Occupy The Farm is urging all our supporters to SIGN THE SEAL PETITION. It is originated by Students for Engaged and Active Learning (SEAL), and calls on the UC Berkeley administration, the UC Regents, and President Napolitano, to halt the current development plan for the Gill Tract Farm and enter into a collaborative design process with students and community. This design process would produce an alternative plan encompassing all of the remaining undeveloped land on the Gill Tract, one that better serves student and community needs. For questions, or to contact delegates for media statements, please email email@example.com.
Lesley Haddock – (707)293-3253 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew McHale – 562-754-8756 – email@example.com
Occupy the Farm is very excited about the premiere of the Occupy the Farm film, opening this Friday at the UA7 cinema in Berkeley. The film depicts the vibrancy of the community that occupied the Gill Tract in 2012, creating an agricultural hub and challenging the University of California’s commercial development plan.
“This film documents the beginning of a new phase of struggle for public access to the Gill Tract,” said Lesley Haddock, an organizer with Occupy the Farm. “We hope that this premiere will inspire more people in our community to join the effort to stop this development, and for others to take action in their own neighborhoods to reclaim land for public benefit.”
It has been two-and-a-half years since farmers and community members, frustrated by decades of unproductive negotiations with the University around preserving this land first flooded onto the Gill Tract to break ground on a public urban farm, which produced several tons of organic vegetables that were distributed for free around the East Bay.
After repeated occupations of the land, each violently evicted by police, the College of Natural Resources has started a community-oriented farm project on part of the north field of the Gill Tract, but has remained uninvolved in the struggle to protect the south side of the land from development.
The UC Gill Tract Community Farm is open to the public most days a week, and members of Occupy the Farm are active in its daily stewardship and governance, along with other neighbors, students, faculty, and researchers. However, most of the north field is still being used for corn genetics research. The south field remains under the control of Capital Projects, and is in imminent threat of commercial development into a shopping center and high-end senior housing complex.
Occupy the Farm continues to organize against the development, building toward a twenty-acre public farm that can serve as a agroecological research hub that can help to transition us away from the industrial food system that threatens our health and ecosystems and towards smaller-scale, localized farming systems.
We invite you to get involved with organizing, by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We will be present for Q&A at many of the screenings throughout the week, particularly the evening showings. Opening night, we invite you to the premiere after-party at the PLACE for Sustainable Living, 1121 64th St, Oakland. The film will be showing at 12 pm, 2:20 pm, 4:50 pm, 7 pm, and 9:30 pm through November 13th.
The feature length documentary Occupy the Farm, premieres this Friday in Berkeley!
Join the farmers at the premier, Friday, November 7th at 7 pm. After the film there will be a Q&A with the filmmaker, Todd Darling, and several of the farmers.
The film is playing in Berkeley, November 7–13 at
UA Berkeley 7 Cinema – buy tickets
2274 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA
The film will also be showing in
New York – Nov 14–20
Pasadena – Nov 21–27
The campaign to turn Albany’s Gill Tract into a community farm took a hit when the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission gave the go-ahead last week to building a Sprouts grocery store, a second retail building, and a senior assisted-living facility on the southern part of the UC Berkeley-owned site. But on the northern section of the Gill Tract, community members — some of whom were forcibly evicted when they camped and attempted to farm there — were recently back on the site growing crops as part of a “community-based participatory research project” led by UC Berkeley Professor Miguel Altieri. And representatives of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources have been talking with the community-based Gill Tract Farm Coalition about ways to collaborate there.
Cal spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the supermarket development plan for the southern ten acres of the site grew out of “nearly seven years of engagement with the community. It was clear that the community felt an acute need for a high-quality grocery store and an assisted-living facility.” The entire Gill Tract is twenty acres in size and is located west of San Pablo Avenue, next to University Village, a housing complex for Cal graduate students.
But other members of the community have been struggling for fifteen years to turn the whole Gill Tract into a center for urban agriculture. That struggle reached its most dramatic point in April 2012, when members of a group called Occupy the Farm camped out and farmed in the northern half of the tract for three weeks until they were evicted by UC police. For the rest of the summer, farmers climbed over the fence to water the crops, and ended up harvesting several tons of food, which they distributed free to East Bay residents.
The Gill Tract “is some of the best soil in the East Bay,” said Occupy the Farm spokesperson Lesley Haddock, a Cal student. “If it was used for food production, it could serve people all over the East Bay, people who don’t have access to clean, non-GMO food.” A Gill Tract farm could also boost local food production by allowing people to research effective practices and train urban gardeners. That would help reduce climate change by cutting down on the shipping of food over long distances.
Both Mogulof and Sprouts Communications Manager Lauren Rosenblum pointed out that the southern part of the tract has not been used for farming for more than seventy years. Some project supporters say the area’s previous use as a site for army barracks ruined the soil. But members of Occupy the Farm began a soil remediation project in that area last May — before police removed them. “We did extensive testing of the soil for contaminants,” said Effie Rawlings, who worked on the project. “The soil was good, but a few patches where there had been buildings needed a little extra love.”
Long before Occupy the Farm, some Gill Tract neighbors had been fighting the proposed development, which originally included a Whole Foods store until Whole Foods backed out in 2012 in the face of delays and opposition. “I thought it was outrageous — on or adjacent to agricultural land, to bring in corporate natural food trucked halfway across the country,” said Albany resident Ed Fields, a retired UC Berkeley electrical engineer.
