Occupy the Farm protesters continue to break into Gill Tract

Danielle Lee/File
The Occupy the Farm encampment on April 16, 2012 included tents, a kitchen, various gardening supplies, and a chicken coop.

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Occupy the Farm protesters continue to trespass on UC-owned research land in Albany, illegally harvesting and weeding the crops that they planted on the Gill Tract earlier this spring, and campus officials say they lack the resources to keep the protesters away.

In order to tend to crops they planted during their occupation of the tract, protesters have cut the lock off the gate on three occasions — most recently on Sunday — since the encampment was broken up by police on May 14.

“We are in a difficult situation and don’t have the resources to monitor the Gill Tract around the clock,” said UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “There is a group that seems to care little about property rights or the rule of law. We need to focus on ensuring that the research goes unimpeded and unharmed.”

On April 22, protesters — including campus students and alumni — erected tents on the Gill Tract and began planting crops in response to the proposition of the University Village Mixed Use Project.

The project, passed by the Albany City Council on July 9, entails the construction of a Whole Foods Market, a senior housing center and a retail center on a portion of the Gill Tract south of the research land.

The university filed a lawsuit against 15 members of Occupy the Farm on May 9. However, the lawsuit — which alleged that the protesters’ presence on the land interfered with research — was dropped on June 6 due to legal costs and the concern over the length of the process.

Mogulof said pursuing a second lawsuit against the protesters would be a long and expensive process and is not currently a priority for the campus.
UCPD Lt. Alex Yao said the tract is being monitored by both the community and the UCPD. He also said the participants of the break-ins are videotaped by officers.

Occupy the Farm member and UC Berkeley alumnus Krystof Lopaur said he thinks it is inappropriate to call tending the crops a break-in.
“When people talk about a break-in, people usually think it (took place) in a house,” Lopaur said. “This isn’t someone breaking into a screen door.”

According to campus alumna and Occupy the Farm member Stefanie Rawlings, the police have not said or done anything to keep the protesters from harvesting and weeding their crops. Rawlings also said as long as there is no open access to the Gill Tract, Occupy the Farm will continue to use the land to grow crops.

UC Berkeley researcher Damon Lisch, who grows corn for research on the Gill Tract, said the protesters have respected requests to leave his research intact, but he does not support the movement.

“I understand that the UC is trying not to escalate the situation, and I appreciate that the protesters are just harvesting their crops and not damaging our research, but it doesn’t mean that I am happy about it,” Lisch said.