Farm defenders lock down to halt farmland destruction in the East Bay


Farm defenders immobilize bulldozer with lockboxes

January 28th 2016

Albany, CA—Contractors with the UC administration began construction work on the southern portion of the Gill Tract, a historical farm sold to the University of California in 1928 under the condition it would be used for agricultural research and education. Contractors using a bulldozer, a backhoe, and an excavator began removing the valuable topsoil this week – until a group of farm defenders locked down onto the machinery to stop construction.

“We are putting our bodies on the line to halt construction and restart a public debate on the fate of this land,” explained Jean Mortensen, one of the protesters locked down to the excavator. The group Occupy the Farm vows to continue holding the lock-down until the University of California halts construction and returns the land for urban agroecology research.

The UC is privatizing this section of the Gill Tract for the construction of a high-end senior assisted living facility by the Belmont Village corporation, alongside construction of a Sprouts supermarket and a parking lot.

Community members, students, and UC faculty have put forth an alternative proposal to use all twenty acres of the historic Gill Tract as a Center for Urban Agriculture and Food Justice, serving the University of California’s mission of research and education for the public good, while also operating as a productive urban farm that provides students, workers, and community members with access to affordable local produce. This proposal better aligns with UC President Napolitano’s Global Food Initiative as well as the sustainability and climate mitigation policies of the state of California.

“We have tried every formal and institutional route for a more democratic decision on the fate of this land,” explains Gustavo Oliveira, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm. “But the UC administration and their corporate partners only reconsider their plans for privatization when opposed by organized direct action.”

Farm defenders say their actions are very much in solidarity with recent organizing by local indigenous leaders, who have been holding ceremony and demanding access to the land for the purposes of research and education into indigenous lifeways.


The privatization and construction launched on the site has been contested by students, faculty, and members of the community for almost two decades. In 2004, the UC Regents approved commercial development despite years of campaigning by students, faculty, and community members for the preservation of the land for urban agriculture and food justice, and proceeded bulldozing greenhouses in 2008 and contracting with Whole Foods for development of the site.

In April 2012, Occupy the Farm reenergized this struggle by camping on the land and planting a publicly-accessible farm on the Gill Tract. Under pressure, Whole Foods pulled out of the proposed development, and the UC administration granted protection for a portion of the land, some of which is now the vibrant Gill Tract Community Farm.

However, the 7 acres of the southern portion of the Gill Tract remains slated for development with a shopping center anchored by Sprouts supermarket, a hihg-end senior housing complex, and a parking lot. UC Capital Projects now seeks to implement this project despite another occupation in May 2013 and other mobilizations on the land in 2014 and 2015, two lawsuits, an Albany City referendum effort, broad based and constant community participation at the Albany City Council in favor of preserving the farmland for agricultural use, and an ongoing campaign for Sprouts to drop its proposed construction project over the Gill Tract.

Press Kit: [Contains map, FAQ, quotes, history, previous articles, film]

Sprouts Management Intimidates Protests of Their Brand

The management of the chain supermarket retailer Sprouts “Farmers Market” is intimidating and repressing protestors who are speaking out about their greenwashed brand, which is set to pave historic Gill Tract farmland in the East Bay.


One week after a large demonstration at their chain in Walnut Creek, protestors planned a follow-up action for the chain in Petaluma. Over the course of the week before the Petaluma action, Sprouts management sent protestors legal documents suggesting that the parking lot in front of the chain supermarket was not a “free speech” zone, in an attempt to intimidate protestors. On the morning of the protest, the management called for an unprecedented large turnout of police before the first protestors had even arrived, again as an attempt to intimidate. Finally, the Sprouts Management mislead their employees to perceive protestors as violent, telling them false and embellished stories of past protests.

Sprouts is known to be a union-busting grocery store with frequent labor violations. This corporate-style management is not surprising for the chain, despite their “farmers market brand”.

Boycott Sprouts organizers say that they stand with Sprouts employees, who face labor violations in the food system, but they will continue to demonstrate and highlight the greenwashing of the Sprouts corporation, until they pull out of the development of the historic Gill Tract farm.

#BoycottSprouts Stores to Save the Gill Tract Farm

Protest Sprouts Stores With Us or Where You Live to Save the Gill Tract Farm. Please visit and share this post by email, facebook, and whatever means you have.

Yesterday, March 14, 2015, over 150 people held a protest outside Sprouts Farmers Market in Walnut Creek to save the 20 acre Gill Tract Farm. The national grocery store chain intends to pave over a historic piece of farmland in Albany, CA, just north of Berkeley and Oakland, to build a supermarket that is not truly a farmers’ market. With continuous actions to disrupt Sprouts stores throughout the country, of which there are hundreds, we can get Sprouts to drop the contract with the University of California at Berkeley and preserve the Gill Tract farmland to create a community center for regenerative agriculture, education, and local, organic food production.