Fields and other neighbors also objected to other parts of the plan: the 11,000 cars a day the store would draw; the construction of “high-end,” rather than affordable housing; and the removal of at least 80 mature trees, including an endangered Torrey pine. “We challenged every [environmental impact review], challenged the zoning,” said Jackie Hermes-Fletcher, a retired teacher and master gardener. “We fought really hard. We worked with Berkeley students, we got supporters elected to the [Albany] City Council, we got the school district to pass a resolution.” Two lawsuits challenged the project; one is still on appeal.
Farmland supporters also opposed bringing in Sprouts to replace Whole Foods. They sent an open letter to the company but received no response. A few months ago, said Haddock, “we escalated, with a BoycottSprouts.comwebsite, social media, and a petition,” as well as two flash-mob actions in suburban Sprouts stores.
After two hours of impassioned public testimony on December 11, mostly by farm advocates but also from some neighbors who supported the project, the planning commission approved the proposal. Now, only an appeal to the city council, which approved the plan in 2011, could block it.
Meanwhile, on the northern ten acres of the tract, the clash between community farmers and the university has evolved into cooperation. Several months after Occupy the Farm first entered the site in April 2012, UC Berkeley dean Keith Gilless announced that the university had transferred control of the Gill Tract from the university’s capital projects department, which includes the real estate office, to the College of Natural Resources. Representatives of the college have been meeting regularly with the Gill Tract Farm Coalition, which includes Occupy the Farm, the Albany Farm Alliance, and urban farming organizations from Castro Valley to Richmond.
Sarah Hake, director of the Plant Gene Expression Center, whose lab uses part of the tract to grow corn for its research, said that despite early fears, Occupy the Farm never interfered with her use of the site. And researcher Altieri, a supporter of Occupy the Farm from the beginning, set up his cooperative research project to “create bridges” between the university and the community.
Since Occupy the Farm began, Altieri has argued that community farmers and scientists could cooperate on the site. In his recent research project, teams of farmers from the community, along with UC Berkeley and Merritt College students, competed to see which combinations of crops and farming methods would produce the most food. Altieri said urban agriculture has the potential to “make a huge difference in solving food security problems in low-income neighborhoods of the East Bay” and help curb climate change. He pointed to Cuba, where highly productive urban farms grow 30 percent of the vegetables consumed in big cities. The Bay Area, he said, imports 3,000 tons of food a day — “food that travels an average distance of 1,000 miles.” Increasing local production “would really reduce that environmental impact,” he added.
Altieri said he is now planning another research project “to assess the productivity potential of urban farms in the Bay Area, figure out what limits productivity,” then collaborate with members of the community to develop strategies for growing more. The idea is then to build a network of farmers to share successful methods.
Another team of researchers at the College of Natural Resources is planning a separate project to develop 1.5 acres of the Gill Tract as a farm that would serve as a research and education laboratory for urban farming, in collaboration with community organizations. The project will include youth education and employment, training for farmers, and research on farming methods and policy issues.
Both these projects will be part of the new Berkeley Food Institute, an interdepartmental program that shares the urban farmers’ goals: fostering a global transition from an “industrialized, consolidated, homogenized” food system to agriculture that is sustainable, diverse, and just.
Community farmers and the university are still working out the terms of their collaboration. It remains to be seen how far the university will go toward supporting the Gill Tract Farm Coalition’s goal of sharing project management. Occupy the Farm still wants to farm the parts of the Gill Tract not used by researchers. And since university bulldozers plowed into the plants, seeds, and fertilizer laid down by Occupy the Farm last May, the relationship has already come a long way.
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the year in which Occupy the Farm camped out and farmed the Gill Tract. It was 2012 — not 2013.
~By Jean Tepperman
this article first appeared in the East Bay Express:
Four things you can do right now to help save the Southern Half of the Gill Tract!
- WATCH the video (see below)
- SIGN the petition to Sprouts (Change.org)
- SHARE via these super quick links: on twitter and facebook
- FORWARD this email to your friends and contacts
Additional Action Alert: The clock is ticking! On Wednesday, December 11th, please attend the Albany Planning and Zoning Commission meeting where the Sprouts development will be voted on. Join us to urge the rejection of this disasterous development plan! We’ll meet at 5:45 PM at the Albany City Hall Council Chambers.
A few clicks from you could make the difference!
Developers are threatening to pave over a large plot of unique, rare, and historic farmland in Albany, CA. As soon as December 12th of this year, chainsaws will be brought to the Gill Tract to begin the process of development, cutting down over 100 trees, including rare California natives.
The Gill Tract is public land managed by the University of California. For 15 years, a coalition of farmers, UC students, professors, and local community members has been fighting to preserve this farmland as a center for agroecological research and local, sustainable urban farming.
Now, we’re ramping up a pressure campaign to convince the development’s anchor tenant (a corporate supermarket ironically named Sprouts “Farmer’s Market”) to withdraw from the project.
Last year’s anchor tenant, Whole Foods, pulled out of the previous agreement and we believe that the withdrawal of two anchor tenants in a row will bring the UC developers to the table, to hear local voices asking for a smaller, more community oriented development that will preserve farmland.
A quick update about the northern side of the Gill Tract
The north side is presently administered by the College of Natural Resources. It was transferred out of Capital Projects after the 2012 OTF occupation! Capital Projects is the non-educational development arm of UC Berkeley’s administration, and is currently in charge of and attempting to pave over the south side.
The Community Field Day and Open Forum on the Gill Tract on October 13th was a HUGE success. This special event brought together our Gill Tract Farm Coalition and the College of Natural Resources to envision what UC’s collaboration with community at the Gill Tract Farm might look like going forward. Well over 300 guests came out. Folks got their hands dirty tending the land, learned about different agroecological strategies being used in the participatory research project, ate fresh food. There were educational workshops, bees, goats, and even baby bunnies!
