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Activists: Farming and academic research can coexist

 Occupy the Farm supporters gathers at North Berkeley BART before marching to Gill Tract at 6:00 pm Wednesday. Photo: Aaron Glimme

The group calling itself the Gill Tract Farmers Collective that took over UC Berkeley-owned land in Albany 19 days ago issued a statement Wednesday evening in which they said they believed urban farming and academic research could “coexist and benefit one another on public farmland”. They added that they felt police activity on the site yesterday morning had impeded a Cal professor’s work and been unnerving for an elementary school situated across the street from the open land.

The statement was largely a description of what happened at the site yesterday, and did not address UC Berkeley’s latest move which was to file a lawsuit against Occupy the Farm. That action was made public at around 1:30 pm yesterday.

A group of around 50 people gathered at North Berkeley BART station Wednesday at around 6:00 pm and marched to Gill Tract to show support for the activist farmers.

There follows the statement from the Gill Tract Farmers Collective which was issued by email at around 6:00 pm Wednesday:

UCPD Locks Gate on Professor’s Research, Farmers Move to Remediate Neglected Portions of Gill Tract

Wednesday, May 9th: Albany, CA – Professor Miguel Altieri, researcher at the Gill Tract for 31 years, planned to begin planting his research plot with his students this morning. An hour before he was scheduled to begin, the UC administration barricaded the Gill Tract with concrete, metal barriers, and dozens of police who threatened farmers with “chemical agents and impact force.” In a blatant affront to academic freedom, Dr. Altieri was told he lacked the “authorization” to conduct his research.  A bulldozer loomed on the edge of the farm for the majority of the morning.

Despite the blockade, Professor Altieri, with the help of the farmers, managed to plant a token portion of his research area with organic, drought resistant crops that have benefited East Bay soup kitchens for years. The majority of his planned workday, however, has been disrupted by the UC Administration’s intervention.

The Gill Tract Farmers Collective continues to believe that urban farming and academic research can coexist and benefit one another on public farmland.  Yesterday evening, in order to free up as much space as possible for researchers, the farmers began relocating the temporary camp to a more southern portion of the Gill Tract which has long been vacant, not used for agricultural research. The move was completed this morning, after the scheduled planting with Professor Altieri, and offers a win-win scenario, where the farmers can maintain access to the crops and the researchers can begin their research unimpeded.

On the south side of the Gill Tract, the farmers are beginning a community research project to find solutions that can heal damaged urban land.  Whereas the land already under cultivation by the farmers is Class 1 soil, the soil they are beginning to remediate has been impacted by concrete and contaminated by heavy metals and chemicals due to years of UC negligence. Corey Scher, an Albany native, is joining the farmers for the remediation process. “Look around here. There’s trash everywhere, big pieces of rusty metal, abandoned structures, open plastic barrels of liquid chemicals. The University has not taken care of this place, so it’s up to us to clean up their mess.” The farmers intend to set an example of how to remediate damaged land to make it safe for growing food, and have scheduled a community visioning meeting for 5pm on Saturday, May 12th, to flesh out long-term plans for the farm.

The police presence has unnerved parents at Ocean View elementary school across the street from the Gill Tract. Kristin Vorhies expressed concerns about sending her asthmatic daughter to school this morning due to the UCPD’s reputation for deploying chemical agents on peaceful protesters. She, “loves the idea of having a farm across the street from an elementary school.” Vorhies “called the superintendent and requested that [the superintendent] work with the UC and the City of Albany to make sure that the situation is resolved peacefully, and without chemical agents or the threat of chemical agents. I hate to imagine the potentiality,” Vorhies concluded.

Community outrage has bolstered the farmers with a steady stream of new visitors and community support. They believe this response has dissuaded the UCPD from forced evictions or arrests, and have called for a show of additional community support this evening.  Asked how they plan to respond to this new development, the farmers reiterate that their plans remain unchanged.  “Basically, it’s just another day,” said Ashoka Finley, an urban agriculture teacher at Richmond High School, “we’re still planting, still seeding, still watering, still weeding.”

The farmers said their encampment remains temporary, existing to maintain space for farming, education, and collaboration with the East Bay community, and to ensure open access and input into the future of these public lands. The farmer’s vision for this land, however, is anything but temporary: Farmland is for farming.

Related:
UC Berkeley files lawsuit against Occupy the Farm activists [05.09.12]
Cal weighs legal action to evict Occupy the Farm activists [05.08.12]
Farm activists: We will leave camp if Cal meets our concerns [05.08.12]
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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  • John Holland

    I’m a big fan of the Occupy Movement, but I’m sorry, Occupy the Farm is a big charade bursting with disengenuity.

    “Occupy the Farm” wrote:

    In a blatant affront to academic freedom, Dr. Altieri was told he lacked the “authorization” to conduct his research.

    If you’re genuinely concerned about Dr. Altieri’s ability to conduct research, there’s an easy solution: leave. The problem would melt away, and he could proceed with planting unhindered.

    “Occupy the Farm” wrote:

    The police presence has unnerved parents at Ocean View elementary school across the street from the Gill Tract.

