Op-Ed: Activists disappointed by Cal moves at Gill Tract

People in Occupy the Farm work on the Gil Tract in Albany. Photo: Occupy the Farm

Activists who have been advocating for an urban farm at the Gill Tract in Albany say they are disappointed by a recent decision by UC Berkeley to raze crops they planted this fall. The Gill Tract is closed to the public but activists have been trying since earlier this year to convince the university to open the locked research field to the community. Activists have continued to force entry into the Gill Tract throughout 2012, and recently planted winter greens and a fava bean cover crop.

Friday, the university continued to prepare the field for its own cover crop, chopping up the activists’ crops in the process.

In an Opinionator piece published on Berkeleyside today, Occupy the Farm explains why the fight isn’t over.

Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

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  • wensull

    The property is UC Berkeley property to do with as they wish. End of story.

  • AlbanyRes

    Agreed with wensull. The University owns that property and has the right to manage it in whatever way suits them. Would any of the “Occupy the Farm” protesters allow the UC Regents into their living rooms to rearrange their furniture? I doubt it. The Regents have locked the gate and made it clear that the protestors should stay out. If they would stop breaking in to plant crops, they could spare themselves the outrage when the crops are razed.

  • Biker 94703

    Not a fan of OTF at all, but it should be said that the original property donation was for agricultural uses.  That said, donations to the UC involve paperwork waiving all rights and conditions, so the intent of the donators or anything implied at time of donation winds up being meaningless.

    Still, it is lousy to use a greenfield site for development when there are so many brownfield sites available.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Right, going on open land owned by a government agency is exactly the same as going into the living room of a person’s house. 

  • Howie Mencken

    No. Going on to a research facility whose goal is to end world hunger and claiming it for “THE PEOPLE” to grow veggies – is like being mugged by midget in green tights claiming to be Robin Hood.

  • LiamCooke742

    This subject has been discussed ad nauseum on the Albany Patch. The bottom line is that OTF’s actions have been based on some sort of personal dogma, and their claims of benefits of their actions insupportable. They have simply chosen an act of protest (whose message is ill-defined at best) that includes illegal acts, for which they can be held accountable.

    In short, they planted plants on someone else’s land, and that someone else has the right to dig them up.

  • Gastarbeiter

    “…being mugged by midget in green tights” — I am thinking of the Brazilian assassin at the Oktoberfest assigned to eliminate Inspector Clouseau in the film, “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”
    Min: 2:40 +

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Going on to a research facility … is like being mugged”

    You are more grammatically incoherent than ever.

  • Charles_Siegel

     If only you had been there during the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters during the 1950s, you could have cleared the issue up for them immediately:

    The lunch counter is the property of its owner to do with as he wishes.  End of story.

    Note that, as with my earlier comments, I am not defending the goals of Occupy the Farm.  I am responding to people who are completely unclear on the concept of civil disobedience.

  • Howie Mencken

    Chas,…if you need it explained – you wouldn’t get it.

  • Howie Mencken

    Once you go green, you never go back…

  • emraguso

    I do not think it was a donation, it was a purchase by UC from what I understand. And I don’t think there was any agreement that it be used for ag purposes. Here’s some background on the history:

    I had been covering the issue extensively when I ran Albany Patch but I don’t think the coverage has really continued:

  • guest

    I love the idea of urban farming and I grow veggies in my small yard but this land belongs to the University and they can do whatever they want with it.  All this noise is just delaying the inevitable.

  • Guest

    And you consider yourself to be clear on the concept of civil disobedience? Then please define it for us, and tell us precisely how OTF’s actions fit your definition. In my opinion OTF’s seizure of private property for its own uses, if defined as civil disobedience, makes a mockery of the concept.

    Your example of the lunch counter is specious. A lunch counter is public accommodation. The Gill tract is not public accommodation: it is not public anything. It is UC property, being used for entirely legitimate purposes by UC faculty and students. Do you see the distinction? 

  • Guest

    It is not owned by a “government agency”, it is owned by a university, and used to carry out the university’s mission. Nor is it open: it is fenced off and OTF has simply repeatedly trespassed on it. How can you have missed that?

  • GinnyD

    Not planning to develop, it is to be used for research!

