Occupy the Farm to plant crops on UC Berkeley-owned land

ALBANY, Calif.

Several dozen people Saturday afternoon marched onto agricultural fields located near the corner of Marin and San Pablo avenues, part of a property they referred to as the Gill Tract, to protest the university's plans to build a chain grocery store there.

More than 100 protesters who had gathered on the tract were pulling weeds and preparing to plant some 8,000 plants by 3 p.m., organizer Lesley Haddock, 21, said.

She said the group plans to plant zucchini, kale, summer squash, collards and other vegetation and intends to spend the night "under the stars" on the university-owned land.

Occupiers say the school's plan to turn the area into senior housing and a shopping mall doesn't work for them. They would like the land preserved for urban farming.

"It utilizes a public resource and turns it into a private asset," said Occupy the Farm activist Ashoka Finley. "We think that transference of something that could be really meaningful to the community is a shame, and not really in the mission of the university."

"The Gill Tract is a really prime piece of a larger puzzle for us to move away from industrialized agriculture and toward people controlling their own food systems," added Haddock, a third-year student in UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources.

"I'd really like to see the UC fulfill its public mission of being a resource for California and really serving the public, and it worries me that the university has been trending toward privatization over the last decade," she said.

As of 3:30 p.m., she said no protesters had been arrested, although police officers standing outside of the Gill Tract throughout the day have issued multiple statements that the protesters are trespassing on university property.

"They have had plenty of opportunity to weigh in and engage in a legal, consultative process with us," said UC Berkeley Associate Vice Chancellor Claire Holmes. "So right now they're trespassing."

The university says it will not allow a permanent encampment and will do what is necessary to protect its property rights.

According to Holmes, the school will move the Occupiers out at a time of its own choosing.

(ABC7 News contributed to this story.)

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