocacy that help change the structures in which our dominant food regime is embedded. 

We commit to the aforementioned principles of agroecology in our work. 

  1. We work to build and maintain a community where diverse identities thrive.

Both academia and agriculture are plagued with systems that exclude and silence oppressed identities. Land grant universities such as Berkeley continue to exclude women, and particularly women of color, due to cultures of exclusivity and lack of diverse hiring practices, among many other issues. Our own department, ESPM, has a poor track record of hiring and retaining people of color, especially women (Corbin et al. 2015). Structural racism is pervasive and pernicious in academia far beyond our department, and the process of dismantling the inequities and barriers for BIPOC in this space will require a long-term commitment to intentional, frequent actions individually and as a group. 

Ultimately, we seek to more deeply explore intersectionality through a community that embraces the multiplicity of people’s identities along lines of race, class, education, gender, sexuality, ability, faith, and age. While modest, below we outline the individual and collective actions that our lab is committed to as we begin this process. These actions are inspired in part by the letter ESPM graduate students wrote to faculty on taking anti-racist steps in the department, as well as “Ten simple rules for building an anti-racist lab” (Chaudhary and Berhe 2020). We focus on specific actions we can take immediately or soon in our capacity as individuals within the lab, and as a collective group.

  • We actively recruit lab members (undergraduate students, graduate students, staff, and collaborators) who are BIPOC through research programs (e.g. Latinxs and the Environment, the HBCU-Berkeley Environmental Scholars Program), student organizations, and social media.
  • We consider life experiences with equal weight to academic markers when selecting and hiring individuals for research positions in our lab.
  • We create and follow mentorship contracts for undergraduates, PhD students, and postdocs, detailing what can be expected from their mentor(s) in the lab and making expectations mutually transparent.
  • We reflect on, discuss, and incorporate measures to address workplace safety in the lab and field for community members of all races, genders, sexualities, abilities, faiths, and cultural backgrounds. 
  • We commit to having at least one retreat annually to connect and celebrate each other. Additionally, we support each other to our best capacity to foster a collaborative and nurturing work environment, ensuring personal growth and professional development for all team members.
  1. We apply a critical lens to our pedagogy, curricula, and mentoring, integrating a diversity of knowledge systems, learning styles, and authors.

As course instructors, mentors, collaborators, and authors, we have a responsibility to redesign and apply pedagogy, curricula and other tools that recognize and uplift the diverse voices constituting UC Berkeley and our academic fields. Some of our efforts and commitments in this area include:

  • We strive to create active, participatory, and democratic classroom environments where diverse cultures, forms of knowledge, and learning styles are celebrated. To develop resources for this effort, Tim worked as part of an ESPM committee to create the Advancing Inclusion and Anti-Racism in the College Classroom: A rubric and resource guide for instructors, which offers instructors of undergraduate and graduate courses a guide for developing and evaluating anti-racist practices in the classroom. In our lab, we have focused on applying these principles to Agroecology (ESPM 118), one of the central courses we teach. We have revamped course learning objectives to include readings, assignments, classroom activities, and land-based learning modalities that are aligned with the principles of agroecology and its commitment to just transformations of food systems.
  • We believe that one of the best ways to learn is to teach, and that horizontal learning environments are aligned with the spirit of agroecology. Our lab supports student-led courses and educational programs wherever possible. This allows students to independently devise curricula, practice new pedagogical models, and support the learning of their peers. Examples of past student-led courses we have supported include Berkeley Student Farm’s Agroecology in Action: Food Sovereignty and Land Liberation course and Introduction to Composting and Vermiculture.
  • We celebrate and uplift the power of experiential learning, and strive to create learning experiences that engage people in meaningful, ongoing, and transformative action in their communities. Our lab supports a wide range of experiential learning opportunities, including internships at the Gill Tract Community Farm, agroecological training and research opportunities at Berkeley Student Farms and with lab projects, and food systems career training through the Food Systems Minor Capstone course
  • We encourage all lab members to engage in an ongoing process of self-education on systemic racism in food systems and agricultural research. We draw from readings collected by current and past lab members, as well as from established compendia like Michigan State University’s An Annotated Bibliography on Structural Racism Present in the U.S. Food System, Food Solutions New England’s Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge, and the University of Michigan’s Food Literacy for All. These resources are used as a basis for self-reflexivity and group discussion.
  • Mentorship is a foundational and central part of our lab culture. We celebrate and uplift the importance of mentorship at every level of the higher education experience. We commit to centering mentorship in our lab structure, research, and teaching. We prioritize mentoring students from backgrounds that are under-represented in environmental research. We do this both through our hiring practices for undergraduate research positions, and by engaging in broader campus initiatives, such as the Latinxs and the Environment Initiative
  1. We aim to foster equitable and reciprocal collaborations with diverse partners.

