Urban farming activists have continued to plant at Albany’s Gill Tract, a University of California-owned research field, since trying to take over the land earlier this year to turn it into an urban farm. (This photograph was taken in the spring.) Photo: Tracey Taylor

The latest development in the battle over the future of a hotly contested research field in Albany took place Friday when the UC Berkeley dean who oversees the land released a new open letter about his goals for the stewardship of the space.

Urban farming activists recently broke into the fenced-off Gill Tract field to plant about 2,000 winter greens. They announced plans to continue working part of the field in the coming months, in conjunction with hosting several community forums and vegetable distributions. In October, they held a pumpkin carving event, and last week they organized a forum in North Oakland to “discuss how we can work together to strengthen local struggles for land, food, and power — at the Gill Tract Farm and beyond.”

UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said, as of Friday evening via email, that “The occupy crops are no longer there.”

The activists’ recent farming efforts have clashed with stated university plans to plant a cover crop over the entire Gill Tract to replenish the soil.

In the university’s open letter, which appears below in full, Dean Keith Gilless of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, said activists elected to plant crops at the Gill Tract after his announcement in September that “the growing grounds would need to be planted with a cover crop this winter.”

Wrote Gilless: “in recent weeks they have continued with their unauthorized planting. I truly regret that they chose to spend their time and efforts on planting that we have had to disc under, rather than seek ways to work with my college and the community.”

(“Disc under” refers to a farming process in which soil is broken up and old crops are chopped up to make land easier to plow.)

In recent years, the field has largely been off-limits to the public, though various groups have repeatedly asked the university to open up the space to the broader community.

Activists calling themselves Occupy the Farm took over the land in April and planted vegetables inside the gated research field, arguing that the space would be better used as a community garden. They occupied the space for weeks before ultimately returning control of the land to the university.

Since then, activists have continued to break into the field to tend their crops, harvest vegetables, and hold community events designed to raise awareness about their dreams for the future of the land.

The open letter released Friday evening by the university appears below in full. Berkeleyside will continue to follow this story.

Open Letter From UC Berkeley Dean Keith Gilless to Albany Community

November 16, 2012

To: Members of the Albany City Council, and the Albany community at large
From: J. Keith Gilless. Dean, UC Berkeley College of Natural Resources

As we move into the fall season I want to provide you, our neighbors, with an update on current and planned activities on the Gill Tract. Over the course of the last few weeks, our researchers have completed work that was underway during the growing season and now, as I’m sure many of you have noticed, our staff has begun to prepare the fields for the winter. As I outlined in my last letter on September 18th, next spring we will be using all of the growing grounds in order to accommodate existing research and teaching endeavors, as well as our newly expanded program dedicated to the investigation of food systems and food security issues. We have been removing all drip irrigation and mulching, mowing remaining plant material, and turning over the soil with tractor-towed discs in order to prepare the fields for a winter cover crop that will replenish soil nitrogen and add organic material to the ground.

Much of our planning process for the next growing season is focused on work already underway at our emerging program in urban food systems and food security.  This program is being spear-headed by existing faculty and will receive further support in the coming years by the addition of a new Cooperative Extension (CE) Specialist for the Berkeley Campus and 3 CE Advisors in the Bay Area.  These positions were approved by the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, demonstrating our commitment to research, teaching and extension in this rapidly evolving area of academic and social interest.

We will continue to work collaboratively with members of the Albany community and the Albany City Council as we move forward with the exciting work of developing a program that will benefit communities throughout the Bay Area, California and beyond. I remain interested in and committed to developing partnerships that could allow for significant community participation in agricultural activities on the Gill Tract.

I must reiterate how unfortunate it is that members of the group Occupy the Farm have continued their illegal incursions onto the Gill Tract to engage in unauthorized use of University resources. In mid-September we gave them advance notice that all of the growing grounds would need to be planted with a cover crop this winter, yet in recent weeks they have continued with their unauthorized planting. I truly regret that they chose to spend their time and efforts on planting that we have had to disc under, rather than seek ways to work with my college and the community. Their disregard for the rights of our research community and programmatic development activities are a direct threat to both academic freedom and our capacity to fulfill the University’s mission. 

I remain committed to moving forward in a manner which respects all voices and perspectives in the Albany community, and honors past, present and future democratic community processes.

Cal: No GM crops at Gill Tract, research work is under way [05.18.12]
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract
Police raid, clear out Occupy the Farm, handful of arrests [05.14.12]
UC Berkeley speaks of impasse, seals off Occupy Farm [05.10.12]
Activists: Farming and research can coexist, no need for police [05.10.12]
UC Berkeley files lawsuit against Occupy the Farm activists [05.09.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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Emilie Raguso (senior editor, news) joined the Berkeleyside team in 2012. She covers politics, public safety and development. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist...