UC Village Community Garden

UC Village Community Garden in Albany is a large, approximately six-acre garden with about 200 plots, most of them maintained by residents of University Village, which is family housing for UC Berkeley students. The eclectic, student-run garden has an international flavor that reflects the gardeners diverse ethnic backgrounds.

University Village was created in the mid-1950s from the purchase by UC Berkeley of Veterans Village, which during World War II was temporary military housing for a new U.S. naval training base and later home to wartime ship builders and other workers who crowded into the Bay Area. The housing units became home to students who were married and/or had dependents.

At least by 1969, a garden was made available to student residents and their families, but not in its current location on West End Way, along the western edge of University Villages property and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. The original garden, as well as Veterans Village, was on the current site of Albanys Ocean View Elementary School, which was built in 1974.

Today, each family pays $10 a year to maintain a plot, and some families have two. A gardening committee collects the dues and makes decisions about how to the use the funds. The plants that residents grow for their meals include dragon fruit; many varieties of tomatoes and peppers, such as jalapeo, serrano, Thai and habanero; Chinese leeks; lacinato or dinosaur kale; lablab or hyacinth beans; wo sun or stem lettuce; bitter melon; a mild winter radish called daikon; Swiss chard; cucumber and squash. Several gardeners also grow sweet potatoes for their leaves, which they use in stir fry, while leaving the tuber in the ground.

The garden also is a site for Jennifer Sowerwine, an urban cooperative extension specialist and a faculty member in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, and her student interns. With a seed grant from the Berkeley Food Institute, they are interviewing the gardeners and learning about the diverse crops they grow and exchange with each other. At the garden and the UC Gill Tract Community Farm, the group also is doing ethnobotany and agro-biodiversity research.