    If you’re genuinely concerned about the children, then stop engaging in behavior that attracts the police. You can’t taunt the police on the one hand, and then complain that their presence is scary on the other hand.

    Last year, Occupy was so focused, they even had earned the fear and respect of Republican leadership. Occupy the Farm is faustian folly, squandering the momentum of a significant global movement on a petty local issue.

  • Guest

    Thanks John.

  • Andrew

    Are these folks REALLY farmers? Did they grow up in the Central Valley with 4-H and county fairs? Do they have calluses on their hands and weathered skin from days in the field in all kinds of weather and nicks and scrapes from repairing farm equipment? Do real farmers meditate at midnight? Do real farmers issue such overtly melodramatic press releases (” A bulldozer loomed on the edge of the farm for the majority of the morning.” – I mean, seriously…)? Do real farmers even have time for such shenanigans?

    What would a real farmer do?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I agree with your assessment of the current situation, but not of last year’s exercise. It was the opposite of focused, which was sort of the point, at least initially.

  • John Holland

    It was focused enough to concern the leading Republican strategist. Click here. (Yes, there is an invisible link there. Thanks for that, too, Disqus! NOT!)

  • The Sharkey

    Thumbs up for making the point that “Occupy the Farm” is being disingenuous and manipulative. They’ve even gone so far as to lie to local media outlets about what the Police are doing, which is why there were so many helicopters in the air yesterday.

    Occupy was more focused last year, but still not focused enough to actually accomplish much either than smash property and waste the money of local municipalities who had to try to deal with their tantrums.

    Had they gotten some real focus and picked a single popular issue to rally behind – such as “Abolish Corporate Personhood!” – they could have accomplished so much more.

  • The Sharkey

    The Oakland Tribune has said that many of the “farmers” are the same “activists” who participated in the tree sitting debacle in 2008.

    Many of the protesters named in the suit are the
    same people who were part of the 21-month university tree sit protest
    to save a grove of Oak trees that campus police finally ended in 2008
    just hours before the oaks were razed.

    http://www.insidebayarea.com/ci_20582724/police-blocking-vehicle-access-at-occupy-farm-albany

  • Bruce Love

    If you’re genuinely concerned about Dr. Altieri’s ability to conduct research, there’s an easy solution: leave.

    Dr. Altieri has expressed support for the occupation. It is university, not the protesters, who obstruct him. Were it not so his crops would be fully in the ground by now.

    If you’re genuinely concerned about the children, then stop engaging in behavior that attracts the police.

    The police reportedly issued the threat of chemical agents at the time they were installing blockades: the blockades that helped to keep Dr. Altieri from his research, among other things. Recent events have demonstrated to many that the police sometimes react recklessly and with excessive force after making threats like that — the kind of problem that apparently worried the parent quoted in the article.

    I don’t think you would want to live in a country where the only choice is to blame victims and potential victims for abuses the police inflict upon them, yet this is what you seem to support.

    Last year, Occupy was so focused, they even had earned the fear and respect of Republican leadership.

    A “communications consultant” who has been crafting GOP “spin” since before the so-called Contract with America gave one presentation to a group of governors, and got some press out of it. His recommendations are recycled from what he’s been advising the GOP for years. That is not “fear” nor “respect” — it’s opportunism. Occupy was still hot in the news cycle. He needed a conference presentation. Some parts of the leftish press, like the article you read, over-interpreted it.

    I’m not sure what it would even mean for “Occupy” to be “focused”. It’s not a movement. It’s antithetical to its organizational structures that would develop a unified platform or cease to plan local actions in distributed, decentralized ways ….

    If you keep trying to comprehend “Occupy” in terms of traditional “movement politics” it’ll seem perpetually inexplicable.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    I think that strategist’s concern was about its diffuse nature rather than its focus. There wasn’t a single figure (Hillary, the President) that they could pillory. There wasn’t a focused agenda that they could rebut. It was like pushing water uphill. Unfortunately that is also why Occupy didn’t go anywhere, but that’s another story.

    Separately: I wonder if we can change the color of a link (test: same link as yours)?

    Answer: no, my color=… attribute was ignored.

  • C

    Don’t be so sure that Occupy didn’t go anywhere. After that initial burst action from the Occupy movement:

    — President Obama made raising taxes on the rich a major focus of his reelection rhetoric.
    — moveon and other major groups started organizing what they call “The 99% movement,” which is much more organized than the initial Occupy movement and could ultimately accomplish a lot.

    I spontaneous, leaderless movement can get things started but cannot follow up effectively. But it has succeeded, if it inspires other people to follow up.

  • The Sharkey

    The police reportedly issued the threat of chemical agents…

    Was this reported by anyone other than the Occupy the Farm activists or supporters?

    Recent events have demonstrated to many that the police sometimes react recklessly and with excessive force…

    Recent events have demonstrated to many that Occupy protesters sometimes react violently and are destructive to property when the police try to enforce the law.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    President Obama was talking about raising taxes on the rich long before Occupy showed up. Remember Joe the Plumber?

    Moveon is great and it’s cool if they got a catchy brand from last Fall’s follies. But Paul Krugman was making the case against the huge wealth transfer to the top 0.01% and I don’t think the trashing of a local park by the “who’s who of the criminal homeless” added much.

