Farm activists: We will leave if Cal meets our concerns

Farm activists say they will break up the camp when Cal “presents a concrete proposal” that satisfies their concerns. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Occupy the Farm group that is currently occupying the UC Berkeley-owned Gill Tract in Albany with a view to persuading the university to give it over to urban farming, issued the following statement Monday evening on its website (use of bold is as in original) :

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective would like to issue the following statements to the press and the public:

1) Regarding media reports about dialogue between the Gill Tract Farmers Collective and the University of California:

We dispute the veracity of media reports that we failed to respond to the UC’s request for dialogue on Saturday. Dan Siegel, legal counsel for Occupy the Farm, says, “The University’s statement that we failed to contact them on Saturday is incorrect.”

In a message to University counsel Chris Patti on Saturday, Siegel wrote, “We were concerned about the potential for a police attack tonight. The farmers are committed to constructive dialogue to resolve the issues raised in our meeting on Thursday. A police action would create serious problems for us and for UC, especially in light of the university’s recently announced plan to adopt less violent police tactics. As you know, our process requires careful consultation with a large number of people. Nonetheless, we will provide you with a comprehensive proposal to resolve UC’s concerns on Monday.”

2) Regarding the resolution of the current conflict over access to and use of the Gill Tract:

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective looks forward to addressing our mutual concerns around the unimpeded work of the Gill Tract researchers. We understand that the nature of genetic research necessitates extra precautions for the security of those experiments.

When the University presents a concrete proposal that satisfies the following concerns, we will break up the camp so that the researchers have access to their plots. The concerns are:

1. That municipal water at the Gill Tract be made available to us.

2. That the Farmer’s Collective and larger community have access to the field in order that we may:

a. Tend to the crops we have planted on the East side of the field.

b. Maintain the Children’s garden in the northwest corner of the tract, as well as the BASIL seed bank homecoming site on the edge of the west field.

3. That in order to protect the organic food crops, the long-term health of the soil, the beehive, as well as the neighbors, including children and families, the researchers/the University refrain from the use of chemical herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, chemical fertilizer or plastic tarp in the soil on the farm.

We continue to be willing to facilitate this transition process for the researchers, and to work jointly toward such tasks as the construction of new fences or gates that would allow for our access to the locations referenced in Condition 2, so long as these conditions are met.

We look forward to further discussion around how to make this a truly collaborative process for all stakeholders in the Gill Tract. This includes not only the Albany community, the Gill Tract Farmer’s Collective, and UC Berkeley, but also the residents of the greater East Bay. Because of its unique location in a thriving urban area, any future use of the Gill Tract has an immediate impact on East Bay food sovereignty, equity, and access issues. We hope that more consideration for the time that is necessary to facilitate an open community dialogue is respected and that the UC ceases to levy ultimatums such as the one issued on Friday, May 4th.

3) Regarding our vision: Our original vision in occupying this parcel of land, the last and best soil in the urban East Bay, was to preserve the entirety of the Gill Tract as agricultural land not only for a single growing season, but in perpetuity. This vision persists. Farmland is for farming.

UC Berkeley sets midnight deadline for Occupy the Farm [05.05.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley to Occupy the Farm: “Time is running out.” [05.03.12]
Occupy the Farm activists issue open letter to community [04.30.12]
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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  • The Sharkey

    Utterly ridiculous.

    These demands make it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no
    interest in a reasonable solution. Time to get the Berkeley/Albany
    Police departments involved and end this squat.

  • So let me get this straight . . . If I steal somebody else’s car, I can broker a deal to give it back providing I get free use of it whenever I want?. Have I got this right?

  • Meliflaw

    I wish Berkeleyside would talk to some of the pro-farmer Cal professors–e.g., Miguel Altieri or Claudia Carr–and get their viewpoint on these statements.

    (Once again, the land in question may “belong” to the University, but the University belongs to us. It’s a public agency, and the taxpayers, including you and me and the farmers, help fund it.)

