Food Authors, Writers and Academics Urge UC Berkeley to “Embrace the Gill Tract Farm, Not Police it”

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Environment, Land Use

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Published on May 15, 2012 with 36 Comments

May 15, 2012

Editor’s Note: The Gill Tract, a 10-acre plot of Class-1 agricultural land located in the City of Albany and owned by UC Berkeley, was occupied by dozens of food security activists on Earth Day (April 22) who immediately went to work to transform the uncultivated plot into an organic food-producing urban farm. After negotiations between Occupy The Farm and UC Berkeley over the shared use of the land failed, UC Berkeley filed charges against several occupying farmers and authorized the removal by force of all the activists in a pre-dawn raid on Monday.

More than 30 of America’s leading food writers and activists – including luminaries Bill McKibben and Frances Moore Lappé – today released the following statement in support of Occupy the Farm at the Gill Tract in Albany, California.

As dedicated food writers, authors, activists, and academics, we wish to convey our strong dismay with UC Berkeley’s actions to oust Occupy the Farm at the Gill Tract–and we urge the administration to embrace the community farm that has been created there instead of policing it.

This is public land being stewarded by a land-grant institution. We urge the administration and campus police to drop all charges against the farmers and protesters, and to engage in good-faith negotiations to ensure that the Gill Tract is reserved for community-based agricultural use to be governed as a form of commons in conjunction with the farmers and local community.

The Gill Tract farmers are rooted in the Albany community, and supported by hard-working volunteers. Their vision of using the space to teach children agro-ecology, feed those in need in the community and train future farmers in organic farming is an admirable use of the land and can be realized without affecting the UC negatively. In fact, UC should welcome this stewardship as an instance of community-based education and sustainable land use.

Christopher Cook, Author of Diet for a Dead Planet

Bill McKibben, Author of Eaarth

Frances Moore Lappé, Author of Diet for a Small Planet

Raj Patel, Author of Stuffed and Starved

Miguel Altieri, Professor of Agroecology, UC Berkeley

Y. Armando Nieto, Executive Director, California Food and Justice Coalition

Anna Lappé, Author of Diet for a Hot Planet

Michele Simon, President of Eat Drink Politics, Author of Appetite for Profit

David Bacon, Author of Illegal People

Organic Consumers Association

Eric Holt-Gimenez, Executive Director of Food First, Author of Food Rebellions, Crisis and the Hunger for Justice

Gail Wadsworth, Executive Director of California Institute for Rural Studies

Dave Murphy, Founder / Executive Director, Food Democracy Now!

Pesticide Watch Education Fund

Mark Winne, Author of Closing the Food Gap

Jim & Megan Gerritsen, Owners, Wood Prairie Farm, Bridgewater, Maine

Tom Philpott, Mother Jones writer and Maverick Farms co-founder

Jan Poppendieck, Author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America

Jason Mark, Co-manager, Alemany Farm and co-author of Building the Green Economy

The Cornucopia Institute, Cornucopia, Wisconsin

Lisa Stokke, Associate Director, Food Democracy Now!

Peter Rosset, Researcher, Center for the Study of Rural Change in Mexico (CECCAM)

Chef Jenny Huston, Founder & Executive Chef at Farm to Table Food Services

Ashley Schaeffer, Rainforest Action Network

Marilyn Borchardt, Food First, Oakland, CA

Judy Wicks, Founder, White Dog Cafe, Philadelphia

Jeff Conant, Author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health

Global Justice Ecology Project, Vermont

Melinda Hemmelgarn, Freelance writer and Food Sleuth Radio host

Tanya Kerssen, Writer and activist

Erin Middleton, California Food and Justice Coalition

Deetje Boler, Every Voice producer


Comments for Food Authors, Writers and Academics Urge UC Berkeley to “Embrace the Gill Tract Farm, Not Police it” are now closed.

  1. You wrote…”The Gill Tract, a 10-acre plot of Class-1 agricultural land located in the City of Albany and owned by UC Berkeley”. I think the idea of the use of the tract for a communal organic farm is a great idea.  But, as you wrote, UC Berkeley owns it.  It should never have been occupied without permission.  I am anti food police..but in this instance, your outrage is outrages! 

  2. whoever wrote this junk, can I sit in your house and occupy it for about two weeks, eat all your food, use shower, watch your TV and argue with you when I don’t want you there?

  3. It’s too bad that so many people have pledged their support of an issue they don’t understand. There are key factual errors in the article as well as the comments below. 

