Advisors Meet with UC Dean to Discuss Future of Urban Farming, Research at Gill Tract

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A private meeting convened by representatives of the University of California at Berkeley, about the future of the , took place Saturday morning without participation by Occupy the Farm

Two members of Occupy the Farm, which took over a university-owned research field in April, were if they complied with several conditions, including returning control of the land to the university by 10 a.m. Saturday.

A member of Occupy the Farm said just before 11 a.m. that the group would , but would not return the land to UC control. 

The group has continued to demand unfettered access to the Gill Tract for urban farming activities they say will benefit the greater East Bay and be open to everyone. 

The university has countered that sensitive research operations in the field will not be able to move forward without some access restrictions, which have yet to be determined. Authorities have, however, said they are open to devoting some part of the field to urban farming activities in the current season and, potentially, in the future.  

The university locked the gates to the Gill Tract, and stationed police and private security guards on the site, over the past few days, but that hasn't stopped supporters of Occupy the Farm from entering and exiting at will. (The group reportedly set up a ladder and slide into the site on Saturday morning.)

Until the April 22 "occupation," gates from both San Pablo Avenue and Jackson Street had been kept locked, with access limited to researchers and staff. Occupy the Farm members cut the locks and entered the gates on April 22 to set up extensive urban farming activities, in what they have described as an act of civil disobedience that had been planned for six months.


Seventeen people attended the Saturday morning meeting, which was held at the . 

Dean Keith Gilless, who ran the meeting, said his goal was to get advice from a range of interested parties about the future of the Gill Tract, both in the near-term and further down the line. As dean of the College of Natural Resources, Gilless said he has operational authority over the growing space.

Meeting participants included representatives from the city of Albany, University Village, a range of urban farming and sustainability advocates, and members of the Albany Unified School District. 

Participants voiced loud and clear, though there wasn't much time for details, the vast potential of the site to meet a range of community interests and involve a broad cross-section of participants if an urban farming program is developed.

The university made clear, however, that rules will have to be set about who can access the site, and when, to protect both research on the Gill Tract and the university from potential liability. 

Julie Sinai, the director of Local Government & Community Relations for UC Berkeley, summarized some of the key points that came out of the discussion. 

"We've talked about a new era in the whole issue," she said, as far as the university's relationship to metropolitan agriculture. "There are a lot of new opportunities we haven't even touched the surface on quite yet." 

The university will look at plans for both the summer and the longer term, she said, and continue to connect with community members who can help develop and oversee a metropolitan agriculture program at the Gill Tract. 

Dean Gilless said he had already actively been looking into a new teaching position in his department that would help flesh out the school's metropolitan agriculture offerings. 

Sinai said she heard a definite interest from participants in the room that the Albany Unified School District be involved with future programming initiatives or learning opportunities on the Gill Tract.

Maile Urbancic, a resident who attended the meeting along with Village director Tavie Tipton, suggested the creation of what she described as a "stewardship council" that would include members from a range of affected parties; help manage volunteering efforts at the Gill Tract; and help develop urban farming efforts on the land. 

They would, she continued, work according to rules set by the university, but could at the same time ensure that site access, efforts and management maintain a local voice, with room for various interests. 

Urbancic's idea seemed to meet with support among participants, and a brainstorming session ensued about who might have a seat at the table if such a council is formed. 

One participant suggested the council might best be managed by University Village, due to its proximity, and the fact that its residents are members of both the Albany and UC Berkeley communities. 

The university said Saturday's meeting was simply an advisory session to jumpstart both short- and long-term thinking, especially as a mid-month deadline looms to begin preparing the field for agricultural research set to begin June 1. The meeting was kept private, officials said, to allow for frank convesation.

The university said it plans to include the public in future discussions; several meeting participants said transparency would be a key element in moving the discussion forward. 

said after the meeting that she was eager for Albany residents to begin working with the university to see what can happen at the Gill Tract, both this summer and beyond. She said it was clear to her that the university wants Albany residents to have a voice and role in the process.  

Dean Keith Gilless said what he drew from the discussion was a sense of what the future might bring for the Gill Tract.