For lab-led projects, we work with partners to allocate grant funds equitably, taking into consideration the resources we bring as part of a large public research institution. We commit to ensuring that all partners have an opportunity to make intellectual contributions that lead to publications and additional funding. In our current collaborations, we:

  • Actively seek to spread institutional resources to marginalized groups and strive to promote diversity in soil science and agroecology research. Recent examples include an internship program with HBCU’s and prioritizing collaborations with farmers of color. 
  • Prioritize transparency and co-creation with farmers and other partners when designing research projects.
  • Practice inclusive authorship and proactively have conversations to decide on authorship order at the beginning of projects using agreed-upon authorship guidelines.
  • Respect data sovereignty, establishing data-sharing expectations with all collaborators and providing data summaries and/or raw data (as desired) with all land stewards we work with. 

In current and future collaborative research projects, we are continually expanding our networks to collaborate with people of diverse identities, backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. We strive to use participatory methods that encourage dialogue, reciprocity, and two-way knowledge exchange to enrich our research collaborations.

  • Our research largely focuses in the state of California, however we invite anyone interested in a research collaboration to contact any of us! If we are unable to fulfill the collaboration we will try our best to connect you with resources that may best fit your needs.
  • Collaborations often look like but are not limited to:
    1. Proposing a new project that aligns with the lab’s research focus; 
    2. Suggesting a joint effort to pool resources and achieve shared objectives;
    3. Seeking a partnership for a funded project to leverage the lab’s expertise and resources; and,
    4. Expressing interest in co-authoring a paper or grant proposal to combine efforts and expertise for a common research goal.
  • Please be aware that our lab consists of students and postdoctoral researchers who are balancing multiple research and academic commitments. We evaluate collaboration requests based on our own capacity and their alignment with our research and anti-oppression goals, while considering any relevant funding limitations, and will reach back out with what is actionable from the lab.
  1. We commit to transparent and equitable pay for all members of our lab group

Inequitable access to funding and paid research positions have and continue to create disparities in who is able to participate in research and academia. This extends from the undergraduate level, up through graduate school and postdoctoral positions. We recognize that very low stipends for teaching and a high cost of living in the Bay Area create significant financial barriers to obtaining a PhD.

  • Tim commits to work with current and future PhD students to ensure they have a solid plan for funding throughout their PhD and assist in efforts to obtain fellowships and grants, as well as action to obtain a cost of living adjustment for graduate students.
  • The lab maintains a pay scale for postdocs above that of campus.
  • We commit to paying undergraduate researchers in our lab for their work. In part, this means we will prioritize hiring students through work study and other avenues that provide undergraduates compensation for their labor. In cases where undergraduates will not be paid directly, such as through the SPUR and URAP programs, we will take steps to ensure these students are mentored and engaged in ongoing research projects. This includes but is not limited to 1) 1-on-1 mentorship, 2) Broad research training, and 3) Letters of recommendation for scholarships/opportunities.  
  • As lab members feel comfortable and able, we will support pushes for systemic changes in academic funding structures at Berkeley and beyond. This includes supporting the work of our Graduate Student Instructor and Researcher, and Postdoctoral Researcher union, UAW 2865.
  1. We foster a culture of care

The Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley defines cultures of care as “practices that create belonging in the context of othering. A Culture of Care is an affirmative, generative form of resistance and adaptation.” We believe that fostering a culture of care in our lab and department, and through our teaching and collaborations, is at the heart of a community that thrives together. Care work is daily, unglorified labor that has all too often fallen on women and particularly women of color. Everyone in our lab has a responsibility for care work, by at a minimum following these guidelines:

