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Mills’ Urban Farm teaches students about food justice

The Urban Farm at Mills College originated in small garden boxes by the Gaia House, but after receiving grant money for the farm, 2.5 acres were devoted to it. The plan for the new farm was completed in March of 2015.

As a way to maintain the Urban Farm and get students involved, the Farming and Food Justice class was added to the course catalog this fall, and is geared towards teaching students how to work and maintain a farm, as well as create a more sustainable community.

The class meets once a week for an hour and 40 minutes to work on the farm and discuss food justice issues at the Urban Farm at Mills, located on the right after the entrance to campus. The class has three sections and takes place once on Wednesday and twice on Thursday.

The class meets at the picnic tables on the farm to discuss readings and plans for the future of the farm, and then they get to work on whatever needs attention that day. Sophomore Rachael Mellows appreciates the fun, laid-back nature of the class.

“It’s a very fluid class,” Mellows said. “There isn’t too much structure to stress about.”

The readings that are assigned as homework for the class all center around food justice. Sophomore Chloe Champion is excited to be learning about food justice and urban farming, which she knew little about before the class.

“I am surprised by how active the food justice community is in Oakland,” Champion said. “I hadn’t really ever considered how big urban farming is.”

Along with the readings and discussions, the hands-on work on the farm has also taught Champion a lot about food justice, farming and food systems.

“We don’t really think about things unless we see them,” Champion said. “Being a part of the process in such a physical way helps you to connect all the dots.”

Alisha Strater, farm manager and professor of Farming and Food Justice, is a first-generation farmer with 15 years of experience under her belt. Strater believes that it is important to teach food justice because of how pertinent our food system is to society.

“In my opinion, our food system is functioning in a way that upholds certain matrices of oppression,” Strater said. “We can really understand how those systematic designs affect us and start to move towards action to change it and make food more accessible across the board for our communities.”

As well as learning about and discussing our food system and food justice, Strater believes that working on a physical farm has its benefits, too.

“Working on a farm leads to more self determination and more empowerment,” Strater said. “If we know how to feed ourselves, then we have a lot of agency.”

Looking towards the future, the farm aims to make the Mills campus more sustainable by working with Founder’s Commons to provide produce to the students as well as composting their waste. Strater hopes to not only serve the Mills community but the greater Oakland community as well

“The hope is that there will be food that we can distribute throughout the community,” Strater said. “We’re not quite sure what that will look like, but that’s part of what we’re trying to figure out as a class.”

For those who cannot take the Farming and Food Justice class, the farm is accessible to Mills students and the greater Oakland community on Monday from 2:30-5:30 p.m. and Thursday from 1:30-5:30 p.m., where anyone is welcome to volunteer.