To those who had become accustomed to seeing the Occupy movement build its camps in squares and buildings, the occupation of a farm seemed a curious choice for the protest group. However, the truth is Occupy the Farm is arguably one of OWS’s most important offshoots—a movement that not only draws attention to the rotten corporate practices of Big Ag but also focuses on issues near and dear to Occupy’s heart, such as the environment and overall health of society.
Media coverage of superbugs, food recalls and pink slime meat have all brought the issue of bad food production to the forefront in American culture. Yet the issue of food sovereignty not only includes safety, but also access, and this concerns everyone even if they’re not a farmer. As the author and farmer Wendell Berry once wrote, “If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.”
According to the Obama administration’s Health Food Financing Initiative, about 23.5 million Americans live in low-income areas that are more than one mile from a supermarket. Unfortunately, sometimes the so-called “solution” proposed to alleviate this crisis is to build a Walmart, which will indeed sell produce, but that produce is unlikely to come from a local, sustainable farm. The result may be the alleviation of one problem (food deserts) but at the cost of worsening other areas (food safety, sustainability, environment) while quietly tolerating Walmarts already legendary mistreatment of workers.
Another way to think of food sovereignty is in terms of food security. La Via Campesina, an international movement that coordinates peasant organizations of small producers, agricultural workers, rural women and indigenous communities from Asia, Africa, America and Europe, defines food sovereignty as “the right of people to define agriculture and food policy, including prioritizing local agricultural production, access of peasants and landless people to land, water, seeds, and credit.”
If our society eats better and ensures the sovereignty and dignity of the people growing our food, we all grow stronger.
Keeping with all of these themes, OTF activists moved onto the Gill Tract, a patch of land along the San Pablo Avenue in Albany on Earth Day, April 22, and they’re asking that UC Berkeley preserve part of the tract for agricultural study and urban farming. (photo by @chrismyee)
“We envision a future of food sovereignty,” OTF states on its website, “in which our East Bay communities make use of available land—occupying it where necessary—for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.”
But why this particular farm? OTF explains:
“These are the last acres of Class One soil left in the urbanized East Bay. Ninety percent of the original land has been paved over and developed, irreversibly contaminating the land.”
The group goes on to detail how students, professors and the community have fought for decades to save the land from development so they could use it for sustainable agriculture, but UC Berkeley currently administers the land and has it slated for rezoning and redevelopment, i.e., building supermarkets (ironically, a Whole Foods), parking lots, apartments etc. in 2013. Furthermore, the university uses the land to research corn genetics, which OTF claims can be done anywhere, as opposed to this unique site.