  • We communicate directly, honestly, compassionately and listen actively. We understand the power of words and speak from our own experience, using “I” statements. We do not shame or belittle members of our lab or anyone we work with. We challenge respectfully, calling in instead of calling out. We seek to meaningfully and inclusively engage in mediation to resolve conflicts and seek conflict engagement processes that are as inclusive as possible. We step up and step back; we aim to be conscious of the space we are taking up.
  • We work collaboratively. We aim to be supportive and helpful to the best of each person’s abilities. We value reciprocity and knowing that you can call on your group members! We are all committed to supporting one another in learning skills, completing field and lab work, understanding our findings, and communicating/sharing results.
  • We share the labor of keeping up our shared space. We understand that this means we all must collectively upkeep our communal spaces.
  • Each of us is responsible for creating an environment where others feel invited to share their needs. We recognize that voicing one’s needs can be more or less difficult based on lived experiences and power differentials. We actively work to foster an environment in which all members feel comfortable sharing their needs with one another. This includes checking in with our colleagues and destigmatizing failure – mistakes are where the most growth and learning happens.
  • We challenge ourselves to ask for the care that we need. We recognize that we all need care at some point, and that this can be difficult to express. As we work to create a caring environment, we also recognize the responsibility individuals have to communicate their own needs. We expect lab members to strive to develop a deep understanding of self that allows us each to be in better relationships with others, and to share what we need to feel well-cared for.
  • We respect people, their work, and their time. We don’t privilege certain people or their ideas, recognizing that everyone’s ideas and time are valuable. We listen to young people! 
  • We believe in rest, celebration, and taking time to nurture imagination.
  • We practice inclusive authorship. This means recognizing all types of contributions (including labor) to scientific publications and taking an “opt-out” approach to authorship.
  • We participate to the fullest of our individual abilities. We recognize that we are all collectively trying our best to participate given our physical, emotional, social, and spiritual state. 
  • We practice a culture of consent. We do not make unsolicited comments on people’s bodies, race, gender, or other identities. We do not engage in physical contact with or direct sexual attention towards another person without their consent. We respect people’s verbal and non-verbal cues to disengage and will respond accordingly. We are conscious of our body language.
  • We seek to end oppressive ideologies: racism, anti-Blackness, patriarchy, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, ageism, elderism, and other forms of bigotry and prejudice. We are aware that negative stereotypes create real harm in people’s lives. We do not repeat negative stereotypes in our words, or allow them to influence our judgment, or otherwise give them power. We actively oppose negative stereotypes by naming them aloud when they appear, by remembering the multiplicity and intersectionality of identity, and by seeking to build meaningful relationships with all people. 
  • We hold an expansive view of gender. If we are not certain of someone’s pronouns, we use gender-neutral ones, and when someone has told us their gender pronouns, we strive to use them. If we are comfortable doing so, we state our own pronouns at the beginning of interactions with new people, but are not required to do so. We will refrain from asking another person’s pronouns (especially in a group setting) and refer to them by their name directly, unless otherwise noted. We affirm that it is vitally necessary to transform our habits around gender in order to create a safer, more inclusive space. We realize that it takes practice to transform cultural habits around gender, and will help each other (correcting pronouns, recognizing gender preferences/presentation, etc.) when mistakes are made. 
  • We embrace mistakes and failures with compassion. We do not hide our mistakes, but share them and learn from them! We all can learn from each others’ mistakes. 

Works Cited

Arcury, Thomas A., and Dana C. Mora. 2020. “Latinx Farmworkers and Farm Work in the Eastern United States: The Context for Health, Safety, and Justice.” In Latinx Farmworkers in the Eastern United States, edited by Thomas A. Arcury and Sara A. Quandt, 11–40. Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Chaudhary, V. Bala, and Asmeret Asefaw Berhe. 2020. “Ten Simple Rules for Building an Antiracist Lab.” Edited by Russell Schwartz. PLOS Computational Biology 16 (10): e1008210.

Corbin, Chryl, Jesse Williamson, Guillermo Douglass-Jaimes, Ashton Wesner, Margot Higgins, Melina Packer, Jenny L. Palomino, and Frances Roberts-Gregory. 2015. “(Re)Thinking the Tenure Process by Embracing Diversity in Scholars and Scholarship.” University of California Student Association Graduate Policy Journal 1.

Gliessman, Steve. 2018. “Defining Agroecology.” Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems 42 (6): 599–600.

Newkirk II, Vann R. 2019. “The Great Land Robbery.” The Atlantic, September 2019.

Reid, Alison, and Marc B. Schenker. 2016. “Hired Farmworkers in the US: Demographics, Work Organisation, and Services.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 59 (8): 644–55.

Tomich, Thomas P., Sonja Brodt, Howard Ferris, Ryan Galt, William R. Horwath, Ermias Kebreab, Johan H.J. Leveau, et al. 2011. “Agroecology: A Review from a Global-Change Perspective.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 36 (1): 193–222.

Webb, Patrick, Tim G. Benton, John Beddington, Derek Flynn, Niamh M. Kelly, and Sandy M. Thomas. 2020. “The Urgency of Food System Transformation Is Now Irrefutable.” Nature Food 1 (10): 584–85., A.,

S. Bellon, T. Doré, C. Francis, D. Vallod, and C. David. 2009. “Agroecology as a Science, a Movement and a Practice. A Review.” Agronomy for Sustainable Development 29 (4): 503–15.