Synthetic herbicides are primarily used for aesthetic purposes on college campuses. These institutions are opting for chemicals that are linked to human and environmental health issues rather than exploring organic options that are safer for the grounds crew members, students, faculty, and other community members. Using synthetic herbicides to eradicate weeds for aesthetic purposes is neglectful – prioritizing landscapes which require such inputs threatens the health of campus communities and contributes to climate change and biodiversity loss. Herbicide use intersects with many of the issues that we all care about including (but not limited to) human health, biodiversity, climate change, environmental justice, reproductive health, clean water, food sovereignty, workers rights and more.
Our systemic synthetic pesticide use is an intersectional issue, one that touches racial justice, food sovereignty, public health, economics, soil health, environmental justice and biodiversity loss. These chemicals threaten our world’s food supply, reducing the pollinator populations that crops depend on. Their use also contributes to the pesticide treadmill and herbicide resistance. The application of synthetic chemicals significantly degrades ecosystem health and resilience to climate change related extreme weather events. Herbicide usage, therefore, intersects with our daily life on both a micro and macro scale, from contributing to the produce available at the grocery store to the greenhouse gasses in our atmosphere.
Mackenzie Feldman and Bridget Gustafson co-founded what started out as Herbicide-Free Cal at University of California, Berkeley in 2017. They showed up for beach volleyball practice one day to their coaches' cautions: If the ball rolled off the court, they were not to chase it as the groundskeepers had sprayed an herbicide on the surrounding area. Bridget and Mackenzie were shocked at the potential public and environmental health risks posed by the spraying of what they found out to be glyphosate-based products. This was two years before the Johnson v. Monsanto ruling, but one year after the World Health Organization had ruled that glyphosate was a probable human carcinogen. They asked the Supervisor of Athletics Fields & Turf to end spraying by the courts, and in return, the team would pick the surrounding weeds. Since that day, Bridget and Mackenzie have made lasting, institutional change. The campaign spread across campus, and now UC Berkeley is 95% organic.
Mackenzie and Bridget were inspired to expand the campaign in 2019 by Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a groundskeeper who sued Monsanto after developing cancer from spraying their glyphosate-based herbicide. They decided that they needed to take this beyond UC Berkeley, and they launched Herbicide-Free Campus, to first inspire the entire UC system, and then campuses across the country, to rethink reliance on toxic herbicides in campus management. In 2022 Herbicide-Free Campus joined Re:wild, and became Re:wild Your Campus. The movement has now spread coast to coast, driven by Student Fellows who receive financial support and training from RYC’s staff members. Re:wild Your Campus will continue to empower students until every college campus in the country is ecologically safe.
Rose Williamson, Development Specialist and Curriculum Manager