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.