By Luke Thomas
May 11, 2012
Without food, we cannot survive and without local farms to grow and supply food in a post-peak oil world, the costs associated with traditional long-distance, oil-reliant food production will continue to soar and become unsustainable.
At the heart of the dispute over the Gill Tract, a 10-acre plot of Class-1 agricultural soil in Albany owned by UC Berkeley and currently being occupied by as many as two-dozen farmers, is a grassroots movement to ensure local food sovereignty, sustainability and security.
Since its occupation on Earth Day (April 22), the Gill Tract farmers have tilled the soil, planted seedlings and are growing fruits, vegetables and nuts. The farmers have also installed a beehive, a chicken coop, a spiral herb garden and a permaculture garden.
The land was previously being used, UC Berkeley maintains, for agricultural research but has been actively parceling off sections of the surrounding land for development and has prevented its own researchers from using the land. The occupying farmers fear UC Berkeley, facing budget cuts, intends to sell the entire tract for uses other than agricultural research or food production.
Negotiations with UC Berkeley over possible shared use of the land has resulted in UC Berkeley filing a lawsuit against the farmers, turning off the hydration system and installing campus police officers to prevent access to the farm. In response, OccupyTheFarm organized a protest rally yesterday afternoon drawing as many as 150 residents and supporters waving signs and holding banners as passers by honked horns in support of the farm. The farmers remain camped on the tract and refuse to leave.
“It’s time for UC Berkeley to be on the right side of history and to get on the side of the people and healthy sustainable food for the people and not always line up on the side of greed and development and money,” said Ayr, an OccupyTheFarm farmer and spokesperson. “Obviously the more self-sufficient we are the better of we’re going to be long term. It doesn’t take a science expert or a Tea Party radical to figure out that the systems we have in place are not going to be forever and the more that we’re self-sufficient the better.”
“I think it’s very important that we democratize food production,” added UC Berkeley student Evelyn Hammid, 21. “Right now our food system is in the hands of a very small number of large corporations and we’re not growing enough diversity of crops in the US – and it’s really important that everyone learns how to farm. We need healthier, locally produced food because as oil prices continue to rise the cost of producing and transporting food grown 1500 miles away will become unaffordable and unsustainable.”
Today, UC Berkeley issued a statement signed by Executive Vice Chancellor George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor John Wilton stating a planning meeting with City of Albany officials, UC Berkeley faculty members and students, has been set for Saturday to “tackle the details of how the Gill Tract will be shared by our researchers and urban agriculture, and how the effort will be supported, coordinated and sustained under the university’s supervision.”
Two seats have been reserved for members of OccupyTheFarm on condition the farmers by 10am tomorrow, “pack up the encampment, leave our property and join a discussion that will advance one of their key goals.”