Presently, the participatory research project between 40 community farmers and Professor Miguel Altieri is entering its final stages of being cover cropped for a winter rest. Plans for expansion of further projects next spring are under way. OTF will be reigniting a series of community forums and working groups to integrate broad community input into the land’s future. We welcome suggestions for collaborative grants and other resources that will support community-led projects.
Pictures from October 13th “open farm day”at the Gill Tract.
Saving, Creating and Spreading Paradise
There are two places in Albany, California where paradise is struggling to survive. Both have been neglected and desecrated—casualties of a society bent on unsustainable ways of living with the planet, through unrestrained consumption and endless industrial growth. And yet, despite the destruction, there is something beautiful which is holding on in these places.
Life constantly pushes back against development, arising from degraded soil and cracks in the asphalt, doing its best to reclaim the land and sustain life.
But these places did not survive on their own. People who care deeply about them have been fighting for the land for years. They have been fighting to preserve the paradise that is still there, to prevent even more of it from being lost. They have been helping to restore some of the paradise that has already been lost, with a lot of assistance from nature. And, most importantly, they are working to transform the land into something new, something radical.
These pieces of land hold the potential to be a model and an inspiration for saving and (re)creating paradise around the world, at a time when economic inequality and ecological destruction threaten all of humanity and most life on this planet.
Paradises Under Threat: The Gill Tract and The Albany Bulb
Despite the similarities between these pieces of land and their proximity to one another—they are only a mile apart—these are two very different places, with distinct histories, struggles and potentials.
The Gill Tract is 104 acres of historic agricultural land, acquired by UC Berkeley in the 1930s. Since then, all but 15 acres have been developed. While the north half of the remaining land has been continuously used for agriculture, WWII‐era barracks (which later became university housing) were built on the south half. Although the land on the south half was marred by the barracks, they have since been removed, and the land has been left to run wild, and became covered with wild oat, thistles, gopher holes and wild turkeys nests. Although much of the soil has been compacted, because the soil is not toxic, it holds the potential to be rejoined with the north side and used for agriculture again. But the UC has plans to the pave over the south side of the Tract and replace it with a private commercial development.
Moreover, development of the north side appears likely in the near future.
Over the past 15 years numerous groups have been fighting to save this land from development, and to see it preserved as a productive community farm in perpetuity. Most recently this fight has been taken up by the group Occupy the Farm, which I am a part of. With the participation of several hundred farmers, UC students and community members, we have taken direct action to put the land back into use as a farm—clearing the weeds, tilling and improving the soil and planting thousands of seedlings. But the UC, fearing that its development plans were under threat, responded with force, raiding the camp, arresting the farmers and plowing over the crops.
By contrast, 100 years ago, the Albany Bulb was not land at all. A peninsula jutting out into the San Francisco Bay, the Bulb is the result of filling in what used to be wetlands and shallow parts of the Bay with garbage and debris. For decades it was used as a landfill and place to dump construction debris, primarily concrete and rebar, which still litters the site.
Starting in the 1960s, Save the Bay and other environmental groups fought to halt the dumping, ultimately succeeding in the mid‐80s following a series of lawsuits. Like the other Bay Area peninsulas created by dumping (the Berkeley Marina, Point Emery, Point Isabel) vegetation and wildlife quickly established itself on the former dumping site. Taking root in dumped earth and layers of clay used to cover the trash, the 31 acres are now covered with trees, thick shrubs and tall grasses, most of which are non‐native such as palms, broom, fennel, roses, apple trees and Himalayan blackberries. Following after the vegetation, songbirds, crabs, rabbits, lizards, snakes, and hawks have taken up residence in the now flourishing ecosystem. But the wildlife inhabitants are perhaps less noteworthy than the humans who have made the Bulb their home. Starting in 1993 a group of squatters, mostly young punkers and The Albany Bulb seen from the West. If dumping had not been stopped, the lagoon at the bottom would have eventually been filled with debris. Crabs skitter across the rocks as waves crash. urban deep ecology anarchists, set up a tent city. Over the years the settlement slowly grew into a community with elaborate and oftenartistic camps nestled amidst the greenery and the rubble.