  • yep. although I find the (oft shared) breaking into my home and settling down in my bathroom/bedroom/etc. analogy more apt. we can negotiate the terms of you using your bathroom again, etc. it’s called trespassing in the real world.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly. And the sidewalks belong to us too. That’s why I’m going to setup my lead smelter in front of your house.

  • (Once again, the land in question may “belong” to the University, but the University belongs to us. It’s a public agency, and the taxpayers, including you and me and the farmers, help fund it.)

    If you don’t like what the university or laws are doing, then there is a forum for changing them. this is part of the social contract we enter into by living in a society. “occupying’ under the guise of nobility (when it is actually trespassing with a twitter feed) is illegal.

  • So by your convoluted logic, since the University belongs to the people I suppose anyone who wants to can move into the University for shelter huh? There’ public money in a lot of things (airports, libraries, police stations, etc.) but that doesn’t mean we get to move in!

  • Bruce Love

    Quite a few of the comments about Gill Tract seem to express a demand or expectation or moral value that a government ought not respond to civil disobedience in any way that might further legitimize such forms of protest.

    Such people ought to be more careful about what they wish for, all tortured analogies to vague understandings of property rights aside.

  • Hey, it’s the 2012 version of the tree sitters — taking over property that you don’t own because you don’t agree with how it will be used. Geez, and I’d finally gotten the bad taste out of my mouth over the namby pampy official response to the tree sitters.

    The U.C. has a habit of bending over backwards so frequently on these issues it feels tantamount to encouraging poor behavior.

    I agree, it’s time for the police to move in. If we don’t enforce property rights, civilized society breaks down and we all get to occupy whatever house we like the best, take whatever car on the block that strikes our fancy, and hey, I’ll take that new iPhone 4S you have sir because I need it more than you…(oh wait, that’s happening already at gunpoint isn’t it?)

    BTW, it could be argued that civilized society in Berkeley broke down a few decades ago and has been on life support ever since. However, we can discuss that over a couple of beers this summer if you’re game.

  • Frances Dinkelspiel


    Berkeleyside did talk to Altieri. Perhaps you missed this article, which ran Friday May 4.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    They’ve crossed from civil disobedience to squatting.

  • Charles_Siegel

    There is a forum for changing the laws, the electoral process. But what is the forum for changing what the university is doing?

    The regents are pretty much above the law, according to the state constitution. The only recourse is 1) to criticize them and 2) civil disobedience if they ignore the criticism.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Once again, I have to disagree with all the comparisons of civil disobedience to people taking your own private property. Though I don’t either favor or oppose Occupy the Farm, I think commenters are very wrong to think that civil disobedience at a public facility meant to change the use of this public facility are the same as someone coming into my home and using my personal property.

    We have all helped to pay for the University through our taxes. It is a public agency, and it should be subject to the will of the public.

    Civil disobedience is a method of making a political statement (when all else fails) that has a long and honorable history, from Gandhi to Martin Luther King to the present. (It actually goes back at least to Thomas Aquinas and beyond that to the Roman philosopher Musonius Rufus.)

    I think if the commenters here had been around at the time, they would have responded to famous acts of civil disobedience by saying:

    — To the Boston Tea Party: Do they think they can come into my kitchen, take my tea, and throw it away?

    — To Rosa Parks sitting in the front of the bus: Do they think they can come into my living room and sit in any chair they want to without my permission?

    — To sit-ins at segregated lunch counters: Do they think they can come into my kitchen, sit at my kitchen table, and expect me to serve them food?

    Public accommodations are different from your private home even if they are privately owned – and certainly if they are owned by a public agency.

    Again, I am undecided about whether I support Occupy the Farm. But I am put off by this authoritarian response to civil disobedience and by the absurd analogy of university property to one’s own home.

  • Andrew

    A Farm Collective huh… have they seen pictures of farm collectives from North Korea? Is that what they want?

    And food sovereignty, equity, and access issues… OK, sure, if that’s the case then move the Occupation to West Oakland and squat on someone’s land over there and provide fresh veggies to folks who don’t have easy access to it. And BTW there are grants available to do this, that is, if you had a viable plan and the expertise to draw up a proposal. There are a lot of organizations who do this kind of work without taking over land or homes or cars or whatnot.