  4. Yes, Monsanto’s Roundup has been used, we in the community know we have been deceived by the University’s lone researcher as he and a few others interject themselves to whip up hatred in the community. It’s not Damon Lisch’s land, he is just a tool of the powers behind the throne, a distraction and red herring. As soon as UC gets the commercial variance it wants, he’ll be out of there.
     It’s going to be a long hot summer folks, and many of us in Albany appreciate the world-class thinkers and food activists who’ve signed this message of support.

    • “we in the community know we have been deceived by the University’s lone researcher”Blatant lie.  Even the occupy folks state that multiple researchers work is being done at Gill; they go so far as to link there contact information quite often (in what is likely an invitation for vitriol).
      Please think before you speak (or hit the send button)

      • Damon Lisch is the University’s lone (genetic) researcher.  Frank Harmon and Sarah Hake are both employed by the USDA.  She is technically right in asserting that Damon Lisch is the sole UC researcher whipping up hatred in the Albany community.  

        •  Chico,
          You are very wrong, Frank Harmon and Sarah Hake are adjunct professors of Plant Biology at UC Berkeley (  In addition, other UC facultywho are not adjunct such as Mike Freeling, Zac Cande and Steve Lindow also use Gill tract. 

          Fact checking is a good thing….

    •  I appreciate world-class thinkers. Who will manage the farm? Who will fund it? Who will work it? It will be 3 years before it will be organic, right? The acreage will feed about 0.5% of Albany’s population – how to choose who gets it? Of course it doesn’t just have to be for the town of Albany. We actually have lots of vegetable garden infrastructure and a lot of privileged people (absolutely some not privileged, but most are).  What is Class 1 soil? That may be the one thing I can learn. Thank you for answering the last question – I really feel like I don’t understand that and maybe that will help me come around.

  5. While I am a strong supporter of urban agriculture and community gardening, I feel that the logic of Occupy is extremely flawed in this instance and suspect that many of the above signatories are rather poorly educated about the situation at the Gill Tract.  

    First of all, Albany is an upper middle class town with a wide selection of stores from which to purchase organic produce, what is generally regarded as the best public education system in the bay area and an active home gardening community…it is far from a food desert.  The vast majority of the UC property in Albany has been used as housing for students with families, primarily foreign grad students with many children.  It is the only low income area in Albany and one of the few places in the bay area that someone living off a grad student stipend could hope to raise kids in a safe, pleasant neighborhood.  As such, it is a source of some concern for the citizens of Albany, many of whom view the students living there as scum who are using social services that wealthy residents have to contribute tax money to.  Students living in the housing projects there are generally not associated with Occupy.  It is therefore extremely unclear as to what ‘community’ food grown on an Occupy farm is intended for.  

    This farm occupation action also clashes with the overall Occupy movement’s opposition to gentrification…why is there opposition to a high-density senior citizen housing project (along with an easily accesible grocery store) on urban infill in an affluent town?  There are about to be a whole lot of seniors in our country, many of whom are living off social security and tiny amounts of savings…is Occupy’s suggestion that they should be packed off to real food deserts such as Antioch and far East Oakland?

    The UC has not expressed any intention of building on the Gill Tract.  All the development which is being planned is for an empty, completely unsused lot to the east of there.  The UC’s current plan is to keep the Gill Tract functioning as an agricultural research station.  It is currently primarily used for biofuels crop research, but as with most farms it is left fallow during part of the year, hence the weeds the Occupiers have spoken of.  The current plan is that if this site should no longer be needed for agricultural research, it will be converted to public open space consistent with the local community’s needs, which may include community gardens but also could include features such as a playground (gasp!) if that is deemed a greater need in the community.It is also worth noting that the primary supporters of Occupy in the UC are faculty whose research is compatible with Occupy’s use of the farm who stand to benefit professionally from Occupy’s use of the Gill Tract.  

