Open letter from CNR Dean Gilless on Gill Tract meeting

An open letter from College of Natural Resources Dean Keith Gilless regarding the community discussion held on Saturday about sustaining urban agriculture on the Gill Tract:

Seeking advice and input on how to move forward at the Gill Tract, with the assistance of the City of Albany, I convened a group of interested community members today to discuss models for a community partnership focused on urban agriculture that would be compatible with the College’s research activities.

Those present included representatives from UC Berkeley, agriculture-centric non-profits, residents from the community, including Albany Village, Albany schools, UC Cooperative Extension, USDA and the City of Albany. We engaged in a lively and constructive dialogue.

As dean of the College of Natural Resources, I explained to the group how the landscape for plant biology research has shifted over the past few years to reaffirm the importance of crop plants — and space for scientists to grow them. I also outlined the efforts that the college has been making to expand the scope of its research, teaching and extension programs in urban agriculture and food systems, and the widespread interest across the campus in these topics.

I took away from this gathering a clear understanding that:

  • There are very active members of the Albany community who can be tremendous resources for both short- and long-term planning for the Gill Tract. These include but are not limited to residents, Albany Village residents, commissioners, school volunteers, non-profit leaders, staff and elected officials.
  • The university needs to better communicate the nature of the research conducted on the Gill Tract as well as how it has been responding to burgeoning public interest in urban agriculture, food security and related topics.
  • Any increased usage of the site needs to take into consideration how increased bike and automobile traffic might impact the adjacent school and Albany Village.
  • A carefully planned, extended workshop in the fall that could bring together local and regional leaders to consider all viable options would be very well received.

I would like to thank the City of Albany and School District for helping me bring together a group of remarkable individuals today to share their wisdom with me, and affirm the Albany community’s long-standing interest in urban agriculture. I am committed to facilitating an effective partnership between my college and the community about how urban agriculture and research can go beyond mere co-existence.

Keith Gilless

Dean, College of Natural Resources