University officials visit Gill Tract to speak with protesters

J. Keith Gilless, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, spent more than an hour Tuesday in dialogue with protesters who are illegally trespassing on the Gill Tract in Albany. He provided facts and information concerning the site and its research uses.

UC Berkeley at this time is calling on Occupy the Farm to peacefully and safely end the encampment and vacate the property immediately. Its position on the issue is detailed below:

UC response to Gill Tract illegal occupation

Research at the Gill Tract

Research at the Gill Tract

The Gill Tract has been a living classroom for UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources (CNR) for more than 50 years. The Gill Tract provides a small but significant agricultural research land in a dense urban area.

CNR’s well-respected research activities on the site encompass basic plant biology, alternative cropping systems, plant-insect interactions and tree pests and pathogens.

Each year’s planting typically occurs after the last rains. During the winter (dormant) months, the land is rejuvenated with appropriate plant cover. CNR faculty and students have been gearing up for planting in the coming weeks.

The Gill Tract is bordered by a two major thoroughfares – San Pablo Avenue, which is also a state highway, and Buchanan Street, which is a main exit off of both I-880 and 580. UC Berkeley students and faculty can easily access the Gill Tract by bike, public transit or car.

The Gill Tract sits at the northeast quadrant of UC Berkeley’s property, adjacent to University Village, UC Berkeley’s graduate student housing. A total of 976 graduate students and their families reside in the Village, and are part of the Albany community. Many people may remember the former Village housing — reused military barracks. Upon completing the new Village housing, the barracks were demolished. The proposed Whole Foods market and senior housing will replace the aging housing adjacent on both sides of Monroe Street. Neither would be sited on the agricultural portion of the Gill Tract.

Current status of Gill Tract with Occupy the Farm

 A group of people illegally “occupied” the Gill Tract on April 22, terming the action “Occupy the Farm.” After breaking the locks, they embarked on a large-scale clearing of the land and planting of vegetable plots. These new plots are taking the place of what was intended to be CNR educational, agricultural study for faculty and students who have been eagerly preparing and awaiting the right time to start their Gill Tract research. From the University perspective, the actions of Occupy the Farm are the equivalent to taking valuable, needed classrooms or laboratories away from students and faculty.

The faculty and students at Berkeley are leaders in advocating for sustainable practices and food systems, and have been doing so for decades. Many of us are passionate advocates of efforts to develop a new metropolitan agriculture paradigm focused on improved nutrition and safe, cost effective, collaborative approaches to food security and access. We are committed to metropolitan agriculture projects that are well planned, sustainable and considerate of all members of our community.

University of California’s responsibility as stewards of public land

The Gill Tract is not land that is conducive or safe for people to live on. There are no longer any lodging facilities, bathrooms or kitchens available at the site. UC Berkeley takes seriously the health and safety of faculty, students and visitors to any campus facility. We cannot condone or permit the unlawful camping on the Gill Tract.

 We are committed to, and potentially legally liable for, the personal safety of anyone who is on our land. Metropolitan agriculture is a wonderful educational opportunity for children, but volunteers, children and farming equipment require careful management. UC, in cooperation with dedicated and trained volunteers, already administers California’s 4-H program. We have a good track record of running such programs effectively and safely.

We are concerned about how Occupy the Farm is addressing sanitation. Hand washing and safe food handling and preparation are important and treatment of human waste is critical. UC Berkeley does not support composting human waste, due to the possibility of the transmission of disease, especially on agricultural land.

The water system at the Gill Tract is designed for agriculture, not camping or habitation. The University turned off the irrigation during the unlawful occupation. This action did not impact the fire hydrants surrounding the Gill Tract serving the local community.

It is our responsibility to UC Berkeley students and faculty in CNR to ensure the Gill Tract can be prepared for their education and research purposes. Representatives of the University are willing to meet with any interested community members to discuss metropolitan, sustainable agriculture, but we must ensure that UC Berkeley research can resume safely at the Gill Tract. 

At this point, Occupy the Farm is preventing UC Berkeley from meeting the needs of our students and faculty.

UC Berkeley calls on Occupy the Farm to:

  • Vacate the Gill Tract safely, peacefully and immediately. 
  • Remove all encampment and farming supplies.
  • Organize a committee to meet with UC Berkeley representatives to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with UC Berkeley.

Illegal occupation of Albany open space infringes on research

April 23, 2012: “A group of about 200 people broke into a lot near UC Berkeley’s University Village to, as they put it, “Occupy the Farm to Take Back the Gill Tract.” After illegally cutting the gate locks yesterday, the group entered the Albany site, roto-tilled part of the ground, planted seedlings and set up a small tent encampment, which it continues to occupy….” Read more