  • emraguso

    Side note — we had this story two days before Patch and with more context…

    If you’re not already getting our daily Berkeleyside newsletter it’s easy to sign up here:

    That said — I agree there has been a huge amount of discussion on this on Patch in the past. Thanks for pointing it out — I know it wasn’t your main point. :)

  • harrison

    No, he doesn’t, because it would appear that in his mind any time anyone breaks the law and uses the excuse that it is “civil disobedience” then it must be OK.  Charles, you’ve been harping in this for a while.  Perhaps it’s time that you swallowed your pride and admitted that maybe, just maybe, these people are not the moral equivalent of Rosa Parks.  I’m sensing that 1) you are not actually a big fan of OTF, but 2) you are emotionally attached to the idea of civil disobedience.  I get that.  But civil disobedience is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and the morality and practicality of the end being pursued actually matters.  Despite the lies spread by OTF, the science being done at Gill is not corporate funded, or aimed at improving corporate bottom lines.  And, while many citizens might want an urban farm, many citizens also might like a grocery store and a ball field, which is what was planned for Gill.  

  • guest

    Actually, that isn’t true.  The sale, not donation, by the Gill family was free and clear, with no stipulations as to its use. 

  • guest

    I’m afraid not.  Sad to say, Emily, but once you left the Albany Patch really went down hill!

  • harrison

    No, Charles, it was not “open land”.  It was an open air laboratory used by publicly funded researchers for basic research on plant biology. After trying to displace those scientists, OTF has spent the last several months lying about the nature of their work in order to justify their actions. 

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    I was disappointed at my 8th birthday.

  • guest

    “The lunch counter is the property of its owner to do with as he wishes.  End of story.”

    Actually, no.  Otherwise, how do you explain segregated facilities, and housing, and jobs…being banned?  What’s the name of that thing?  Oh yeah, the United States Constitution.

  • WenSull

    Charles was trying in his badly written way to be sarcastic. Because people banning others from their places of business based on race is wrong. A university stopping people from planting crops on their property have every right to pull up those plants and use the property as they see fit. Not the same thing, but Charles seems to think it is.

  • NadiaBlaine

    Government agency. Right.

  • Guest

    Also, to be clear, the Gill Tract is not now, and never has been slated for commercial development. A recent agreement with the College of Natural resources ensures the fields will be used for agricultural research.

  • Bcpaulos

    How can I get them to occupy my garden?  It could use some serious weeding and winter crops.  Maybe I should threaten to develop it.  Hello, Whole Foods?

  • The Sharkey

    Well, the UC is a public University, is it not? The schools were built with public funds, and the California public spends $2.56 billion on it every year. While I disagree with OtF, part of their argument is that the UC’s land is public land, and because of this the public should be able to decide what is done with it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Civil disobedience is a means to an end, not an end in itself”  – which is why people criticizing OTF should criticize the end and should not use arguments that apply to all civil disobedience.  I was replying to wensull’s post, which says:

    “The property is UC Berkeley property to do with as they wish. End of story.”

    Surely, you realize that this argument would apply to the lunch counter sit-ins of the 1950s just as well as it applies to OTF, as I said.   When I criticize this blanket condemnation of all civil disobedience, I am obviously not implying that OTF is the moral equivalent of Rosa Parks or Gandhi.

    You are right that I am not a big fan of OTF but I am a supporter of the idea of civil disobedience. 

    It is unfortunate that most Berkeleyside commenters on the issue are so narrow in their focus that they consider this relatively small tract of land more important than the principle of civil disobedience, which has done immense good during the last century or so.  Commenters are willing to condemn the principle of civil disobedience in general, in order to have one more way to sling mud at OTF.

  • Charles_Siegel

     I don’t think they are the same thing, but I do think that your mindless statement,
    “The property is UC Berkeley property to do with as they wish. End of story.”
    would apply to the owners of the segregated lunch counters just as well as it applies to UC.

    It is a very obvious point, and I don’t see how you can deny it.

  • Charles_Siegel

    All the responses seem to miss my point of my response to AlbanyRes, which is very obvious: going into someone’s living room is an intrusion on his or her privacy and personal life, and this is not.

