UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm

Occupy the Farm activists have taken over the UC Berkeley-owned Gill Tract in Albany. Photo: Tracey Taylor

On Monday afternoon, a group of several dozen activists were working the land, tending to tents, working at a welcome desk and makeshift food preparation area, and fielding media interviews on a plot of agricultural land on the Albany-Berkeley border that is owned by UC Berkeley.

The action to plant a renegade farm on part of what is known as the Gill Tract began on Sunday when several hundred members of a movement calling itself Occupy The Farm broke into the property, which is on the corner of San Pablo and Marin avenues, and planted carrot, broccoli and corn seedlings on a section of a 77-acre lot that comprises the Cal-owned University Village.

The part of the land being occupied is used by UC Berkeley for agricultural research by UC Berkeley’s School of Natural Resources and by a group under Prof. Miguel Altieri from Cal’s Department of Environmental Science.

The university has plans to build a for-profit senior housing complex and a Whole Foods grocery store on a separate portion of the Village land. In addition, a Little League fields that currently stands on Village land will eventually be moved to the Gill Tract, occupying about half of the 10 acres, with the rest of the land to remain open in some form, according to Albany City Councilman Robert Lieber, as reported in Albany Patch. [View the 2004 master plan for University Village.]

Part of the plot has already been planted and work is ongoing on turning it into a sustainable urban farm. Photo: Tracey Taylor

UC Berkeley officials have said the protesters are in violation of campus policy and state law which they would take steps to enforced, but they stressed they wanted a peaceful resolution “when we determine it can be done safely and effectively”.

In a statement issued Monday, Cal said it was concerned its agricultural research would be impeded if the occupation continues, in particular if there is a failure to maintain sanitary conditions which could lead to a contamination of  the soil. They added that a Cal faculty member “grows produce on the same land that is distributed to the needy”.

The statement continued: “The parcel of land currently occupied by the protesters is not slated for commercial development… There is proposed commercial development for another portion of the land in the general area. That project awaits approval from the Albany City Council and planning commission.”

The occupiers would like to see the entire Gill Tract be saved as open space or an urban farm. Anya Kamenskaya, a UC Berkeley alumna who studied agro-ecology and is acting as a spokesperson for the  group, said the land represented a rare opportunity to create a sustainable urban farm. She said groups have been advocating for more than 10 years for the land to be preserved and used for that purpose.

“We are not trying to create a conflict, and we are not trying to demonize the researchers who work on the land,” she said. “Our beef is with the university.”

Kamenskaya said the group would be issuing an official response to UC Berkeley statement, but that it took issue with its two main points, namely that the portion of land being occupied was not up for rezoning and that the research being done there was agricultural. “Mechanistic gene research is not directly related to farmers,” she said.

Kamenskaya said researchers using the plot were regularly given notice by the university. Prof. Altieri is out of the country and unavailable for comment.

At around 4 p.m. Monday afternoon, Albany Patch, which is covering the occupation closely, reported that one protester said that UC Berkeley had shut off the water supply to the lot.

A potluck was planned for tonight at 6 p.m. open to anyone interested in knowing more about the effort.

To get breaking Berkeley news from Berkeleyside follow us on Twitter and on Facebook.

Print Friendly
Tagged , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • EricPanzer

    “Mechanistic gene research is not directly related to farmers…”
    Tell that to farmers who are in a panic over citrus greening, but who could potentially be spared by genetic research.

    Done right, urban farming is great; but this land sits adjacent to one of the region’s busiest and best-served transit corridors and would likely be better used as high-density housing–especially for an under-served population like seniors.

    I’ve said before that I support the general thrust of Occupy’s original principles (i.e., the restoration of economic fairness), but these increasingly childish and futile stunts are doing little to promote progressive politics and everything to hurt them. In certain respects, it must be nice to have the abundance of time and an absence of responsibility necessary to take part in these largely symbolic actions. Most people, though, are just trying to keep bread on the table and braces on their kids. How about taking concrete action to fight for their needs?

  • The Sharkey


    Done right, urban farming is great; but this land sits adjacent to one
    of the region’s busiest and best-served transit corridors and would
    likely be better used as high-density housing–especially for an
    under-served population like seniors.


