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UC Letter to Albany Regarding Gill Tract: Occupy the Farm Is 'Direct Threat' to Academic Freedom

The university has removed winter greens planted by Occupy the Farm.

The University of California, Berkeley issued the following letter Friday: 

To: Members of the Albany City Council, and the Albany Community at large 

From: J. Keith Gilless. Dean, UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources 

As we move into the fall season I want to provide you, our neighbors, with an update on current and planned activities on the Gill Tract. Over the course of the last few weeks, our researchers have completed work that was underway during the growing season and now, as I’m sure many of you have noticed, our staff has begun to prepare the fields for the winter. As I outlined in my last letter on September 18th, next spring we will be using all of the growing grounds in order to accomodate existing research and teaching endeavors, as well as our newly expanded program dedicated to the investigation of food systems and food security issues. We have been removing all drip irrigation and mulching, mowing remaining plant material, and turning over the soil with tractor-towed discs in order to prepare the flelds for a winter cover crop that will replenish soil nitrogen and add organic material to the ground. 

[Read all of Albany Patch's Occupy the Farm coverage]

Much of our planning process for the next growing season is focused on work already underway at our emerging program in urban food systems and food security. This program is being spear-headed by existing faculty and will receive further support in the coming years by the addition of a new Cooperative Extension (CE) Specialist for the Berkeley Campus and 3 CE Advisors in the Bay Area. These positions were approved by the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, demonstrating our commitment to research, teaching and extension in this rapidly evolving area of academic and social interest. 

We will continue to work collaboratively with members of the Albany community and the Albany City Council as we move forward with the exciting work of developing a program that will benefit communities throughout the Bay Area, California and beyond. I remain interested in and committed to developing partnerships that could allow for significant community participation in agricultural activities on the Gill Tract. 

I must reiterate how unfortunate it is that members of the group Occupy the Farm have continued their illegal incursions onto the Gill Tract to engage in unauthorized use of University resources. In mid-September we gave them advance notice that all of the growing grounds would need to be planted with a cover crop this winter, yet in recent weeks they have continued with their unauthorized planting. I truly regret that they chose to spend their time and efforts on planting that we have had to disc under, rather than seek ways to work with my college and the community. Their disregard for the rights of our research community and programmatic development activities are a direct threat to both academic freedom and our capacity to fulfill the university's mission. 

I remain committed to moving forward in a manner which respects all voices and perspectives in the Albany community, and honors past, present and future democratic community processes.