Artists, some of whom are residents, have also taken the debris from the landfill— the detritus of industrial growth and development—and turned it into works of art. The exposed concrete, which litters the landscape, has been spray‐painted by graffiti artists, who do guerilla installations and turn the large slabs into murals. Perhaps most striking of all are the giant sculptures of metal, stone, wood, and anything else pulled from the landfill, which ring the north coast of the Bulb. Although many of the Bulbs’ residents struggle with mental health and addiction, they have created a vibrant community of squatters and radical artists. Robert “Rabbit” Barringer, a resident of the Bulb, and narrator of the 2003 documentary Bum’s Paradise, which chronicles the lives of those living on the Bulb, explains that the residents live there because they “are allowed to live free of public scorn and scrutiny and the daily harassment of police.” Yet they have not been left entirely alone; in 1999, the city evicted the squatters, although many quietly came back. Despite several more attempts at eviction, a strong squatting community remains on the land, with more people taking up residence during the economic downturn. Over the past several years, the City has been trying to get the Bulb turned into a Regional Park, which would likely mean the destruction of most of the art, and the permanent eviction of the residents. This May the Albany City Council pushed this plan forward by voting to enforce the City’s no‐camping ordinance starting in October, while opening up conversations with the East Bay Regional Park District officials. Occupy the Farm envisions a future in which East Bay communities make use of all available land – occupying it when necessary – to create sustainable, democratic alternatives that meet local needs in the face of economic and environmental crisis, emphasizing much needed research into sustainable urban agriculture, open access, and participation by the larger East Bay community. Although we have larger goals than saving the Gill Tract, we recognize the significance of this historical agricultural land. As one of the last large plots of fertile agricultural soil left in the East Bay, the Gill Tract holds great potential for shifting our communities towards self‐sufficiency through urban agriculture and a re‐localized food system. The Gill Tract can be a source local, sustainable, organic food and serve as an educational resource for community members and for UC urban agricultural research. Perhaps most importantly, establishing a farm on the Gill Tract could serve as an model and inspiration turning the tide away from endless development in urban (and suburban and exurban) areas, by reclaiming a piece of the land, and put it back into use as a source of life‐sustaining food production. Because we face strong resistance from the UC administration, we have constantly had to adapt our tactics. After having the crops plowed under, we realized we couldn’t simply keep planting more seedlings, otherwise they would just be destroyed. So when we went on to farm again, rather than just planting in the same place, we cleared more of the field and planted seeds. So when the tractor came back, as predicted, it did the work of the farmers, tilling the soil and breaking it up where it had been compacted. Meanwhile the seeds were left in the ground, waiting to spring forth when the rains come. And where the tractor had already passed, rather than working hard to level the land, we shaped mounds and rows between the furrows (or ruts) created by the tractor’s wheels. Ultimately we settled on a plan to do a research project on the soil, centered around improving the quality of the soil, and restoring it to the rich topsoil it once was. Such research is vital, because if urban agriculture is to spread throughout cities on a large enough scale to be meaningful, it will require reclaiming and growing food land which has been neglected, polluted and degraded. And research is in that area is currently lacking. It also has the added advantage of being research the university cannot disrupt, as the tractor tilling the soil would just improve its quality.
What is so exciting to me about the actions of Occupy the Farm when compared to so many other protests, is that it is a protest by virtue of being an act of creation—not only creating new life through planting, but helping to model a new way of life which embodies my spiritual and social justice values: people and the planet over profit; community over consumerism; access to healthy fresh food for anyone who needs it, not just those who can afford it.
As millions of individuals across the country have become more concerned about where their food comes from and how our food systems impact the planet, they have turned away from industrial agriculture towards farmers markets, and started planting food in their yards or joined community gardens. Occupy the Farm represents a next step: reclaiming land for the commons, where anyone is welcome to participate in growing and harvesting food, and shifting large scale food production back into the urban areas, where most people live. We recognize there is a need to grow a lot more food in the urban centers and give people direct control over their food, as transportation becomes increasingly unsustainable and climate change threatens the global food system.
As a testament to this vision, this action has inspired numerous individuals to plant gardens or take over pieces of land in their own community. It also garnered widespread media coverage on TV, radio, in print and on the web, which included being picked up by national publications like the Nation and the environmental news website Grist. It has also been part of several documentaries and will soon be the subject of a feature length documentary. On some level, the UC administration realizes the beauty and power of this vision. Prior to the occupation, the land had sat unused for years, and there was no immediate plan for developing the land (as the Albany City Council had not yet approved the proposal). Thus it seems then that the only reason the UC has for plowing the farm, is because they recognize that if a farm were to actually become established on the Gill Tract, more residents would realize what a unique and amazing resource it could be as a farm, further undermining the UC’s plans to pave over the land and turn it into another cookie‐cuter development. But more than just its vision for sustainable urban agriculture, a key aspect of Occupy the Farm is its organizing model. As a community‐focused group, there is a lot of emphasis on healthy community and group dynamics. It follows the consensus model for decision‐making, where the group reaches consensus on decisions. We recognize that in order for our actions to be effective in bringing about a just sustainable future, any space that we create needs to make space for diverse identities and opinions. And it also has to operate as a community filled with love and support. And indeed the energy present, when everyone is on the land, working side by side, is some of the best energy I have been around. There is a palpable sense of connection—with each other, with the plants, with the land, and all of creation—which can only be described as a little piece of paradise.
What makes the Albany Bulb so special is the organic way it has grown up amidst the waste of society. Bay Area writer Jill Posener writes:
the place has become a jewel ‐ simply by being ignored by the authorities. For years, it was allowed essentially to self regulate, plants grew without being tended, animals and birds arrived, reptiles and rodents emerged, rose bushes bloomed hidden between concrete slabs dumped 40 years ago, artists came and left a treasure trove of outsider art, the homeless moved in for over 10 years.…
Everything that grew and breathed there came because it could, because it bubbled organically into a cauldron of life and eruptions of leaves and berries and trees.
That organic and unbridled feeling is what really sets the space apart. That is what brings the hundreds of people every day who come with their dogs and walk the trails—which have been leveled and maintained by the residents—and come to see the unique artwork and the natural beauty. But that same organic, or anarchic, creativity—the kind of life which does not want to be tamed—is a threat to the western mindset of dominance and control. As Posener laments the plans to transform the Bulb, “And now, they have started the process of destroying that imagination, to replace it with something that can be controlled, contained and coerced into compliance with a ‘park plan.’”