    My associations with Occupy are strongly negative because of that and because of the movement’s inability to purge itself of violent/destructive anarchists.

    Yes, they were successful in garnering attention, but they left a mess, and squandered the opportunity. I’m just not willing to give them as much credit as you are suggesting.

  • Bruce Love

    Was this reported by anyone other than the Occupy the Farm activists or supporters?

    The Daily Californian quoting UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada.

  • Andrew

    And how many real farms actually do have bulldozers or tractors or combines or various types of machinery looming on the edge of them? If these Occupiers are afraid of farm machinery then they may want to reconsider their career choice.

  • John Holland

    Here it is:

    “Chemical agents are part of our admonishments,” said UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada. “If you assault the police or interfere at any time, that would be a possibility.”

    Click here for the link

  • John Holland

    I’m mobile, and don’t have time to reply to Bruce right now. I disagree with him, but he makes good points, and folks should read his reply that is hidden.

  • The Sharkey

    Thanks for the link, Bruce. I hadn’t read that.

    Next time I’d suggest adding the information that the “threat” of chemical agents (pepper spray or tear gas) was only mentioned as a possible recourse if the protesters assaulted the police officers or blocked them. Full disclosure and all that.

  • Bruce Love

    Full disclosure and all that.

    I’m sorry …. who are you?

    was only mentioned as a possible recourse if the protesters assaulted the police officers or blocked them.

    Like if they stood, still, holding a flag (to get shot in the head) or sat with linked arms on the ground (to get sprayed) or simply happened to be present behind a barrier and out of the way but perhaps shouting (to get sprayed)?

    You mean that kind of “assault” or “block”?

  • Mrdrew3782

    The above statement from the activists just killed any inkling of support I had for them. In any situation if you have to make up obvious lies and exaggerations to support your position then you have lost all credibility. I have nothing but support for the UC and Albany Police and if the activists think they can turn the residents of Albany against them they are sadly mistaken.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I read numerous news articles saying that Obama was emphasizing this more strongly as a result of Occupy.

    You are right to have bad feelings about Bay Area Occupy, which did fail to purge itself of violent/destructive anarchists. But the destructive anarchists are not nearly as prominent in the national movement as they are in the Bay Area.

    Obama and moveon are looking at the national Occupy movement, not just at the Bay Area.

  • The Sharkey

    I could provide plenty of links showing the massive and pointless property destruction done by the Bay Area Occupy groups I think you’re referring to, but I don’t think there’d be much of a point. Some people apparently think that violence is bad when the police employ it, but is completely justifiable when “activists” do it.

    Edited to add: In case you were wondering, I’m not the one flagging your posts as abusive. I may not agree with your views, but nothing you are saying here seems abusive in any way.

  • http://caviarcommunism.us West Bezerkeley

    Good Grief…and after I joked about it a couple of days ago too. http://www.berkeleyside.com/2012/05/08/farm-activists-we-will-break-up-camp-if-cal-meets-our-concerns/#comment-523035756

    This doesn’t come as a shocker to me, these people truly are a “group of frustrated protesters in search of a cause.”

  • Charles_Siegel

    You apparently grew up in Berkeley watching the antics of the superannuated 1960s left during its decline and dotage, so I can understand why you are cynical.

    But try to remember that Berkeley is not the whole world and the last few decades are not all of history.

    For a better example of civil disobedience, you might want to check out James Hansen, the country’s top climate scientist, being arrested recently at http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/08/30/308183/nasas-james-hansen-arrested-at-tar-sands-pipeline-protest/

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

    It is startling to me that when I log in now to the website that all comments are hidden as a result of “due to reports of abuse”. When I unpack them and read the dialogue, I cannot help but think that marginal, fragile readers are reporting “abuse” at every sniff of a comment that disagrees with their intractable POV. Incredible. Don’t we live in Berkeley? I assume I’ll be reported as well now.

  • serkes

    Well, 24 comments are hidden due to abuse reports … some of them may be comments about people abusing the abuse reports.

    It looks like we now have the option to assign stars (ideally blue or gold, per the current Disqus color scheme)

    Time to revisit the Disqus settings.

    Ira Serkes

  • serkes

    What would they call it if you post a comment, and then report an abuse report on that very comment?|

    Ira

  • John Holland

    I think you make a lot of good counter points. I just wanted to focus on one thing:

    Bruce Love wrote:

    I’m not sure what it would even mean for “Occupy” to be “focused”. It’s not a movement.

    The “About Us” Section of the Occupy Wall St. site reads:

    Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #ows is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future.

    So, I have been imprecisely talking about the “Occupy Movement”, when I really have been meaning the “Occupy Wall St. Movement”. I agree, “Occupy” in and of itself is not a movement. I also think Occupy Wall St. is pretty focused in this statement.

  • Bruce Love

    Right.   “Occupy” is not “Occupy Wall St.”.  Common confusion.

    I pay so little attention to “Occupy Wall St.” (OWS) anymore that I’m not sure how they are best identified.  I would guess they still have a GA with control over their money — they’d probably be the most authoritative…. about OWS.