  • Charles your response doesn’t pass the laugh test. Rosa Parks engaged in civil disobedience in order to be able to have a seat on a bus like others and the bus IS a public accommodation! The same as the lunch counters of the south. They WERE public accommodations. Trying to equate these people taking over a vacant field under the pretense that THEY think their use of the land should override the Universities intended use is in no way comparable.

    You’re entitled to your own opinions but you’re not entitled to your own facts! Just because there’s public money in something doesn’t mean anyone gets to take it over and do their OWN thing with it! Civil disobedience absolutely has it’s place when a law is unfair as it was in the south with the Jim Crow laws.

    However, merely claiming you don’t like the Universities use of something doesn’t mean you get to take it over. Rosa Parks didn’t take over the bus. These people have taken over this field and the Universities intended use has been stopped because of them. Rosa never stopped the bus! Get a clue about what we’re talking about here. Buy a vowel if you have to but get a clue!

  • Andrew

    “We have all helped to pay for the University through our taxes. It is a
    public agency, and it should be subject to the will of the public.”

    But who gets to represent “the public”? And can the entire population of California agree on what the they should be doing and how? I am “the public” and I do not support the Gill Tract Occupiers. But others do. So how do we reconcile that to reach consensus among every tax paying citizen for every state public agency?

    Frankly, I think the UC system should be teaching and doing basic research and by all accounts that’s what they were doing at the Gill Tract. Beyond that I have no interest in micro-managing their every action.

    It may not be *private* property, but it *belongs* to UC Berkeley and I respect that. If I want a farm in town I’ll plant one in my own backyard, which I did.

  • Mr. Siegel I really don’t understand your logic. This is not a civil rights issue at all. No one is being denied their rights or an accommodation. What we have here are a group of people who disagree with the Universities use of a plot of land. They have every right to file a complaint and even protest. However, by taking it over for themselves under the pretense that it belongs to the people, makes no sense. Many of us represent the people as well and we don’t have a problem with the Universities use. Does that mean we now get to take it over from these current occupiers? Will another group be able to then take it over from us? Where does this lead? I totally agree with Andrew and Cobra. You have completely missed the point.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I appreciate the civil and rational tone of the replies. Here are my responses:

    — Civil disobedience has been used for many issues apart from civil rights issues, most recently to protest against the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Boston Tea Party was not a civil rights issue.

    — The replies all assume that they want to take it over the land permanently for their own use. I think they are occupying to raise the question of what should be done with the land. Rosa Parks would have been wrong if she had wanted to take the bus permanently for her own use, but she was right to act illegally to protest against an unjust law. Likewise, Occupy the Farm would be wrong to want to take the land permanently for their own use, but I think they are right to act illegally to protest against what they consider a destructive use of the land.

    So, the right way to criticize them is by saying that they don’t understand what is the best use of the land, they don’t understand the University’s proposal, or something similar. You could convince me with that sort of argument.

    The wrong way to criticize them is by saying that they are like people who come into my home and sit down in my living room without my permission – a criticism that could be used to condemn any act of civil disobedience.

    (PS: A correction to my earlier post: the idea of civil disobedience goes back beyond Musonius Rufus to Sophocles’ Antigone, over 2,400 years ago.)

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think the system of hiding posts that get too many negative votes is not working.

    People seem to vote against posts they disagree with and to vote for posts that they agree with. That is fine, as long as minority opinions don’t disappear. It is not fine when my post disappears because it has -3 votes, though it is not abusive and it is an attempt to make a constructive point that has gotten constructive responses.

  • Charles_Siegel

    It seems that people are most likely to vote for posts they agree with if those posts include personal insults – another way that the voting system is not working.

    Cobra replied with ad hominem attacks and personal insults (“pass the laugh test”; “entitled to your own facts”‘ “Get a clue”), and he got more votes than John and Andrew, who replied civilly.

