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.