eortiz@sacbee.com / Edward Ortiz

Participants at the Occupy National Gathering at Southside Park on Aug. 2.

Occupy gathering offers discussions, performances at Southside Park

Published: Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014 - 12:20 pm

The Occupy movement’s takeover of a 1.5-acre tract of land owned by the University of California was touted as a model during the third day of the Occupy movement’s national gathering in Sacramento.

The discussion was one of many held Saturday at Southside Park during the gathering, the movement’s third annual national event. This year’s meeting started Thursday at the Capitol and has moved to several city locations. It is slated to end Monday. The gathering is the offshoot of the larger Occupy movement that started after Occupy Wall Street protests spread nationally about three years ago.

On Saturday, events included a performance of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, a meeting about the rights of the homeless and a gathering at the Capitol.

One of the Occupy movement’s more successful actions was the 2012 takeover of Gill Tract farmland in Albany. The onetime 100-acre farm is managed by the University of California. Proposed commercial development on that land has faced community resistance for more than 17 years.

On Earth Day 2012, Occupy the Farm and urban farm advocates broke locks to a gate at the tract farm and set up an encampment. UC Berkeley said the protesters damaged agricultural research and police removed the encampment a month later. Another encampment and protest followed in 2013. After being ousted by police, movement members returned to the site to plant seeds.

Soon after, the movement switched its focus and sought an agreement with the University of California to use the Gill Tract land. In that agreement, a small portion of 20 acres was set aside for education, research and community use, with oversight by UC Berkeley professor of agroecology Miguel Altieri.

In an op-ed last year to the Daily Californian, Altieri wrote that he believes the project “represents a golden opportunity for all within the university, including the newly created Berkeley Sustainable Food Systems Institute.”

The agreement presently involves a 1.5-acre plot at the Gill Tract farm. Commercial development is slated for 20 remaining undeveloped acres of the Gill Tract land.

“It’s not a lot, but we are building on that,” said Effie Rawlings, a UC Berkeley graduate who was involved in the 1.5-acre takeover.

She hopes the Occupy movement will inspire other encampments, protests and agreements wherever a community resists development of farmland.

“When people ask me how they can help, we tell them to take more land, and ‘talk to your neighbors,’” Rawlings said.

On Saturday, Occupy the Farm passed out baskets filled with crookneck zucchini to those in attendance to show what is being grown on the Gill Tract farm.

“This effort was a success in the sense that we now have an open community project,” Rawlings said. “Where once we had confrontation and had to break locks, we now have a relationship and access.”

Call The Bee’s Edward Ortiz, (916) 321-1071. Follow him on Twitter @edwardortiz.

Read more articles by Edward Ortiz

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