What of the two‐story concrete castle, complete with parapet and spiral staircase, built at night by Mad Mark, as he rambled about spaceships and mysterious gasses affecting the minds of his neighbors? Would it disappear along with the other art, because it is deemed unsuitable for a regional park? And what about the residents of the Bulb who have made this place their home for close to 20 years? Those who have planted and tended fruit trees; who have removed most of the hazards, like rebar, from the surface; who have established the Albany Landfill Library, which is filled with hundreds of books; who have participated in shoreline cleanups and helped crews rescue oiled birds during the Cosco Busan Oil Spill; and who have built homes from the discards of society.
American Society has demonstrated, in so many way, that they don’t want “the homeless” living in their cities, sleeping on park benches and in the doorways of businesses. Now that some of them have found a place of their own, with virtually no crime or civil disruption, coexisting peacefully with the rest of the community, we want to take that piece of paradise away. Where else should they go instead? As Rabbit says in Bum’s Paradise, “This Landfill stands as a brooding monument to obsolescence. What could be a more appropriate refuge for America’s unused people? Here, they can be hidden away from a society which regards them as a nuisance and an eyesore.”
I think the spirit of the Bulb is perhaps best represented in the statue “Goddess,” which greets people as they crest the hill from the south. Made of scraps of salvaged metal and wood, the Goddess stands with its arms outstretched as if to welcome or embrace anyone who comes to the Bulb. As it exists now, the Bulb has that feeling of openness and welcome, inviting people onto the land, regardless of who they are, to interact with it in all of its beauty and brokenness.
Or perhaps, with its arms stretched out and its face tilted up towards the sun, in a position with resembles the Orant, the Goddess is giving the blessing of creation. A powerful testament on land where life has taken root and flourished amid waste and ruin. “Goddess,” the most prominent statue on the Bulb, greets people with outstretched arms. Yet those who are opposed to the squatters on the Bulb, cannot see the beauty inherent in the space. To them it must be changed simply because it undermines the dominant power structure. As a writer on Bay Waters, an anarchist news blog for poor and working people, explains:
“The Bulb if anything is a clear violation of the logic and laws of class society: people live without rent, create without permission of government authority, and exist together and with the earth on their own free will. In a society where such ways of existence are always criminalized and seen as threatening by those in power, this is exactly why the Albany Bulb is important and should be defended.” That is what is really at stake at the Bulb, it’s not concerns about the homeless people living on the land per se, because they have truly created a sort of paradise on the Bulb. Their presence is not harming anyone, but their autonomy is a direct challenge to the dominant paradigm. But considering what they have created, out of destruction wreaked by the powers that be, one can’t but hope that their vision is the one that will win out.
Visions for the Future
Paradise truly exists on these two pieces of land. Sometimes it is hard to see, because it is easily overlooked amidst the destruction and oppression that surrounds it. But paradise isn’t perfect; it isn’t located in some inaccessible Garden of Eden or promised afterlife, it’s right here on this planet, all around us. Paradise exists alongside the brokenness of our world. Paradise is the new life and new possibilities which spring eternal.
These spaces, where paradise arises from brokenness, are some of the most important we have. Because we are living in a world that is broken; a world that has been thrown completely out of balance, with climate change, resource depletion, gross economic inequality, and loss of biodiversity, only some of the huge problems we face. And those problems are only intensifying.
If we are to be able to heal this brokenness, it will require turning the tide against polluting the planet, paving over life, and the discarding of people deemed social refuse. With these realities, let us hope that the vision which has led to saving, creating and spreading paradise on these pieces of land, will continue to provide inspiration and transformation in a world which desperately needs it.
June 1, 2013
By Miguel Altieri | Special to the Daily Cal
Sixteen months after advocates for community urban farming took over the university’s Gill Tract agricultural experiment station on Earth Day, April 22, 2012, community members are back in the land and farming a portion of it — but this time by invitation to members of the community to get involved in a community-based participatory research project. This project is a unique opportunity not only to rebuild trust among the university and the community in the aftermath of the land occupation but also to break the linear mold of conventional research by creating bridges between scientists and communities through the use of shared knowledge and valuable experiences in urban agriculture.
Forty community farmers from a variety of groups, including Transition Albany and Berkeley, Merritt College, Albany Farm Alliance, Albany Community Garden, Albany Children’s Center and Occupy the Farm gathered at the Gill Tract on Aug. 10 to begin work on a participatory research project carried out with and by local people under my guidance and my team of graduate students. Participants will have the opportunity to learn about agroecological horticulture, but the project entails a fun challenge: 10 teams of four participants each — assigned a plot of 15 rows, 6 meters long — have designed their own crop arrangements, deciding which plants to grow and testing various plant associations, mulching techniques and organic fertilization methods. Throughout the season, participants will assess pest and disease incidence and soil quality conditions to observe the effects of their crop management plans on the productivity and health of their crops. As plants mature, edible biomass and yields will be measured to estimate how much food will be produced in each plot. The groups will be able to visit each other groups’ plots, observing which crop mixtures or agroecological techniques work best and thus learning from others.
A threshold to surpass by all groups is five kilograms of edible biomass per square meter per year, which corresponds to one-third of what an average urban farmer produces in Cuba, a country with 50,000 hectares of urban agriculture producing about 30 percent of the vegetables consumed in the major cities of the island. Reaching such yields would make a huge difference in solving food security problems in low-income neighborhoods of the East Bay if the lessons from our project can be extended via urban farmer to urban-farmer networks. A report released in 2009 identified 1,200 acres of vacant and underutilized public land in Oakland, that could potentially be used for food production. If only half of this land (600 acres or 300 hectares) were cultivated using intensive ecological farming methods that we are testing at Gill Tract, we estimate that these “commons” could contribute about 15,000 tons of vegetables to the local food system. Assuming that each person consumes 100 kilograms of vegetables per year, that is enough vegetables for 150,000 people per year.
