Occupy the Farm & March Against Monsanto Day of Action on the Streets

Following daytime marches against the Monsanto corporation, East Bay residents will gather at the Gill Tract Farm at 5 pm on Saturday, May 25th and stay into the afternoon on Sunday, May 26th to share food, music, and educational workshops on sustainable farming methods and social justice topics.

This weekend, the goal of Gill Tract farmers and supporters is to disengage from the war of attrition between the publicly-planted crops and the UC’s plow, which has thrice destroyed countless seedlings planted over recent weeks.

Effie Rawlings, a local community gardener and UC alum lamented the loss of the thousands of pounds of fresh food that would have been produced, but said that “the plants in the ground here are a symbol of our commitment to this farm. Regardless of whether the plants thrive or are tilled under, seeds have taken root in the hearts of local residents, and we will continue our connection here through educational projects and community events.”

This weekend, farmers plan to begin laying the foundation for a community-based research project that studies soil health, and how to improve it. “Accessing soil that is free from toxins and is also nutrient rich like we have at the Gill Tract is the main challenge of urban farming” says Anya Kamenskaya, a green building apprentice and UC alum. “The south side of the Tract presents a great opportunity because most of the soil is relatively pristine, with a few patches that have been damaged by structures. We think those patches can easily be restored, and intend to demonstrate and record our findings so that other urban farmers can benefit.”

This community research project is a way for farmers and neighbors to maintain the space for public education and benefit, that cannot be plowed under. “The UC cannot disrupt this research by plowing it, because they will only be contributing to the remediation of the soil,” says Kamenskaya.

The farmers feel that beginning to develop community-driven research on this site is a way to involve the public on publicly-administered land. These efforts parallel those of Dr. Miguel Altieri, UC Berkeley Agroecology professor, on the north side of the Tract. This summer, Dr. Altieri will lead an urban agriculture participatory research project on the north side of the Gill Tract, one that he has used for similar research for over 20 years.

Farmers Plan to Re-Occupy the Gill Tract Farm

When: Saturday, May 18 at 11 a.m.
Where: San Pablo and Monroe, Albany, CA

Albany, CA – On Saturday, May 18th, hundreds of East Bay farmers, Albany residents, and UC Berkeley students will return to the Gill Tract to replant an urban farm on this public land and put it to public use.

Occupy the Farm envisions a future in which East Bay communities make use of all available land – occupying it when necessary – to create urban agriculture alternatives and meet local needs in the face of economic and environmental crisis. The long term goal on the Gill Tract is to establish a productive farm and preserve this rich natural resource in perpetuity, emphasizing much needed research into sustainable urban agriculture, open access, and participation by the larger East Bay community.

On Saturday, May 11th, Occupy the Farm peacefully marched onto the Gill Tract to challenge the UC’s renewed plans for private, commercial development of this public agricultural resource, replacing 5-foot high weeds with thousands of squash, kale, basil, corn, lettuce and tomato plants, and even flowers.

Rather than recognizing this as an opportunity to position itself on the cutting edge of urban agriculture and participatory research, the University raided the farm on Monday, May 13, at 4:30 a.m. and violently arrested four peaceful farmers, three of whom were held for more than 60 hours before being released without charge. The University then ploughed over the farm that morning, destroying thousands of starts that, if nurtured, would have provided sustenance to local communities.

“This land has been vacant for years,” said an Occupy the Farm member, Matthew McHale, “the UC only destroyed the crops because it’s afraid that if the community sees what an amazing asset this would be as a community farm, they would refuse to let it be paved over.”

In protest of the UC’s actions, more than eighty farmers and community members re-converged on Monday afternoon for a rally, then marched back onto the farm to replant the field and recover some of the starts they had planted over the weekend. The University plowed the farm again Tuesday morning.

