Gill Tract occupiers are there to farm

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Many readers have undoubtedly heard about the recent Occupy the Farm action in Albany to “take back the tract.” As an undergraduate who has been involved in organizing the action, I would like to offer my personal experience, debunk a few misconceptions about the action and encourage fellow undergraduates to become involved in the farm.

For me, Occupy the Farm has been a wonderfully transformative experience. Watching a community come together on a piece of pristine, jeopardized land and planting the seeds of reclamation has been unspeakably powerful to witness and take part in. As one of the few undergraduates involved in the planning and organizing of the action, I have found it immensely gratifying to see the outpouring of community and campus support.

There has been much confusion about what portion of the Gill Tract is slated for development. While it is true that the proposed Whole Foods would not be built on the same land on which Occupy the Farm has recently planted, the entire remaining 10 acres of the tract is slated for some form of development. In addition to Whole Foods, the Master Plan of the university calls for the development of a senior center, a series of parking lots and little league baseball fields to be built over the last Class One agricultural soil left in the urbanized East Bay. Let me set something straight: Occupy the Farm is not opposed to senior centers or little league fields — we are opposed to the location these developments on precious agricultural soil.

Students, professors and community members have fought to use this amazing land for sustainable agriculture for more than two decades. The land is currently under the direction of UC Capital Projects, and the UC researchers are the land’s temporary tenants. Some of the research includes corn gene isolation, transgenic crop and biofuel research, all of which can be conducted on much smaller plots of land with less optimal soil.

Occupy the Farm draws much of its inspiration from the Occupy movement. The goal of this action is distinct and different from the broader movement because the encampment itself is not the end game. We are here to farm, not to camp.

The Gill Tract is an integral part of UC Berkeley’s legacy, and it would be a permanent, devastating blow if this remaining pristine land were developed. The soil is meant to produce sustenance, not to be suffocated by cement.

Last Wednesday night, the ASUC Senate unanimously voted in favor of a bill supporting Occupy the Farm. The following night, I was one of six representatives from the farm to meet with UC administrators. The administration was anxious to negotiate, claiming that its patience was running out and that we could either have negotiations or confrontations. At the meeting, we made it clear that we were simply there to gather the administrators’ concerns, bring them back to our constituencies, formulate concrete demands and then reconvene to begin negotiations.

Undergraduates, I implore you to become involved in this action in any way you can. The farm is located on the corner of San Pablo and Marin avenues in Albany, about three miles from campus. For those who cannot physically make it to the farm, there are many ways to assist from afar. Most crucially, at this point, would be to put pressure on the administration to turn the water back on! The fire hydrant has even been shut off. Beyond a moral or political standoff between us farmers and the powers that be, this is a safety hazard.

Please call the chancellor’s office and insist the water at the Gill Tract be turned back on. With water, the farm will produce organic produce to feed the community of the East Bay and the students of UC Berkeley. The chancellor’s office number is (510) 642-7464.

To conclude, Occupy the Farm is willing to negotiate with the administration and the researchers previously using the Gill Tract. I am sure a balance can be struck. After two decades of activism and planning, the community of Albany, students, professors and farmers have transformed the Gill Tract into a sustainable, organic farm with one week of labor. Sustainable agriculture is our future. I encourage all to visit your new university farm and help plant some justice.

Farmland is for farming.

Devin Murphy is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley.