Peralta Community College District's Only Student-Run Publication
Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

Peralta Community College District's only student-run publication.

The Citizen

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    Up Rooted

    Perlata administration proposes false dilemma in plan to raze garden on Laney campus to construct new buildings; communities rallies for alternatives.

    PinchI am really, truly angry, saddened and disgusted,” Laney College Chemistry Professor Pinar Alscher said, speaking to Interim President Patricia Stanley and Vice Chancellor of General Services Dr. Sadiq Ikharo at a community forum on May 4.

    The forum was organized to discuss the proposed plan to replace Laney College’s vegetable garden with portable trailers.

    Alscher was one of over a hundred community members from around the Bay Area who came to Laney College on May 4 to discuss Laney’s proposal.

    The proposal’s timeline would ultimately culminate in the construction an entirely new building on the spot where the vegetable garden currently stands.

    The lead architect on the project showed off glossy mockups of their proposed replacement for the garden, which would reduce the size of the garden from 711 square meters of fertile land to 55.7 square meters of garden beds.

    “To give us these sterile beds is an insult,” Alscher said.

    Food“It does not speak to the heart of Laney College. It takes away our humanity.”

    David Ralston, a professor of Environmental Management and Technology at Merritt College, went even further.

    Speaking to the team of architects Laney hired, Ralston said, “I find it hard to believe that you all can stand here and call this ethical architecture.”

    Ralston has a Master’s in the field, and criticized the team for not finding a more creative alternate solution.

    “You build around the assets of a location,” he said. “You build the garden first then the buildings, you don’t do that in reverse. “You don’t destroy something that’s already created and beautiful.”

    Let your garden grow

    The controversial proposal arose after Laney decided to build a new building to house its library, a brand-new Library Resource Center and cafeteria, and other essential campus resources.

    PLantAfter considering different spots, including faculty parking lots, the administration concluded that the ideal spot for the building would be behind the Laney Bistro, where the vegetable garden currently thrives.

    For clarification during the Q&A portion of the forum, Laney College student Jarrett Wright asked Ikharo point-blank: “If there was a viable alternative to the plans as-is where we can save the Laney gardens, would you be open to that?”

    Ikharo avoided answering the question directly.

    “What I will say is if you look around Laney College this is like a fortress whereby we are [tightly] defined,” he said. “We looked at alternative places so we wouldn’t even have to discuss the
    gardens right now.

    “When we did that… we could not find any single spaces within Laney College that could house all the [Library Resource Center] activities in one area.”

    According to Evelyn Lord, Laney College Library’s head librarian, the Learning Resource Center is long overdue.

    “Most community colleges have one,” Lord said, “but we’ve had to wait.”

    Lord described the Laney College library as suffering from many shortcomings: there are only four study rooms available for students, and there is only one elevator which. when out, denies accessibility for disabled students to any floor but the first.

    “When I walk through the library, I am embarrassed on behalf of our students.” Lord said.

    But many pointed out that the issue is not one of either-or. In an op-ed which can be found in the box to the right, former Laney College student Marley Benshalom wrote that “this is not about
    us versus them; this is not about Library versus Garden because we deserve both!”

    At the forum, Benshalom was credited by many as a galvanizing force for the movement against the college’s proposed plan.

    “Boxes are beautiful, but science shows that… we as human beings need to touch soil,” she said at the forum.

    “I learned these things from Laney, from my time here.”

    Benshalom is now a student at UC Berkeley, where she has designed her own major inspired by her work with the garden: Community Healing.

    “It’s not just about planting food and going,” she said.

    “It’s about everything that’s a part of the garden.”

    A weighty issue

    GardenVoice cracking, UC Berkeley student Joshua Arnold gave one of the afternoon’s most emotional speeches.

    Arnold is a PhD student at Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science Policy and Management, with his roots firmly planted in community colleges: as a student at Riverside Community College in southern California, Arnold founded that school’s community garden.

    Drawing on his department’s original research into Laney’s vegetable garden, he cited statistics that left the audience visibly reeling: according to his calculations, the garden produces over 20,000 pounds of produce a year.

    “Say that again,” an audience member called out to applause, as he repeated the number.

    “90% of that food goes to people working in the garden or around that garden,” he said.

    Arnold described the vegetable garden’s loss as being the death of not only that vast food production, but also a desperately need knowledge production.

    Arnold said that the ecological knowledge gained through experiential learning on the part of students and community members is invaluable, and compared its loss to the biodiversity catastrophes seen worldwide.

    On top of that, that knowledge and learning Arnold serves as the source of funding for grants around sustainability and food security, from prestigious organizations like the USDA and US Forest Service.

    Arnold closed his speech by citing Laney’s website, which describes the college as “a dynamic, diverse environment where all are encouraged to become responsible community members, leaders and
    world citizens.”

    Arnold called on this description to bring his point home.

    “I think this garden and the work that’s going on it meets every single one of those needs,” Arnold said.

    20,000: lbs of food grown by the Laney Garden each year
    90%: percent of garden yield going to people who helped to grow it or living nearby
    656: number of square meters of garden space lost in current plan
    0: amount of other locations being considered by administration for the new resource building

    Proposing Peace

    Vice Chancellor of General Services Dr. Sadiq Ikharo gives an impassioned speech at a community meeting on May 4. Community members present at the meeting challenged Ikharo’s defense of the project. Meditate
    About the Contributor
    In the fall of 2019, The Laney Tower rebranded as The Citizen and launched a new website. These stories were ported over from the old Laney Tower website, but byline metadata was lost in the port. However, many of these stories credit the authors in the text of the story. Some articles may also suffer from formatting issues. Future archival efforts may fix these issues.  
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