Scientist Mourns Gill Tract's Demise
MATTHEW ARTZ / Berkeley Daily Planet 28oct03
[Please also read A Conversation with Miguel Altieri - California Monthly Jun01]
|There's a better way to feed the
* Map sources below
A splendid Indian Summer afternoon couldn't dispel the dark cloud hovering over Saturday's harvest festival at the East Bay's last urban farm.
Festivities continued despite last week's news that UC Berkeley officials have ordered professors to cease all research Nov. 1 at the Gill Tract-a university-owned 14-acre agricultural plot on San Pablo Avenue bounded by Marin Street and Codornices Creek.
Researchers have vowed to ignore the order that sets the stage for a development which will include a 650-room dormitory complex, a supermarket, unearthed creeks, and two ball fields where organic crops and genetically modified corn now grow.
"I'm afraid I'm going to show up on Nov. 1 and they'll have changed the lock on the gate," said Miguel Altieri, a professor with UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources who has tilled the soil at the Gill Tract [see history below] for 22 years.
Altieri and his 12 students argue they should at least be able to finish their research on organic farming while the university prepares to start construction next summer, and they say the university has yet to offer a suitable replacement plot.
UC Berkeley Senior Planner Jeff Bond said the university would provide a replacement plot on university property in Contra Costa County, a proposal that the researchers derided because it is inaccessible to students without cars and unsuitable for the study of urban agriculture. Bond would not comment on the potential for a deal that would keep researchers at the plot temporarily.
Any compromise that would preserve some farmland as part of the development seems unlikely.
The university nixed an architectural plan by a student group devoted to urban agriculture that would have preserved part of the plot by altering the project's housing and parking schemes.
"This is not an agricultural area," Bond said. "We've looked at the plan from all sides and we think we have the mix that the community wants."
Altieri sees his banishment from the plot as part of a trend affecting professors whose research isn't backed by corporations.
Since he first started work at the Gill Tract, the university has shrunk his share of the plot from all of the six acres devoted to farming to 0.8 acres to make way for researchers testing genetically altered corn.
"There's been a huge shift in the last 10 years where corporations skim off the value of research," he said, adding that while tax dollars pay for professor salaries and facilities, corporate money drives the scope of the research.
"The public needs to tell the university if they want their tax dollars to go to sustainable urban agriculture or genetically modified crops," he said.
Altieri said he also fears that shunting him off to Contra Costa County is part of a move by UC Berkeley to de-emphasize applied agriculture.
"They can't fire me or make me retire, so they decrease my facilities," he said. "When I'm gone there won't be anyone here to continue the research."
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source: http://www.berkeleydaily.org/text/article.cfm?issue=10-28-03&storyID=17640 28oct03
Map sources: mapquest.com, http://www.gilltract.com/map2.jpg, http://www.museumca.org/creeks/13-OMCodornices.html
Gill Track http://www.gilltract.com
Geographically, the Gill Tract is included in the California Central Coast sub-region, which extends into the San Francisco Bay Area. Salt marsh and coastal prairie are the dominant vegetation. In terms of climate, the Tract is in a coastal thermal belt which experiences very little frost and is considered one of the finest horticultural climates.
The earliest known inhabitants of the area included the Juchiyunes Native Americans situated along El Cerrito creek on the oak covered north slope of Albany Hill, taking sustenance from the currants and pinole nuts found there. The area south of Albany Hill was also used for foraging. Furthermore, several archaeological sites have been found within this general area. The area, with its proximity to the bay and perennial streams, made it a favored location for prehistoric peoples and could be considered of high archaeological sensitivity.
In 1818, Jose Domingo Peralta camped alongside a creek in the area, later naming it Codornices creek. In 1820, the last Spanish Governor of Alta California granted the land to Domingo’s father, Luis Maria Peralta. In a later partitioning of the land to his four sons, that portion which later included the areas of Albany and Berkeley was appropriated by Jose Domingo Peralta. In 1853, members of his family sold 50 acres of bayside land to John Fleming (now Fleming Point and the Golden Gate Fields grandstand).
In 1890, Edward Gill, an expert, world-renowned horticulturalist, purchased 104 acres and established the Gill Nursery. Mr. Gill became widely known for the antique roses cultivated at the nursery, some of which are still found in the Bay Area. At that time the property extended from what is now I-80 to San Pablo Avenue and from Codornices Creek to Buchanan Street. Although Edward Gill died in 1909, John Gill continued to farm on the land, until 1928 when the University of California purchased the nursery and resumed agricultural activities.
In 1939, the UC gifted 5 acres to the United States Department of Agriculture for the construction of what is now known as the Western Regional Research Center, for the study of products that could be developed from agricultural commodities. In 1945, UC set aside 36 acres fronting on San Pablo Avenue and Buchanan Street, for an agricultural experimental station. This became the home of the northern branch of the University’s Division of Biological Control, and later the site of the International Center for Biological Control. Projects pioneered at the Gill Tract included the first major success in controlling weeds with insects in the United States. The Gill Tract became the center for this line of research in the US in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Division is also credited with the control of numerous major insect pests on other California crops and pioneered in predator-prey population studies providing the groundwork for the eventual integration of biological, chemical and cultural methods of pest control.
In 1995, the Division at the Gill Tract was joined with the College of Natural Resources, following which many of the research staff were transferred to the Berkeley campus. By 1997 the administration, funding and future of the station at Gill Tract became unclear and only recently has the University decided to develop the land for student and faculty housing, community activities and retail shops.
In 1969, a portion of the land (adjacent to the present Ocean View Elementary School) was set aside for community gardens. The year 1969 was also the year that People's Park and Ohlone Park and Greenway were founded, which still exist and are widely recognized as having "kicked off" the modern day Ecology Movement by gaining worldwide recognition of the need for parks and open space in crowded urban areas. Today, community farming activities and experimental studies continue along Edward Gill Drive.
 Hickman, James C. (ed). The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1993, xvii + 1400pp.
 Albany Hill #1: Archaeological Reconnaissance of the Madison St. Extension Project, Albany, CA, September 1990.
 Lee, Catherine T. and Warren F. Lee. “A Selected History of the Codornices-University Village, the City of Albany and Environs”, 2000, xiv + 412 pp.
source: http://www.gilltract.com/history.html 28oct03