Occupy the Farm
|Occupy the Farm|
|Part of Occupy movement, Via Campesina|
|Date||First occupation: 22 April 2012– 14 May 2012 / Second occupation: 11 May 2013 – 27 May 2013|
|Location||Gill Tract, Albany, California
|Goals||Land reform, Food sovereignty, Food security, The commons, Urban open space, Community center|
|Methods||Occupation, Agroecology, Farming|
Occupy the Farm is an ongoing social movement that started with the occupation of the Gill Tract in Albany, California, in protest of planned commercial development of public land and in support of preserving the land for the creation of an open center for urban agroecology and food sovereignty. Since at least 1997, coalitions of local residents, NGOs, and University of California (UC) students and faculty have brought forth proposals to the UC administration for the creation of a center for sustainable urban agriculture. The UC administrators turned down these proposals, something at least three UC faculty involved with the projects say was due to UC administrators stonewalling the process and not giving the proposals a good faith consideration.
The Gill Tract is a piece of agricultural land north of Monroe St. bounded by Marin Ave., Jackson St., and San Pablo Avenue, in Albany, California, administered by the University of California, Berkeley. The agricultural field is the last open parcel of class I soil, soil that has "slight limitations that restrict [its] use", in the urban East Bay. The Gill Tract has been in use by the University of California as an open-air laboratory for research and teaching since 1945, and has in recent years been used mostly for conducting plant genetics research using corn as the experimental model. The original agricultural area was around 100 acres (40 ha); all but one-tenth of that has already been developed. Beginning in 1944, much of the nearby land was converted into federally owned housing for dock workers at the nearby shipyards. The federal housing complex, known as Codornices Creek Village, was later sold to the University of California for student housing in 1956 and renamed to UC Village. The southern half of the Gill Tract is currently unused and is slated to be leased by the UC for commercial development to include the construction of a for-profit senior housing complex and a Whole Foods grocery store. The occupation began on 22 April 2012 and ended on 14 May 2012.
A land occupation was launched again on May 11, 2013 on the south end of the Gill Tract, which was slated for privatization and construction of a parking lot, a chain grocery store, and an exclusive senior's home. Occupiers cleared the tall grass, tilled the land, and planted multiple vegetable gardens with support of more than 100 members of the community over that weekend. This second occupation was raided by UCPD on May 14, but members of the movement and supporters returned to reoccupy and plant again on the following weeks. After a second police raid on the occupation encampment, the movement switched focus from land occupations to the establishment of a community partnership with agroecology researchers at the College of Natural Resources for access to a portion of the Gill Tract. Still, the UC continues to propose a development project with Sprouts Farmer's Market, and so the movement is organizing a Boycott Sprouts campaign.
The Gill Tract has been the focus of efforts to create an educational urban farm for an extended period of time, including an effort from 1997 to 2000 that was backed by 30 community groups coordinated by Food First under the name Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA) that aimed to establish "the world’s first university center on sustainable urban agriculture and food systems". An additional effort was made from 2002 to at least 2005 by a group operating under the name Urban Roots in a similar vein. The 2002 effort was endorsed by Alice Waters and Tom Bates.
On 22 April 2012, (Earth Day) around 200 activists broke the lock on the gate, entered the Tract, and began farming, and farming ensued. Having the action begin on 22 April was intended to be a show of solidarity with Via Campesina, an international movement of peasant organizations.
The stated intent of the participants is to establish a sustainable farm to provide food to the local community. Participants additionally argue that such a farm could play an important role in educating the local community about sustainable agricultural practices while helping to establish food sovereignty in the local community. The organizers have emphasized that their intention is to create a working farm, rather than simply occupy the land.
As of 30 April 2012[update], farmers have tilled and planted at least two acres of land with crops, including carrots, broccoli, corn, tomatoes, and squash. They have also brought in beehives, chickens, and over 15,000 seedlings. The farmers have also set up a composting toilet and several portable toilets on site and have arranged for a certified professional to handle their waste disposal, in an effort to alleviate sanitation concerns.
Ropes hang around "Turkeytown", the roost of a wild turkey family which precedes the occupation. Visitors are encouraged to observe the bird from a distance, in its habitat of tall grasses.
The children's garden has featured baby petting goats, gardening and crafts activities for young visitors.
A portable kitchen tent is staffed by trained volunteers and adheres to the local health codes, while serving hundreds of community meals each day, thanks to donations of food and much preparation work.
As of 9 May 2012[update], activists are occupying the part of the Tract slated for development, citing concerns that ownership of the Tract has been transferred from the College of Natural Resources to Capital Projects, an indication that the University plans to sell the entire Tract to developers. The University denies that the remainder of the Tract is slated for redevelopment, stating that they intend to use the land for research indefinitely. However, funding for research at the Gill Tract has receded to historically low levels of allocation, and one sole full professor continues to do research in biological control, on less than 1 of the 10 acres.