  6. Yes this land was “occupied” under false pretenses: originally taken over by activists to protest a Whole Foods they mistakenly thought was being developed there (it is planned to be developed about 500 yards away from the site). They also claimed the land was fallow; it was not fallow but being wintered over to give the soil a rest before spring planting. Their message was later changed and they were protesting GMO research and industrialized farming, neither of which take place there.
    It would be more accurate to say that *some* of the farmers are rooted in the community here. Many, many people are also upset and bothered by what they see as a highjacking of the due process that democracy affords. It’s caused a lot of stress and concern in this community and the question we must ask ourselves is was it really worth it? Was it? Kids afraid to go to school because the field across the street is surrounded by riot cops who are being verbally accosted and cajoled? Parents afraid of sending their kids to school because they’re afraid of tear gas wafting across the street? People threatening to send black bloc anarchists as a response to the eviction? A cynic might say that occupying a piece of land across from an elementary school is a brilliant piece of strategy. Would UC be stupid enough to incite a riot? Thankfully it didn’t happen.The activists were asked several times to leave peacefully and they could have a place at the negotiation table to discuss plans for a farm there. Every single time UC’s efforts were rebuffed. Last week UC asked them to leave completely by Saturday 5/12 at 10am saying if they did 2 activists could sit at the table with people from the surrounding community to discuss the future of the farm. They responded with a list of demands and basically saying they would never completely leave.The irony of this all is that this took place in a town where a lot of people have been very supportive of the occupy movement in general, both in word and act. A lot of that goodwill is gone now, replaced by skepticism and mistrust.

    •  “Riot cops being verbally accosted and cajoled”– The commenter surely did not note the irony of this description.  Armor-clad police, with paramilitary-type gear, three-foot-long batons, pepper projectile guns, ‘non-lethal- rounds…Poor fellows were being verbally accosted!  CBS raw footage (sadly not used in their broadcast piece) shows the police *physically* accosting people (a rather enormous difference), throwing them to the ground, using so much force against one young lady as she was pulled by her wrists that she was literally thrown through the air.  If parents are afraid of tear gas wafting down the street (the stuff is quite toxic and should be illegal, period) then it is in their interest to talk to the UC administrators who ordered the police action against unarmed, peaceful people, *watering plants*.  Seriously.

      • If the police were allowed to use modulated physical force, like “takedowns”,  armlocks, chokes and “pressure points,”  the protesters would be a lot more likely to just shut-up and get arrested, and threat of such as rubber bullets, tasers and pepper spray would be about as unnecessary as lethal force.  Properly executed judo/jujitsu-type moves mentioned above would be effective, are not lethal, and look good on video.  Activist protests are a game for publicity, and getting arrested should be  special, where activists get publicity and the law gets to show-off as well.  The game will soon be on YouTube.  Please lobby your local governments to reinstate some carefully chosen  judo/jujitsu  techniques  into the “best practices” for our local police officers.  Our officers have a difficult job, and should get more opportunities to “win” in their jobs.  Thank you. 

      • Sorry about your lack of evidence in regard to your claims.  Knowing how Occupiers tend to bend the truth to make themselves appear as benevolent angels and law enforcement as evil incarnate, I have a hard time taking your testimony of police brutality as fact.  This raw footage, on the other hand, clearly shows these Occupy the Farm folks as a bunch of insult-throwing asshats while the police are professional and well-mannered in comparison.

    • It was clear to everyone involved since day one that the Whole Foods lot is south of the active agriculture land.  That message got muddled in the beginning by the media, but it was quickly sorted out.  The land was fallow, as it is every winter.  The field lays fallow every winter because corn research only happens in summer.  The message never evolved into an anti-GMO message.  We wanted to work with the corn genetics researchers from the very beginning, and we never claimed they were using GMOs.  Personally, we were concerned about their funding, their intentions, and the application of their research, but since the point was to save the land from development, those concerns were kept somewhat private.  The rest of your comments are misinformed.  No one threatened to send “black bloc” anarchists.  The activists did not even respond to the UC’s meeting request.  Although the activists did disband the camp that morning, the UC never even told them where to meet for the meeting.  No press release, demands, or response was put out.  That is plain-wrong. 

      •  Chica seems to have missed the memo that you aren’t supposed to spout lies about GMOs being planted. Stop contradicting each other, it doesn’t speak highly about your organizational skills.

  7. The comments of the person below are so totally wrong – this land was lying empty and UC was planning to sell it – one of the possible purchasers of this land was whole foods – there is no need whatsoever for another whole foods on this land, nor any sort of housing development on the last 1o acres of farm land in the area.
    The occupants are mostly persons who have knowledge of agriculture and premaculture – and they have spent their time – planting row upon row of crops.  they brought in chickens – and  they have been very loving a respectful to this land and its surroundings.
    The neighbors have been rightly concerned – partly because of the negative and untrue press brought like the comments preceding mine – as well as concern about the heavy handed nature of the police in dealing with Occupy protestors – there were parents who were rightly concerned due to the fact that there is a school near by.
    The answer to these parental concerns is for us all to contact the Albany and UC police and ask them not to man handle and abuse people, who are exercising their right to protest.  There is no law saying that you have to like or agree with their protest – but their right to do so IS protected by our constitution – though many have forgotten this fact.