    It is interesting to see commenters, like AlbanyRes and Wensull, who don’t think about the issues involved and instead make confused, dogmatic comments about private property.  If they thought about the issues, they could come up with plenty of good arguments against OTF. 

  • Guest

    Please go back to my post above and address the points I raised. You seem to have ignored everything said in my post, and most of the lowercase guest’s as well. I will reiterate: your lunch counter example is specious, and you need to make it clear just what civil disobedience means to you. And I will just quote myself: “In my opinion OTF’s seizure of private property for its own uses, if defined as civil disobedience, makes a mockery of the concept.” What is your response to that?

  • Guest

    Again: a lunch counter is public accommodation, the Gill tract is UC property being used for entirely legitimate purposes by UC faculty and students. Do you understand the distinction? Your conflation of these things makes a mockery of civil disobedience, the very thing that you are trying to defend. Do you really want to do that?

  • Guest

    OTF’s action is a seizure of UC property for private purposes (OTF’s): it is natural for almost anyone to compare that to a home invasion. And I don’t think you are in a very good position to be accusing others of making confused, dogmatic comments.

  • guest2

    But of course, that doesn’t mean any random assortment of “the public” that decides to unilaterally appropriate public land, right?  Otherwise, I fear for our libraries, and our post offices, and our parks, and our beaches.  I know it’s hopelessly bourgeoisie to be concerned about the rule of law, and I know that in Berkeley pronouncing every stupid act of lab-breaking as “civil disobedience” or “free speech” is par for the course, but it this particular case, I think that the law that was broken was far from unjust, and attempting to trash legitimate research is far than simple free speech.  

  • guest2

    Sorry, Charles, but you are to ideologically committed to a single issue that I think you let it color every opinion you hold.  That’s what being an ideologue feels like.  Own it.

  • The Sharkey

    Have you ever heard of moral relativity?
    Some folks thought that ” Whites Only” lunch counters were far from unjust as well.

  • guest2

    Well I’m not a moral relativist, which is why I do not find the analogy between desegregation and the Gill tract occupation very convincing. 

  • guest2

    Actually, Charles, I think it is your focus that is too narrow.  Those of us that don’t buy the civil disobedience argument in this particular case are simply arguing that not every action taken in the name of civil disobedience is justified. I might believed, for instance, that property is theft, and then occupy your house as a way of “establishing a dialog” about the dangers of private property.  You might object.  In objecting, you would not be condemning the principle of civil disobedience, you would be objecting to an abuse of the principle.  Yes, I know, the Gill tract is “public land”.  So how about if Christian Fundamentalists occupied your local library to defend our children from blasphemy?  If we object to OTFs characterization of their occupation as a legitimate form of civil disobedience, it is not just because we are reaching for one more way to sling mud at OTF, it is because their equating their theft of public land for their (private) use with efforts to desegregate the South is offensive.  I think perhaps you have let your narrow focus on supporting a single tactic blind you to the possibility that not every illegal act in the name of the people is justified, no matter what we choose to call it.

  • guest

    Here is my one last try to explain the flaw in your argument. People who sat in at segregated lunch counters (which depended on public facilities such as roads, sidewalks, and highway to operate) were attempting to use the lunch counter for its express purpose – to provide food to its customers in exchange for money.

    OTF’s takeover of UC land is doing exactly the opposite. OTF is preventing UC from using the land for its express purpose – to serve as a teaching tool.

    Even if there were laws establishing Woolworth’s right to deny service based on race, those laws were unjust and rightly were repealed. Do you suggest that UC ought to be stopped from teaching or required to submit its curricula to popular vote and permitted to teach only those receiving majority approval?

    I didn’t think so.

  • The Sharkey

    So you think morality is absolute? That issues of justice and morality are universal? Wow.

  • Former_student

    Plus, there were actually a bunch of dedicated scientists and students who have worked on that plot of land for years. I’m guessing that they did indeed feel as if the occupation resembled a home invasion, particularly given the efforts the occupiers have made to discredit their work. Perhaps if a Marxist professors office or lecture hall had been occupied by a bunch of right wing zealots he or she would feel differently about “public” space, and whether or not it was “theirs”.

