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