One way to promote community outreach will be to hold a field day open to the public so that all interested people can visit the project and perhaps become interested in scaling up ecological urban farming in their communities. Faculty members, students from my courses — ESPM 118, Agroecology, and ESPM 117, Urban Agriculture — and students from other courses will be able to visit the plots and see what the community is doing so that local knowledge and perspectives are not only acknowledged but may also form the basis for further participatory research and planning involving more researchers and new community members. Such activities are consistent with the university’s education and public mission as a land-grant institution with a cooperative extension function. The dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, Keith Gilles, acknowledges this and has facilitated our access to the Gill Tract.
I think this community-based participatory research project represents a golden opportunity for all within the university, including the newly created Berkeley Sustainable Food Systems Institute as well as nonprofit organizations working on food justice and urban agriculture, and community members to jointly revisit the previous ideas for creating a center for sustainable urban farming at the Gill Tract. In an era of climate change, energy crisis and food insecurity, creating local food systems cannot be more strategic.
Miguel Altieri is a UC Berkeley professor of agroecology.
By Elise Lagana-Aliotti | Staff, Daily Cal
After months of conflict regarding the usage of the Gill Tract, community members and UC Berkeley professor Miguel Altieri came together Saturday to begin a community participatory research project testing agroecological methods.
In collaboration with several community groups, including Occupy the Farm, Altieri and some of his students will lead a research project designed to look into how to maximize the amount of vegetation grown on a small plot of land.
According to UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof, Altieri’s project is not taking place on the area of campus-owned land that had been slated for development but on the area that is traditionally used for research.
Occupy the Farm members have previously planted crops and occupied the space, protesting the campus’s decision to develop the land, most recently this past May.
However, in a press release, Occupy the Farm member Lesley Haddock said that the organization was excited to be working with the university on this project.
“Occupy the Farm is excited about the opportunity this presents for the University to collaborate with members of the broader community, and to promote inclusive participatory research models for food production and agroecology,” Haddock said in the release.
For the project, 40 community participants are separated into groups of four people responsible for managing a small plot of land on which they plant different combinations of crops. The groups will spend time visiting the other plots, comparing their strategies and sharing their experiences with each other.
Participants from the community will only have access to the Gill Tract when Altieri or his students are there.
Altieri said he developed the project because he supports the causes of community members and their objective of preserving the land. In October, Altieri plans to invite community members, students and UC administrators to attend a field day at the Gill Tract.
“This activity can benefit the conversation between the community and administration in regard to the Gill Tract,” Altieri said.
J. Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources, said that Altieri’s project is within the guidelines for conducting research involving the community.
“We have already begun a community engagement process under the leadership of collaborative extension specialist Christy Getz, and what Miguel is trying to do is in line with our goals,” Gilless said.
The project will continue into November.
Contact Elise Lagana-Aliotti at email@example.com.
By Judith Scherr, Contra Costa Times, Correspondent
ALBANY — Occupy the Farm activists grabbed headlines last year — and earlier this year too — when they forced their way onto University of California-owned land here known as the Gill Tract to set up community farmland.
But Occupy the Farm doesn’t have to mean confronting police to take hold of underused land said David Grefrath, an organizer for the group. Grefrath and around 30 other would-be urban farmers, most of them veterans of Occupy the Farm actions, gathered July 13 at Urban Adamah, a one-acre nonprofit farm on San Pablo Avenue in southwest Berkeley, to talk about farming on the Gill Tract — this time, with the university’s blessing.
They will be part of a research project directed by UC Berkeley Professor Miguel Altierri, a staunch supporter of the Occupy the Farm movement.
Seated on straw bales and benches, sheltered from the noonday sun by a large canopy erected near lush rows of kale, squash, tomatoes and more, Tiffany Chung explained the project: Participants will form 10 teams of four people; each team will be given a plot of 15 six-yard rows to plant. Teams decide which crops to plant, what companion crops, if any, to plant in order to increase yield, and whether to keep or remove the bean plants already planted by Altierri’s graduate students. Planting begins in August.
The project’s stated goal is to show which plan creates the most bountiful harvest.
But the project is more than growing food, Chung said, noting, “It will show how collaboration makes better results.”
Grefrath said the project is an extension of Occupy the Farm. “With Occupy the Farm, right now, one of the most necessary things is building communities, resilient communities,” he said.
The community is built as the teams work the land and share strategies. “We feel that the Gill Tract is the perfect place for that to happen,” Grefrath said, adding that he believes the project will demonstrate that the Gill Tract can be opened to community farming. Currently the north side of the Gill Tract is restricted to UC Berkeley’s agricultural researchers and the south side of the tract is slated for development of a grocery store, senior housing and other retail.
“We’ll try to show that (community farming) is the best course for the land — that’s why we fought for it,” Grefrath said. “That’s because we felt that it is actually something worth fighting for.”
Many in the group gathered Saturday had been among those who fought the university to farm on the Gill Tract.
Inspired by the Occupy movement and landless peasant movements of South America, Occupy the Farm activists broke into the northern fenced area of the Gill Tract on April 22, 2012 and farmed for three weeks before University of California police evicted them. In May of this year, the group tried to farm on the southern portion on several successive weekends, but university police plowed under their crops at each planting. Grefrath was among four protesters arrested at the time.
“We will show that the Gill Tract itself is a valuable resource,” he said.
