On Earth Day 2012, hundreds of activists, students, and real food advocates occupied a portion of the Gill Tract, a five-acre, unused University of California agricultural testing that the community had long wanted to be turned into an urban farm. While the occupation appeared spontaneous, it was instead the result of months of planning, seed plant growing, and organizing community support.
Instead of celebrating the collaborative effort to grow healthy food on a piece of fertile land, the UC officials responded by immediately shutting off water to the site. But in a moment of pure serendipity, a late-season storm brought a half-inch of rain to the San Francisco Bay Area the very next day, irrigating the thousands of vegetable starts that were already in the ground.
Unfortunately, school official’s didn’t take Mother Nature’s hint. The Oakland Tribune reports that about 100 University police officers clad in riot gear and brandishing batons showed up at the impromptu community farm yesterday morning. Seven protesters were arrested outside the property’s closed gate for unlawful assembly, and two were arrested inside for trespassing. The rest of the sleepy occupiers were left to break down the camp, but several of them stayed on the Gill Tract over the weekend, asking for a public dialogue with UC Berkeley.
But the University has been silent since releasing a statement before the arrests began. It reads: “We deeply regret that the occupiers’ actions and continued insistence on free and unfettered access to what is an open-air laboratory left us no choice but to take this step.”
One of the organizers of the occupation, Anya Kamenskaya, said she started farming the land out of the need for “sustainable food production in urban areas.”
She said she was partly motivated to trespass and begin farming without permission after trying for six months to get university officials to allow a nearby elementary school to use a small part of the land to teach its students how to grow food. ”The kids were really excited, but the university was mostly worried about liability issues,” Kamenskaya said.
The Gill Tract Farmers Collective has called for a reconvergence at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., at 5 PM today, Tuesday May 15th. There is no word yet on what the University plans to do with all of the vegetation planted by the occupiers.
What do you think? Should the University have allowed the farmers to continue their reclamation of the land? Or did the protesters deserve to be arrested? Share your thoughts in a comment?
Image via Occupy The Farm