    Amazing to me that no one on this forum has bothered to criticize any of the UC professors who enthusiastically joined in the activities of OTF and who stand to gain a direct professional benefit from them. “Of course we don’t approve of the tactics that our current and former students have employed, but what a wonderful opportunity to advance my career, err, I mean social justice! What a wonderful coincidence that their interests and mind are so closely aligned!” Talk about taking academic infighting to a new level of slimy..

  • guest

    “Plus, there were actually a bunch of dedicated scientists and students who have worked on that plot of land for years.”

    Herein may lie the problem that allows people to pretend to think that what OTF is doing is perfectly OK. Those directly affected by this takeover are small in number. I suspect OTF apologists’ position would change dramatically if OTF decided to move its occupation a few yards north or east onto Buchanan and/or San Pablo Avenue, impeding traffic in the process.

    I don’t know about the professors’ participation and interest in the takeover. Where has it been accurately reported?

  • guest2

    No, Sharkey, and I know you know better. The choice is not between moral absolutism and pure relativity. Social choices always involve a combination of moral and pragmatic decisions. I think that whites only lunch counters were wrong enough to justify civil disobedience but UC putting a grocery store and and old-folks home on an empty lot is not sufficiently bad to justify civil disobedience. Now, I know, there are plenty of grey areas, and some folks thought that “whites only” was a fine idea. Some of them even thought lynching was just peachy. And of course there are lots of folks in Afghanistan that think throwing acid in girls faces is a fine idea as well, but I’m going to go out on a limb and call that a “bad” thing. Sam Harris has a nice way to think about it. Think of a universe in which all people suffer horribly. Lets call that “bad”, or even “immoral”, and conditions that move us away from that state as “good” or “moral”. I’m not saying all morality is absolute, but we still have to make moral distinctions that are hopefully based on that premise (lots of human suffering bad, less, good), and sometimes that means breaking laws. So, I think that some acts of civil disobedience are a good thing because I think some laws are wrong to the extent they do not do what laws should do, which is to protect us from each other and the state. In addition to being stupid, rules (even private rules) that are designed to systematically oppress a particular group do nothing to protect us, and they should be sometimes be opposed.

  • former_student

    Several of the organizers of the occupation were former students of professor Altieri, who joined the occupation soon after it started ( and ( He himself admitted that many of the people involved with OTF are former students of his, and said he supported OTF “as a private citizen”, whatever that means. According to people there at the time, Altieri actually urged the occupiers to refuse to leave because that was their only leverage. It should also be noted that the ideology of OTF is nearly identical to that promulgated by Altieri, and that his section of the field was carefully protected by the occupiers. Altieri was joined by his colleague, professor Claudia Carr, who was equally enthusiastically supportive of OTF, as were Professors Laura Nader and Paul Rabinow ( The net effect of the occupation, which was at least in part organized by past ESPM students (along with professional from the Ruckus Society, Gopal Dayaneni (, is that UC will now devote considerable resources to exactly the kind of research supported by both OTF and some ESPM professors ( that supported the occupation, and the work will be done under the auspices of ESPM. Hmm. What’s that latin phrase? Oh yeah, “Cui bono”. See? It’s fun to investigate!

  • The Sharkey

    I think that whites only lunch counters were wrong enough to justify
    civil disobedience but UC putting a grocery store and and old-folks home
    on an empty lot is not sufficiently bad to justify civil disobedience.

    The key phrase here is “I think.” Because not everyone thinks the same things you do.
    I agree with you that OtF is wrong-headed and overall a bad thing for Albany, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing isn’t civil disobedience just because I don’t agree with it.

  • guest2

    I don’t think we are actually disagreeing at all. Yes, it is civil disobedience. I totally agree. Me thinking it’s stupid and morally unjustified doesn’t make it not civil disobedience, it just makes it stupid and morally unjustified disobedience. Fair enough? I think where we are getting tripped up is the commonly held assumption that if it’s civil disobedience, it must be a good thing. In this case, not so much.

  • guest

    The patch and dailycal links fail. I will try to check this out on my own. Thanks for the information you provided.

  • guest2

    Sorry, guest. Disquis messed up the links. Let me try to repost with good links.

  • guest2

    Oh, I see. Hit the link and delete the parentheses at the end or the beginning and it will work.