In response to the accusation of trespassing, the occupiers have challenged the legitimacy of UC claims on the land, pointing out that the University's charter as a Land-grant university can be served by revitalizing the space for future research, not by sale on the commercial market and development, nor by its current derelict state.
University reaction and dialogue
UC Berkeley officials have condemned the occupation, stating that it threatens ongoing agricultural research and interferes with their duty to students and faculty, and saying that the portion of the tract occupied by the farm is not currently slated for commercial development. Officers of the University of California Police Department have repeatedly warned the farmers that their actions are illegal, but have not taken further action. A UC Berkeley spokesperson said that they would enforce campus policy forbidding camping on University property only if they could do so “safely and effectively.” The University has cut off water to the Tract, stating that the water system was not designed for habitation.
On 4 May 2012, UC Berkeley administrators said that if the farmers left of their own accord they would be included in future community planning processes and gave them until Saturday night (5 May 2012) to leave the Tract lest the administration take steps to "ensure the rule of law is maintained." On 7 May 2012, the farmers issued a reply to the University, offering to disband their encampment if the University agreed to renew access to municipal water, continue access to the property for the duration of the farming season to finish growing the already planted crops, and guarantee that chemical fertilizers and pesticides would not be used on the Tract in the future. On 8 May 2012, the University issued a statement saying that there was "a stunning degree of arrogance and entitlement inherent in this group’s demands", and that after the encampment was dismantled, they would initiate an open dialogue headed by the Dean of the College of Natural Resources, while attempting to preserve as much of the already planted crops as would be possible without interfering with scheduled research on the tract.
The morning of 9 May 2012 was marred by heavy machinery as concrete barricades were trucked in front of Ocean View Elementary School to prevent easy access to the occupation. Police brought a bulldozer into the farm and appeared ready to demolish, but retreated again. A locked gate greeted Professor Miguel Altieri as his students came to plant this year's experiments, and although vehicles were prevented from entering, a small number of tomatoes were still put in the ground to show his determination to continue with this important research. The remaining perimeter of chain-link fence around the Tract remains unprotected, and is in danger of being removed by citizen volunteers, a similar fate as in the peaceful takeover of People's Park, Berkeley, on 15 May 1972.
UC has begun a lawsuit against 15 to 165 people they identify as leaders, RG12629392 "The Regents of the University of California VS Dayaneni".
The co-directors of the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems (part of UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources) released an open letter regarding the occupation, calling for the farmers to immediately decamp, the administrators to immediately set a date to discuss the future of the Gill Tract as an urban farm, and the researchers using the Tract to work around the crops already planted by the farmers and to return the harvest to the community.
Some researchers who conduct research at the Tract have expressed concern that missing a planting season could threaten their future funding and harm the educational progress of their students if the occupation forces them to miss the upcoming planting season. Damon Lisch, a researcher who works at the Tract, is not a professor and is fully dependent on grants, so if a research stoppage endangered his future grant funding, his livelihood would be threatened. He has spoken out against the occupation, stating that the farmers "made a series of poor decisions based on inadequate information" that have an unjust impact on the researchers who normally use the field during summer. The researchers active on the Tract support leaving the activist-planted crops in place as long as they are permitted to conduct their research side-by-side with the new farm.
The farmers have made an active effort not to interfere with the agricultural research of Miguel Altieri which is currently being conducted on the site. Altieri has also hosted a teach-out at the occupied Tract, and has spoken in support of the farmers, encouraging them to continue to occupy the land. He has also indicated that he will be working with the farmers directly to dry farm tomatoes. Altieri had been involved in the previous BACUA effort to transform the Tract into an urban farm.
The senior editorial board of the Daily Cal student newspaper has stated that "the Occupy protesters farming on the Gill Tract in Albany have a promising, attainable goal". The idea of turning the Gill Tract into an urban farm has been endorsed by a number of Berkeley faculty members as well as the student senate. The occupation itself is opposed by the Dean of the College of Natural Resources as well as the chair of UC Berkeley's Academic Senate, although the Dean believes that the Gill Tract could be productively used for urban agriculture in the future.
A land occupation was launched again on May 11, 2013 on the south end of the Gill Tract, which was slated for privatization and construction of a parking lot, a chain grocery store, and an exclusive senior's home. Occupiers cleared the tall grass, tilled the land, and planted multiple vegetable gardens with support of more than 100 members of the community over that weekend. This second occupation was raided by UCPD on May 14, but members of the movement and supporters returned to reoccupy and plant again on the following weeks. After a second police raid on the occupation encampment, the movement switched focus from land occupations to the establishment of a community partnership with agroecology researchers at the College of Natural Resources for access to a portion of the Gill Tract.
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