Farmland is for farming!
UC Police Assert Private Control Over Gill Tract
Farmers Respond: Farmland is for Farming
This morning, over 100 police officers armed with projectiles, batons, and pepper-ball guns descended on the Gill Tract Farm to attempt to force an end to efforts to reclaim the Gill Tract for community use.
The land, which is owned by UC Berkeley's Capital Projects Development arm, was reclaimed by Occupy the Farm on April 22 and has been used for community-friendly farming education for the three weeks since. Today, using all the power at its disposal, the University of California has reasserted its control over the land.
"This land has been fought over for decades," said Anya Kamenskaya, a spokesperson for the Gill Tract Farmers Collective. "UC needs to let go of control and supervision of this land. For decades, it has fenced off this land from use by the community. Today's show of force is merely another in a long history of the UC's rejection of community access to this prized piece of farmland."
Using a mixed force made up of eight UC campus police forces, along with Alameda County Sheriff's Department, police blocked traffic, barricaded the Gill Tract, and arrested nine people. Two of the arrestees had entered the farm after the raid began, to water plants. Seven additional people were arrested while watching the police operation from San Pablo Avenue.
UC representative Dan Mogulof incorrectly told media that ten people were sleeping on the land at the time of the raid. However, the Gill Tract Farmers Collective ended its encampment on the morning of Saturday May 12th by moving all camp infrastructure outside of the Tract. No one was camped on the land when the police force surrounded and enclosed it. Consistent with agreements made with faculty and adjunct research scientists over the past three weeks, every effort was made by the Gill Tract Farmers Collective to make room for the need to plant their research crops.
The Gill Tract Farmers Collective has called for a reconvergence at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., at 5 PM tomorrow, Tuesday May 15th.
Farmland is for Farming!
What is interesting to me is the combination of multiple police forces: It took 8. That means that Occupy the Farm is only a single order of magnitude away from becoming a completely parallel structure (if the correlation of armed forces* is the only criterion, which it probably isn't).
NOTE * With wuming, I am in favor of -- metaphorical only -- letting the monopoly of violence rot, rather than emulating it.
UPDATE Might not be so simple:
Lesley Haddock, an organizer of the protest, said the group wanted to cultivate crops, not camp on the property.
The protesters tilled 2 acres on a site used by the College of Natural Resources for research. They planted vegetables, set up a drip system and pitched tents.
Last week, the UC Board of Regents filed a lawsuit against 14 protesters, claiming they and others had conspired to cut through chains that secured gates and trespass onto the Gill Tract.
The suit says a 24-hour-a-day encampment is not consistent with agricultural experiments, and that the demonstrators are delaying an annual corn planting.
"It's impossible to do good science when you have a few dozen untrained, unsupervised and uninvited guests roaming around an open-air lab," Mogulof said.
UPDATE Speaking of agricultural research:
Professor Miguel Altieri, faculty at the College of Natural Resources which managed the site before it was transferred to the University’s Capital Projects Development arm, showed up at the site at 6:45, accompanied by several students and armed with several flats of tomatoes. At a public forum the night before, Altieri, who teaches agro-ecology and has been conducting research on the Gill Tract for many years, announced that he would go ahead and begin his research with dry-farmed tomatoes the next day. He also let the Dean of the College, J. Keith Gilles, know of his intentions to carry on his research,
“I have no conflict with these people,” Altieri told the Dean earlier in the week. “I don’t see any reason why research on the land and the occupiers can’t coexist.”
When I caught up with Professor Altieri shortly after the police raid, he said his plan had been to come to the tract with his students, and work together with the community members if they wanted to join. “After all, extension is part of our job,” Altieri said. “We’re supposed to work with the community.”
But when Altieri showed up at the tract this morning, a dozen police officers had blocked the gates, and prevented him from entering the land.
When Altieri was barred from entering the site, he appealed to the occupiers inside the fence: he described how to plant the dry-farmed tomato crop, and gave them several dozen plants, which they planted right away, under the scrutiny of the UC police force.
Altieri expects to return to monitor the tomato crop throughout the season. But the events of the week have caused him to throw up his hands about undertaking his full research plan. The change of plans, he says, is not due to the occupation, but to the contrary – because of their likely expulsion.
“I’m not going to plant my research plot this year – I can’t plant beside their corn,” he said, referring to experimental corn plots being planted by USDA-funded researchers also associated with the UC’s College of Natural Resources.
Altieri was visibly frustrated at the UC’s handling of the situation. “It could be a coincidence, but I believe the raid was timed to prevent me from planting my tomatoes,” the professor said.
“The thing about dry farmed tomatoes is, they’re adaptive,” Altieri told me. “They don’t need any tilling, and they don’t need any water. I think this drove the college crazy.”
Altieri’s position that his research can be carried out not only in the presence of the occupiers, but with their assistance, flies in the face of the UC’s stated position. A letter signed by Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer argued that the occupation of the land is incompatible with the research being carried out at the tract.
UPDATE Adding, this looks very much like a conflict between goods orchestrated by "higher authorities." So far as I can tell, the maize research isn't evil; it would be best if both growers could co-exist, and I don't see a reason they can't. The real issue is the University control of the land -- developed for a Whole Foods store? That's almost too rich -- and it looks to me like the University PR operation is hiding behind maize researchers to maintain that...