It all started on a volleyball court.
Two UC Berkeley beach volleyball players, Mackenzie Feldman and Bridget Gustafson, were concerned about being exposed to the glyphosate-based Roundup Ranger weedkiller used to control weeds around their beach volleyball court at UC’s Clark Kerr Campus.
With the support of their coach, they made a deal with the athletic fields and turf supervisor: The team would pull the weeds if his staff would stop using the carcinogenic herbicide.
Part Hawaiian and born and raised on O’ahu, Feldman was familiar with Monsanto’s toxic chemicals because the company uses the islands to test crops genetically engineered to resist pesticides. Exposure to toxins is recognized as a cause of the state’s high rate of birth defects and cancer.
Gustafson told Edible East Bay that it was Feldman’s urgency in questioning the spraying that initially got her attention:
“I realized it was a human rights issue; the cost is the health and safety of the people spraying, the rest of the student body and whoever else is using the campus.”
The two teammates drew inspiration for their campaign from:
• Harvard’s Organic Maintenance Program, launched in 2004, which “focused on reducing or eliminating the use of all inorganic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, fungicides and herbicides, and significantly reducing the use of organic nitrogen fertilizers.” Harvard’s program has since grown into one that “encourages the systems created by nature: healthy soils supporting healthy plants.”
• The University of Pennsylvania’s Sustainable Landscaping Program, which has eliminated the use of herbicides and pesticides except to treat spot outbreaks.
• The University of Colorado at Boulder’s Healthy Lawns Program, which set out to minimize the use of chemical herbicides in 2008. Since 2013, the campus has used compost tea to improve soil health and avoid applying herbicides to the campus turf. In 2016, the program started using saturated steam to kill weeds in landscape beds.
Feldman and Gustafson took their campaign campus-wide as “Herbicide-Free Cal.” When Feldman graduated, she launched “Herbicide-Free UC” and then went national as “Herbicide-Free Campus.”
Similar campaigns are now being led by students on campuses across the country in Hawaii, Virginia and Washington, in addition to California.
The “Herbicide-Free UC” campaign scored a major victory in May when Napolitano temporarily suspended the use of glyphosate-based herbicides at all ten UC campuses “due to concerns about possible human health and ecological hazards, as well as potential legal and reputational risks associated with this category of herbicides.”
Napolitano’s announcement listed four exceptions to the ban: for agriculture, wildfire risk management, native habitat preservation, and research. The temporary suspension became effective on June 1, 2019.
Simultaneously, Napolitano created a UC Herbicide Task Force to provide her with guidance on “long-term approaches to the use of glyphosate-based herbicides, as well as other pesticides” and requested that the task force provide its recommendations by November 1, 2019.
Time to make your voice heard! Let’s thank President Napolitano, who will retire from her post in 2020, and urge her to make the glyphosate ban permanent. Let’s push for the University of California to make a plan to transition all campuses to organic by 2025.