For UC Berkeley freshman Luke Wonzen, what started as an attempt to find a hangout spot outside with a friend during a pandemic became an experience that “really highlighted the life cycle of the food” — that is, volunteering at Berkeley Student Farms, or BSF.
BSF is a coalition of seven student-run garden spaces on campus that prioritizes food sovereignty and security, according to BSF volunteer Gabrielle Cohen.
Before the pandemic, a large portion of the campus population was food insecure and used services provided by the Basic Needs Center. As the pandemic exacerbated such insecurities, BSF helped to meet the increased demand for food by providing fresh organic produce to those in need and supplying 50% of the produce distributed at the Basic Needs Center’s Food Pantry last summer, Cohen said.
Tasneem Khalak, another BSF volunteer, added that the Basic Needs Center conducted a survey to better understand which products are wanted so that BSF could select crops to grow based on the results.
In order to purchase new supplies and tools, start new projects and involve more students, BSF has raised $4,560 as of press time, which is 152% of its original $3,000 goal, via crowdfunding. Cohen hopes that the fundraising’s success will show campus the importance of BSF in the Berkeley community.
“There’s constantly a threat for this land, as there is this housing crisis for students,” Cohen said. “The university doesn’t necessarily recognize the value because it previously hasn’t really been quantified.”
Cohen noted that BSF is currently working on collecting data, weighing and documenting the amounts of food it produces and where the food is going.
According to Wonzen, campus has made an agreement not to develop Oxford Tract, a site that currently holds one of BSF’s gardens. However, Wonzen expressed concern that Oxford Tract is under imminent and future threat of development by the university, as the aforementioned contract expires in 2024.
“(The Student Organic Garden) is, indeed, part of the Oxford Tract, which has been proposed as a site for future student housing,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof in an email. “As per (a) letter from Chancellor Christ to the (College of Natural Resources) community, sent in 2019, the campus is committed to ensuring the (Student Organic Garden) remains on its current site regardless of any development plans.”
Khalak added that all UC Berkeley students complying with COVID-19 testing requirements can enter the garden space to harvest crops. Extra produce is occasionally offered to the general community at the entrance.
Wonzen, Khalak and Cohen feel that they are directly helping others while also benefiting themselves in a time of limited social interaction.
“BSF for me has served as a really great social outlet at a time when most people can’t get out,” Wonzen said. “Since I have the privilege of not being acutely food insecure, it’s a nice way to help people that are in need of assistance during the pandemic.”