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Occupy the Farm activists issue open letter to community

Occupy the Farm protestors on the Gill Tract. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Occupy the Farm activists who have taken over agricultural research land in Albany owned by UC Berkeley issued an open letter to Albany residents and the East Bay Community on Sunday April 29.

Here’s the full text of the open letter (phrases in bold included):

As you read this letter, East Bay families and farmers continue to seed, weed, and water at Occupy The Farm. Public events over this weekend have included workshops by members of the community and the opening of the “Ladybug Patch” children’s area. For most Albany residents this is the first time they have ever been invited onto, or set foot upon this land.

We are writing you to correct the misinformation circulated by the University Administration in their recent open letter.

The University administration’s position does NOT represent the position of the entire university community. For example, there are 8 faculty members within the College of Natural Resources that are actively supporting the idea of turning the Gill Tract into an urban farm. These faculty’s interest in the Gill Tract stems from their affiliation with Berkeley’s new Diversified Farming Systems Center, whose mission is closely aligned with Occupy the Farm’s mission to promote “sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.” Building on the long history of the parcel as a home for Miguel Altieri’s agroecological research, the Gill Tract could potentially become a center for community outreach, agroecology, and urban farming – thereby meeting the growing interests of the university in socially and ecologically sustainable farming, and the needs of the local East Bay community.

We are well aware of the history of this land and the debates about its future. We encourage everyone to examine the University’s 2004 Master Plan, which clearly indicates that the historic agricultural field we have planted is intended to be developed. This field used to belong to the College of Natural resources, but has long since been transferred to Capital Projects, the development arm of the University of California. The UC allows researchers use of the field, but as long as this master plan remains in effect the clock is ticking, and the planned redevelopment will displace all researchers from this land as well.

We are acutely aware that our presence on this land presents challenges for the researchers who have been using this land as well as for the neighbors living around it. Our inability to provide advance notice for this action has certainly compounded this inconvenience. We recognize that it will take time and hard work to solidify good relationships with our neighbors, and we are humbled by the grace we have been shown by nearby residents, the UC Village, and the Ocean View Elementary School, and grateful to those who have allowed us to open lines of communication. We are hopeful that dialogue with the researchers can lead to a mutually acceptable resolution that reconciles the needs of those using the land for research with the long term goal of preserving this land as farmland for future generations.

The UC’s letter clearly exposes how out of touch it is with the Albany community. The UC claims to have been “actively participating in a collaborative, five-year-long community engagement process.” After five years of this supposed “collaboration” and “community engagement”, the same letter acknowledges that most Albany residents “are studying the details of the project for the first time as the result of media interest in the protest.” Albany community members have not been aware of this proposal because the UC has not engaged in a sufficiently open and participatory process. As Ulan McKnight, an Albany resident, says, “The process included no real collaboration. The University may have ‘listened’ to the community, but ignored their proposals and suggestions.”

Despite more than a decade of requests by many members of the community that the land be used for agriculture in service of the public interest, the UC continues to offer the land up for non-agricultural uses. In 1997, the UC walked away from the table during the final stages of deliberating a proposal for the Gill Tract drafted by a coalition of UC professors, residents, and more than 30 local non-profits known as the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA).These negotiations were abandoned with no explanation. Mara Duncan, an Albany resident for 16 years, says, “Long before the Whole Foods proposal, 1200 people in the community signed a petition asking to make the Gill Tract a community farm. When the Whole Foods proposal came, many of the voices supporting an urban farm felt shut out by the UC and the deliberative process.”

Dan Siegel, our legal counsel, points out that the UC is not only violating the public trust, it may also be violating the law. According to Siegel, “Since the Gill Tract represents one of the few remaining agricultural spaces in northern Alameda County, preserving it as a productive farm is consistent with public policy and the public interest.” Siegel cites several statues, including California Civic Code 815, which “declares that the preservation of land in its natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested, or open space condition is among the most important environmental assets of California.”

Our goal is to prevent development of agricultural land, and to allow the community to be engaged with the land. Support for The Farm is building because it represents an important hope for urban agriculture and community in the East Bay. Please join us in protecting our most valuable community resource. Farmland is for Farming.

