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The People's Farm: Visualizing the Future Potential of the Gill Tract as an Agroecological Living Laboratory

A community-informed vision created by Katie McKnight in fulfillment of Master of Landscape Architecture, Environmental Planning at the University of California, Berkeley


The UC Gill Tract Community Farm (“the Farm”) is an urban farm in Albany, California established in collaboration with the community, UC Cooperative Extension and UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.

The mission of the Farm is to “...conduct collaborative community-driven research, education and extension focused on ecological farming and food justice, and to foster equitable economies, a healthy environment, and increased resilience in vulnerable communities, both urban and rural (UCGTCF 2016).”


Between 1928 and 2015, the portion of the Gill Tract dedicated to agricultural research at UC Berkeley has decreased by over 90%. Very few parcels of arable, moderately sized open land suitable for agriculture exist within the East Bay due to intensive urbanization. For this reason, a strong argument exists that the best future use of the Gill Tract is to continue as agricultural cultivation. This study aims to highlight the Farm’s potential as an agroecological living laboratory to address food injustices, build resilient communities, teach and research sustainable farming systems and safeguard critical environmental resources in times of uncertainty.

Current Commercial Development Pressures

In 2013 the regents of the University of California, Berkeley entered into an agreement to preserve 10 acres at the Gill Tract to be used for continued agricultural purposes for the next 10 years. Two of these acres have been set aside for a participatory agricultural research project, the UC Gill Tract Community Farm.

The remaining 12 acres of undeveloped land are slated for development of private uses, including: a grocery store (Sprout’s Farmers Market), various retail outlets and an assisted living center (Belmont Village Senior Living)[6]. As of last month Belmont Village broke ground despite strong public opposition. Private long-term lease agreements on public University land, like these, are becoming  more and more commonplace as a “solution” to the University’s financial needs.


How far will we go as a public University, as a land-grant institution, to survive?

Alternative Community Vision

This 16-acre agroecological living laboratory is a unique opportunity to address local food insecurity through teachings, resource sharing and further understanding of food access barriers. By continued use in agricultural cultivation, the Gill Tract will serve as an educational classroom, a research reserve, an environmental resource, and a social and cultural utility working towards a healthier, more resilient campus and community.

Existing Conditions: Proposed Site of Spout's Grocery Store

How About an Ecologically Diverse Food Forest Instead?

Existing Conditions: Entrance from UC Village

Future Vision of ADA Accessible Garden, Educational Programming and Pedestrian Ways

Existing Conditions: Historic Classrooms

Future Vision of Pollinator Gardens, Gathering Spaces and Green Infrastructure

Smart, Creative and Forward-Thinking Planning

Long-term visioning of the Gill Tract as an agroecological living laboratory aligns with the past 20 years of efforts by the community. Growing demand for agricultural programs at UC Berkeley coupled with intensive urbanization rates in the East Bay make the Gill Tract a prime resource to enhance the agroecological work achieved at UC Berkeley and the University of California. With smart, creative and forward-thinking planning, the Gill Tract has the potential to become UC’s premier center on urban agroecology working towards sustainable solutions to food issues on campus, in our communities and abroad.

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