In protest of plans to build a Whole Foods Market and senior housing facility on a portion of UC Berkeley-owned land, members of the Occupy movement have established numerous tent encampments on the property. On Sunday, April 22 (Earth Day), about 200 protesters marched onto the undeveloped tract of land and began to plow, de-weed and plant thousands of seeds. Gopal Dayaneni, the event organizer, stated that the “Occupy the Farm” event was to demonstrate that the land should be utilized for the benefit of the public rather than for corporate growth.
UC Berkeley administrators, however, have pointed out that while there are plans to construct a senior housing facility, this facility would not be built on the farmland that the protesters are currently occupying. “The existing agricultural fields on the Gill Tract are currently, and for the foreseeable future, being used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of our College of Natural Resources for agricultural research,” stated an open letter by the UC Berkeley administration. The letter defended the plan, describing it as the product of a “collaborative, five-year long community engagement process” with Albany residents.
“This is the last, best agricultural land in the East Bay,” stated Dayaneni in an article by The Daily Californian. “Some research happens here, but the UC has been chopping it up and selling it off through the years, and it’s now been designated for capitalism.” The Occupy the Farm event started with participants marching from the Ohlone Park in Berkeley to the location in Albany. The occupying of Gill Tract was conducted by a collaboration of protesters from Occupy Cal, Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco.
Although the UC Berkeley administration allowed the occupiers to remain on the land for several days, the administration has since called upon the protesters to disperse. “Our researchers need to begin planting in the very near future and we cannot allow their work to be impeded. For that reason we are calling on the occupiers to dismantle their encampment immediately and establish a representative group to meet with UC Berkeley representatives,” stated the open letter, which also expressed the administration’s concerns with the protesters’ rationale. “We take issue with the protesters’ approach to property rights. By their logic they should be able to seize what they want if, in their minds, they have a better idea of how to use it.”
Students have previously shown interest in the land, particularly with an eye on maintaining its use for the community. In 2009, UC Berkeley alumna Anya Kamenskaya proposed the establishment of a farm that would be used to educate youth about agriculture and nutrition. Although the plan was not implemented, Kamenskaya continued to monitor the land and even assisted in organizing the Occupy event.
“The University of California is a public institution—the land is public land, so it belongs to all of us,” Kamenskaya said in an article by The Daily Californian. “Many people in the East Bay have to depend on the corporate-industrial food complex for financial reasons, but we’re dedicated to teaching them how to grow their own food so they can put it to use in their individual communities.”