This letter has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 29, 2012

An earlier version of this letter incorrectly quoted part of an Albany resident’s statement regarding the extent to which community voices were or were not considered in UC-sponsored listening sessions.

Continuing coverage of the Gill Tract protest can be found on Albany Patch.

Related:
UC Berkeley issues open letter to “clear confusion” on Gill Tract [ 04.27.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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  • Andrew

    “Our goal is to prevent development of agricultural land…”

    How about an easement much like the MALT easements? And what if UC turned it into a teaching farm both for UC students and school-age children (and have the UC students do the teaching to the younger ones). And profits earned from the sale of the produce fund the Edible Schoolyard programs?

    I’m curious to watch this drama unfold. The Occupiers have a point, but they still need to reconcile the fact that they are trying to impose their personal beliefs on others with someone else’s land. Are they engaging the Albany city council? Are they sponsoring town hall meetings with the community? Seems they need to win the hearts and minds over of the community. Let the community put the pressure on UC.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UTAORC2LANQF2ONEFJYXBSITTA bingo

    It becomes increasingly difficult to understand the “Occupy” umbrella of nonsense when statements like this are in the appeal letter they are circulating.  Quite remarkable, and it stands on its own:

    We are acutely aware that our presence on this land presents challenges for the researchers who have been using this land as well as for the neighbors living around it. Our inability to provide advance notice for this action has certainly compounded this inconvenience.

  • The Sharkey

    Community issues open letter to Occupy the Farm: Go away.

  • EricPanzer

    We are acutely aware that our presence on this land presents challenges
    for the researchers who have been using this land as well as for the
    neighbors living around it. Our inability to provide advance notice for
    this action has certainly compounded this inconvenience…

    …Albany community members have not been aware of this proposal
    because the UC has not engaged in a sufficiently open and participatory
    process.

    So when the Occupy movement unilaterally takes over someone’s land because a narrow group of people thinks it’s the right thing to do, that’s a “sufficiently open and participatory process.” But when the UC has community meetings and solicits input over five years that’s an insufficient public process? Give me a break, Occupy.Most people aren’t aware of every single development plan because they generally aren’t all that interested and/or regard other uses of their time as more important. What is the UC supposed to do, phone up every resident personally get their permission every time they want to propose something? These are absurd demands are emblematic of Occupy’s failed consensus approach to movement building. When you demand that everyone be on board with everything, you end up with next to nothing.

  • MFox327

    I don’t understand how/why they haven’t been arrested for trespassing yet… 

  • FiatSlug

    If the Occupiers believe that they have the law on their side (as they seem to indicate in the paragraph that starts by naming Dan Siegel as their counsel), then they should file suit in California to redress this wrong.

    The fact that they do not do so indicates to me that either (a) they do not have the means or (b) they are bluffing and they know it.  I think they have the means to file; ergo, they are probably bluffing.

  • jjohannson

    The increasingly sophisticated and principled organization of this particular action is gaining positive traction in the community – reactionaries on this board notwithstanding.  I actually would like to see the local urban agricultural movement spread to People’s Park, which has long needed an updated use rationale.

    Urban agriculture is here to stay in the East Bay, which has three distinct growing seasons.  The benefits of its expansion are indisputable both from the standpoints of the product it can yield and the community building it promises.  We’ve even talked of closing off our one-block, narrow residential street to local traffic, gardening and a pedestrial park.  It’s a beautiful space with tons of potential, sealed in asphalt, and totally surrenderable as a thru-auto traffic zone.

    The community outreach aspect of this particular action is actually inseparable from the agricultural action.  Cooperation and sharing is inherent in people-powered agriculture.  This is a movement with legs.

  • Guest

    You should address the comments, rather than merely accusing the commenters of being reactionaries. In essence, the question is why a small unelected group should be allowed to decide how this property is to be used, when it has an owner and has been the subject of years of open discussion. If some group decides that your home, or your entire street, should be taken over for their purposes without public discussion or legal sanction, will you let them have it?

