West of the intersection of San Pablo and Marin avenues you can see a small grove of conifers, behind which lie several acres of cultivated land and a small cluster of buildings. This is the undeveloped remnant of the Gill Family Nursery, which once extended west to what is now I-80. The entire property was subsequently gifted to the University of California (the UC Gill Tract) for research and environmental studies.
UC is now preparing to redevelop 26 acres of this land, primarily as a mixed use of campus housing, retail commercial, administrative offices, etc., ignoring the history of the area and the original intent of the gift.
The University is also overlooking the fact that 30 percent of the food grown in this country is produced in and nearby metropolitan areas. A nearby food source means reduced transportation costs and quite often fresher food. It makes sense to better understand and improve food production in the metropolitan area to assure that it is sustainable, and focuses on the optimal usage of the soil, water and energy resource.
The Gill Tract is ideally positioned for just such a research focus – open land, soil free from pesticides and a supportive community and nearby labor source. A university-community research garden would allow faculty researchers a nearby experimental area and an excellent extension educational opportunity.
But why limit the Gill Tract to experimental gardens. The now empty buildings could provide classroom space for workshops and demonstrations not only by university personnel, but also by local businesses and nonprofit groups, enabling them to exhibit, demonstrate and even sell products needed by the city farmer and gardener. This could include soil and garden mix suppliers, drip irrigation and other water conservation methods (low flush, low flow, etc), vendors of solar and photovoltaic equipment, beneficial insect suppliers (ladybird beetles, green lacewings, etc.) and least toxic pesticides and fertilizers to name a few. Rather than the usual commercial mall, the Gill Tract could become a one-stop ecological/educational mall where questions relating to gardening, food production, food storage and nutrition could be answered. The potential for benefiting the community and providing leadership for other metropolitan areas is exciting.
The area already has groups that provide gardening and other ecological information, but these remain scattered and often overlooked – city of Berkeley Ecology Center, Bio Integral Resource Center (least toxic pest controls), Tilden Regional Park and University of California Botanical Gardens (information and sources of native plants), California Native Plant Society, California Rare Fruit Growers Society, San Francisco League of Urban Gardeners, among others.
Is the life we live in our metropolitan areas sustainable, or have we already passed that point? We all agree that a proper mix of clean food, water, air and energy is essential, but how do we arrive at the proper blend on a local and regional level? The Gill Tract offers the university and community an excellent chance to answer these questions.