Occupy the Farm protestors on the Gill Tract. Photo: Tracey Taylor

The Occupy the Farm activists who have taken over agricultural research land in Albany owned by UC Berkeley issued an open letter to Albany residents and the East Bay Community on Sunday April 29.

Here’s the full text of the open letter (phrases in bold included):

As you read this letter, East Bay families and farmers continue to seed, weed, and water at Occupy The Farm. Public events over this weekend have included workshops by members of the community and the opening of the “Ladybug Patch” children’s area. For most Albany residents this is the first time they have ever been invited onto, or set foot upon this land.

We are writing you to correct the misinformation circulated by the University Administration in their recent open letter.

The University administration’s position does NOT represent the position of the entire university community. For example, there are 8 faculty members within the College of Natural Resources that are actively supporting the idea of turning the Gill Tract into an urban farm. These faculty’s interest in the Gill Tract stems from their affiliation with Berkeley’s new Diversified Farming Systems Center, whose mission is closely aligned with Occupy the Farm’s mission to promote “sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.” Building on the long history of the parcel as a home for Miguel Altieri’s agroecological research, the Gill Tract could potentially become a center for community outreach, agroecology, and urban farming – thereby meeting the growing interests of the university in socially and ecologically sustainable farming, and the needs of the local East Bay community.

We are well aware of the history of this land and the debates about its future. We encourage everyone to examine the University’s 2004 Master Plan, which clearly indicates that the historic agricultural field we have planted is intended to be developed. This field used to belong to the College of Natural resources, but has long since been transferred to Capital Projects, the development arm of the University of California. The UC allows researchers use of the field, but as long as this master plan remains in effect the clock is ticking, and the planned redevelopment will displace all researchers from this land as well.

We are acutely aware that our presence on this land presents challenges for the researchers who have been using this land as well as for the neighbors living around it. Our inability to provide advance notice for this action has certainly compounded this inconvenience. We recognize that it will take time and hard work to solidify good relationships with our neighbors, and we are humbled by the grace we have been shown by nearby residents, the UC Village, and the Ocean View Elementary School, and grateful to those who have allowed us to open lines of communication. We are hopeful that dialogue with the researchers can lead to a mutually acceptable resolution that reconciles the needs of those using the land for research with the long term goal of preserving this land as farmland for future generations.

The UC’s letter clearly exposes how out of touch it is with the Albany community. The UC claims to have been “actively participating in a collaborative, five-year-long community engagement process.” After five years of this supposed “collaboration” and “community engagement”, the same letter acknowledges that most Albany residents “are studying the details of the project for the first time as the result of media interest in the protest.” Albany community members have not been aware of this proposal because the UC has not engaged in a sufficiently open and participatory process. As Ulan McKnight, an Albany resident, says, “The process included no real collaboration. The University may have ‘listened’ to the community, but ignored their proposals and suggestions.”

Despite more than a decade of requests by many members of the community that the land be used for agriculture in service of the public interest, the UC continues to offer the land up for non-agricultural uses. In 1997, the UC walked away from the table during the final stages of deliberating a proposal for the Gill Tract drafted by a coalition of UC professors, residents, and more than 30 local non-profits known as the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA).These negotiations were abandoned with no explanation. Mara Duncan, an Albany resident for 16 years, says, “Long before the Whole Foods proposal, 1200 people in the community signed a petition asking to make the Gill Tract a community farm. When the Whole Foods proposal came, many of the voices supporting an urban farm felt shut out by the UC and the deliberative process.”

Dan Siegel, our legal counsel, points out that the UC is not only violating the public trust, it may also be violating the law. According to Siegel, “Since the Gill Tract represents one of the few remaining agricultural spaces in northern Alameda County, preserving it as a productive farm is consistent with public policy and the public interest.” Siegel cites several statues, including California Civic Code 815, which “declares that the preservation of land in its natural, scenic, agricultural, historical, forested, or open space condition is among the most important environmental assets of California.”

Our goal is to prevent development of agricultural land, and to allow the community to be engaged with the land. Support for The Farm is building because it represents an important hope for urban agriculture and community in the East Bay. Please join us in protecting our most valuable community resource. Farmland is for Farming.

This letter has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: April 29, 2012

An earlier version of this letter incorrectly quoted part of an Albany resident’s statement regarding the extent to which community voices were or were not considered in UC-sponsored listening sessions.

Continuing coverage of the Gill Tract protest can be found on Albany Patch.

UC Berkeley issues open letter to “clear confusion” on Gill Tract [ 04.27.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...