Gill Tract Farm Essential for Post-Peak Oil Food Security

Written by Luke Thomas. Posted in Education, Energy, Environment, Land Use, Politics

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Published on May 11, 2012 with 3 Comments

Members of Occupy The Farm joined a rally held yesterday in support of maintaining the Gill Tract in the City of Albany as a community farm. Photos by Luke Thomas.

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.”

UC Berkeley student Evelyn Hammid held a sign that read, "Lettuce farm. Don't beet us down."

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.”

More Photos

Bay Area residents and activists held signs outside the entrance to the Gill Tract in Albany yesterday to protest actions by UC Berkeley against the community farm.

OccupyTheFarm farmers thanked the rally participants for their support, many of whom brought food, water and other essentials to help sustain the farm.

A rally participant prepared signage for the protest.

OccupyTheFarm protesters marched around the Gill Tract following a 5pm rally.

A banner draped on the fence surrounding the Gill Tract read, "Farmland is for community. Farmland is for farming."

UC Berkeley installed several campus police officers to block access to the farm.

Members of OccupyTheFarm work the fields as the sun sets on the Gill Tract.

"Free the land."

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas

Luke Thomas is a former software developer and computer consultant who proudly hails from London, England. In 2001, Thomas took a yearlong sabbatical to travel and develop a photographic portfolio. Upon his return to the US, Thomas studied photojournalism to pursue a career in journalism. In 2004, Thomas worked for several neighborhood newspapers in San Francisco before accepting a partnership agreement with the SanFranciscoSentinel.com, a news website formerly covering local, state and national politics. In September 2006, Thomas launched FogCityJournal.com. The BBC, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox News, New York Times, Der Spiegel, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine, 7×7, San Francisco Examiner, San Francisco Bay Guardian and the San Francisco Weekly, among other publications and news outlets, have published his work. Thomas is a member of the Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, TNG-CWA Local 39521 and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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  • Luke,

        Great shots as always.    There’s something so Steinback about photos of cops with guns and chains and padlocks keeping farmers away from farmland.     Financial baron Jay Gould laughed at people who wrote about the nobility of the poor and said, “I can hire half of the poor to kill the other half tomorrow and repeat the process until I get the mix I desire.”.

    The cops in the photo represent the people with guns that people like Gould hire.    There’s a general practice of not hiring candidates for law enforcement who have an IQ of over 100.    So, they’re not very smart and they’re heavily armed and in the end  …  they will kill you.

    That said, Go Giants!

    h. 

  • Hourseguest

    This topic of energy and different sorts of food and food production methods was coverred in a recent Gill Tract Occupy op-ed by a professor at Cal.  http://www.dailycal.org/2012/05/02/gill-tract-occupiers-sustainability-ideas-are-wrong-headed/   When energy is scarce,and eating sustainably is required, almost every food practice advanced by the Occupy the Farm protestors is symbolic only. You overall take on Occupy the Farm is incorrect.   Urban farming has, in my opinion, some important contributions to make, but feeding people is not one of them.  The displaced researchers are,  while far away from feeding people, closer than these activists, and are just trying to do their jobs. 

    Your trendy essay has nice pictures, but is otherwise uninformed.  Cops carry guns;  please go bend the truth around something you know about next time. 

  • Getsmart

    Your headline is misleading.  Letting a few urban squatters grow free vegetables will do nothing for food security.  On the other hand, letting UC researchers back on to THEIR land to do plant research may have a profound effect on food security.  UC obviously has their priorities straight, too bad you don’t.