ALBANY -- Dreams of an urban farm on a portion of the Gill Tract land will be realized this summer. Farmers and community members will spend April 26 planting vegetable starts on a 1.5-acre portion of the property in the triangle formed by San Pablo Avenue, Buchanan Street and Village Creek.
The public is invited to join the planting, which will run 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Workshops and child-friendly activities are also planned.
The farming is a collaborative project between the Gill Tract Farm Collective, Transition Albany and the University of California's College of Natural Resources, along with other groups. The university owns the land, which has been the subject of much controversy over the past two years.
"Throughout this process, people from the community and the university were talking behind the scenes," said Hank Herrera of the Gill Tract Farm Collective. "There was a public process and there was a behind-the-scenes process that was really quite productive."
The public process included activist group Occupy the Farm breaking into portions of the Gill Tract and planting crops each of the past two years while protesting what they said were the university's plans to develop the land. University police evicted the protesters each year and last year immediately plowed the crops under.
The university erected fences around the property and increased security. However, it also transferred the 10-acre property to the College of Natural Resources and promised to keep the land for agricultural research for at least the next 10 years.
A nearby parcel of university-owned land is slated for development as a Sprouts Farmers Market and senior housing project. The Occupy the Farm protests started out in part as a reaction to those plans. The City Council last month rejected an appeal challenging that development.
"Clearly there are feelings and perceptions on both sides that need to be carefully, slowly, delicately untangled," Herrera said. "People are very constructively finding the common ground. We have amazing support from the College of Natural Resources for doing this first acre and a half."
The land had to be prepared for the planting and volunteers have been working hard in recent months to get it ready.
"We've taken soil samples" and tilled, said Catherine Sutton of community sustainability group Transition Albany. "It has taken quite a bit of work to make it viable."
Herrera said that work has paid off.
"I was there on Saturday," he said. "The land is soft and easy to plant in. I think it's going to be beautiful."
According to Herrera, starter plants have been grown in university-owned greenhouses at the Oxford Tract, another university property north of downtown Berkeley. Tomatoes, peppers and squash are among the vegetables to be planted.
The goal of the farmers is not just to grow food.
"We're actually sketching out our own research ideas in terms of methods of production," Herrera said. "Typical row planting as opposed to permaculture planting. Sustainable agriculture and food justice. Our goal is to show how urban land can produce sustainable local food to go into neighborhoods that don't have sustainable local food. It'll be really great. We're really excited about it."