The University of California Gill Tract Research Station
The Gill Tract, owned by the University of California, sits on the border between Berkeley and Albany along San Pablo Avenue. It is one of the two remaining agricultural research sites of the University located in the East Bay and the largest tract of undeveloped urban agricultural land remaining in the entire Bay Area.
The Gill Tract land and its facilities were once home to a flourishing hub of research activity by the University’s former Division of Biological Control, once part of the College of Natural Resources, which conducted research to develop methods of naturally controlling various pest problems encountered in California agriculture. Biological control (also referred to as integrated or ecologically-based pest management) uses an understanding of ecological relations between "pests" and their naturally occurring predators as a means of managing pest populations in agriculture. Since ecologically-based pest management avoids the use of pesticides, solutions produced by research of this sort are not only environmentally friendly but also more appropriate for and adaptable by smaller farmers due to its low cost.
For many decades the University supported such research and through UC Cooperative Extension worked in conjunction with many growers’ associations in order to address their specific needs over the years. Yet when the parasitic influence of agrochemical companies entered the University in the 1970s, research agendas in pest control and agriculture as a whole were changed here at Cal. The corruptive and coercive influence of these private interests has effectively worked to make the University subservient to the profit and power motives of a few companies who seek to advance a capital-intensive agroindustrial production model. All of this has been done at the expense of the needs of farmers, the environment and the public at large for which this land-grant University was originally intended to serve
One immediate result of such changes has been the systematic cancellation of most research in biological control at the Gill Tract since the mid 1980s in favor of this new agenda. Faculty that did not acquiesce to this new agenda have been slowly forced out the University, the Division of Biological Control having been entirely eliminated. The College of Agriculture under which it was housed was renamed the College of Natural Resources.
Miraculously, while most of its greenhouses, laboratories and other infrastructure have been long abandoned, research in biological control and other sustainable agricultural practices still manage to continue on today at the Gill Tract, albeit at a greatly reduced scale.
Most recently, the University has been planning to develop the entire Gill Tract. Plans include leasing the land along San Pablo Ave. for commercial development and the transformation of all tillable land into softball fields. At a time when developing and promoting sustainable agricultural practices has become more important (and popular) than ever, the University is choosing to abandon this once flourishing educational resource in favor of development and the interests of a handful of select corporations.