Since Occupy the Farm first planted on the Gill tract in April 2012, the group has organized at least 10 public forums focused on the Gill Tract as an asset to community-driven participatory research. The UC Berkeley administration has consistently failed to attend, despite being invited repeatedly. Students on campus however, support turning the land into an urban farm; last Spring the Associated Students of the University of California Senate unanimously passed a resolution in support of Occupy the Farm.

Environmental Impact Report Lawsuit Goes to Court Today

Final arguments against certification of the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) approving the development of the UC Village mixed-use project will be heard today (Thursday) at 1:30pm in Dept 31, at  201 13th St Oakland, CA – just a few blocks east of the 12th St BART station.

Read an explanation of the basis of the lawsuit

Your continued support is appreciated and your presence in the courtroom will help show Judge Grillo the support in our community for alternatives to the development pushed by the UC development team.

Occupy the Farm movement rises again, hours after being raided

By Jon Upton, Grist
14 May 2013
A guerrilla veggie-growing occupation of university-owned land in Albany, Calif., was busted by cops early Monday and thousands of zucchini, kale, squash, and other newly planted seedlings were plowed over. But the occupiers proved more resilient than a sprawling mint plant, returning Monday to replant the desecrated farm. Read more

Occupy Offshoots Return to Highlight Student Tuition Hikes, Food Sovereignty

By Allison Kilkenny, The Nation
May 14, 2013

… “On the West Coast, another offshoot of the Occupy movement, Occupy The Farm, experienced a resurgence this week when activists returned to a plot of land owned by the University of California where a few of them had been arrested earlier in the day.

“The activists had moved in over the weekend in order to plant crops.

“Last spring, I wrote about Occupy the Farm’s efforts to highlight the issues of food sovereignty, climate change and the overall health of society. At the time, OTF activists had moved onto the Gill Tract, a patch of land along the San Pablo Avenue in Albany, California. The location was chosen because Gill Tract contains the last acres of Class One soil left in the urbanized East Bay. According to the group, ninety percent of the original land has been paved over and developed, irreversibly contaminating the land.” Read more


Occupy the Farm: ‘We’ll keep coming back’

By Emilie Raguso, Berkeleyside
May 14, 2013

Despite four arrests Monday and the destruction by UC Berkeley of seedlings they had planted in rows over the weekend, Occupy the Farm activists returned to a plot of land in Albany that’s slated for development and began their work again Monday night.

“We’re not leaving this land,” said an Occupy the Farm spokeswoman, Lesley Haddock. “We’re going to continue to contest this space. We’re not going away.” Read more

UCPD arrests 4 protesters after Occupy the Farm raid

By Megan Messerly, The Daily Californian
Monday, May 13, 2013

UCPD arrested four protesters on Monday following an early morning raid on the Occupy the Farm encampment on university-owned land in Albany.

Around 4:30 a.m., UCPD issued a 10-minute warning to the protesters — who had been occupying and farming a southern portion of a university property, known as the Gill Tract, since Saturday afternoon — to vacate the property or face arrest.

… Around 9:20 a.m., a tractor was brought in to remove the crops occupiers planted over the weekend, and two more individuals were arrested for trespassing and refusing to follow police orders. Read more


Four arrested; Crops removed from ‘Occupy The Farm’ site

Monday, May 13

ALBANY, Calif. —

University of California, Berkeley police arrested four people Monday morning and a plow turned under crops planted in protest at a makeshift farm encampment set up on university property.

Activists had occupied a tract of farmland — located near the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues, part of a property they referred to as the Gill Tract — owned by the university on Friday, protesting plans to build senior housing and a grocery store on the site.

But after a weekend of trespassing warnings, police moved in during the pre-dawn hours Monday, removing the protesters’ tents and arresting one individual.

A plow also arrived later Monday morning and began turning under crops planted by the protesters. Three others were arrested at that time.

More than 100 protesters who had gathered on the tract pulled weeds and planted some 8,000 plants over the weekend. About 20 of them had set up tents and were camping overnight at the site.

