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Column: Urban Farm Dreams Have 15-Year History

Occupy the Farm shared this piece, written by Jeffrey M. Romm, of UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, with Albany Patch. Click the "Keep me posted" button for updates on this topic.

[Editor's Note: Occupy the Farm shared this piece, written by Jeffrey M. Romm, of UC Berkeley's Department of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, with Albany Patch. Click the "Keep me posted" button for updates on this topic.]

The Gill Tract occupation needs to be understood in contemporary context. Things have changed since earlier college rejections of two community agriculture plans for the Tract. The changes deserve credit in a perspective of the occupation because they create opportunities for the College of Natural Resources (CNR) and the campus, and may translate into growing respect for the community. Moreover, refusal in the old way no longer would be covered with the guise of earlier justifications.

I supported the first BACUA plan, about 15 years ago, that set forth a vision for the future of the Tract in community agriculture. That plan was refused. At Dean Rausser’s behest some years later, I chaired a committee of faculty, extension and community members to develop a new plan that would have created a center for urban agriculture connecting campus and community. Community members at the time included Shyaam Shabaka and Sibella Krauss, both of whom went on to create vibrant programs in community agriculture with associated educational and nutritional dimensions.

Leaders of the systemwide sustainability program were involved, as were faculty of CNR and the College of Environmental Design, including the chair of the California Food Security Council. That plan provided a viable basis for development, needing refinement primarily in the details of the university-community relationship. The plan was refused. By refusal, I mean that it was denied good-faith consideration. The justifications for the refusal deserve mention because they now are demonstrably devoid of basis, if an absence of good faith can ever be described as possessing it.

First, urban community agriculture was then perceived in the college to be a marginal enterprise, variously imaged as hobbyist, ideological, personalized, insignificant and foreign. The evidence—hundreds of small groups in the Bay Area alone—was diffuse, as yet unrecorded, and without visibility or apparent impact. Although some saw an emerging trend, most thought the evidence and organization too thin to justify a program.

Today, urban agriculture has moved into the mainstream of metropolitan conception, policy, design and behavior. This is undeniable. Tours through the Bay Area would convince the more obdurate. Oakland, San Francisco and Richmond provide classic examples, while Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit and Washington, D.C., demonstrate the tremendous innovation urban agriculture has stimulated in the use of city spaces for the production and distribution of nutritious food, as well as the creation of new jobs and educational opportunities.

Urban plans are being shaped by a desire to create agricultural spaces that provide new modes of livelihood. Trends in the federal food bill, explicitly and not, have favored consumer wellbeing, access and equity, with consequent shifts of focus in the definition and execution of agriculture. The San Francisco Chronicle even editorializes on the matter with some exuberance in this morning’s edition. While I do not want to overstate the trend, I doubt the college would choose to withdraw so as to write and analyze its history rather than to affect it.

Second, the college then lacked the faculty and extension capacity to support a Center and coordinate its community functions. The plan proposed new faculty and extension positions to build the expertise. More than a decade later, these new positions exist and are filled with wonderful scholars and specialists. Occupants of other-described positions have shifted toward the emerging research and education nexus of food, health, environmental justice and economic productivity. Faculty and centers across campus are engaged in this convergence. They have produced research, gained influence, and had tangible impact on the ground. Food and agriculture no longer are CNR propertied topics. Within the college, upwards of half the undergraduates, perhaps 25 percent of the graduate students, the vigorous , and a range of other faculty endeavors, demonstrate how far we have moved in the decade.

Third, a decade ago, CNR work on cooperative stewardship arrangements had yet to gain the visibility and current international recognition it has today. That work inevitably focused on problems created by divides between those with authority over land and those with the need and capacity for its management. The work addressed relations between Forest Service and tribes, Forest Service and communities, Bureau of Reclamation and tribal, farming and environmental groups, industrial-community partnerships, watershed councils, urban health and nutrition collaboratives, and cooperative wildlife, forest and fisheries management.

The current Gill Tract issue replicates the kind of problem that many college researchers have worked successfully to overcome, i.e. structural divides that prevent effective ecosystem management in large part by excluding those with the strongest motives for beneficial action. Faculty and students so involved cannot be expected to turn their backs on the core lessons of their careers. The mutual benefits of overcoming the divide and achieving cooperative relations between campus and community are so demonstrable and compelling that a number of faculty would not maintain their integrity if siding with the party that refuses opportunities for cooperation and adaptability.

The Gill Tract occupation creates a huge opportunity. After 15 years of stonewall in the midst of sweeping social and ecological changes, the occupation should have come as no surprise to anyone. It does come at a time, though, when the university has become surrounded by community generated agricultural enterprise and has established its own capacity to respond in truly excellent fashion. The occupation has been conducted with utmost respect for the university, the community and the land. Equivalent responses by the university would produce a major step forward for everyone. The meaning and matter of Gill Tract extend throughout the Bay Area, with the potential for much more.

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.

Albany Patch welcomes guest columns and letters to the editor. Email albany@patch.com for details.

Tatter Salad May 07, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Well, the Patch's annocements of 'Photo Show' invites (only obtainable illegally), and enabling Occupiers by encouraging meetings AFTER a dozen polls in which the majority of Albany wishes them to exit, and UC is being VERY kind in their response, and totally ignoring the fact that portions of the Gill Tract have a history of shared use with local 'farming'... All of this aside: you should take note of another minor tool that the Patch uses to squelch dialogues like this one: that is: As soon as anti-occupation feed-back dominates a piece, access to the piece disappears from the front page. If your reading this for example, it took some effort to find it, where as just 12 hours ago, the home-page would have led you right to it. That is NOT what I call 'fair and even handed' reportage.
Emilie Raguso May 07, 2012 at 07:31 PM
You wrote that we were "inviting and encouraging readers to to take photos," and that's what I responded to. Throughout this process, we've been facilitating community dialogue -- I'm not following what you wrote about what dialogue we "announced" -- as this has been a long process with more than 40 posts from people with different positions, as well as traditional news stories. I don't think UCPD is going to comment on all this, as the university has a spokesman dealing with all requests related to this issue. I don't really think the mayor of Oakland is an appropriate source at this time either, as this "occupation" is of a very different nature than those in Oakland. I think there are enough local voices on both sides and with many different perspectives to keep it local.
Emilie Raguso May 07, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Tatter: All our coverage has been collected on a single page for easy access: http://albany.patch.com/topics/occupy-the-farm-gill-tract-activists-in-albany We link to this page in multiple places on EACH article we write about it.
Emilie Raguso May 07, 2012 at 07:44 PM
As an aside, Tatter: Your claims of our so-called tool to "squelch" certain views are simply laughable. The majority of our stories appear on the front page in reverse chronological order. The items at the top (the four "major features") do have a somewhat different shelf life. But the rest of them are simply organized by their publication time stamp, and it's an automated process that editors have no control over.
Ellen Hershey May 08, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Tatter, I think Emilie is doing a great job covering multiple sides of this complex story in as balanced a fashion as possible. And Patch certainly is proving once again its great value to our community as a place where individuals can state their views.

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