We need people to organize protests, boycotts, shop-ins, creative disruptions and direct actions at Sprouts Farmers Market locations across the United States to pressure the company to not develop the land.

After the 2012 Occupy The Farm action, Whole Foods dropped the contract they held to build a grocery store on the land, under community pressure that said, “We need this farmland for farming.”

Occupy the Farm trailer:


We need people-powered agricultural innovation, and we need it fast.

NASA’s senior water scientist was just published in Newsweek –… – saying that California, which produces much of the food for the entire country, and much of the food for the world, has one year of water left within the context of the current drought and our current agricultural and industrial water-use practices. The Gill Tract Community Farm, which is home to three creeks, has the potential to a be a 20-acre research and educational farm to demonstrate the regenerative food growing techniques and strategies that can bring us into a healthy future where people eat well, water cycles are replenished, and soil and ecology is improved.

The same water scientist said that, “Today, not tomorrow, is the time to begin.” There is no time to allow for the current corporate and government structures to run their course. We need grassroots, people-powered, direct action now to create the future we want to live in. Join us in preserving this land and pioneering a center for regenerative food production, permaculture, and agro-ecology. It is through these methods that we can catch and store rainwater in the land, build topsoil, and produce an abundance of local, organic, healthy food for everyone.

This is an invitation to take action where you live. Look here – – to find a store closest to you. Call your friends, co-workers, and extended network. Organize a protest. Hand out flyers calling for a boycott of Sprouts Farmers Market, found here –!resources/cnsl – for printing. If you’re daring, organize a shop-in, disruption, or take other creative action to let Sprouts know we can’t let them develop this land. Here’s how we organized yesterday’s protest –… – and how you can organize one at your local Sprouts. Mimic this model, pull bits and pieces, or come up with your own. Every action, and every person, makes a huge difference.

Watch the video of yesterday’s protest here –

Through our collective action to stop the damage being done to our communities and the earth, we open the door to create the alternatives we want to see. Be a part of it.

Contact for guidance in how to organize a protest where you live, or to get involved locally.

Thank you,
Concerned Gill Tract Farmers

Everything can change in a second. We build from here.


In the early morning of Thursday, February 26th, UC Berkeley’s office of Capital Projects commissioned the clear-cut of 60 trees on the south side of the historic Gill Tract Farm. The UC’s quick move to begin clearing the way for their proposed housing and shopping complex shocked farmers and neighbors, who are still awaiting a date for an active lawsuit on appeal in the county courts contesting the development’s detrimental environmental impact. Knowing the community would mobilize to defend the trees, the UC hired a huge demolition team and police force, cutting down the trees with lightning speed before community could arrive.


For 20 years, the local community, students, and faculty have attempted to create a Center for Urban Agriculture on this public land. In 2012, Occupy the Farm’s successful land occupations pushed out Whole Foods from the development, transferred 10 acres of land from Capital Projects to the College of Natural Resources for 10 years, and established a new community farm project on 1.13 acres. Our community is in mourning, but we continue to actively farm on the north side of the land, where we build local community, teach and engage students in the root injustices in the corporate food system, and grow affordable produce for food insecure communities.

We envision this 1.13 acre project expanding to all 20 acres of the historic Gill Tract farmland, to include model permaculture gardens, farmers markets and urban food distribution hubs, outdoor classrooms and kitchens, traditional medicinal herbs and more. We envision an authentic community-driven living laboratory for what we need for a Just Transition.


But with the 60 trees suddenly lost, the southern 5-6 acres of the Gill Tract is now under threat of imminent development and our ability to implement our vision could disappear in an instant. We are expediting our action plan, and we need your help. Join the Emergency Bulldozer Response Team.

Boycott Sprouts!
When Whole Foods pulled out of the development after Occupy the Farm’s actions, the entire project was pushed back two years. We need to take our story directly to the new anchor tenant, Sprouts “Farmer’s Market to pressure them to pull out. If Sprouts pulls out, it sends them back to the drawing board, and gives us more time for our longer-term strategy to ensure permanent protection of all 20 acres.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 12.39.31 AM

Focusing on Sprouts is also larger than just our local issue: Sprouts is a big-box, union-busting corporate chain supermarket that perpetuates industrial agricultural and food system injustices. Their greenwashed use of the “Farmer’s Market” term and imagery is an assault on our efforts to create a just local food system. Read more here.

Campus Actions
With the leadership of Students for Engaged and Active Learning, there is now a strong student movement for a community-led research and education center at the Gill Tract. They have met with campus administrators all the way to the Chancellor, the Regents, and UC President Napolitano, all to no avail. Yesterday, they organized a cafe shut down for the UC statewide 96 Hours of Action Against Tuition Hikes and Police Violence to “fight back against the privatization of our land, labor, lives, and learning.”

Last night, Occupy the Farm and Students for Engaged and Active Learning joined together tonight to lovingly interrupt Raj Patel’s lecture for the Edible Education class to give the update about what is happening now at the farm. ‪#‎GillTractDefense‬

Students and community members are continuing to build towards the spring UC Regent’s meeting on March 17th-19th. More information to come.