    So, it seems that the voting system makes intelligent discussion more difficult, and encourages anonymous commenters who chose names like “Cobra” because they like to make venomous posts.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Note to Berkeleyside: There is probably a Disqus setting that you could use to fix this problem. I think it would work better if comments were hidden when they had a vote of -8 or -10 rather than -3. Then troll comments that annoyed large numbers of people would be hidden, but constructive comments that a few people disagree with would not be hidden.

  • Meliflaw

    Nope, I saw it. But I’d like to know what, if anything, he has to say about these particular statements. Anyway, thanks to Berkeleyside for covering this issue quickly and well.

  • iicisco

    It’s time for the boot. This shenanigan has gone on for long enough!

  • Bruce Love

    Charles, I’m going to vote you down. Because I enjoy reading your posts.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Tree sitting in 1978 (the first tree sitting action) led to the protection of what is now the Pureora Forest Park in New Zealand.”

    There are lots of crazies in Berkeley, but let’s not reject a valuable tactic because it is sometimes abused by crazies.

    Civilized society has not broken down in New Zealand because of this tree sitting.

    And to repeat the fundamental point once again, there is a big difference between:
    — violating property rights as a matter of conscience in order to bring a political change.
    — violating property rights to steal something for yourself.

  • Meliflaw

    Cobra, that is not what I said and it is not what I think. What I pointed out was that the University of California is not a private corporation; it has a duty to the public, although what that duty might be is clearly a matter of some contention here.And we could even discuss that duty without leaping to conclusions about one another.

    (As always, the tiresome thing about Internet comment boards, etc., is the widespread tendency to infer a whole and detailed point of view out of one observation. I like to think that most of us here are reasonably bright and well-informed, but mind readers we are not.)

  • A well articulated, interesting perspective on Occupy The Farm:
    ‘Herein lays the irony of the term “Occupy.” The 30-year trend of privatization of public goods for corporate gain is not seen as “occupying.” The enclosure of public buildings, land, resources (and the research capacity of entire college departments) is seen as the “magic of the marketplace” rather than corporate piracy enabled by government policy. How is it that a couple hundred community members protecting five acres of public land become radical “occupiers” while the corporations occupying public institutions are responsible “partners?”

  • Anonymous

    This is the much-vaunted “wisdom” of the crowd that social sites are always going on about in action.

  • Andrew

    Charles, I understand your point and in spirit I agree with you. But in regards to your comment that the current Occupiers are “raising the question of what should be done with the land” I cannot agree with that. They are TELLING us what should be done with the land. I think that distinction is important to why people raise the private property rights issues and in regards to civil disobedience arguments. it may not be “for their own use” but they have stated explicitly *Farmland is for farming… in perpetuity* – thus for a use that they deem appropriate above all others whether or not they are who use it.

    I am invested in this because my son plays little league baseball down there and he absolutely loves it. The fields are set to move to the Gill Tract. Some of us might claim that youth sports are just as important – getting kids outdoors and active. In fact, in combination with a healthy diet (fresh fruits and vegetables among other foods), being active is an important part of solving the current obesity epidemic (and diabetes in kids is on the rise too and it is very dangerous).

    This fight is between the Occupiers and UC. I’m not sure they care about what the city of Albany and its citizens think. I still encourage them to hold town hall meetings to build grass roots support from the community around the Gill Tract.

  • Andrew

    What is bugging me is that the thread of posts and replies seems to change over time. Charles, my reply to your post is no longer under your post; it’s at the same level. We may not agree on the Occupation, but we can all agree that the usability of this new release of Disqus is flawed.

    And BTW there should be an option on the page to expand all collapsed posts.

  • Jake From State Farm

    So, what happens when someone else decides to occupy the same land that this Occupy the Farm has taken over? I have some friends who like to garden. Maybe we’ll just go over and push aside the current bodies that are sitting there.
    Why does THIS group get to pick whom they deem worthy of using the land?

  • The only “DUTY” the University has to the public is to provide an education. They are under zero duty to make sure all members of the community particularly like their use of their facilities or grounds. When a segment of the public doesn’t like their use of their facilities or grounds they have every right to protest and complain. But they have no right to take it upon themselves to snatch it back and make use of it for themselves.

