Researchers incensed by repeated Gill Tract break-ins

Kevin Foote/Senior Staff
This past Saturday, Occupy the Farm protestors broke into the Gill Tract to tend to crops. Ongoing university research on the land has been disrupted by the protests.

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Despite initial efforts by the UC Berkeley campus to prevent conflict between researchers and Occupy the Farm protesters on the campus-owned Gill Tract in Albany, researchers and protesters continue to disagree over its appropriate use.

Researchers from the campus College of Natural Resources who use the land to harvest plants for their experiments said that having protesters continue to break into the land has disrupted agricultural research.

According to George Chuck, a researcher in the department of plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley who grows corn at the tract, when workers have to fix the locks and fences damaged by protesters, researchers are kept out of the field, hindering the progress of ongoing experiments.

“There is now a sense of unease about the integrity of the researchers’ experiments,” Chuck said in an email. “None of us really know if they have tampered with any of our experiments, so it calls into question any of the data we can get out of the field.”

Protesters, who first broke into the tract in April and began farming to protest the commercial development of the area, said that before they were forced out by UCPD officers, they attempted to communicate with researchers about developing a plan that allowed for both research and protesters’ farming to continue.

“We worked very hard with them,” said Gopal Dayaneni, a spokesperson for Occupy the Farm. “Our actions are based on a decade-long struggle to get the university to do right by the community of this land.”

In response to complaints, the university filed a lawsuit in May against the protesters that stated that by occupying the land, protesters were delaying research on the tract. Soon after, UCPD officers raided the farm to remove protesters and allow research to resume. The suit was dropped in June, in part due to the high cost of continuing litigation.

After protesters broke into the farm again Sunday, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus’s key priority is protecting academic freedom and research on the land.

“At this point, we are discussing and evaluating possible options,” Mogulof said Sunday.

Still, Chuck said the campus’s response has done little to address his concerns, since protesters continue to break into the tract.

Contact Andrea Guzman and Pooja Mhatre at [email protected].

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that researcher George Chuck grows switchgrass at the Gill Tract. In fact, he grows corn there.