UC Police Raid Gill Tract Public Farm & Plow Crops

UPDATE 9:30 am UC Tractor moved on to Gill Tract Farm and plowed under the thousands of crops planted. (photos below)

At 5 pm today we will re-converge at the corner of San Pablo and Monroe in Albany to protest the plowing of the crops at the Gill Tract Farm. We didn’t stop the tractor but they can’t stop us!

Follow @occupyfarm for updates

Albany, CA UC police moved in to break up the two-day old Gill Tract Farm in the early morning hours of May 13. Despite a transformation of the vacant lot from abandoned field to blossoming community farm and democratic forum, the UC used police force to evict the peaceful farmers. Before Occupy the Farm will continue to maintain a presence all day, and will be reconvening at 5 pm in order to water and continue caring for the recently transplanted vegetables.

“The University claims to care about ‘community interests and democratic processes,’ but this morning’s response is just another example of their one-sided and poor-faith interactions with the community groups who have been articulating an alternative vision for the Gill Tract over the past fifteen years,” says Jackie Hermes-Fletcher, Albany resident and founding member of the Albany Farm Alliance.

Approximately thirty police officers amassed shortly after 4:30 am, prepared to remove people from the newly planted farm. This show of force came in spite of Occupy the Farm’s public announcement declaring that the farmers would intentionally de-camp on Monday May 13th. Given the neglected quality of the land, it was decided that another day of farmwork and soil remediation was needed to get the farm into productive shape.

“The UC’s use of police intervention was completely unnecessary and unreasonable,” says Occupy the Farm member, Matthew McHale, “especially after we publicly declared we were leaving later today.”

“This is a pathetic waste of public resources, to arrest people who are engaged in a constructive project to demonstrate how public land can be used for the public good,” added Dan Siegel, the lawyer for the group.

Over the course of the weekend, hundreds of students, farmers, families, and interested community members participated in the revitalization of a neglected part of the historic farmland bordering San Pablo Avenue and Monroe Street. Rows of squash, kale, tomato, corn, lettuce, and even flowers replaced 5-foot high weeds, as farmers created a vibrant community space on the site of a proposed parking lot and chain grocery store.

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. As one of the last large plots of fertile agricultural soil left in the East Bay, the Gill Tract holds great potential as an educational resource for community members and for UC urban agricultural research, and for providing local, sustainable, organic food.

Tractor Plowing Crops 2

A UC tractor plows under the thousands of crops planted at the Gill Tract Farm over the weekend

A UC tractor plows over the thousands of crops planted at the Gill Tract Farm over the weekend

Occupy the Farm Re-Establishes Farm on Gill Tract

Albany, CA Three days after UC Berkeley’s new development proposal on the Gill Tract was voted down at the City of Albany’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting on May 8th, the organizing group Occupy the Farm has again taken a stand for public education and urban agriculture, setting down roots on the hotly contested land.

“People have been fighting to preserve this land for farming for decades, because they recognize that because this is UC land, all residents of the East Bay have a stake and a say in what happens to this public resource,” said Lesley Haddock, a third year student in UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources. “After fifteen years of trying to work through UC’s undemocratic process, public protest is our last option.”

Since 1997, coalitions of local residents, non-profits, and UC students and faculty have brought forth proposals to the UC administration for the creation of a sustainable urban agriculture curriculum on the entire Gill Tract. Administrators consistently rejected these proposals, and have been accused of not giving the proposals due consideration.

“Today we’re planting on the site of the proposed commercial development because we want to remind people what they will lose if a chain store and parking lot get built here,” stated Ashoka Finley, urban farmer and UC alum. “The UC, Albany even, could be on the cutting edge of participatory, community-based urban ag research, and they’re just throwing that opportunity away.”

Building on Occupy the Farm’s action in April-May 2012, today’s protest was focused on community education around food production . Farmers and activists were seen planting vegetables together, watering crops and passing out free plant starts to passers-by. There was a range of educational activities, including a seed-ball making workshop organized by a seven year-old. The young girl stated, “I just wanted to do it at a time when I knew a lot of kids would show up.”

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 large-scale urban agriculture education. Occupy the Farm will be working all weekend to turn the south plot of the Gill Tract from an empty lot into an urban farm and community asset.

Occupy the Farm to Plant on Gill Tract

On May 11th, farmers, students, and local residents will peacefully march onto the Gill Tract and re-establish a public urban farm, challenging the UC’s renewed plans for private, commercial development of this public agricultural resource.

Last year, Occupy the Farm hosted a three-week occupation of the Gill Tract, creating an urban farm that produced several tons of organic produce that the group distributed for free at pop-up farmstands in Albany, Oakland and Richmond. As a result of this direct farming action, control of the northern half of the Gill Tract was transferred from UC’s Capital Projects back to the UC College of Natural Resources, at least for 10 years.

However, last week the University announced that it had found a new developer to pave over the Gill Tract and build another chain grocery store on the site. This was announced despite fifteen years of resistance from Albany residents and East Bay community members, including a successful grassroots voter referendum in Albany, two lawsuits, and numerous direct action campaigns and public protests. With nearly two-thirds of those present speaking against the proposed development at Wednesday’s Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing, local opposition to the development is still strong.

“This is really about highest and best use of the land,” says local elder Sally Sommer. “40 years ago, when my daughter was a preschooler in Albany, the Gill Tract was a working farm and we’d often visit together. I would love to do that again.”

As land administered by a publicly-funded institution with a mandate for public education, it is in the public’s interest for this land to be returned to that highest and best use as a source of local food production and agricultural education. 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 and democratically-run urban farm, with open access and participation by the larger East Bay community, and to preserve this rich natural resource in perpetuity.

“As the last large piece of ag land left in the East Bay, the Gill Tract is a crucial piece of the vision for food sovereignty in this area,” says Lesley Haddock, current UC Berkeley student. “The south side of this historic farmland is part of the whole, and also irreplaceable.”

Since last April, Occupy the Farm has continued to work with fellow urban farmers, community organizations and allies on campus to engage in meaningful dialogue around what a community partnership with the UC could look like. This diverse group of stakeholders recognizes the Farm as an icon of the structural challenges facing communities all over the world, as they struggle for land access and food justice. Occupy the Farm is committed to maintaining these positive, collaborative relationships, even as they call for another direct action on May 11th.