Written by Olivia Hardley
The overarching theme that has permeated my internship this semester has been that of connection. I have spent almost three months working and learning at the UC Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany, California. Not only have I learned actual skills and techniques for farming on an urban farm, but I have also learned a lot about myself, and my food system. Far too often in today’s society, we have no idea where our food comes from, who grows and harvests it, and how it gets to us… Most of us are completely disconnected from our food system. Prior to my internship at Gill Tract, I too was rather disconnected from the food system.
Even though I have taken many classes at Berkeley about farming, food justice, and the current system of food production in the United States, until I actually started planting, growing, and harvesting crops at the Gill Tract, I didn’t really know what it was like to be an active participant in the food system. It wasn’t until I spent a full eight-hour day working at the farm, and felt so sore and exhausted afterwards that I was able to empathize with the farm workers who grow the majority of the food that I eat. Interning at the Gill Tract has taught me how valuable it is to feel connected to the food that I eat, to know where it comes from and how it arrives on my plate.
Not only did I experience feeling more connected to my food, I also experienced feeling more connected to the Earth. There is truly nothing like spending the day working with your hands in the soil. It seems like there is perpetually dirt underneath my fingernails and embedded in the cracks of my hands now. I have worked in the freezing wind, in the rain, in the hot sun, and been unable to work when the air was too smoky. It seems obvious to me now, but until this semester I didn’t really think about how farming is so intimately connected to the environment and to the Earth.
Throughout my internship, the farm has acted not only as a space for food to grow, but also a place where connection and community flourish. I have met so many wonderful people at the farm through this internship and I feel so grateful for that. I am a spring-admit transfer student, so I have not been at UC Berkeley for long, and it has been difficult for me to find a sense of community at such a large institution. The Gill Tract has been such a great experience for me because I have been able to connect with a wide group of people and feel very much like a part of a larger community. The people I have met at Gill Tract range from UC Berkeley undergraduates and graduate students, local volunteers, older folks, fellows from other farms, elementary students, to students with developmental disabilities. It has been incredible not only to have this group to feel apart of but also to be connected with a group of people that is much more diverse in terms of demographic than I am usually exposed to at school or in my personal life.
The farm manager at Gill Tract, Jon, recently asked me if he was overwhelming me with the farm management emails, and I told him that I have enjoyed receiving them as I feel like I am up to date on what happens at the farm. Jon then told me that he considers me to be a part of the farm and feels that I should be in the know and be able to have an opinion about what is happening there. This was really special to me and solidified the idea that I am deeply a part of this larger community. Also, knowing that the food I have helped to plant and harvest is going to the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and Berkeley Women’s Drop In Center makes me feel deeply connected to the larger Berkeley community in a really special and intimate way.
The reason that I chose to focus my internship on education and outreach also has to do with connection. I have been working with Jon, Cole, and professors at UC Berkeley in order to try to get more classes out to the farm for field trips or work days. I have had a really great experience working with the students who come to the farm, and I hope to get more classes out to the farm so that more students can experience connection to a diverse group of individuals, to the land, and to their food system. I have heard back from a few professors so far, and will continue to act as a liaison into next semester in hopes of facilitating more student visits to the farm because I really want to allow more students the opportunity to connect at the farm.
I haven’t finalized the details yet, but I will definitely be returning to work at Gill Tract next semester. I am working with Cole to figure out how my role will shift, and it looks like I will be working at the farm, as well as helping to facilitate the new interns. I am really looking forward to maintaining the connection I have felt to my community at Gill Tract, the larger Berkeley community, my food system, the Earth, and to helping other students have a similar experience.