Members of the Student Organic Garden Association hosted the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, Karen Ross, on the Oxford Tract on Thursday evening to discuss the campus’s recent plans for a housing development on the site.
UC Berkeley released the Housing Master Plan Task Force Report in January 2017, outlining nine potential sites that UC Berkeley currently owns where student housing could be built. One of these sites is the Oxford Tract on Walnut Street, where the Student Organic Garden Association, or SOGA, is located.
“We’re hoping Secretary Ross can see how useful and important this space is for students … the community and the environment, and to have her support us and stand in solidarity with urban land being protected for agriculture and experiential learning, rather than development,” said SOGA member Grace Treffinger.
Established in 1971, SOGA has faced the threat of housing development for the past several years. According to Treffinger, however, the campus should explore other options for housing development.
“Obviously, we have a student housing crisis that is very urgent, but we choose to refute the narrative that it is essential to build on Oxford Tract and that there are no other options,” Treffinger said. “(When) in reality, there are a lot of priorities that need to be reassessed by the university and poor decisions that have been made with misallocation of funds.”
The Oxford Tract hosts five DeCal courses taught by students, including the popular class Introduction to Organic Gardening and ESPM 117, Urban Garden Ecosystems.
“There are really few places on campus where we get to practice experiential learning, especially taught by students to students,” said SOGA Operations Manager Sama Mirghavami.
Graduate students and professors also conduct research on topics such as transgenic corn and biological pest control in the tract’s greenhouses.
“We are doing our best to give our input in order to protect this land. As we know, this is a crucial time – we are facing climate change and the repercussions are becoming worse,” Treffinger said.
In addition to meeting with Chancellor Carol Christ and other campus administrators several times, SOGA invited Ross to the garden in order to garner her support. Afterwards, several SOGA members also attended Ross’ panel, “The Edge of Agriculture,” at the Gill Tract, another area facing possible development by the campus.
Two other speakers, Doria Robinson, executive director of local agricultural organization Urban Tilth, and UC Berkeley Assistant Cooperative Extension Specialist Jennifer Sowerwine, also spoke about agricultural topics, such as urban farming and sustainability.
“For some people, (SOGA is) where they come to relax in between classes. For others, it’s where they get away from the hustle and bustle of student life,” Mirghavami said. “Campus is really stressful … so, this place is our rest place and our learning place.”