Posted: 07/17/2013 02:10:24 PM PDT
All graphics and images courtesy of OTF
Comment by Devon G. Peña, Ph.D. | Las Colonias de San Pablo, CO
I wish to make a brief context statement about urban agriculture and food justice before presenting the Gill Tract update from Ms. Tiffany Tsing on the Occupy the Farm movement in the East Bay Area.
The last time we checked-in on the food justice campaign at the Gill Tract in Albany, California, the squatter-farmers had been evicted. I drove by in June 2012 with some colleagues and the place was by then in the second week of a University lockdown with 2-3 UC police stationed to “guard” the land. The University of California was apparently pursuing a deal with Whole Foods to build a new store on the tract. WF backed-out but Sprouts Farmers Market, a multi-state chain with operations here in Colorado (Grand Junction), is now actively pursuing a deal on the plot.
Why is this Important? We Need Many Gill Tracts. In 1998-99, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) reported 800 million persons were involved in urban agriculture across the world. The figure now hovers at about 1.5 billion per FAO estimates. The latest count for the US is contested but I believe there are approximately 40-50 million people producing food in the cities and peri-urban areas with more than 5000 registered community gardens, family farms, community farms, and corporate farms. The Urban Farming website has a useful interactive map for the USA and many other countries. Increasingly, urban agriculture (UA) is helping to feed a hungry planet of displaced home-seekers. We need many more Gill Tracts for UA, not less.
Undercounting the number of farmers and farms by the surveyors of UA has long been evident and this includes the USDA, which has a longstanding notoriously inaccurate count of native and traditional smallholder farmers in general. This is largely unintentional and results from problematic technocratic definitions and the fact that smallholder farmers and plot gardeners alike often do not respond to surveys; this seems especially the case with immigrants.
Thus, one of the categories most often overlooked in these counts is that of the person(s) engaged with a huerto familiar or home kitchen garden. Many Mesoamerican and Asian and African immigrant households in the US have these gardens given the space. When no space at home is available then many of these displaced farmers start searching for an alternative and preferably communal space, since for them urban food and herb production is a matter of resisting nutrition genocide and maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet and that includes the cherished value of conviviality or convide.
When we consider the most diverse and sustainable urban farms or community gardens in the US a growing number are focusing on supporting this search by low-income, Mesoamerican, and immigrant families for a space to start home kitchen gardens and hortalizas (herb patches) in communal spaces. This is the subversive art of autotopography – placemaking is about making space into place. The Zapotecs created ‘Oaxacalifornia’ through this process and many more displaced farmers are attempting to do the same thing across many parts of North America. This is revolutionizing urban agriculture in unexpected ways, remarkable in the midst of entrenched anti-immigrant rightwing hysteria and a state of exception that increases human suffering.
The urban agriculture movement seems the most subversive when it embraces the creative transformation of space into place as organizers and farmers integrate the indigenous agro-ecologies of place and the deeply held and yearned for reservoir of ethnobotanical and agroecological knowledge, belief, and practice that arrives with many Mesoamerican, Asian, and African displaced persons and many other low-income people.
The mutual reliance interests of these constituents of the urban food justice movement often revolve around access to resources for the self-provisioning and barter of fresh crops needed to maintain heritage cuisines and diets. One result of this relationship is a reduction in obesity and many other maladies that come with a forced transition to a more Americanized diet among displaced farmers and smallholders and low-income immigrant and native households.
The struggle by the students, faculty, and wider food justice community of the East Bay Area is the product of one of these intersections of such creative forces. This campaign owes up to the twin principles of (1) respect for the deep place-based agroecology of indigenous peoples and (2) the integration of the ethnobotany and agroecology of the immigrant and low-income communities. It is committed to the goal of community food self-sufficiency.
The movement in Albany counts with the presence and leadership of faculty like Dr. Miguel Altieri, one of the world’s most prominent and respected of all agroecologists. It also counts with the support and participation of Mesoamericans including DREAM Act eligible students. The Gill Tract movement has organic relationships with all autonomous food justice organizations and networks across the Bay Area and well beyond.
The University of California has a moral, political, and educational obligation to invest in helping the students, faculty, and community members transform the Gill Tract into one of the largest urban farms in the US. Converting this rare patch of urban open space to real estate development would be a perverse act and demonstrate the UC system’s insensitive the surrounding disregard for community and its urgent food justice needs and priorities.
It is not like the University is hurting for resources to invest in corn or other crop research. The flow of money (research dollars) from commercial agricultural biotechnology corporations and the federal government and philanthropic endowments is more than very substantial. A $1 million investment to make the Gill Tract into a community- and University-based food justice farm and research center would serve a wider public good and urgent community needs. That would represent less than 1% of the annual expenditures in public-private biotechnology research across the rest of the UC system, if we include Davis.
It is preposterous and immoral for the UC President and system authorities to treat the Gill Tract as just another commercial asset. This land is older than the state. It has deep roots. The Gill Tract is a rare opportunity to work to reconnect people to the land. It is a moral choice and we could make the Gill Tract into a center of service, learning, research, and teaching about how to make our cities more sustainable, resilient, equitable, and self-provisioning. I am re-posting the update by Tiffany Tsing as it appeared in Food First on July 4.
Occupy the Farm A STRUGGLE FOR LAND SOVEREIGNTY IN THE EAST BAY
Tiffany Tsang | Berkeley, CA | July 14, 2013
Occupy the Farm (OTF), an assembly of activists from the San Francisco Bay Area, is raising its voice against unsustainable development, reclaiming a piece of land in Albany known as the “Gill Tract” that is slated for commercial development. The Gill Tract, previously dedicated to sustainable agricultural research, has become an important battleground in the struggle for land and food sovereignty in the Bay Area.
