Have you heard of Herbicide-Free Cal?

Photo by Sabina Mahavni, Daily Californian Staff

It all started when teammates Bridget Gustafson and Mackenzie Feldman were at Beach Volleyball practice and were told by their coach that if the ball rolled outside of the courts to make sure they put shoes on because an herbicide was just sprayed. Bridget and Mackenzie had learned about toxic herbicides such as glyphosate and its link, even in small doses, to cancer, autism, Alzheimer’s, depression, ADHD, and others. They began to talk with groundskeepers and learned that they sprayed the Monsanto product Ranger (an equivalent to Roundup) once a year around the Volleyball courts. These pesticides were problematic because they were being sprayed near women of reproductive age, who also had a great deal of exposed skin, and violated the law as the the pesticide was being used within 50 to 100 feet of a drinking water source.

Since that moment, Herbicide-Free Cal has successfully banned the use of herbicides at the Clark Kerr volleyball courts, Faculty Glade, Memorial Glade, and behind the Southeast Asian Library.To ban these toxic substances, the group has collaborated with professors, a list that includes Professor Thomas Carlson of the Integrative Biology Department, Professor Philip Stark of the Statistics Department, and Professor Kristen Rasmussen of the Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology Department, to develop an a action plan to eliminate the use of herbicides while simultaneously figuring out another solution to control the weeds.

Recently on November 14th, Herbicide-Free Cal hosted a panel discussion with around 120 attendees and the panelists Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, the plaintiff in the Johnson v. Monsanto case, UC Berkeley professor and researcher, Tyrone Hayes, and Diane Williams, an Oakland activist and gardener.

If you haven’t heard of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson and his case Johnson v. Monsanto, it’s a pretty big deal. Johnson was a groundskeeper for the Benicia Unified School District and filed a lawsuit against Monsanto in 2016. He proved that Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup had caused him to develop Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The case concluded with Monsanto having to pay Johnson $289 million dollars. However, this amount was recently reduced to $79 million. Feldman, along with the other panelists and members of the audience, thanked Johnson for his bravery and for being an inspiration to so many people.

While on the panel Johnson discussed how “[he] was the lead that didn’t die” which stood for a lot more than just him. After the case, he explained how the school district along with others had stopped using the herbicide, and he now is very involved with organizations that are working to eliminate the use of herbicides altogether. The panel also included Professor Hayes discussion of his research on agrochemicals and how the company Syngenta had tried to discredit and influence his research while also making threats towards his family. Additionally, Williams spoke of her activism for schools in Oakland to stop using herbicides after “they messed with [her] plants.” The event was emotionally-charged and powerful with the audience being touched and empowered by the efforts of Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, Professor Tyrone Hayes, Diane Williams, and of course Herbicide-Free Cal.

Herbicide-Free Cal is an awesome, impactful organization that is leading change on campus, the Bay Area, and North America! Get involved, pick up one of their cool laptop stickers, and follow them on Facebook @Herbicide-FreeCal!

Kaitlyn Lund

Kaitlyn Lund is a fourth year studying Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on Environmental Policy and a minor in Public Policy. She is particularly interested in the intersections between climate and energy, environmental justice, policy, and city planning. Her hometown is San Diego, California where she loves the ocean, but also loves all the hiking and wonderful food and people that the Bay Area has to offer! Kaitlyn Lund covers campus sustainability.

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