Protest leader Lesley Haddock said the group was planting zucchini, kale, summer squash, collards and other vegetation.

“The Gill Tract is a really prime piece of a larger puzzle for us to move away from industrialized agriculture and toward people controlling their own food systems,” said Haddock, a third-year student in UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources.

“I’d really like to see the UC fulfill its public mission of being a resource for California and really serving the public, and it worries me that the university has been trending toward privatization over the last decade,” she said.


Community activists rekindle Occupy the Farm in Gill Tract

By Megan Messerly, The Daily Californian

Sunday, May 12, 2013

More than 100 community activists occupied and farmed a portion of university-owned research land in Albany this weekend in the latest iteration of the Occupy the Farm movement.

The group assembled to oppose recent proposals to develop the southern portion of an Albany plot of land known as the Gill Tract, owned by the Regents of the University of California. The proposals suggest developing the lot into a senior housing complex and a national chain grocery store, Sprouts Farmers Market.

Occupy the Farm activists said they would rather see the land developed into a urban farm that could be used to educate the community and to conduct research on how to improve soil quality.

“This piece of land is unparalleled in terms of being an agricultural resource,” said Matthew McHale, an Occupy the Farm spokesperson. “We envision not only a resource for growing food but for community resilience.”

Around 1 p.m., Occupy the Farm activists congregated in front of Albany City Hall before marching south on San Pablo Avenue to the portion of the Gill Tract north of Monroe Street. The group walked behind a banner that read “Sprout Farms Not Grocery Stores.”

Several cars met the group at the property, bringing truckloads of dirt, an assortment of plants as well as some chickens and goats. The group tilled the soil and planted hundreds of plants, including lemon cucumbers, mustard greens and Yukon Gold potatoes, into the afternoon.

Saturday’s movement is the first major effort to cultivate the Gill Tract since last spring, when the group assembled farther north on the property to protest the development of the same senior housing facility and a different grocery store, Whole Foods Market. In September, Whole Foods canceled its plans to build on the Gill Tract, citing project delays.

Urban-farm activists continued to break into the property throughout the summer and into the fall to care for their crops, arguing that the land should be accessible to the community because it is owned by a public university.

The northern portion of the tract farmed last spring is a Class 1 agricultural land, and it is extremely nutrient-rich and conducive to farming. In September, it was placed under the purview of the UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources and is currently prepared and ready for planting, according to Claire Holmes, campus associate vice chancellor of public affairs.

This spring, farmers hope to prove that the southern plot of land, which was once host to military barracks, is also agriculturally viable.

Some community members and Albany city officials, however, believe the land would be better be served with commercial development that would bring economic growth to the area.

“We could bring life to San Pablo,” said Albany Mayor Peggy Thomsen.

Campus officials issued a statement Thursday urging city residents to prepare for an occupation, noting that they would closely monitor the situation. UCPD was at the tract on Saturday and advised the group several times that the property is closed to the public, but no action was taken.

Last May, three weeks after the initial occupation began, nine Occupy the Farm protesters were arrested — two who remained on the Gill Tract and seven who were outside the entrances to the encampment. Charges were never filed against the protesters.

Some Albany community members staged a counterprotest on Saturday, riding bicycles around the Gill Tract and carrying signs with the name “Occupy the Farm” struck out.

Albany resident and counterprotester Preston Jordan sees Occupy the Farm’s actions as an attempt to circumvent a democratic system that is already working.

“There are issues throughout history that call for civil disobedience,” Jordan said. “But I don’t think this calls for that.”

Occupy the Farm activists set up an encampment Saturday night on the property, and six tents were still standing as of 10 a.m. Sunday morning.

In the immediate future, the group plans to continue planting, cleaning up the land and being “good stewards,” McHale said.

“Farming is about the long game — setting down roots,” McHale said. “Putting plants in the ground is hope. It is inherently oriented toward the future.”