The Ecology Center was founded in 1969 as one of the first action-oriented environmental organizations in the country. In the early days, the Ecology Center was a meeting place where environmental thinkers and activists gathered and distributed information through the bookstore, newsletter, library, and printing press. The Ecology Center activated the community by identifying environmental problems and demonstrating sound alternatives. Idealism was the mood of the day and staff members worked ‘round the clock for free.
In 1971, two tankers collided and dumped nearly a million gallons of crude oil into the San Francisco Bay. The Ecology Center organized volunteer crews to clean oil from beaches and aquatic birds and within a few days became a well-known institution. Today, people still turn to our information hotline in response to environmental crises.
In the early 1970s, the Ecology Center launched a number of demonstration projects, including an environmental education project for Berkeley schools, a primary grade school curriculum guide, the Temescal Creek Committee, and various recycling projects. One of the recycling projects spun off to become a successful wine bottle recycling business that is still operating.
The Ecology Center was instrumental in the first statewide recycling conference, a meeting that led to the founding of the California Resource Recovery Association. In 1988, the Ecology Center convened a task force with Berkeley officials to author the styrofoam ban that serves as a model for many such ordinances across the country.
The Ecology Center has operated Berkeley’s Curbside Recycling Program since 1973, when it was launched as a demonstration project collecting newspapers. Recycling remains a principal focus of the Center, now with a weekly pick-up of recyclables under a City of Berkeley contract. This curbside program has become a model for thousands of municipal recycling programs. Recycling education is still a key component. Pioneering non-profits like the Ecology Center gave birth to the recycling industry, but few non-profits remain in the recycling business today. Unlike for-profit haulers, our successful recycling program supports community education, maintains high standards in recycling as the industry matures, and keeps resources in our local community.
Since its early days, the Ecology Center has encouraged home and community gardening and composting by sponsoring community gardens, publishing how-to booklets, and teaching organic gardening classes. Today, we fiscally sponsor the Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative, maintain a full array of organic gardening products and books in our store, and host a wide range of gardening classes, from native plants to rooftop gardens to urban chicken raising.
In 1987, the Ecology Center took on operation of the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, and we now operate three weekly markets in the East Bay, bringing fresh, organic produce to city dwellers. Our Farmers’ Markets became the first in the country to ban methyl bromide, a severely toxic and ozone-depleting pesticide used most commonly on strawberries. We also banned the use and sale of GMO products from the markets and developed a reporting system to insure compliance. The Berkeley Farmers’ Market continues to promote organic agriculture, provide information on toxics and their alternatives, and reduce waste by promoting and enabling Zero Waste practices.
In 1999, a Berkeley Health Report showed high rates of diet-related disease in low-income neighborhoods. The Ecology Centers’ food justice program, Farm Fresh Choice, was launched as a response. The program set up fruit-and-vegetable stands at after-school childcare centers, where families were already congregating. The program offers youth training, culturally appropriate nutrition education, and cooking demonstrations. The produce is purchased directly from regional, small-scale farmers who sell at our farmers’ markets.
Terrain, a publication of the Ecology Center, evolved from a newsletter to a newspaper to a well-respected magazine. Terrain became a widely-read source of environmental news and commentary for the Bay Area and beyond. Terrain‘s provocative articles have been cited and reproduced in several national publications, including Utne Reader, Alternet, and Environment.
In 2006, the Ecology Center subsumed the Berkeley EcoHouse as one of its central programs. The EcoHouse was founded in April 1999, when a group of diverse, talented, and inspired individuals collectively purchased and transformed a small, dilapidated North Berkeley home into a demonstration house and garden. True to the original vision, EcoHouse continues to serve as a place where community members can learn about accessible and affordable ways to adapt living spaces to restore ecological systems and reduce environmental impact.
The Ecology Center has come a long way since 1969. Most importantly, we’re still here, a beacon for a society facing environmental challenges and looking for positive ways to evolve and adapt. The Ecology Center continues to be the place where people go for reliable information, practical alternatives, and to connect with others to problem-solve. As the public becomes ever more knowledgeable, the effort to put appropriate tools and accurate information into its hands becomes more important. The Ecology Center continues to seek new and better ways to help people take that next step toward a more sustainable and environmentally responsible life – whoever they are and wherever they may be on their journey.