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Farmland is for farming!

Indybay Media:

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...

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Heather's picture
Submitted by Heather on

With due respect to some very good hearted and intelligent people I know who support and have put effort into OTF

1) Insufficient thought and background research
-In spite of all the noise to the contrary, OTF was not on the site of proposed Whole Foods and Senior Center

See for example, this comment:

However, as a resident of UC Village who knew about the plans for a mixed-retail center at San Pablo Avenue and Monroe Street, I immediately knew that the protesters had taken over the wrong parcel of land. The site of the proposed mixed-retail center and senior housing complex is near the UC Village entrance along Monroe and not the Gill Tract research field. As it stands, the lots at San Pablo and Monroe — which until recently were the location of decrepit barracks built in the ’40s — are vacant, overgrown with weeds and quite often peppered with discarded fast-food wrappers, cups and other minor debris. Developing this land would be a benefit rather than a hindrance to our community, so long as it is done in a smart and ecological way. My reading of the Albany City Council minutes suggests that a variety of concerns — environmental ones foremost among them — were taken into account when planning the project.

-While Urban agriculture and food sovereignty are good
a) For educational purposes, there is already plenty of local urban agriculture nearby. There is the Ocean View Community Garden very close to the OTF site, the Urban Adamah Farm, Lawrence of Berkeley who organizes neighbors to help each other turn their gardens into food gardens (and is a supporter of OTF), People's Grocery, Planting Justice.....
b) For actually making a dent in the food sovereignty issue, the OTF plot is too small, and I agree with Ed Glaeser on big urban ag.
c) There is something to be said for priorities and perspective. Given the depth of ordinary people's concerns, a focus on more urban agriculture in Albany, CA seems relatively petty.

2) Lack of Responsibilty
-What I witnessed personally the one time I drove past the farm: a beautiful wild turkey wandering through the busy street. Not sure if it was one of the wild turkeys living on the Gill tract maybe driven out by dogs or a turkey brought in that got loose from its coop.
-What other people have written about the farm in comments: open drug use and urination, beer bottles and other waste left around, loose banners flying into the traffic, threatening demeanor of some occupiers, noisy infighting... There is university housing for families and an elementary school right nearby the OTF site.

3) Aversion to an inclusive democratic process
-In comments and articles people complain that there was a dialogue process going on the use of the Gill Tract. Many would like to see urban agriculture be a part of that, but believe that it should be decided through community dialogue, not the occupiers.
-Have also heard that to get a voice in OTF, one has to go there. Some are not comfortable trespassing to go and for others the timing is not good.
-OTF did hold a community meeting, but restricted discussion to the history of the Gill Tract, ruling out discussion of OTF itself.

Submitted by lambert on

This is one that seemed pretty easy until I started digging and thanks for adding a lot more to the job I didn't really finish.

Seems like a three-handed game between raggedy permaculturalists (like me), extension professors of good will (ie, not Monsanto), and the administration, with at least two of the three sides having right on their side. I understand about grad students and funding!

It seems a shame that the two growers couldn't work together. Something going on there that wasn't issue based.

UPDATE Adding, i was really touched by Altieri.

Heather's picture
Submitted by Heather on

There were a mix of people and agendas at OTF. There were those who wanted to promote permaculture, those who wanted to engage in some act of civil disobedience, and those who wanted to have a good time, with some overlap among the different groups.

Submitted by lambert on

I don't know if it's the mix of agendas that's the issue (for some definition of 'good time,' I grant).

Heather's picture
Submitted by Heather on

A few comments from the Albany patch to illustrate some of the different agendas:

Francesco:

I arrived when the UCPD moved the Occupiers off the Gil Tract and closed down San Pablo Ave. from Marin to Monroe Ave. They had declared it an unlawfull assembly. The OTF members' belongings were gathered in two places: just outside gates and across the street on the sidewalk on San Pablo Ave. The police advanced gradually and took control of both sides of the street with repeated advance warning of arrest if the crowd did not disperse.There seemed to be two major groups of protesters. One that clearly wanted to mantain a peaceful assembly and protest and another who saw this action as an time to confront, provoke and incite a response from the police to create good political theater. The second group were often masked and one carried a bull horn that with the word Truth on the inside and Occupy Oakland on the outside. Epithets were easily shouted at the police. I witnessed one man approach the police line and say " If you really want to protect us, go kill yourself". Another clever phrase was. "You see (UC) Police We see Pigs. At least three networks, SF Chron and Patch. This verbal abuse of the police is a form of aggession that if used to anyone else on the street would be deemed violent and abusive. I know some in the Albany Farm Alliance reject these aggessive tactics but others, I suspect, appreciate the provocactive actions. If you protest along side with the masked protesters and give them cover, you are morally responsible for their actions.

Ulan:

It makes me very sad to see you report like this. As I stood next to you and we spoke I asked you if ANY of these wingnuts who were shouting at the police were part of OTF? I also asked you I you thought any of them would be here if 100+ riot police were not around. Both times you agreed with me that this would not be happening if the police did not act the way they were.

I asked you to turn your perspective 180 degrees and question if the police might be causing this tension. I explained that we had sent a letter to UC stating clearly that we would completely decamp by 10am and allow unfettered access to the land. (The Patch posted it late last night.)

UC has every right to roll out 100 police to do whatever they want. But they could have shown up with two and told us they would be back with 100 if we did not leave 3 hours earlier than we planned.

I see this as a gross waste of money by UC. It could have been easily avoided. I wish the children of Ocean View did not have to witness this. As I was leaving I tried to console a number of children and teachers who looked genuinely freaked out. The helicopter overhead did not help.

Ulan:

You and I talked at length this morning will surrounded by police. You asked me why OTF can't 'control' folks that are not part of our consensus process. I responded that I can't control you being there and you obviously disagree with me. How can I control the provocateurs?

I also notice that you made no mention of my (and other OTF folks) repeated attempts at trying to refocus the energy on farming. I would love it if you could relay how often we were successful in calming them down.

This action is not about the police. It is about farming and open dialogue. It always has been. It always will be.

[Note from Heather- At least 3 of the people who were regulars at OTF were also big FTP march supporters. I am quite sure they were more interested in defying police than permaculture, not that they are bad people. I think well of 2 of the 3 I know from Occupy Berkeley.]

Ross:

But on your specific point, if your movement attracts fringe elements, it doesn't remove you from all responsibility for those fringe elements. That can necessarily constrain efforts to visit change on the world, just as a controlled burn might be useful in managing an overgrown woodland, but signing up a mob to go clear it without screening the tagalongs for known pyromaniacs makes you responsible for the consequences.

Helen:

No one familiar enough with Occupy to accept that name for this effort can claim to be surprised or helpless in controlling what happens to both Albany and Berkeley tonight. Perhaps the more provincial Albanyans will smirk at the concept of sending trash back to Berkeley, but most of us living along the route from the "farm" to UCB are ordinary people just like you. Whoever invited Occupy to Albany (including those on twitter thoughtfully urging tonights FTP march to limit its destruction to UCB) is responsible for the damage they cause tonight in either of our cities. Check the twitter stream to see how much respect they have for the more well meaning "peace police" of OTF. Farm supporters were warned about this from the very beginning, and pretending that they alone support urban farming or condemn police brutality is an insult to all intelligent people here.

Submitted by lambert on

IIRC (and I may not) Zucotti Park was born when the people's mic group (or those who would become the people's mic group) split off from the people with bullhorns.

I hate bullhorns. They're all about authority and control and by that one person with the bullhorn. It's just militarization, a mirror image of the helicopter.