University Shuts Off Water, as Occupy Activists Say Sustainable Community is the Goal

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[Editor's Note: This is a quick snapshot from a brief visit to the Gill Tract on Monday afternoon. Patch will be out there for the remainder of Monday, and will continue to cover the issue into the foreseeable future. Have questions you'd like us to try to answer? Please let us know in the comments.]

Stepping into the Gill Tract on Monday afternoon, more than an acre of land had been weeded, rototilled and planted, with more work underway by a group of activists for social justice and urban farming who Sunday. 

A potluck is planned for 6 p.m. on Monday for everyone interested to know more about the effort happening in the southwest of San Pablo and Marin avenues. 

University and city of Albany officials said Monday that they're hoping for a to the occupation.

On Monday, just before 4 p.m., one activist said the university had shut off water to the fields, and urged supporters to contact the chancellor's office to protest the decision. 

Earlier in the day, farmers on the Gill Tract said they're making plans to cultivate parts of the 15-acre lot for the long haul.

"This land, we feel, has been underutilized and doesn't stand to benefit the people in our community," said Lesley Haddock, 20, a media liaison for the group Take Back the Tract. "We want it to serve as a model for urban agriculture, in a time when people feel insecure about where their food comes from. We want to demonstrate we can sustain ourselves in a way that's healthy, genetically pure and longterm." 

Haddock, a current UC Berkeley undergraduate who's originally from Petaluma, described the group's plans and the layout of the site on Monday afternoon.

Entering the farm, visitors can see, on the right, an information table and library boasting a range of books, with a medic tent and food area on the left. Every night, the group plans to rebuild its encampment depending on where the day's farming took place, and will take down the tents before work begins the next day.

"This is a sustainable community that provides for the people's needs as long as they're here," said Haddock. "It's a real community experience." 

Haddock said students, faculty and community members tried for 15 years to express their desires and dreams to the university for a community garden at the Gill Tract, but met with no success. 

"We're at the point of last resort," she said. "We were not getting anywhere through traditional discourse. The field's been lying fallow since winter, and we're going to cultivate it and make it a hub for urban agriculture and education. We're going to turn this land into something we as a people need."

Haddock said those involved with Take Back the Tract, also known as Occupy the Farm, were concerned about plans to pave over the Gill Tract for a parking lot and a Whole Foods market. 

Community Development Director Jeff Bond, with the city of Albany, said the current agricultural land that's being occupied is not part of the project area where the . The Whole Foods would be sited between Monroe Street and Village Creek, which is essentially at the tree line that makes up the current Gill Tract's southern border. 

In UC's Master Plan (2004), said Bond, the agricultural land that's now being farmed by activists is zoned only for recreation or open space. The fields in , which are west of the senior housing and Whole Food project area, are guaranteed to be able to stay on their current location for at least 10 years if the current deal goes through.

But the issue is somewhat muddied by the fact that the original Gill Tract land, 104 acres, has been divided and developed over time, leaving farm occupation organizers concerned about the future of the remaining open space. 

"The fact that it's been sectioned off," said Anya Kamenskaya, "history shows they've been eating away at it incrementally. We don't feel convinced the university is committed to keeping it for agricultural use." 

Kamenskaya said, even though the Whole Foods is not planned to be developed on the farm land, the group hopes to shut down the development altogether. 

Haddock said there wasn't necessarily a consensus among Take Back the Tract participants about whether they were against Whole Foods in general, beyond the Albany site. 

But she noted that the company, though better than some, still has a number of unsustainable practices that concerned her, including sourcing non-local food, and offering packaged and plastic-wrapped food.

Haddock said plans for Occupy the Farm began in late 2011, and that vegetable starts had been donated to the group from as far away as San Jose. Carrots, kale, broccoli and corn are among the crops being planted. 

Activists took down a  on Sunday, though tall fava bean stalks belonging to researcher Miguel Altieri remained standing. 

"For now, we're leaving them," said Haddock. "We haven't decided long-term what to do with them."

She said she'd been stunned Sunday to see hundreds of people working the fields, many of whom had no prior farming experience. About 300 people attended Sunday's event, with about 60 who slept overnight, she said. 

The group could use donations, she said, of supplies, money and a motorcycle engine "to turn into a generator to charge cell phones," as well as volunteers to help with farming.

Haddock said the group had been speaking with numerous Albany residents who'd come over to check out the site or help farm, and that one of the group's goals is to get a better understanding of what city residents want to see at the site. 

Tuesday night, the related to the , and Haddock said there would likely be people there to speak on behalf of the occupation of the Gill Tract. 

For now, however, the focus is on the farm.

"For the next few days, we're expanding," she said. "Soon, all of this will be farm land."

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

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.

Julie April 24, 2012 at 03:11 PM
We have only the word of the protesters that the water has been turned off. Patch seems to have taken their word for it, without verifying. And you seem to have bought it, too.
Carol Carlisle April 24, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Not to mention the creek, part of the East Bay water shed, that runs though the woods that will become polluted. I photographed it yesterday. Might be interesting to document it's progress.
Albany Teacher April 24, 2012 at 07:34 PM
Would love to see an urban farm like Fairview Gardens in Goleta, CA in the Occupy part of the Gill Tract. http://www.fairviewgardens.org/ Would love to see a Monterrey Market type store in the Whole Foods part of the Gill Tract. Affordable organic produce and a decent sized market for the area.
Robert Marshall April 24, 2012 at 09:59 PM
...Activists took down a huge swath of mustard on Sunday, though tall fava bean stalks belonging to researcher Miguel Altieri remained standing. "For now, we're leaving them," said Haddock. "We haven't decided long-term what to do with them." What a terribly arrogant statement. They recognize that Miguel Altieri is using the land for the same purpose they are proponents of (farming), but Haddock says THEY will decide long-term whether it stays, or not.
John Kindle April 27, 2012 at 06:07 AM
One time I saw a tom turkey single handily drive off a herd of deer. To bad they can't do the same to the squatters. i guess we need to contact UCPD: Non-Emergency (510) 642-6760 police@berkeley.edu Mitchell J. Celaya III, Chief of Police (510) 642-1133 mjc@berkeley.edu Jennifer Woods, Executive Assistant (510) 643-7500 jwoods@berkeley.edu


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