In what seems to be the first action of the Occupy movement in the Bay Area this Spring, activists on the Albany and Berkeley border took to their shovels and hoes to claim a piece of agricultural property and build a community farm. This story looks at the day’s happenings through a narrated slideshow that includes interviews of the organizers and urban farmers. Berkeleyside has also covered more recent developments of the story.
Occupy the Farm, a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists brought 15,000 seedlings to plant at the Gill Tract, the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay area. The Gill Tract is public land administered by the University of California, which plans to sell it to private developers.
Anya Kamenskaya, a UC Berkeley alum and one of the organizers explains:
“We are occupying it, we are reclaiming it, we are planting it because it is under the threat of development. UC Berkeley which is a public institution which administers this public piece this land has plans with the city government of Albany and they are planning to rezone this entire space for commercial development in perpetuity to build Whole Foods, other retail space, and to pave over a good section of this land.”
Krystof, another organizer, mentions that:
“This here is the perfect opportunity to teach people how to produce their own food, to show people that it’s possible to produce your own food, to show people that it is possible to produce food in an urban environment and we really think that it would be criminal not to use this land for that.”
The land is currently used by UC Berkeley researchers and graduate students involved in both basic genetic research with corn, and agro-ecological research to improve organic farming practices. Over the last several decades, as the University has received increased funding from agribusiness and biotech companies, research priorities on the Gill Tract have come to exemplify the broader split between those who favor community-based organic agriculture on the one hand, and the interests of the industrial food system on the other. A controversial $25 million grant from Swiss biotech company Novartis in 1998, and a 2007 grant for $500 million from BP, have heightened concerns that the University has drifted away from its mandate as a land grant University and a public institution.
Frustrated that traditional dialogue has fallen on deaf ears, local residents, students, and professors have united as Occupy the Farm to Take Back the Gill Tract. This group’s goal is to empower communities to control their own resilient food systems for a stable and just future — a concept and practice known as food sovereignty.
“For ten years, people in Albany have tried to turn the Gill Tract into an Urban Farm and a more open space for the community. The people in the Bay Area deserve to use this treasure of land for an urban farm to help secure the future of our children,” explains Jackie Hermes-Fletcher, an Albany resident and public school teacher for 38 years. Occupy the Farm seeks to address structural problems with health and inequalities in the Bay Area that stem from communities’ lack of access to food and land.
The Occupy the Farm action reclaims the Gill Tract to demonstrate and exercise the peoples’ right to use public space for the public good. This farm aims to serve as a hub for urban agriculture, a healthy and affordable food source for Bay Area residents and an educational center. The UC, however, is poised to take it back, responding in an open letter.
- Occupy v. Whole Foods? Activists Take Over Land Slated for Development and Start a Farm – AlterNet
- By growing food, Occupy the Farm helps a movement grow up – Grist
- Occupy the Farm – website, Facebook, @occupyfarm
- War of Words Between Gill Tract Activists, UC Berkeley Officials – Albany Patch
- Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? – Berkeleyside
- Column: To the Occupiers — Please Make Good on your Intentions – Christopher Church on Albany Patch