Occupy the Farm offers Saturday tour

Occupy the Farm [previously], the takeover of UC Berkeley’s Gill Tract in nearby Albany, continues, with the activists scheduling a Friday open house at the site, which is slated for development as a Whole Foods store and a senior housing project.

We’re bring you both the announcement from the Occupy activists and the latest response from the university, issued after a meeting with Occupy participants.

First, from Occupy The Farm:

Join the Occupy the Farm Fact vs. Fiction Tour

Created on 26 April 2012

Take Back the Tract Invites the Public “Back to the Land”

The Gill Tract, Albany, CA — In response to the establishment of the Farm at the Gill Tract, UC Berkeley Public Relations has issued false statements regarding practices at the farm. Occupy the Farm would like to clarify some misconceptions and invite members of the broader East Bay community and members of the Press to participate in a tour of the fledgling Farm.

The tour will take place at 4pm on Saturday, April 28th.

“The whole idea here is that this is an open, participatory, community-based farm. We invite all comers to see what we’re doing. Better yet, we invite you to join us,” said Stefanie Rawlings.

Established on the last, best agriculture land in the urbanized East Bay, known as the Gill Tract, the Farm is committed to the practice and promotion of sustainable urban agriculture for local communities who face increasing economic and environmental pressures. The University, which administers the Gill Tract –originally 104 acres of agricultural land — has parceled off and sold all but 20 acres, of which half is currently slated for development.

Among the false statements made by UC Public Relations is the suggestion that raw human waste is in contact with soil.

“We’re farmers. We know better than to crap on our crops,” said David Grefrath, one of many cultivating the land.

Occupy the Farm has a closed composting toilet system in which there is no contact between human waste and soil. They also have portable toilets and, thanks to neighborhood support, access to real bathrooms. Additionally, there is a comprehensive system for recycling, compost, trash, and dishwashing.

“The real health and safety issue is that they cut off the water supply,” said Grefrath.

On Monday, April 23rd at approximately 1:30 pm, UC Berkeley cut off the water supply to the Gill Tract, affecting not only the field under cultivation, but also a tree nursery administered by the City of Albany on the south side of Village Creek. The nursery is a repository for trees destined for Albany’s city streets. Tony Wolcott, a nursery manager for the City of Albany, says, “We depend on the water to keep these trees alive.” Wolcott was on site to transport several of the trees to a community garden project in Richmond, CA.

The operation of the fire hydrant on site has apparently been limited as well. A visiting UC operations staff person who wished to remain anonymous declared, “Normally the pressure gauge on the hydrant has a reading on it. Right now we’re at zero. That’s not normal.” A fireman with the Albany Fire Department confirmed that water-flow to the hyrdrant was indeed disabled.

Occupy the Farm is calling for community members to call UC Berkeley Chancellor Birgenau’s office at 510-642-7464 to respectfully demand the restoration of the water supply.

“Lying to the public and shutting off the water to our crops are tactics to get us off the land,” said Anya Kamenskaya. “But we’re resourceful, we’re peaceful, we’re farmers, and with the community’s support, us and our crops are here to stay.”


Gopal Dayaneni: 510-847-3592

Anya Kamenskaya: 415-812-4793

Lesley Haddock: 707-293-3253

Email:  GillTractFarm@riseup.net

Twitter: @OccupyFarm

Facebook Page: Occupy the Farm
Website: www.occupythefarm.org

The latest from UC Berkeley

Here’s UC Berkeley’s latest position statement:

University officials visit Gill Tract to speak with protesters

By Public Affairs, UC Berkeley | April 25, 2012

J. Keith Gilless, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, spent more than an hour Tuesday in dialogue with protesters who are illegally trespassing on the Gill Tract in Albany. He provided facts and information concerning the site and its research uses.

