In a post to their Facebook page on November 12, Roger’s Urban Farmlab (RUF) claimed that they were being evicted and forcibly relocated from their decades-old home on the Southern Eucalyptus Grove of Revelle College.
The organization, which functions both as a community garden and as a facility for student-led projects in areas such as aeroponics and anaerobic digestion, called its members to action in the post, asking them to write directly to university representatives protesting the move. The reaction of the UCSD community was mixed, with some students blaming the organization for its lack of foresight, while others declared their support for the lab online.
Since 2008, the half-acre plot behind Revelle’s Che Cafe has served as one of the first community gardens on campus to a research space for projects investigating “anaerobic digestion, aquaponics, and zero-waste food production”. Today, the center has a variety of functions, including facilitating garden plot rentals and maintaining the Ocean View Growing Grounds community garden in southeast San Diego, as well as addressing environmental issues by working towards former UC President Napolitano’s Carbon Neutral and Global Food Initiatives.
According to the administration, talks were held between UCSD and RUF from November 2019. In a statement to The Triton, the Farmlab’s team stated that the university initially planned to discuss the potential relocation of their anaerobic digester to a new location due to safety concerns. However, when the issue of complete relocation of the Farmlab was brought up, the team rejected the proposal and stated they, “felt insulted to be brought in under false pretenses”.
According to RUF Team members Will Tanaka, Etienne Diodic, Enid Partika and Zack Osborn, the rationale behind the move was the administration’s desire for a more aesthetic space, which the university claimed was threatened by the presence of “overhead structures”.
“We retorted that the space was that of student-centered decision-making, research, and learning,” the team states, saying that the designation of “urban forest” as part of the Long Range Development Plan was open to interpretation. The team was also wary of the Biology Field Station, the new location for the garden suggested by the university, which they described as, “in one of the most remote sections of campus,” therefore isolating them from the community.
The RUF team also feels as though operations have been “jeopardized” by these plans, as it “disrupts the grant cycle that we have become dependent on,” and has interrupted donations to the Triton Food Pantry.
However, the team was unable to take any further action as talks were stalled from February 2020 due to the pandemic. After talks resumed recently, the Farmlab posted a statement to their Facebook page claiming the administration was having closed-door meetings about the space and appealed to community members for help. The message was met with a flood of support on online channels, from nostalgic alumni to current students.
One alumnus fondly recalls “observing how the garden changes day to day, watching all of the birds, lizards and butterflies that inhabit the space.”
However, not all responses have been positive. Other students who have worked with the Farmlab claim that the university’s proposed relocation is a reaction to the failure of the lab to adhere to the terms of their lease. Another disenchanted student suggests the post, which circumvents the use of a petition and directly links the emails of UCSD officials, is meant to “strong arm administration with student support,” citing the UCSD administration’s response.
In his statement, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Resource Management and Planning , Stephen Jackson, denies the claim that the meetings were closed-door while discussing the ongoing talks that started last November, which the RUF team later acknowledged.
In a later statement to The Triton, Jackson claimed that the Open Space Preserve (OSP), which awards the designation of Urban Forest to the Farmlab, “is planned as a permanent campus feature to preserve these natural resources.” He continued, “the construction of buildings, facilities…and other improvements that would disturb the natural setting are restricted, and in some cases prohibited within the OSP.” One such facility that is prohibited, he said, is the lab’s research component.
In response to the allegations that the university does not recognize Farmlab’s work, Jackson has stated, “we fully support the ‘gardening activities’ within the Roger’s garden area…[as well as] the research work that the Farmlab group is doing, we just want to make sure it is being done in an area that is permitted and is equipped to safely sustain it.”
A newer post on the Farmlab’s Facebook page considers the change from a “complete” relocation to a relocation of only “research related” components of the space to be founded on the successful “outpouring” of support from its student community.
Currently, it is unclear what will be done about the Farmlab. Ultimately, the team aims to continue to host “student-centered spaces creating a paradigm shift in how we view and interact with public green/open spaces in a community.”
Sarvani Kolachana is a staff writer for The Triton.