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Protesters Continue Farm Occupation, Plan Weekend Activities

By Jeff Shuttleworth (BCN)
Saturday April 28, 2012 - 11:25:00 PM

A group of protesters continue to occupy a 10-acre plot of agricultural land in Albany that is owned by the University of California at Berkeley and plans many activities there this weekend, a spokeswoman said today. 

Anya Kamanskaya of Occupy The Farm said about 70 to 80 people are on the land now and "are setting up for a big weekend" that she hopes will draw at least several hundred people to the site. 

The protest began Sunday at the site, which is known as the Gill Tract and is located near the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues. 

Kamanskaya said an open house for the community and the media today and Sunday will include yoga, meditation, farming workshops, teach-ins, food and a question-and-answer session with reporters. 

Protesters, who have been planting vegetables at the site, say they are occupying the land because they want it to be preserved for sustainable agriculture. 

They allege that UC plans to replace the current agricultural land with commercial, recreational and open space. 

But UC Berkeley Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost George Breslauer and Vice Chancellor John Wilton said in a letter to the community that the existing agricultural fields will continue to be used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of the College of Natural Resources for agricultural research. 

Breslauer and Wilton said the parcel of land where development is being proposed is to the south of the Gill Tract, at the intersection of Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue. They said that land hasn't been farmed since World War II. 

Breslauer and Wilton said the university has been actively participating in a collaborative, five-year long community engagement process about our its proposed development project but Occupy the Farm appears to have little regard for the process or the people who have participated in it. 

They said, "We take issue with the protesters' approach to property rights. By their logic they should be able to seize what they want if, in their minds, they have a better idea of how to use it." 

But Kamanskaya alleged that "the university has been unresponsive to community input" and hasn't worked with community members who have been trying to promote urban agriculture on the Gill Tract for 15 years. 

Breslauer and Wilton said the university will continue to have a dialogue with the protesters and is seeking "a peaceful resolution." But they said university researchers need to begin planting soon "and we cannot allow their work to be impeded." 

Breslauer and Wilton said, "We are calling on the occupiers to dismantle their encampment immediately and establish a representative group to meet with UC Berkeley representatives to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with the campus." 

However, Kamanskaya said, "We have no plans to leave. We're really committed to farming this land."