Saving Food Spaces: A United Coalition Pressures Dean to Defend the Oxford Tract

A diverse coalition of over 80 people from groups across campus and the neighboring
Berkeley community convened at the “Defend the Oxford Tract” press conference in Giannini
Hall on December 7 to pressure Dean Gilless, who oversees the College of Natural Resources, to stand in opposition of the development of the Oxford Tract, which a university housing task force has cited as a potential location for the development of student housing.

The coalition presented their manifesto and a letter to the Dean, asking him to “pledge to maintain support of metropolitan agricultural research and practice on Oxford Tract, SOGA, and Gill Tract farm,” and to issue a public statement to Chancellor Christ that he supports the a lack of development on the Oxford Tract Research Station.

The main protests listed by the students were that the development of the Oxford Tract limits access to education on campus by contributing to the food insecurity Berkeley students experience, and that the development of this land fails to address the failure in housing availability.

Although Berkeley has a thriving food culture, and several courses which preach the importance of “slow food” and access to healthy meals, in practice, access to free food on campus is limited. The Oxford Tract produces about 18 pounds of produce per square meter annually, which is contributed directly to the Student Food Pantry. The Oxford Tract also provides the opportunity for students to utilize their environment in order to become self-sufficient growers themselves.

Speakers stated, “We are students of the University of California. We have learned to work the soil. We have learned to appreciate the rain. We have learned to work with one another to grow and share food. We have undertaken the role of teachers, to make up for the lack of education in self-care at this university.”

Professor and Postdoc in an Oxford Tract greenhouse, photo: Queena Xu

Speakers also made clear that they were “standing in solidarity with those fighting for affordable​ ​housing. Students present made clear that the development of the Oxford Tract would not sufficiently address the systemic failure in housing availability, but instead, place “their basic needs of education, food, and housing in opposition to one another.”

Being hungry should not be a reason that students have limited access to education. And the university should not have to make food security and housing security mutually exclusive options. The Oxford Tract community acknowledged these facts on December 7, and asked the Dean to do the same.The Oxford Tract farm is a symbol of what student- first education looks like. It is an opportunity for students to perform a wide range of research projects, to become food-secure and practice self-care, and to engage with the communities around them.

If you are interested in contributing to the effort to keep these opportunities in place, follow the SOGA Garden for more updates.

Aubrey Hills

Aubrey Hills is a junior studying Conservation and Resource Studies with a focus on waste management.

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