I didn't write this. I believe it's by Alexa Hauser. The Albany Farm Alliance predates Occupy the Farm by at least a decade or two and provides the farmers' collective with a fiscal umbrella and some necessary administrative infrastructure. I hope you like it!
Scenes from the Gill Tract on February 17, 2018
Riva wrapped in a warm scarf takes her daily walk through the GT, as it is known. She is grateful for recent changes. While her son stood on the playground at Cornell as his teachers described Albany's history as a plant and animal wetlands, as a home to Ohlone, and later to generations of farmers, grandson Jason can run through rows of corn celebrating in real life the land that Farmer Gill left for them, in perpetuity.
Across town, Michelle drags herself out of bed, jumps on her bike, and pedals hard to keep the headlamp shining. Her biology lab meets at the GT today. Two weekends a month the class comes to weed, mulch, or do whatever needs to get done. It is so much fun, she can't believe that she actually gets high school credit for this!
Michelle heads first to the dairy to help milk the goats. She feels more confident grabbing the teats and pulling down in rhythmic strokes than even two weeks ago. Rafael, the dairyman, smiles as she milks so earnestly.
Carefully carrying the bucket of milk between them, the two smell fresh omeletes (from GT chickens) frying as they approaches the small field kitchen. After placing the milk in the refrigerator, they sneak a warm muffin with dried apples from last fall’s crop. Brent, the cook gently chides, but doesn't really mind.
As the final day of the 2nd International Urban AG Youth Conference gets underway, Kebba and Fanta set up the yurt for their presentation on how the Kunkoto Gambia model of a permaculture homestead is being replicated in Banjul, the capital city. Outside, Manuarii and the video team from Tahiti are interviewing Yamato and Nobu from Kyoto about the economic models that have led to so many youth taking up the urban farming practices of their elders. It’s been a significant change in the last three years.
After a hearty breakfast with conference attendees, staff, other students, local workers, and volunteers, Michelle and several classmates begins weeding in the row of Russian kale. She hears the happy chatter of Jason and his mates from Ocean View Elementary’s Saturday “Gill Tractors” who have just arrived to clean the hen house.
Liberato meets up with Joaquin and Giselle, two local herbalists, and Dina, a UC researcher, in the medicinal herb garden. The four dialogue about Dina’s propagation experiments and how to apply her learnings to home gardens. As they talk, they harvest cuttings for Li to give out at tonight’s community herbal medicine education class held at the grange. The mild winter has meant that the stinging nettle never stopped producing.
Michelle’s class listens to a presentation on permaculture in France from the AG conference. There isn’t space in the yurt for more than the 50 conference attendees, so the presentation is broadcast to classrooms at Ocean View where local students and permaculturalists sit in and learn.
Barney joins Dina to discuss the second semester of the new certification course on Food Security at UC. Though most of the course will be taught on campus, being on the GT helps them develop more extensive and real fieldwork assignments. Last year, four students presented their Food Security plans to the City Councils of their towns and in two cases, Eugene, OR and Anaheim, CA the Councils are studying how they can use the plans.
Michelle sees a group of individuals in suits talking with the farm director, Sasha. Someone asks Sasha a question in a heavy accent. Michelle feels a sudden surge of pride because she knows she is part of something unique that has already gathered international attention. People come from all over to see a model of sustainable, urban agriculture on a small space, about 15 acres, with innovations like biological pest control, vertical gardening, and even a windmill and solar panels for energy, with research and other help from UC, Cal State, Mills, CCCC, and Laney.
Lunch break for the conference. Folks eat bag lunches under trees, on benches, or walk home for lunch at the houses in the community that are hosting these international visitors. A few walk to small cafes that serve locally-grown food from farms in the greater Bay Area and with some food supplied as part of a gift economy through Bay Food Shed-meals to conference attendees and folks with GT coupons are provided free.
The Albany Farm Alliance team arrives to do the weekly deep cleaning of the grange kitchen. Tonight, in addition to the Li’s herbal medicine class in the main room, in the commercial kitchen, a brewing class sponsored by Transition Albany will learn how to make kombucha. Though every group cleans up after itself. AFA provides weekly deep cleaning in order to meet health codes. A combination of rock and folk music fills the air and helps the work go by quickly.
Benjamin is deeply engrossed in checking the temperature of compost piles and sieving prepared compost and loading it into three wheelbarrows for Richmond Rivets who will arrive shortly to pick it up. A team of seven is harvesting kale, broccoli, three kinds of lettuces, and fresh herbs.
Glenn, Michael, and Cliff arrive to pick up the processed compost Ben prepared earlier. They leave 4 boxes of produce at the grange for the Rivets who will be making dinner for the brewing class participants. They chat a while with Gilberto, Helga, Rainer, and Kim who are attending the conference. These four are very interested to learn about the kinds of gift economies that the GT has spawned. When the guys have to leave, the youth have more information, but tons more questions.
Li’s community herbal medicine workshop gets underway at the grange with about 25 community members, local practitioners, and even a couple of Kaiser doctors in attendance. There is lots of lively interaction as people share knowledge, questions, and resources.
The Rivet cooks are just finishing dinner prep as folks arrive for the kombucha class. They are from the GT harvesting crew, Richmond Rivets, AFA, OTF, TA, and UV. Everyone has something for the community: baked goods, fresh produce, vegetables canned in the summer, handmade potholders, Bill and Tammy arrive with 5 dozen clean, used mason jars. Their work is part of a new facet in the City of Albany’s recycling program—repurposing glass containers.
The class begins to wind down. Tomorrow three participants will return in the morning to crate and deliver the donations to the Albany, El Cerrito, and Richmond Senior Centers for those in need. The last members of the class chat with Belinda, the maintenance worker, as the lights are turned off. Their voices become silent as they step out of the grange kitchen into the dark fresh air filled with the sounds of crickets and a sky with a shining first quarter moon overhead.