The piece of land in question, the southern portion of a 104-acre tract owned by the University of California system, is slated for development by Sprouts Farmers Market, a supermarket chain with over 150 stores in the US. Last year, due to OTF pressure, “natural” and organic foods retailer Whole Foods backed out of a similar deal with the UC. Sprouts is now attempting to make a deal with the UC over that same piece of land. Over nine days in May of this year, occupiers broke ground, establishing an urban farm, and replanted twice when UC police ploughed over the field.
OTF argues that, as a taxpayer-funded land-grant institute, the UC has a responsibility to provide research and services that benefit its community. Under UC’s current plan to sell the land to the Sprouts supermarket chain, OTF sees little value added to the community. But the larger question is: who in the community most needs the land, one of the last pieces of class-1 uncontaminated agricultural land in the urban East Bay. As OTF activist Effie Rawlings put it, OTF does not focus on the legal claim the community has to the land but supports the idea that “land use decisions should not be based on economic reasons, but social and environmental reasons.”
OTF activists argue that urban agriculture can help alleviate the problems of hunger and poverty in the East Bay: 169,000 adults in Alameda County earning at or below 200% the Federal Poverty Line experienced food insecurity in 2012 . Urban agriculture–which produces 15-30% of the global food supply–holds real potential to feed the community: the 1,201 acres of underutilized or vacant lots in Oakland could produce enough fresh produce to satisfy at least 40% of the city of Oakland’s fresh vegetable needs and an additional 337 acres of underutilized land is private land that could be used for urban agriculture .
Currently, none of the agriculture projects endorsed by UC planners on the Gill Tract benefit the local community . Just north of where Sprouts is to be developed, the UC is conducting basic maize research on gene silencing –knowledge used in transgenic research and research on agrofuel production . While the UC claims to be alleviating world hunger with these projects, the real benefit is for agribusiness corporations .
The Gill Tract struggle is connected to the struggles of small farmers and peasants around the world who have for decades resisted the power of industrial agriculture and land grabbing for the production of industrial food, feed and fuel. OTF is thus part of the global fight for “land sovereignty,” defined as “the right of working peoples to have effective access to, use of, and control over land and the benefits of its use and occupation” .
Due to last year’s occupation, the UC transferred a portion of the Gill Tract from UC Capital Projects to the University’s Department of Natural Resources. With renewed pressure from OTF this year, the UC has recently initiated negotiations for a parcel of land adjacent to the site of OTF resistance to be set aside for public use. Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at UC, is offering his lab’s field on the north side of the Tract to the community for a participatory urban agriculture research project.
Currently, Occupy the Farm is launching a pressure campaign against Sprouts, and building its base by supporting other community actions and holding workshops on food sovereignty. To support OTF’s pressure campaign against Sprouts’ development of the Gill Tract, you can join the pledge to boycott the supermarket chain if plans for development continue. To join the Gill Tract’s participatory urban agriculture project, contact firstname.lastname@example.org before July 20th or CLICK HERE for details.
1. Chaparro, MP, B Langellier, K Birnback, M Sharp, and G Harrison. Nearly Four Million Californians Are Food Insecure. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, 2012. http://cfpa.net/CalFresh/Media/CHIS-HealthPolicyBrief-2012.pdf.
2. Johnson, Renee, Randy Aussenberg, and Tadlock Cowan. The Role of Local Food Systems in U.S. Farm Policy. Congressional Research Service Report for Congress. Federation of American Scientists, March 12, 2013. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42155.pdf.
3. McClintock, Nathan, Jenny Cooper, and Snehee Khandeshi. “Assessing the Potential Contribution of Vacant Land to Urban Vegetable Production and Consumption in Oakland, California.” Landscape and Urban Planning 111 (March 2013): 46-58. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2012.12.009.
4. The exception is the land Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology at UC, is offering from his lab’s field to community members this year for a participatory research project in urban agriculture.
5. Lisch, Damon. “Blog: Your Research at the Gill Tract.” Albany Patch, May 17, 2012. http://albany.patch.com/groups/damon-lischs-blog/p/bp–your-research-at-….
6. Lisch came to the UC with a $25 million research grant from the agricultural department of Novartis for this project. The agricultural department of Novartis is now part of Syngenta, a seed and fertilizer company with the third largest market share in the world in 2009. Sarah Hake researches genes in maize to improve switchgrass for efficient biofuel production. The research of these two principal investigators takes up most of the north side of the Gill Tract. (Shand, Hope. “The Big Six: A Profile of Corporate Power in Seeds, Agrochemicals and Biotech.” The Heritage Farm Companion, Summer 2012) Chuck, George S., Christian Tobias, Lan Sun, Florian Kraemer, Chenlin Li, Dean Dibble, Rohit Arora, et al. “Overexpression of the Maize Corngrass1 microRNA Prevents Flowering, Improves Digestibility, and Increases Starch Content of Switchgrass.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108, no. 42 (October 18, 2011): 17550-17555. doi:10.1073/pnas.1113971108.
7. “Altieri Op-Ed: Gill Tract Occupation Offers Solution for Key Issues.” Albany Patch. Accessed June 21, 2013. http://albany.patch.com/groups/opinion/p/altieri-op-ed-gill-tract-occupa….
8. Borras, Saturnino M., and Jennifer Franco. A “Land Sovereignty” Alternative? Towards a Peoples’ Counter-Enclosure. TNI Agrarian Justice Programme, July 2012.
originally appeared on Environmental and Food Justice blog: