An Open Letter from Co-Directors of Diversified Farming Systems Center

May 07, 2012

"The current controversy at the Gill Tract has led to the Center for Diversified Farming Systems at the University of California at Berkeley, or “DFS,” surfacing in campus and newspaper communications. Many refer to the potential role of the center in developing activities on sustainable agriculture at the tract.

As co-Directors of the Center for DFS, and as members of both the East Bay community and the University of California, Berkeley, we wish to comment on the developing situation at the Gill Tract and suggest three steps for finding common ground and moving forward in a peaceful, respectful, and positive fashion.

We share in the excitement that members of the East Bay community and members of the University alike have expressed regarding the potential use of portions of the Gill Tract to promote education, outreach, and research in sustainable urban agriculture. We are eager to be a part of future plans to promote metropolitan agriculture at the site, building off the long history and thoughtful planning of the original Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture – a plan proposed by a consortium of NGOs, university faculty and extension staff, and community participants in the late 1990s. At the same time, we cannot condone the recent occupation of the Gill Tract by members of Occupy-the-Farm. While they have brought useful attention to the issue of preserving the property for agricultural use, should the occupation continue, it threatens to derail any progress towards a mutual goal of maintaining these farmlands and fostering a program for sustainable urban agriculture.

  1. We call on the University leadership to immediately set a date for a ‘Gill Tract Workshop’ to be held in the near future, open to any interested community members, NGO’s, University members, etc. with the purpose of developing plans to maintain these lands for agriculture and to foster development of a center for urban agriculture at the site. We further ask the University to take immediate steps in organizing and hosting this workshop, with independent facilitation, and then to act in good faith to implement these plans. We note that the University stated in a recent letter, that it is “more than willing to discuss opportunities for a metropolitan agriculture program affiliated with the campus.” We ask the University to make good on this statement by setting up this workshop as soon as possible. The Center for DFS would be happy to work with the University administration and an independent facilitator to organize such a workshop.

  2. We call on the Occupy-the-Farm activists to leave the Gill Tract site of their own accord and permit the Plant & Microbial Biology (PMB) researchers to plant their corn, which must happen next week. As long as the Occupy-the-Farm group maintains an encampment on the Gill Tract, a situation of conflict will be maintained, impeding any action towards developing the collaborative processes needed to establish sustainable urban agriculture at the site. Although located remotely from campus, the Gill Tract is the property of UC Berkeley, and University researchers from the College of Natural Resources are utilizing these plots for their research. The Occupy-the-Farm movement is harming these researchers by preventing them from planting their corn. For these students and faculty, the situation will soon become a crisis, because the corn must be planted soon. The University’s mission is to promote research and higher education – and it is therefore clear that it cannot stand by when work by its own faculty and staff is interrupted. The Occupy-The-Farm movement would do more to promote its own long-term mission by standing down now.

  3. We call on the University and the Plant & Microbial Biology corn researchers to respect the seeds and seedlings that the Occupy-the-Farm movement have recently planted, and to ensure that the harvest that will result from this impressive community effort be returned to the community, for example, as donations to homeless shelters and/or school lunch programs. From our productive conversations with the PMB corn researchers, we understand that the PMB corn researchers can restrict their corn plantings this year without harming their research effort, and may therefore be able to leave the community garden intact. We also understand that they are in fact favorable towards maintaining these plantings. Our understandings were echoed in the Open Letter from UC Berkeley sent out on May 2 from the Office of the Vice Chancellor: “In concert with our researchers, we have determined that not all of the Gill Tract acreage is needed for research projects in the current growing season. There is potentially room for both research and metropolitan farming.” By caring for the significant investment made by community members, the University can symbolize its good faith and its intent to work towards an equitable solution that simultaneously respects the prior rights of the PMB researchers to work at the Gill Tract, while promoting community interest in use of the site also for metropolitan agriculture, education, and outreach.

We hope that this letter will find receptive ears amongst the University administration, the PMB corn researchers, and the Occupy-the-Farm movement alike. We further hope that the steps we have proposed will be taken so that tensions can be diffused and the entire community can begin to progress towards goals that many on all sides of the Gill Tract issue share. We see much potential for identifying common ground among the interests of the Occupy-the-Farm movement, the PMB researchers, and the University. In particular, the Center for Diversified Farming Systems would be very excited to work in partnership with all of the interested stakeholders to develop a long-term, sustainable plan for establishing a center for metropolitan agriculture at the Gill Tract that conducts agro-ecological research, education and outreach. We urge the Occupy-the-Farm group and the University administrators to follow our recommendations and to diffuse the tensions that only endanger our common goal: moving constructively forward with a sustainable urban agriculture center.

Claire Kremen, Director, Environmental Science, Policy, & Management (ESPM)

Alastair Iles, Deputy Director, ESPM"