[Editor's Note: This story originally was published at 3:47 p.m. Sunday. It was reposted at 1:08 a.m. Monday.]
The following email went out Sunday about a movement by activists to take over the , owned by the University of California, and turn it into an urban farm.
According to one local activist with SF Bay Food Shed, about 300 protesters and food justice advocates marched from a Berkeley rally "and occupied the Gill Tract around 1:30. They immediately started working the land and planting the 10,000 veggie starts they have with them. They are also in the process of setting up chicken coops and other farm infrastructure."
(A later estimate by one member of the occupying group placed the number at closer to 200 activists.)
According to the city of Albany and university planners, the Gill Tract spans about 15 acres on the corner of a 77-acre piece of land that composes . The land is used for agricultural experiments by UC Berkeley’s School of Natural Resources.
In 2010, Damon Lisch, who was a research scientist in plant and microbial biology at UC Berkeley, said "About half the field is for research by the USDA Plant Gene Expression Center, and the other half is U.C. Berkeley research. Some of the world's premier research in plant biology is going on in this field."
As of about 12:30 a.m. Monday, University police had not responded to a request for information about how they planned to deal with the occupation, and there had been no coordinated police activity within the site.
Two UC police officers spoke peacefully with Occupy participants at 12:30 a.m., and asked them to keep the area clean, and said the action would likely garner much more attention from authorities Monday.
Activists said, via a live-streaming video feed, that police told them to leave the property by 10 p.m. Sunday, or possibly face consequences.
One Albany man, , said Sunday that at least 15 Albany residents had come to the Gill Tract to talk and learn about the activity, and that a number of them planned to stay overnight.
McKnight said, in the comments below, that local students, gardeners and farmers had been planning the action since November: "Green houses as far away as Santa Cruz have been nurturing more than 15,000 starts for us to plant."
McKnight said, at about midnight, there appeared to be 40-50 tents, including a "community tent" with 20 people sleeping in it.
"I think maybe 50 people are still up talking about how to make the world better. There are probably less than 100 people sleeping here tonight but well over 300 have been here throughout the day," he said. "We had a nice meeting of about 25 Albany residents right after the 'General Assembly.' Everyone was super concerned that this action stay 100% children friendly and non-confrontational. No fires or drum circles ;) And guess what? Everything is super chill and positive."
McKnight said a community potluck and sign-making party is planned for 6 p.m. Monday.
"We welcome everyone to come down and see what we are doing," he wrote.
See our Gill Tract occupation topic page here to find all related stories and blogs.
EMAIL FROM OCCUPY THE FARM
Date: Sun, Apr 22, 2012 at 2:43 PM
Subject: Occupy the Farm Activists Reclaim Prime Urban Agricultural Land in SF Bay Area
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 22, 2012
Occupy the Farm Activists Reclaim Prime Urban Agricultural Land in SF Bay Area
(Albany, Calif.), April 22, 2012 – Occupy the Farm, a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists are planting over 15,000 seedlings at the Gill Tract, the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay area. The Gill Tract is public land administered by the University of California, which plans to sell it to private developers.
For decades the UC has thwarted attempts by community members to transform the site for urban sustainable agriculture and hands-on education. With deliberate disregard for public interest, the University administrators plan to pave over this prime agricultural soil for commercial retail space, a Whole Foods, and a parking lot.
"For ten years people in Albany have tried to turn the Gill Tract into an Urban Farm and a more open space for the community. The people in the Bay Area deserve to use this treasure of land for an urban farm to help secure the future of our children," explains Jackie Hermes-Fletcher, an Albany resident and public school teacher for 38 years.
Occupy the Farm seeks to address structural problems with health and inequalities in the Bay Area that stem from communities’ lack of access to food and land. Today’s action reclaims the Gill Tract to demonstrate and exercise the peoples’ right to use public space for the public good. This farm will serve as a hub for urban agriculture, a healthy and affordable food source for Bay Area residents and an educational center.
“Every piece of uncontaminated urban land needs to be farmed if we are to reclaim control over how food is grown, where it comes from, and who it goes to,” says Anya Kamenskaya, UC Berkeley alum and educator of urban agriculture. “We can farm underutilized spaces such as these to create alternatives to the corporate control of our food system.”
UC Berkeley has decided to privatize this unique public asset for commercial retail space, and, ironically, a high-end grocery store. This is only the latest in a string of privatization schemes. Over the last several decades, the university has increasingly shifted use of the Gill Tract away from sustainable agriculture and towards biotechnology with funding from corporations such as Novartis and BP.
Frustrated that traditional dialogue has fallen on deaf ears, many of these same local residents, students, and professors have united as Occupy the Farm to Take Back the Gill Tract. This group is working to empower communities to control their own resilient food systems for a stable and just future – a concept and practice known as food sovereignty.
Occupy the Farm is in solidarity with Via Campesina and the Movimiento Sin Tierra (Landless Workers Movement).
The Gill Tract is located at the Berkeley-Albany border, at the intersection of San Pablo Ave and Marin Ave.
• Join us: Come dressed to work! We need people to help till the soil, plant seedlings, teach workshops, and more.
• Donate/lend: We need shovels, rakes, pickaxes, rototillers, drip irrigation tape, gloves, hats, food, and anything else farming related!
• Monetary donations can be sent through our website at http://www.takebackthetract.com