UC Berkeley at this time is calling on Occupy the Farm to peacefully and safely end the encampment and vacate the property immediately. Its position on the issue is detailed below:

UC response to Gill Tract illegal occupation

The Gill Tract has been a living classroom for UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources (CNR) for more than 50 years. The Gill Tract provides a small but significant agricultural research land in a dense urban area.

CNR’s well-respected research activities on the site encompass basic plant biology, alternative cropping systems, plant-insect interactions and tree pests and pathogens.

Each year’s planting typically occurs after the last rains. During the winter (dormant) months, the land is rejuvenated with appropriate plant cover. CNR faculty and students have been gearing up for planting in the coming weeks.

The Gill Tract is bordered by a two major thoroughfares – San Pablo Avenue, which is also a state highway, and Buchanan Street, which is a main exit off of both I-880 and 580. UC Berkeley students and faculty can easily access the Gill Tract by bike, public transit or car.

The Gill Tract sits at the northeast quadrant of UC Berkeley’s property, adjacent to University Village, UC Berkeley’s graduate student housing. A total of 976 graduate students and their families reside in the Village, and are part of the Albany community. Many people may remember the former Village housing — reused military barracks. Upon completing the new Village housing, the barracks were demolished. The proposed Whole Foods market and senior housing will replace the aging housing adjacent on both sides of Monroe Street. Neither would be sited on the agricultural portion of the Gill Tract.

Current status of Gill Tract with Occupy the Farm

Related AlbanyPatch April 25 blog post

A group of people illegally “occupied” the Gill Tract on April 22, terming the action “Occupy the Farm.” After breaking the locks, they embarked on a large-scale clearing of the land and planting of vegetable plots. These new plots are taking the place of what was intended to be CNR educational, agricultural study for faculty and students who have been eagerly preparing and awaiting the right time to start their Gill Tract research. From the University perspective, the actions of Occupy the Farm are the equivalent to taking valuable, needed classrooms or laboratories away from students and faculty.

The faculty and students at Berkeley are leaders in advocating for sustainable practices and food systems, and have been doing so for decades. Many of us are passionate advocates of efforts to develop a new metropolitan agriculture paradigm focused on improved nutrition and safe, cost effective, collaborative approaches to food security and access. We are committed to metropolitan agriculture projects that are well planned, sustainable and considerate of all members of our community.

University of California’s responsibility as stewards of public land

The Gill Tract is not land that is conducive or safe for people to live on. There are no longer any lodging facilities, bathrooms or kitchens available at the site. UC Berkeley takes seriously the health and safety of faculty, students and visitors to any campus facility. We cannot condone or permit the unlawful camping on the Gill Tract.

We are committed to, and potentially legally liable for, the personal safety of anyone who is on our land. Metropolitan agriculture is a wonderful educational opportunity for children, but volunteers, children and farming equipment require careful management. UC, in cooperation with dedicated and trained volunteers, already administers California’s 4-H program. We have a good track record of running such programs effectively and safely.

We are concerned about how Occupy the Farm is addressing sanitation. Hand washing and safe food handling and preparation are important and treatment of human waste is critical. UC Berkeley does not support composting human waste, due to the possibility of the transmission of disease, especially on agricultural land.

The water system at the Gill Tract is designed for agriculture, not camping or habitation. The University turned off the irrigation during the unlawful occupation. This action did not impact the fire hydrants surrounding the Gill Tract serving the local community.

It is our responsibility to UC Berkeley students and faculty in CNR to ensure the Gill Tract can be prepared for their education and research purposes. Representatives of the University are willing to meet with any interested community members to discuss metropolitan, sustainable agriculture, but we must ensure that UC Berkeley research can resume safely at the Gill Tract.

At this point, Occupy the Farm is preventing UC Berkeley from meeting the needs of our students and faculty.

UC Berkeley calls on Occupy the Farm to:

  • Vacate the Gill Tract safely, peacefully and immediately.
  • Remove all encampment and farming supplies.
  • Organize a committee to meet with UC Berkeley representatives to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with UC Berkeley.

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