  • Biker 94703

    It does seem a little ridiculous to turn the last green field in town into a Whole Foods when there are existing markets sitting empty.  And why not redevelop that dreadful mini mall across from Sam’s Log Cabin?  The Gill’s should have given the land to someone more trustworthy than the Regents.

  • Bruce Love

    Do you remember a little ways back when Cal was in such scandal because they’d sold off some incredibly valuable art for peanuts, having bureaucratically managed to toss it in the junk heap?

    This is the same sort of thing — except caught before the bad deal is sealed.

  • Andrew

    Open space and Little League fields… honestly, what is wrong with that? My son plays Little League and loves it. Where would those kids go if the Gill Tract becomes a farm? 

    And I agree with others, who wants a farm right next to 80/580, access roads, commuter channels and train tracks… would you eat that? 

  • Heather_W_62

    I would imagine that those under-served Seniors would probably do well with a local market that s affordable, which Whole Wallet is not (I say while savoring the idea of a Whole Wallet within biking distance of my house… plus, how would that hamper the Gilman Natural Foods Company?)

  • Qballnv

    “a plot of agricultural land on the Albany-Berkeley border that is OWNED by UC Berkeley.”

    No controversy here. Despite whatever altruistic, environmentally conscious motives may be at the heart of their cause the land doesn’t belong to them, ergo, get the f**k off of it. These enviro-wackos may be university educated, but their grasp of basic property rights belies a much greater problem in our society than corporate greed, namely, a misplaced sense of entitlement. Want to plant a garden? Reclaim mother earth? Fine, go purchase a plot of land somewhere, don’t thumb your nose at the USDA and be willing to pay the requisite property taxes and I’ll betcha the gubment leaves you alone…

  • Guest

    It’s getting real in the Whole Food’s vacant lot?

    Hell knows no fury like Little Leaguers scorned.  This batch of Occupy activists will end up wishing they faced off against the UC Davis police once they have endured the fury of he Little Leaguers, their parents and the entire community which strongly supports Little League in Albany and north Berkeley.

  • Guest

    Actually, this particular tract has been mainly “occupied” in recent months by an amazingly large flock of Canada Geese who go “honking” loudly down Buchanan into the setting sun every evening in small squadrons which vary from 5-15 birds.  Quite a lovely sight.  More recently, the geese have been peacefully co-existing with a medium sized flock of wild turkeys.  I am guessing that the occupiers will mainly end up displacing and causing suffering to the birds who rely on this tract to forage for food.

  • Gill Tract is the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay area. This is not some random fight Occupy decided to pick. Gill Tract is something that community members have been fighting to save for years, Occupiers are just helping them to amplify their voice.

  • Andrew

    I saw they had a grill… turkey burgers with that organic home-grown heritage salad?

  • The Sharkey

    So is Occupy The Farm offering to buy the lot? Are they prepared to match or exceed any bid by development groups?

  • Bruce Love


    So is Occupy The Farm offering to buy the lot? Are they prepared to match or exceed any bid by development groups?

    It doesn’t appear so.   It appears that they have peacefully assembled and are petitioning their government for a redress of their grievances through a thoughtful and well executed act of symbolic civil disobedience.   F-ing hippies.   We’ll keep monitoring the situation and alert you to any opportunities that may arise for the state to step in and punch the hippies.

  • The Sharkey

    Ah, I didn’t think so. But seeing as how you were trying to compare it with the University accidentally selling something below its value I wondered if maybe this branch of Occupy had actually decided to put their money where their mouth is and offered to buy the lot from the University.

  • The Sharkey

    Perhaps the community should get some money together and offer to buy the Gill Tract from the University.

    I doubt the Univeristy would ignore a serious offer.

  • Bruce Love
  • Guest

    Thanks for the update, Bruce.  Wow, this quote from the article you linked to seriously runs counter to everything Occupy has thus far stood for:

    “Dayaneni said the group hopes to avoid an Occupy situation where the site attracts criminals and substance abusers by imposing a rule that anyone who shows up must work.”