Members of the local community and Occupy movement broke into UC-owned research land in Albany on Sunday to farm the land before setting up tents and establishing an occupation. Protesters from Occupy Cal, Occupy Oakland and Occupy San Francisco cleared and tilled the ground and planted hundreds of vegetable starters before setting up tents on the Gill Tract, a plot of land at the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues.
In the past, the plot has been used for university research and experimentation, but current plans will bring a Whole Foods Market and senior center to the plot. According to event organizer Gopal Dayaneni, the purpose of the “Occupy the Farm” event was to show that the land should be used for the public good as opposed to for corporate expansion. “This is the last, best agricultural land in the East Bay,” Dayaneni said. “Some research happens here, but the UC has been chopping it up and selling it off through the years, and it’s now been designated for capitalism.”
Participants began the day by marching from Ohlone Park in Berkeley to the location in Albany. About 200 people helped work the land throughout the day, Dayaneni said, roughly 15 of whom were members of Occupy Cal.
Dayaneni said the participants intended to camp overnight Sunday and continue farming Monday morning if they are not forced out by UCPD. Earlier in the day, UCPD officers announced that participants would be subject to citation or arrest if they remained on the land.
Under the California Education Code, people on UC campuses cannot bring tents or set up a campsite without authorization from a university official. When tents were erected on the UC Berkeley campus during the Nov. 9 Occupy Cal protest, at least 50 officers from UCPD and Alameda County Sheriff’s Department physically confronted the hundreds of protesters, making arrests, taking down the tents and allegedly injuring several people.
About 25 tents were set up on the farmland by 9:30 p.m, according to UC Berkeley senior and Occupy Cal member Navid Shaghaghi.
UC Berkeley alumna Anya Kamenskaya had conducted research on the land and proposed to the university in 2009 that it establish a farm to teach young students about farming and healthy food.
Her proposal was denied, and the land remained covered by weeds and mustard seeds. After graduating, Kamenskaya kept an eye on the land to see how it would be used and helped organize the Occupy event. “The University of California is a public institution — the land is public land, so it belongs to all of us,” Kamenskaya said. “Many people in the East Bay have to depend on the corporate-industrial food complex for financial reasons, but we’re dedicated to teaching them how to grow their own food so they can put it to use in their individual communities.”
While looking out over the rows of collard greens and celery being planted, UC Berkeley graduate student and Occupy Cal member Ian Saxton said that this event was “the best of Occupy.”
“The Occupy movement brings together a diverse group of people with a wide range of perspectives, experiences and skill sets,” Saxton said. “That potential is being realized today.”