"What this meeting gave me was a real sense of the astonishing potential of the Gill Tract to support research, to support teaching, and to support the broader community's interest in urban agriculture," he said. "The potential is absolutely stunningly clear to me."

Exactly how this develops, however, is anyone's guess. Gilless said he'll work in the coming days to find a way to "help parties that don't trust each other find a path to the future. That is what I'm struggling with."

"There are mutually exclusive visions for the future, which all have their merits," he continued. "I'm distrustful, however, of a vision that asserts the priority of one vision over the others. Especially if paths forward exist that are not mutually exclusive."

Gilless said he wasn't yet sure if he would visit the Gill Tract on Saturday to speak with members of Occupy the Farm. 

"I have to stop and think," he said. 

[Editor's Note: Albany Patch was allowed to attend the meeting to capture and convey what was discussed, and to reflect issues raised, in exchange for agreeing to two main conditions: No live coverage and no quotations from participants without their express approval after the session.] 

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. Read more on Albany Patch about the Gill Tract occupation.

If there's something in this article you think , or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

Arwen May 14, 2012 at 10:29 AM
It appears to me after reading your comments, many of you are angry, disgruntled, disappointed, dismayed and perhaps jealous of the kind of attention and respect the young people at The Farm have received from the University after you have spent long years trying to negotiate with them in countless meetings where they chose to ignore you. Rather than taking out your anger, etc. on the University, the real culprit in this scenario, you have chosen to project that anger on to the Occupiers. The people at the Farm come on to the Gill Tract unaware of you or your prior dealings with the University. They can be your allies rather than your enemies as you have chosen to make them. They are not your adversaries but have many of the ideals for urban farming that you have. Why not join forces with them rather than remain divided? Together you can bring pressure to bear on the University to have the land work for the public interest rather than corporate interests. Make the University work for you, the tax payers. Get rid of the University staff including the Dean(s) who do not respond or pay lip service to your requests. Do not let the University or your pride divide and conquer you. Do not let people in your ranks deter you. Reach out for a meeting of the minds with the people at the Farm. Align yourselves with University professors such as Altierri who would promote and share your goals. Good luck and many blessings to all of you.
Ross Stapleton-Gray May 14, 2012 at 02:43 PM
"The people at the Farm come on to the Gill Tract unaware of you or your prior dealings with the University." That, if true, is pretty damning. Arwen, it's rather insulting to others to describe how they're doubtless feeling, and ascribe those feelings to their being confused, underinformed, etc. (and especially if that comes from a position of ignorance, though I actually do think that many of the trespassers had something of an idea who Albanians were, and the range of prior discussions).
Dover May 14, 2012 at 02:49 PM
"unaware of you" And that, ladies and gentlemen, says it all.
Francis Chapman May 14, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Back around 2003-2004 we heard from a "Save the Gill Tract" group in the context of a San Pablo Avenue re-zoning process. We chose not to support their goals then because we thought they were impractical and not the best use of the land for the neighborhood. Why does illegal occupation lead getting priority in the planning process? There is no support for this idea among neighbors we have talked to in the Oceanview community, just about everyone simply wants to see the occupiers off the Gill Tract. As far as I can tell the occupiers are a small number of people who have committed a lot of time to being busy on Patch, email and other media, and who brought a large crowd to at least one Planning and Zoning meeting, but I don't think this crowd represents the views of a large number of Albany residents. We are inadvertently on their community email distribution list. There are 3 or 4 people sending emails to no response. You can hear the cricket's chirping. From my point of view the Gill Tract would better serve the community as a park, and I'd like to see a grocery store (sized in accordance with San Pablo Commercial District zoning) in the location envisioned for Whole Foods with mitigation measures to prevent cut-through traffic in residential areas. The city should engage the local community about maintaining a farm indefinitely on the Gill Tract, I don't think support is there and I can't understand why a long process should be hijacked at this stage.
Emilie Raguso May 15, 2012 at 06:10 AM
The school district and city issued a joint statement Monday about Saturday's meeting. I've added it as a PDF with this story.


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