Brief Chronology of Gill Tract Farm


The current conflict over the Gill Tract is just the latest episode in a long struggle that pits the financial interests of the University of California against the long-term interests of many East Bay community members.

1820: Luis Maria Peralta receives the Rancho San Antonio land grant from Spain, including the future sites of Albany, Oakland, and Berkeley, displacing Ohlone indigenous communities.

1862: Abraham Lincoln establishes the Land Grant University system.

1869: The University of California, Berkeley becomes first “land grant” college in CA.

1887: The Hatch Act creates a nationwide system of agricultural research stations, of which the California Agricultural Experiment Station at UCB is the first in CA.

1890: Horticulturist Edward Gill purchases 104 acres of the Rancho San Antonio land grant and establishes the Gill Nursery.

1928: The Gill Family sells the land to the University of California, with an agreement that the land would be used for agricultural research and education.

1945-1995: The UCB College of Agriculture receives 36 acres of land – the northeast section of the Gill Tract — designated as a reserve for agricultural experiments in Integrated Pest Management (IPM). The “Biological Control” research carried out here includes the first major success in the United States in controlling weeds and pests with insects.

1962: Rachel Carson mentions the Gill Tract research in her book Silent Spring, which is often attributed with launching the environmental movement in the US.

1980: Passage of the Trademark Law Amendments Act (also known as the Bayh-Dole Act) allows Universities to profit from the patented inventions of their researchers.

1996 – 1997: The Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture proposes that the UC enter into a partnership with the community to create the world’s first university center on urban agriculture. The UC ultimately rejects the proposal.

1997: UCB’s College of Natural Resources receives a $50 million promised donation from the biotech company Novartis, the first private deal of its kind in the US. Students and faculty protest.

1999: Miguel Altieri and Clara Nichols launch a project for training, demonstration and outreach on IPM and sustainable, diversified agriculture in urban areas at the Gill Tract and East Bay public schools and neighboring low-income communities in West Oakland and in Berkeley.

1999 – 2003: Urban Roots organizes Harvest Festivals, Summer Fairs and Educational Days on the Gill Tract with a vision of preserving the land for urban agriculture and food justice. Students and community members meet with the UC Regents to discuss proposal for the site.

2004: UC Regents approve commercial development. Students, faculty, and community protest.

2004-2014: A broad coalition forms under various names to preserve the Gill Tract for urban agriculture. Community members attended every Planning and Zoning and City Council meeting where this project was on the agenda continuing through 2014, questioning the rezoning, design review and Environmental Impact Report.

2008: The University bulldozes the greenhouses and the historic Gill Family home.

2012: Occupy the Farm leads Earth Day March and three week land occupation. 15,000 seedlings are planted, leading to a summer harvest. The Albany Farm Alliance forms to support urban farming on the Gill Tract in perpetuity. Despite community opposition, Albany City Council rezones 6 acres of the Gill Tract for commercial use. Resistance continues, and Whole Foods pulls out of development; 10 acres are returned to the UCB College of Natural Resources until 2022.

2013: The University begins meeting with the community. Professor Miguel Altieri sets up a community-university partnership project that gives community members legal access to farm on the land, and begins discussion of Gill Tract Community Farm. In December, the community proposes the project be governed by a community-university “land stewardship council”.

2014:  Gill Tract Community Farm project launches in April following three month soil testing research. UC researchers and community members develop a collaborative governance council. Albany City Council and UC Capital Projects continue plans to develop commercial real estate on southern part of the land. Students for Engaged and Active Learning launch student campaign for education and research at the Gill Tract. They address UC Regents, UC President Napolitano, and Berkeley Chancellor Dirks with a proposal for a “Food Initiative on the Gill Tract” with over 2,500 petition signatures.

2015: On February 26, UC work crews clear 60 trees from the Gill Tract as effort begins to build a senior center and a Sprouts grocery outlet. Public resistance continues from Occupy the Farm and local residents, who target Sprouts and the UC to demand the land remain available for joint agricultural use.

[1] Material in this timeline is drawn from: