One Gill Tract Researcher on Why He Supports Occupy the Farm

Professor Miguel Altieri supports the activists: "I don’t think genetics is going to save us. You need to have a holistic approach to come up with systems that will resist climate change." Click the "Keep me posted" button below for updates.

When activists took over the Gill Tract on April 22, UC Berkeley Professor Miguel Altieri who works on the site, was out of the country. Altieri returned later in the week and offered a workshop at the Gill Tract over the weekend.

“I support this action as a private citizen,” Altieri told Albany Patch in an interview Saturday.

In fact, he said, many of the people involved with Occupy the Farm are former students. Asked if he knew about the group’s plans in advance, Altieri said no. 

Altieri, a professor since 1981, teaches agroecology and is part of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley. His research, which can be called sustainable agriculture, looks at the effect of intercropping, covercropping weed management and crop-field border vegetation on pests.

According to his website, “Our group is also engaged in collaborative work with a number of Universities, NGOs and research centers in Africa, Asia and Latin America promoting research, training and capacity building in agrecology and sustainable agriculture.” Altieri earned his undergraduate degree in Chile.


At the Gill Tract, Altieri raises and studies dry-farmed tomatoes and also intercrops broccoli with other plants for pest management. He said he will start his tomatoes in a couple weeks, and that he will engage some of the activists to help, so they can learn about dry farming. “It has to be organized and supervised,” he said.

He has donated his produce to groups such as Food Not Bombs for 20 years, he said.

Asked about the conflict between the activists and the university, Altieri said, “it would not look very good that the university turns under crops that could feed hungry people in Oakland.”

The activists have left Altieri’s cover crop of fava beans on the largely untouched. Their farming has taken place on the section of the field previously used for growing corn (maize) for plant genetics studies by three other scientists. Those three—, and —have all because, at least in part, it has taken over their research space and left their work potentially hanging in the balance as a result.


During a talk to the activists Saturday, Altieri encouraged them to share the space with the corn researchers, said Lisch, who attended the talk.

But, when asked about in an interview later, Altieri said they could always “go to Davis” to do their work. When told that the corn researchers said the commute to Davis for their five-month field season would be problematic—time-consuming, polluting and prohibitive to student assistants without cars—and that the move would come too late for this year, Altieri dismissed the concerns.

“They have big money,” he said. “Federal and corporate.”  Sarah Hake, director of the Plant Gene Expression Center (PGEC), responded that no one at the center has corporate funding. 

Altieri said he really didn’t know what the corn researchers do—that he and they don’t have much professional contact. He and Hake are both part of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, but in separate departments. But he added: “I don’t think genetics is going to save us. You need to have a holistic approach to come up with systems that will resist climate change.”

Altieri also said he was a university member involved with the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture. About a decade ago the coalition proposed using the Gill Tract for a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems, but it never happened.

“I’m interested in promoting that again,” Altieri said.


Click the "Keep me posted" button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. Read more here on 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.

Colleen O'Neill May 01, 2012 at 03:45 PM
Ms. Pettit, I see I'm not the only one who has noticed the snide comments & attitudes of many of our neighbors. Makes me want to pass on doing my big HalloweenHouse/snicker bar pass out this year! I had no idea how patronized and ridiculed I am. By that I mean I don't blindly support UC & I have progressive politics. I've gone from sad to a little mad at all the conjectures of many Cal-ites. I hear no solutions ever. If I were more cynical I might believe that these posts come from someone at the UC Capitol Development Dept...Oh my - I too can put on my tin - foiled psychic hat! Yes Mr Barnes there's never been a decent movement, especially from your armchair...But you all should stop ascribing YOUR motives for doing things (greed, avarice, etc) to the rest of us. By the way - the Constitution allows me to dissent from your point of view/s - and it allows you to continue to mock me! So I guess we're even!
Michael Barnes May 02, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Colleen, I not sure why you have the impressions you do. In my replies you to personally, I have given you more information in a respectful manner. There are many of them above. I think it's obvious from my posts that I respect Gandhi. I've said it many times. But I don't respect the occupiers. Not all forms of protest or illegal activity are worthy of being compare to Gandhi.
Michael Barnes May 03, 2012 at 08:11 AM
Martha, time will tell, let's see where we are in a year or two. Meanwhile, I suspect that when the occupiers leave the Gill Tract, they will leave behind a huge mess. Since you consider this a successful act of civil disobedience, are you willing to help clean up after them? I don't think UC should have to pay for it. Or do you consider letting someone clean up after you (which I consider childish) a form of civil disobedience?
Ellen Hershey May 03, 2012 at 08:45 AM
Ms. Pettit, I don't think we can assume that the majority of Albany residents necessarily want the entire Gill Tract reserved for a farm. Some Albanians want baseball and soccer fields for their kids to play on. Many Albanians want a Whole Foods store, senior housing, and a childcare center. And please note that the plan does include a community garden. The future of the Gill Tract has been under discussion for a long time between the University and the Albany community, and community interests have been brought to the table. The occupiers seem to think that their interests should trump everyone else's.
Tatter Salad May 03, 2012 at 09:26 PM
Me thinks the Professor doth protest too much. “I support this action as a private citizen,” Altieri told Albany Patch in an interview Saturday. When a non-tenured professor wishes to speak as 'a private citizen,' then he should leave his Departmental affiliation, and PhD (in bugs) out of it. I wish you good luck when your review for 'tenure' comes up; - you may get a Chile reception, lol!


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