Monday, Cal staff plowed up seeds planted over the weekend by activists at Albany’s University Village. Photo: David Sanger

For the third time in less than a week, Cal staff have plowed up crops planted in Albany by a group of activists who have been working to turn a UC-owned vacant lot slated for development into a community farm.

The activists, called Occupy the Farm, have been visiting the San Pablo Avenue site regularly since May 11. They’ve planted crops and camped several times, and many of its members say the land should be protected in perpetuity and used for farming. The University of California, which owns the land, has been working with the city of Albany for about five years to develop a project for the property, at Monroe Street, which is set to include a Sprouts Farmers Market and a senior housing complex.

An Occupy the Farm spokeswoman, Lesley Haddock, said she was disappointed by the university’s decision to plow Monday.

“The land is not being used right now and they’re not planning to build this spring,” she said. “We’re not camping there. We’re just coming back to water and grow food for people, so it seems like a really terrible waste.”

Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor of communications and public affairs for Cal, said the activists camped Saturday night but left of their own accord Sunday at about 10 p.m. Unlike early last week, when several people were arrested after police said they refused to leave the land, there were no arrests over the weekend or Monday.

“We’re just moving forward with what we’ve been doing throughout this process,” she said. “We’re removing the plantings and continuing to monitor the situation and evaluate the next move.”

Over the weekend, emotions ran high between a small group of about a dozen counter-protesters from Albany and several members of Occupy the Farm. Albany residents opposed to the occupation have said the lot is not a good place for farmland, and that they want to see the UC development go forward.

“There are just some strong feelings on both sides,” said Holmes. “The counter-protesters really are against the Occupy the Farm people being there. Some words were exchanged, but that’s everyone’s right.”

YouTube video

Albany Councilwoman Joanne Wile visited the site Saturday afternoon to express support for the UC project moving forward.

“We have had five years of planning with a lot of community involvement, and I would like to see it proceed,” she said. In light of Cal’s decision to launch an urban agricultural institute connected to research fields north of the site, she said, the land around Monroe should be developed as planned.

Saturday, a University Village resident walking past the area with her son, in the midst of banging drums and the burning of sage throughout the afternoon, said she didn’t support the occupation, particularly in light of the prior week’s activities.

“I have found the protesters incredibly disruptive,” she said. “They kept our family up until 2 a.m. partying and yelling right before my qualifying exams. I didn’t appreciate that.”

Albany Mayor Peggy Thomsen said she’d rather see the activists use the democratic process to see if the majority of the community would support their concept.

“We’ve had lots of meetings and we still have lots of meetings before this project is done,” she said. “It would be more productive if they were planting in a place where it’s legal. There are many seniors in our community who’d be happy for their help.”

About 50 activists showed up Saturday to replant after last week’s plowing. They weeded an area on the west side of the field, and planted seeds in rows. Activists said using seeds rather than starts would lead to a better chance for the plants’ survival should plowing happen again.

Activist Franki J, 30, of Oakland said concerns about food sovereignty and food justice had drawn her into the Occupy the Farm activities.

“This land was intended for agricultural use,” she said. “It’s important we can feed the people. Why are we not growing food everywhere? We’re in a race to the bottom and it will get worse unless we can find solutions.”

Jacob Levin, 24, said he’d gotten involved with Occupy the Farm after working on farms and social justice issues in North Carolina.

“This occupation is putting forward a vision of what society could be,” he said. “I don’t know how to change the system but this seems like a first step.”

(The following photographs were taken by Emilie Raguso on Saturday, May 18.)

Two Albany residents, a counter-protester on the left and an Occupy the Farm supporter on the right, talk Saturday.
Getting ready to plant.
Police monitored the planting activities.
Activists mostly planted seeds, but some starts were also on-site.
The revolutionary banjo arrives. Said the musician: “Music got its start in the fields, it belongs there.”
The revolutionary banjo arrives. Said the musician: “Music got its start in the fields, it belongs there.”
Activists salvage plowed-under starts from a row planted last week.
A pile of compost serves as a staging area for plants and gardening tools.
An Occupy the Farm supporter removes police tape.
Several activists shuck fava beans for planting.
Shucking fava beans under a shady canopy.

Lawsuit to stop grocery store tentatively denied [05.17.13]
Occupy the Farm: ‘We’ll keep coming back’ [05.14.13]
4 arrests, as Cal ends brief Albany occupation [05.13.13]
Urban farmers plan ‘short-form’ Gill Tract occupation [05.10.13]
Cal razes latest Occupy the Farm greens at Gill Tract [11.16.12]
UC Berkeley regains control of Gill Tract from activists [05.14.12]
UC Berkeley police block access to Occupy The Farm [05.09.12]
UC Berkeley sets midnight deadline for Occupy the Farm [05.05.12]
Could UC and Occupy the Farm compromise on Gill Tract? [05.04.12]
UC Berkeley on Occupy the Farm: ‘Time is running out’ [05.03.12]
Occupy the Farm activists issue open letter to community [04.30.12]
University open letter addresses ‘confusion’ on Gill Tract [04.27.12]
UC Berkeley calls for peaceful end to Occupy the Farm [04.23.12]

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Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...