    • Incorrect: the land was not lying empty, it was wintering over. Also incorrect: the land is not being sold or developed. The land slated for development is over 500 yards to the south. And yes, we do have a right to protest, but many of those same parents consider this less a protest and more of a trespass.

    •  incorrect: The land that was occupied was not empty and has been a UC research station for decades. The site of the purposed rezoning (not a sale off, things must be rezoned first if you participated in the community discussions you would know this) is not where the occupation occured.
      Additionally, Altieri adding his name to this list corrupts it in my mind; these were his students who planned and did this and he has been one of the major proponents of the false propaganda being spread.

    • Occupiers can protest all they like – breaking locks and trespassing is a different matter.  Spreading garbage and destroying wildlife is a different matter.  Keeping scientists and students from their work is a different matter.  Ignoring the democratic process is a different matter.  These are just some of the reasons why the Occupiers do not have the support of the community.

    •  To Samsarah and all like minded Occupy supporters,
      It bears learning these FACTS:
      1.  Gill tract is not slated to be developed into a Whole Foods market.  The proposed Whole Foods development is a block away near the corner of Jackson and Monroe.  Gill tract is on the corner of Marin and San Pablo.2.  The occupiers do not know how to farm.  They didn’t turn the soil over deep enough so the weeds stayed on top of the soil and are taking over.  The scientists who work Gill tract usually turn the soil over 1 foot deep.  The Occutards only went 2-3 inches deep.  No good crops will grow on soil turned over 2-3 inches deep.

      3.  The occupiers have severely damaged the land.  They have been documented to have formed a huge garbage pile full of human excrement, spread waste, destroyed pear trees that were part of a research project, and killed or chased out wildlife such a band of wild turkeys.They are not protestors, they are vandals.  We in the Albany community are glad the cops chased them out!

  8. Alot of misinformation is being disseminated here.  First, Gill tract was purchased without restriction by U.C. Berkeley for 400K in the 1920s.  I’m not sure why you think the land is available to the public because a public entity bought it.  Secondly, Gill tract is already a working farm, and has been since the 40’s.  Currently, UC researchers use it for agricultural research on subjects such as biofuels and fruit diseases.  UC has decided that this land is far more valuable for research and teaching rather than a free place to grow your own vegetables which is essentially what Miguel Altieri does.  Finally, you are wrong that the Gill Tract Occupiers have the support of the community.  Most of the community wants them out of there, as they have no respect for property rights and are severely damaging the land by spreading garbage, killing wildlife, and destroying long term research projects.  In addition, most of the Occupiers do not even live in Albany, including you, so you have no right to determine what happens to the land.  There are literally hundreds of plots of land available all across the East Bay to do urban farming.  If you and the rest of the folks listed in your statement are serious about farming, then do the work to get these plots ready for farming rather than take over a privately owned working farm.

    •  I’ve lived in Albany for a dozen years, and I support the farmers.  I think your assessment of the community’s attitude is presumptuous, at best.

      •  Thank you, I also live in Albany, support the Farm, and resent all of the right-wing nut jobs who are being cast as the voice of Albany by UC. Most people here prefer their children’s school be situated next to a wholesome urban farm than a GMO corn research plot that uses Monsanto chemicals.

        • I live in Albany. 3rd generation to live here. I do not support the folks trespassing on at research property. Chica – most folks I talk with and comments on Albany Patch do not support your assertion that most of Albany support the occupation. This property was not inactive. It was not for sale. It was not the location planned for a whole foods.

          This occupy action by a minority is subverting an otherwise healthy democratic process in Albany.

          • Internet comments are not a reliable way to gauge public opinion. People are more likely to say that they are upset about something than that they support something. Furthermore, Albany residents who supported the farm were not sitting at home yelling on Albany patch, they got off their asses and walked to the farm in their community to participate. I met a bunch of them. While those covering the farm for Albany Patch have done a brilliant job, most of the anti-farm commentary is extremely NIMBYist and focuses on the disobedient part of civil disobedience. Occupy the Farm’s actions were guided by intricate maps and plans the community and UC have been working on for over ten years, but which UC has never been willing to move forward with. Organizers included people who worked the Gill Tract for years and know the requirements and paramaters of the research going on there. Professor Altieri even said that he could possibly engage in multiple research projects on his plot with so many volunteers available. I’m not sure why someone would say that he just ‘grows his own food’, he is one of the researchers and provides the result of his research to Food not Bombs, though some others provide the result of their research to Monsanto and/or Novartis.

            • “though some others provide the result of their research to Monsanto and/or Novartis.”This is a blatant lie.  Unless you considered free and open access to the entire public as providing the result directly to a company…

            • If they were guided by maps the community and UC have been put together, why did they mistakenly set up camp on the experimental farm instead of on the land that was going to be turned into a Whole Foods?

              • I wish we would have done a better idea at articulating this message, or yall would have done a better job at listening.  We knew where the Whole Foods was going.  That wasn’t a mistake. 

                • All the mass email and postings I received from Occupy supporters explicitly (and erroneously) stated that a Whole Foods was going to be built on the Gill Tract and (also erroneously) that the research which the UC conducts there is entirely funded by Monsanto.  If the Occupy leadership (yes I know there is officially no leadership) had a different message in this, it was drowned out by (perhaps misinformed) Occupy supporters and created a great deal of head scratching among their acquaintances who were familiar with the UC property in Albany. 

                  The Sharkey and previous Guest: I believe the ‘ten years’ of intricate plans that the above poster was referring to was in reference to a proposal that professor Altieri and some of his colleagues made for ten years ago for a community-garden style urban agriculture research center to be sited on the Gill Tract.  Like most proposed research centers, this one failed to secure any funding and so was never established.

            • I like the “intricate maps” description. I think they had the wrong intricate map though. The City of Albany published map of the development almost a year ago, here it is: Funny that you would call people who disagree with this takeover NIMBYs. The real NIMBYs are the people who don’t want a Whole Foods built.

            • Justizin. Are you saying that professor Altieri actually knew about the occupation during the planning stages? Just how involved was Altieri? What did he know, and when did he know it? Please share!

          • Worth noting: most folks I talk to in Albany think that the Albany Patch is unfortunately a space for a minority of conservative trolls to steal the debate.  Most folks I talk with in Albany have their concerns but are willing to dialogue, debate, and take a critical look at the “healthy democratic process” in Albany.  The people who were fed-up with the failure of the democratic process enough to break the law definitely didn’t see the process as fair and democratic. 

        • Chica. The research plot does not and will not grow GMO corn. Last year, the researchers pulled weeds themselves instead of using other pest eradication. The research is funded by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) and the NSF (National Science Foundation). I fancy myself a left wing nut job but have not been sent here by UC but by my conscience as I see a dear Albany neighbor struggle with the reality that he may lose his livelihood (basic research on maize which can benefit many things, not just corn) and whose hard work is being threatened again. He will plant now, but the threats that his hard work will be cut down have already been made. 

        • Also, we are not so far apart. I totally agree with you that a wholesome urban farm next to a school is a great idea. I volunteer at Marin school as a “garden mom” as each classroom has organic plots for their science curricula. Ocean View also has gardens growing vegetables and UC Village has a large -almost as large as the Tract- community gardens area just to the west. I don’t know much about it except that there may be a waiting list – there is a lot growing there. I’m not saying this is the only answer, but using it as an example of how people are agreeing with you in their own way but can still disagree with this particular action. 

        •  To Chica and all like minded Occupy supporters,
          It bears learning these FACTS:
          1.  No GMO corn is grown at Gill tract
          2.  No chemicals/pesticides are sprayed at Gill tract.  They may have been used a decade ago, but no longer.
          3.  Gill tract is not fallow soil, it is a functioning farm and has served as such for over 70 years.
          4. Gill tract scientists are not funded by Monsanto!  They are funded by the NSF and the DOE to do things such as biofuel research.
          5. Gill tract is not slated to be developed into a Whole Foods market.

          Most of the Occupy folk chose to be willfully ignorant and ignored these facts, thus explaining why they are marginalized by the rest of the Albany community.

        • You are really starting to sound like an total moron. Do you think for yourself or just blindly believe anything you hear? How many times do you have to hear no GMO’s and no chemicals for it sink in. Do you just refuse to accept that ideas other than yours could have a positive impact in the world and therefore everything should be continually vilified until only your views remain… you are starting to sound and behave like the “conservative trolls” you admonish.