  • Leslie

    The activists allowed for years, even dacades of ineffectual leadership from UC in order to preserve this valuable resource. Now they have acted to save it in a very public fashion which finally allows the broader community to know and understand the issues that UC has failed to communicate. Obviously providing advance warning regarding the action would have allowed UC to preempt it. As a UC alum (College of Natural Resources 1992) and ongoing community member, I wholeheartly support these inspired and thoughtful actions. I hope they succeed!

  • jjohannson

    Without the action, no one would be talking about the Gill Tract.  There’s nothing permanent about it now.  An alternative use is being proposed.

    If we reflexively followed your thinking, we’d all still be British.

  • Andrew

    Again, the Occupiers should hold a town hall meeting with the citizens of Albany, since they have taken over the planning process from them. Allow the citizens who live there to have their say. Make it democratic and community driven. See what happens.

  • Simon Friedman

    Here’s a great report with plenty of pics that speak for themselves:

    http://pjmedia.com/zombie/2012/04/29/meet-the-new-farm-same-as-the-old-farm/?singlepage=true

  • Guest

    Shall we discuss an alternative use for your home? Or shall we just move in and discuss it with you while you camp on the sidewalk? If we reflexively followed your thinking, we’d all still be living in caves – our developed society is based on orderly, predictable, and fair transfers of property. Seizure of property without regard for the rights of its owners and legitimate users undermines everyone’s rights.  

    As for your allusion to the American revolution, I suggest that you undertake a deeper study of that event.

  • Bruce Love

    Guest, this: “Shall we discuss an alternative use for your home?  Or shall we just move in and discuss it with you while you camp on the sidewalk?”  is a transparently false analogy.

  • Guest

    Tell us why.

  • Bruce Love

    Sorry, I was just advising you.  Sort of like saying “your fly is open”.

  • The Sharkey

    That seems like a bit of a cop-out.

  • Nycaedu

    They did in Palestine

  • Mike Farrell

    People’s Farm? Why not? Dan Siegel likes it and we already have People’s Park. What does Mike Delacour think?

  • Guest

    Just tell us why.

  • Hyper_lexic

    Like other people, I don’t understand why occupying this piece of land is a valid action or in line with the ‘Occupy’ movement.  It’s not like (in my view) UCB is an oppressive tool of the 1%.  If anything the 99% should be radically SUPPORTING a public institution like UCB.  After all, one of the biggest ways that the old middle class has been dismantled is by the deconstruction of the broad-based education system that we had in the 60′s.

    And regarding People’s park… I’m a child of the generation that built that, and I know a number of people that were involved in building it, several of whom have told me it’s time has long since passed.

  • The Sharkey

    They may be misguided, but at least this bunch of Occupy protesters is less destructive than the ones in San Francisco and Oakland.

    Occupy Protesters trash Mission District businesses, cars
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/01/BAQF1OBH55.DTL&tsp=1

  • ChrisSy Mamma

    Occupy this. Occupy that. I applaud folks who take a stand on the varied social issues and unequal distribution of wealth, particularly in that it seems like the PTB have gamed the system even more strongly to apportion wealth into the few (1%). The property belongs to UC, yes? It’s theirs to do with as they see fit, except where their policies and the law might mitigate their preferences. So this is a reasonable effort on the part of folks to draw attention to the risk that there will be another piece of land potentially disappearing under concrete.

    Me? I’m working two part time jobs six days a week, often for days straight and longer, to make less than half of what I earned three years ago, all the while keeping a kid in a college system that may or may not ever be able to actually provide the classes he needs to graduate, a mother in a care home whose money will run out in less than a year and whose care runs over $3300 a month, and the awareness that our retirement savings will only stretch for us well enough if we retire to a third world country.

    Me? I’m kinda busy with my own problems, and I appreciate these younger folks windmill tilting. Did my share years ago so I won’t begrudge them their own attempts.

  • Bruce Love

     

    and the awareness that our retirement savings will only stretch for us well enough if we retire to a third world country.

    I have some doubt that you’ll need to move for that to happen.   Hopefully, though, we’ll be able to grow at least a few percent of the food we need intra-city.