Farmer Zeke November 19, 2012 at 03:22 PM
You missed part of that sentence, "Unless of course,..."
Farmer Zeke November 19, 2012 at 03:42 PM
Nothing "snide" here, never mentioned "hiding", only speculated that there may use of agricultural chemicals, or possibly genetic manipulation.
Ross Stapleton-Gray November 19, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Yeah, that. You don't see how analogous "just sayin's," e.g., "While there's no clear evidence that Occupy the Farm activists have stopped beating their spouses, you gotta wonder," would make for a poor conversation?
Farmer Zeke November 19, 2012 at 03:56 PM
I didn't find much about use of chemicals on Patch (searched "Occupy the Farm" and "Gill Tract", but found this in a google search: http://blogs.kqed.org/newsfix/2012/05/11/researcher-defends-his-work-on-gill-tract-says-work-with-corn-unfairly-demonized/ in which "Damon Lisch, who ... does genetic research on corn, studying pieces of DNA called transposons that can impact evolution and cause mutations" basically agrees with my suggestion "I would have been happy if we had some long-term arrangement, maybe with a fence, for both scientific research and professor Altieri's work -- and urban farming and perhaps space for farming education. And maybe they could look at our plants as well and we could tell them about our research." Altieri supports OTF.
Zoe Francesca November 19, 2012 at 04:24 PM
It would be of interest to me, and probably to many Albany residents, if J. Keith Gilless would outline for us the details of the planned academic work on food safety and urban food systems in Albany.
Maureen November 19, 2012 at 04:32 PM
I sympathize very much with the spirit of OTF, but not at all with its tactics. Sneaking around, bullying, criminal trespass and attempted theft of property don't make it with me and many others. Yes, the University can be a huge pain to work with, as it is insultingly authoritarian and used to telling thousands of others what to think, but sit down at the table and reason out your differences, or -- as some have suggested -- find an alternative solution. Tantrums and stubbornness are unattractive in children but inexcusable in adults.
Dover November 19, 2012 at 05:00 PM
It appears your in-depth research did not reveal that Damon is a regular poster here on Patch. As well as a resident. Here, I'll make it easy for you. http://albany.patch.com/articles/whos-who-in-albany-damon-lisch http://albany.patch.com/users/damon-lisch/comments You're welcome!
Marsha Skinner November 19, 2012 at 06:46 PM
Arrest them. Then, this time, finally follow through
Jai Jai Noire November 19, 2012 at 08:06 PM
The real threat to 'academic freedom' is UC's exorbitant tuition.
Jack Osborne November 19, 2012 at 08:41 PM
@Zeke - you are leveling an accusation. It's incumbent on you to provide reviewable references, otherwise you are simply spouting insinuations. We're waiting.
montymarket November 19, 2012 at 08:44 PM
OTF won. Why not drop the lawsuit now?
Jack Osborne November 19, 2012 at 08:44 PM
@Jai Jai - wonderfully insightful observation. Now, perhaps you can offer a solution. That is, how can California increase its available cash so that UC can more effectively subsidize education? Show us the money, Jai Jai, please!
Jack Osborne November 19, 2012 at 08:46 PM
I'm beginning to think the purpose of posting this letter is to incite some good, ol' Patch posting conflicts to liven things up in the wake of the election. *snark*
Old MacDonald November 19, 2012 at 11:11 PM
There is plenty of evidence, all over the web, that genetically modified BT corn (the one that destroys the insect that eats it) is being grown at the Gill Tract. Business Week even did a story on Sarah Hake's current crop-- the article came out right after Gillies said it wasn't being grown there. The real issue is that UC is now in the science-for-sale business, something a group of 19-year-olds have figured out: http://moguloflies.wordpress.com I nominate Dean Gillies as the 2012 recipient of the TOOL of the year award, with special honors to the Albany City Council for spinal pudding.
Bart Grossman November 19, 2012 at 11:21 PM
I'm not the world's biggest fan of UC but the College of Natural Resources is a responsible outfit. They have committed to community involvement on what is, after all, Uinversity property. I think, unfortunately, OTF has burned most of its bridges here. They do not represent Albany and they have no standing to negotiate with or for anyone but themselves, whoever that is. I hope they will not choose to waste any more public resources.
M luudensis November 19, 2012 at 11:37 PM
Please provide a link to your business week article. Ol' google does not know what you are talking about... and that guy seems to know everything... Also, a website with a title along the lines of this dude lies.com does not seem like an unbiased news source to me.
Old MacDonald November 19, 2012 at 11:51 PM
Forever young, for that one of you born every minute: http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2012/09/06/plant-lab-scientists-keep-switchgrass.html
Robert Smith November 19, 2012 at 11:58 PM
Lazy criminals don't prefer to climb hills.
M luudensis November 20, 2012 at 12:00 AM
Yeah I just read that one. In case you didn't, the mention of Gill tract is geographic, as in the Gill tract is located down the street from the USDA building. It does not mention what is grown at Gill tract or where the switchgrass is grown. Isn't corn grown at Gill? What exactly is your point in posting this?
Robert Smith November 20, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Why give this hypothetical chance to use some nice soil to the criminals? Why not to Albany residents? I would love a plot.
Damon Lisch November 20, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Old MacDonald. Please. There is no credible evidence that BT corn causes harm to humans (or rats for that matter). A recent study done by an extremely biased French (not that there's anything wrong with that) scientist has been utterly debunked, because it used an insufficient number of controls. They also pulled the rather slimy trick of insisting that the media not show the work to anyone else before publication so they they would be guaranteed a positive first impression. The lesson for me is that bias for financial reasons and bias for ideological reasons can be equally corrosive. Further, Sarah Hake's current crop involves, among many other things, examination into the effects of a totally natural mutation, Cg1, on the growth of corn. That data is being used to explore the possibility that the same mutation in switchgrass might make the swithchgrass (which was NOT grown at Gill) a better source of biofuels by keeping it from flowering (reducing the possibility of the escape of transgenes) and making it bulkier and easier to process into ethanol. Given that USDA and the DOE has been mandated to explore the possibilities for biofuel production, I can't for the life of me think of why you would object to that work. Because anything of any potential use that comes from basic research is intrinsically evil? Because you know, in the religious sense, that all GMOs, or all biofuels, are "unclean"? Is this what environmentalism has become. Just another religion?
