Occupy the Farm holds community forum to discuss future of Gill Tract

Gracie Malley/File
An Occupy the Farm protester tends the land during one of the group's forays into the Gill Tract during the summer.

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Occupy the Farm protesters held a community meeting Wednesday at UC Berkeley to outline a vision for the future of the Gill Tract.

Representatives from urban agriculture organizations and members of the Berkeley, Albany and campus communities discussed issues relating to farming, education, research and access to the UC-owned tract in Albany, which protesters first occupied in April.

Occupy the Farm organizers said Wednesday’s meeting — which is expected to be the first in a series of forums — allowed community members to address the movement’s future involvement with the tract.

“The purpose of this meeting is to be a spark of a future series of meetings that will have the community as a whole coming together in the next four to five months to create a vision for what we want to see happen,” said Stefanie Rawlings, an Occupy the Farm organizer and UC Berkeley alumna.

At the meeting, organizers and community members spent about two hours addressing topics ranging from adopting alternative farming methods to using the land for an educational purpose other than research. They subsequently formed working groups that planned to further investigate these issues after the meeting.

Since the tract was first occupied in April, protesters have pushed for it to be publicly accessible and not limited to use by campus-based researchers. This has been a main point of disagreement between Occupy the Farm and UC Berkeley since the movement began, said Antonio Roman-Alcala, one of the movement’s organizers and the Wednesday forum’s moderator.

In September, the campus transferred administrative authority of the Gill Tract to the College of Natural Resources, which oversees the research being conducted there. J. Keith Gilless, dean of the college, said he is open to community input regarding the future use of the land.

“I do think that the broad consultation is important for what the future of the Gill Tract will be,” he said.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Dan Mogulof said the campus has invited the protesters to work more collaboratively with the CNR but has had those entreaties rejected “every step of the way.”

Protesters first began occupying the tract to protest the commercial development of another section of the land but shifted to advocating for it to be used as an urban farm. When the protesters refused to leave, the campus filed a lawsuit in May alleging that the occupation prevented research from being conducted. The suit was dropped in June.

Since then, protesters have continued to break into the tract to tend to the crops they planted there, resulting in a tense relationship with some faculty members who have open-air laboratories at the tract.

Justin Abraham covers academics and administration. Contact him [email protected].