The newly established farm on UC Berkeley-owned Gill Tract will soon be empty. At the time of this writing, it is surrounded by riot police from at least 8 different UC Campus police forces. Nine have been arrested. This is the end to a standoff that began on Friday, when the police blocked farmers from entering or leaving, forcing supporters to toss food and water over the fence. In addition, the UC has filed suit against 14 individuals and 150 additional unnamed persons.
The farm began with a celebration of life, the planet and the people’s right help determine the fate of a place owned by a state-supported institution. Three weeks ago on, Earth Day, a group of 200 volunteers occupied the Gill Tract. The multi-generational crew planted two acres of vegetables, including a children’s garden, and began to offer workshops on sustainable agriculture and food sovereignty. A small encampment sprang up, but organizers insisted it be limited only to those doing the everyday work of maintaining the farm.
The land in question is a 10-acre parcel that comprises the last remaining class 1 agricultural soil in the East Bay. Despite years of community action favoring the creation of a research site specializing in urban and organic agriculture, the land is slated to be sold for development. Read more
We all know that “Every Day is Earth Day” and many environmentalists feel that their eating habits are their daily affirmation of a commitment to the planet. But what does it look like to take action for the environment, beyond the fork? There are many options, of course, but one particularly inspirational tactic manifested this past Earth Day in Albany, CA.
On April 22, a week after the International Day of Peasant Struggle, hundreds of Bay Area food sovereignty activists and community members broke the locks on a huge piece of urban agricultural land, tore up mustard weeds, and planted veggies. “Occupy the Farm” was organized as an occupy-style protest, including tent encampments and a “farmers assembly,” but with one very meaningful difference: This act of “moral obedience” (AKA civil disobedience) was the direct outgrowth of years of neighborhood organizing around the piece of land in question. Read more
Three of Berkeley Unified School District‘s elementary schools–Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Washington—are in jeopardy of losing their entire cooking and gardening program funds beginning in October this year.
Under existing guidelines, the schools will no longer qualify for federal funding because they have fewer than 50 percent of their students enrolled in the free and reduced-lunch program, according to Leah Sokolofski, who supervises the program for the district.
Berkeley has an international reputation for its edible schoolyards, where public school children of all economic means learn what it takes to grow a radish and sauté some chard. Such funding cuts to the program, whose total budget is $1.94 million a year, would represent a significant setback in the city’s pioneering efforts to date. Read more
Given all the media attention, you may think that Alice Waters is the only person in Berkeley doing anything to fix school food–and that her Edible Schoolyard Project is the only organization tackling this topic across the country.
But that perception would be wrong. Founded in 1995, the Center for Ecoliteracy has also long championed school food reform and channeled funding in the millions to garden programs, cooking classes, and nutrition-based curriculum in Berkeley public schools. Read more
Pat Van Valkenburgh is the kind of person that The Bread Project hopes to help. A stay-at-home mom who home-schooled her two children until they attended Berkeley High School, Van Valkenburgh desperately needed a job when her construction worker husband became unemployed. Since she enjoyed cooking, she thought the nonprofit’s nine-week café training program, which focuses on basic kitchen, food service, and barista skills, was a good fit and would help her find a job in the restaurant industry.
Van Valkenburgh didn’t have to look far for work: she was snapped up by the organization to manage the café it runs out of the Berkeley Adult School, where the program for low-income job seekers, started by Susan Phillips and Lucie Buchbinder in 2000, has been housed since 2003. Read more
Aaron French, a self-described eco-chef, has headed up the kitchen at The Sunny Side Café on Solano Avenue in Albany, California since it opened in 2004.
For the past two years he’s served up breakfast standards (think pancakes and eggs) and simple lunch fare (burgers, sandwiches, salads) at a satellite café of the same name in Berkeley.
French bounces between the two popular spots several times a day and jokes that the breakfast-brunch shift is the Rodney Dangerfield of cooking (it don’t get no respect).
Still, he’s proudest of his low carbon emissions menu options and his weekend food specials, a short, seasonal list that emphasizes local farms and calculates food miles. Read more
Exploring alternative ways to work in the food industry is a hot topic. Recently in San Francisco a sold out Kitchen Table Talks, a monthly panel showcasing local food folk, featured a discussion about successful edible enterprises that haven’t started the conventional route.
Two of the four panelists hailed from Berkeley. Three Stone Hearth‘s Jessica Prentice, whom I’ve previously profiled on Berkeleyside, talked about her cooperative kitchen model. Cathy Goldsmith represented The Cheese Board Collective. (San Francisco business reps in the mix: Caleb Zigas, who runs the kitchen incubator program La Cocina and Anthony Myint, the restauranteur behind Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth, both eateries give big chunks of change to charity.)
Beyond the obvious culinary connection each business is unique. What they have in common? A desire to build community—of workers, artisans, and customers—around their real food ventures. Read more
What does it look like to start a values-based business with members of your community? Gather is a sustainable restaurant that serves as a successful model. Located in downtown Berkeley, California and catering to conscious foodies, the farm-to-table eatery keeps thriving with an vegetarian and omnivore-friendly menu and steady reservations. Esquire magazine named it one of the top restaurants of 2010 with Sean Baker its Chef of the Year and New York Times described it as a “Michael Pollan book come to life.”
When owners and mountaineering guide-friends Eric Fenster and Ari Derfel developed their business plan ten years ago, they had no formal culinary or business training. It was smart planning, relationship building, and a new way to raise funds that made their vision possible. Read more
The aptly named Willow Rosenthal grew up around trees in Sonoma County in a community that farmed its own food. Raised by hippies who didn’t have a lot of money, she nonetheless ate well. She also learned how to grow her own food by working on an organic farm and for a local nursery. Read more
Dafna Kory discovered the delights of jalapeno jam during pre-dinner nibbles at a Thanksgiving gathering. She went out to buy a jar, couldn’t find the mighty spicy condiment anywhere, so she began experimenting with making her own. It became an instant hit among her posse. Read more