    Yes, Internet forms are filled with opinions and when you post you have to be prepared for others to not agree with you. Unfortunately for you, most here have not supported your position and it’s not even being shown anymore. Sorry if you’re “wounded”.

  • Oh Charles . . . please grow up. You need to realize this is an adult forum for the mutual exchange of views. When you post something that people disagree with they are going to respond and voice their contrary feelings. That’s the process here.

    Sorry if you were “wounded” in some way. This is not about personal egos being wounded. This is about a social issue of the day and the facts around it. You took a position that most others here (self included) simply do not agree with. Attacking the site and the process here is not the reaction of an adult. You’ll get over it, trust me.

  • meh…

    To quote my 1960’s activist father & former member of The Weathermen on this one “you are mirroring my views quite closely on this one son. To a great extent Berkeley acts like a “group of frustrated protesters in search of a cause.”

  • Bruce Love

    Charles, I think you are making some sense here so, again, I will downvote you

    Those are my two or so downvotes-in-protest. My protest is not merely against the Disqus changes, but also….. Well, you know.

    And again: I do enjoy your comments and hope to read plenty more of them in the future.

  • Charles: thanks for the feedback you and others are providing. I’m in touch with Disqus about the issue. At the moment, sites can’t change the setting of -3 to hide comments — somewhat incredibly, to my mind. I agree that it’s unduly restrictive.

    I’m loath to just turn off the new Disqus just yet. We’ll see how Disqus responds. They’ve been good in the past about dealing promptly with issues.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Cobra, your ideas don’t pass the smell test. Grow up. Get a clue. Think up some posts that do not stink. Get over it and act like an adult.

    Needless to say, that last paragraph was an imitation of your style. If “this is about a social issue of the day and the facts around it,” then you should try to discuss the issues and present the facts, not to spend most of your time on personal abuse.

    I will let others decide which of us is childish. It seems to me that your angry, irrational name-calling is about what I expected from the other kids when I was in fifth grade. I am not “wounded” by your response, but the quality of the discussion is.

    In addition, I was not attacking the site and its process. You obviously do not know that this method of voting and hiding posts is a new feature that was added by Disqus just a few days ago. I think Berkeleyside is still trying to see how well it works, and I hope I contributed to that. Unlike you, I am a regular commenter here, and I want to see the site work well.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Lance, I would not want you to turn off the new Disqus. I expect there must be a setting that would make it work better by changing the setting used to hide comments. Thanks for looking into it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Andrew, I generally agree with you.

    If Occupiers are trying to tell people what to do with the land, then they are obviously in the wrong.

    If they are trying to raise the question of what should be done with the land, in order to have a more complete public discussion, then I think they are in the right (unlike someone who breaks into my house and takes over my kitchen).

    Since they are now saying, “The Gill Tract Farmers Collective looks forward to addressing our mutual
    concerns around the unimpeded work of the Gill Tract researchers,” it sounds to me like they are trying to have a more complete discussion.

    I think Albany and the neighbors should be an important part of that discussions, and they are wrong to think of it as just research vs. farming without thinking of your recreational use.

  • I don’t have a problem viewing all comments, even those with -3 and beyond.

    All you have to do is be curious enough to click the link when it says:
    “Comment score below threshold. Show this comment” and viola! Comments revealed. I haven’t missed a single comment since the new system went up.

  • James

    they are making demands, not having a discussion

  • Lhasa7

    I for one would strongly vote for reverting to the previous comment system. This new mode is chaotic, unintelligible, and senseless.

  • Russell Bates

    You anti-gill tract people and other berkeley yuppies make me sick.Have you gone there and talked with and worked with the people there?Try it.You might like it.

  • GoHome

    If OccupyTFarm wants to really make a little local change, they should find an old dilapidated crack house, properly negotiate it’s legal purchase and tear it down. Then, they have clear title to clear land. Land that had been covered over for decades. Land usage should percolate up to its highest and best use.

  • Anonymous

    I bet we don’t make you sick when we’re paying all of those taxes that give you the nice services in Berkeley that you rely on so that you can devote your life to harassing the cops and squatting.

  • serkes

    Gill Tract Turkeys … where have you gone?