Eric Bordax November 20, 2012 at 04:11 AM
If someone claims that genetic engineering is harmful one more time I'm going to shoot myself in the face. The appeal to nature has snowballed into some sort of anti-scientific pseudo-environmentalist monster that is driving me insane. We might as well stop drinking the tap water on campus because of all the dihydrogen monoxide the university is putting into it.
Jack Osborne November 20, 2012 at 05:04 AM
@Old MacDonald: This is from the article you cite: "Geneticists from the University of California, Berkeley, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture did the work **at the USDA's Plant Gene Expression Center** in Albany, just off Buchanan Street at I-80 near Target and **down the street from Cal's recently occupied Gill Tract research fields**." So, your one article has *nothing* to do with the Gill tract, and in fact is about *biofuel* and not food. Thus so far on this thread you have zero valid references. I'm afraid you have a good bit of work to do to establish credibility on this subject. I look forward to your further efforts.
Stephanie Travis November 20, 2012 at 09:11 AM
It was evident from the beginning that the faux Occupiers were not serious about feeding the needy. It doesn’t matter how much food you grow, if you don’t have an effective delivery system, those that need the food will not get it. The trespassers were either too lazy or indifferent, to do this, and in the end they stood on street corners, trying to hand out food to any random passerby. I am thrilled UC is finally standing up to this group of attention-seeking hypocrites. As to the comment on UC fees, fees are high at UC and CSU because California taxpayers decided, with the passage of Prop 13 in 1978, that they don’t want to support post secondary education. If they won’t do it, then students and their families will have to cover the cost. The California taxpayer provides 11% of UC Berkeley’s budget, and an average of 19% of the budget of the entire ten campus UC system, yet 94% of enrolled undergraduates are California residents. UC is also the largest recipient of federal contract and grant dollars, pouring literally hundreds of millions of dollars into the California economy. Thankfully Prop 30 passed and hopefully this means that California voters are beginning to realize that UC and CSU cannot maintain quality with support constantly eroding.
Damon Lisch November 21, 2012 at 12:48 AM
The place to go for that information is the Berkeley Center for Diversified Farming Systems (http://dfs.berkeley.edu). It is headed up by Claire Kremen (ckremen@berkeley.edu) and Alastair Iles (iles@berkeley.edu), two highly respected academics who study biodiversity and environmental regulation respectively. Dr. Kremen received the Macarthur "Genius Award" back in 2007. According to the dfs web site,"Diversified farming systems are a set of methods and tools developed to produce food sustainably by leveraging ecological diversity at plot, field, and landscape scales. Food crops are planted and animals are grazed in ways that replenish natural ecosystems". In addition, ESPM, the department coordinating this effort has made a new hire, Dr. Kathryn DeMaster, who will serve as Assistant Professor of Agriculture, Society, and Food Security and, as I understand it, will head up research on urban agriculture at Gil. DeMaster served as coordinator of the “Cultivating Hope” Community Urban Agriculture Initiative and has been active in food security issues. As you can see, these are serious people who are deeply interested in the kinds of issues that OTF says they care about. I'm sure that members of dfs will be more than happy to discuss the planned academic work with interested Albany residents, although I'm guessing that they are still very much in the planning stages.
Old MacDonald November 21, 2012 at 03:46 AM
Jack, its not my job to pablum-feed you information you can easily find in a google search. Maybe Damon can help. Damon, Jack seems to think Sarah Hake grew her GMO switchgrass somewhere other than the Gill Tract-- perhaps you could offer your scientific expertise on that possibility?
M luudensis November 21, 2012 at 04:18 AM
It seems Old McD's still has not read the article. Which states the location of the research, the USDA building. The article is really not overly scientific and quite easy to understand; I'm still a little confused as to why you cite something you have not read? Common practice I guess.
Jack Osborne November 21, 2012 at 04:21 AM
@Old MacDonald: You'll find that in order to have any credibility on a topic you need to be able to take the time (moments, if your claim is correct) to support your position with a few valid references. And now you are arguing against the one reference you've provided. Until you're willing to put in some effort and not just throw down accusations, no one is going to take you seriously. Or bother to respond to you further.
Damon Lisch November 21, 2012 at 03:59 PM
@Old Macdonald. It is a matter of public record that no GMOs of any kind, corn or switchgrass, are grown at Gill. All the experiments involving switchgrass are done in greenhouses, not the Gill tract, because we are not allowed to grow GMOs at Gill. Now, here is my concern. I suspect that you know all of this, since it's pretty easy to find out, and I'm sure you know that there are environmental extremists who have an almost religious certainty about the dangers of any GMOs, of any kind, and who are willing to destroy any research that they don't approve of. By constantly implying that our work is part of some kind of University-corporate evil plot to foist GMOs on the world, you put my work at risk, you put me at risk, and you put my students at risk. By doing that, you dishonor yourself and your movement. When you first occupied my research field, you told us that you had nothing but respect for the scientists you were displacing. When we had the temerity to object to your plans, you started a smear campaign which has continued unabated for the past several months, something that you even had the gall to warn us of before you started doing it, as in "play ball, or else". It's funny. I've read about this kind of bare-knuckled politics for years, but I've never actually seen it up close and personal. It's been an education, for me, and I hope for all the members of our community.
Donna Lyle January 11, 2013 at 12:54 AM
"Hard on Cal"? That's quite amusing!

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