What can you do?
If we want to protect this land from corporate development, and create the community-led center for Agroecology and Food Justice, then we need to act now to defend this land.

  1. Please join Occupy the Farm for a #GillTractDefense Rally and Press Conference at the Sprouts “Farmer’s Market” in Walnut Creek on March 14th at 1pm.
  2. Call and Email Ted Frumkin, Sprouts’ Senior Vice President of BusinessDevelopment:; 602-682-1556
    • Tell him “DON’T BUILD YOUR NEW STORE ON THE GILL TRACT!”  Make sure they know that if they continue with their plans to pave overpublic farmland you will not shop at any of their stores, or invest in their stock, and will encourage others to join you in the boycott!
    • For more decision-makers at Sprouts and more information about the campaign, please see:!contact/c1z0x
  3. Join our social media campaign. Take a photo of yourself with your definition of a farmer’s market, and tweet it to @sproutsfm Don’t pave over the Gill Tract for your greenwashed, union-busting supermarket! #BoycottSprouts#GillTractDefense #OccupyTheFarm
  4. Join the Emergency Bulldozer Response Team. We are trying to remain proactive in our strategy and response, but we are aware that the bulldozers may come any day to scrape away the top soil and lay concrete. We are preparing for active resistance on the land.






Boycott Sprouts!


In response to community outcry in 2012, Whole Foods pulled out of the Gill Tract development project and instead built in an empty building 2 blocks away.  The UC is trying replacing them with a new anchor tenant: Sprout’s “Farmers Market”.  Sprouts calls itself a farmer’s market, but is actually a union-busting, big box chain store that ships in produce from all over the globe.  If a market is to be built at the Gill Tract, we want a real farmer’s market that is builds toward a more resilient local economy.

Help us put pressure on Sprouts to pull out from the Gill Tract! Join us in letting them know that we see through their greenwashing and demand better.

1) Join us in putting pressure on Sprouts to pull out from the Gill Tract! Come out to the #GillTractDefense Rally and Press Conference with Occupy the Farm

March 14th at 1pm.
Sprouts “Farmer’s Market”
1530 Geary Rd
Walnut Creek, CA 94597

2) Call and Email Ted FrumkinSprouts’ Senior Vice President of Business Development

Tell him: “DON’T BUILD YOUR NEW STORE ON THE GILL TRACT!”  Make sure they know that if they continue with their plans to pave over public farmland you will not shop at any of their stores, or invest in their stock, and will encourage others to join you in the boycott.

For more decision-makers to write to at Sprouts and more information about the campaign, please see:!contact/c1z0x

3) Join our social media campaign. Take a photo of yourself with your definition of a farmer’s market, and tweet it to @sproutsfm Don’t pave over the Gill Tract for your greenwashed, union-busting supermarket! #BoycottSprouts #GillTractDefense #OccupyTheFarm

At Eco Farm, we asked real farmer’s to define what a farmer’s market means to them. Please write your own and share them on social media.
Jose and Maria Cardenas, farmers, Ceres, CA
Joy Moore, farmer and educator, Berkeley, CA
Hyson Epstein, Farmer, Pacific Grove, CA

UC Cuts Down 60 Trees at the Gill Tract

This morning, 60 trees were cut down on the southern acreage of the Gill Tract.

The UC’s move to begin clearing the way for their proposed housing and shopping complex came as a shock to farmers and neighbors, as there is an active lawsuit on appeal in the county courts, contesting the development’s detrimental environmental impact.

Knowing the community would mobilize to defend the trees, the UC hired a huge demolition team, cutting down the trees with lightening speed. The last trees were in the process of being destroyed at 9am, as farm supporters arrived.

In response, students and community rallied outside the office of Capital Projects, the department in charge of property development, and we will be at the land tonight to hold space for grieving the loss of the historic arboretum, and discussing next steps.


1. Join us for a community discussion at 5pm today at the Gill Tract Farm, on the corner of San Pablo & Marin Ave, Albany CA

2. Sign up for our email list and emergency alerts

3. Share (facebook) and retweet (twitter) our social media. #GilltractDefense,


In soil we trust,

Gill Tract Farmers

Gill Tract Trees Cut Down



Press Contacts:
Lesley Haddock – (707)293-3253 –
Matthew McHale – 562-754-8756 –

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

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.

Occupy the Farm Film Premier!

Occupy the Farm - Film PosterThe 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 –
2274 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA

After the premiere we’ll be having an after party at a PLACE for Sustainable Living in Oakland. Show your ticket at the door for entry!

The film will also be showing in
New York – Nov 14–20
Pasadena – Nov 21–27

An Urban Farm Collaborative Grows in Albany

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.


this article first appeared in the East Bay Express:

Action Needed: South Side under Imminent Threat of Development

Four things you can do right now to help save the Southern Half of the Gill Tract!

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.