Occupy the Farm- Gil Tract Weeding Party 7/7 Albany/ U.C. Backs Out

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Re-posted from: Albany Patch

Officials Postpone Weekend Gill Tract Gardening
Tensions surrounding the site are too high, said the UC dean in charge of the area, for a casual weekend work-party. Activists say they still plan a rally. Click the “Keep me posted” button below this story for updates on the Gill Tract.

A volunteer weeding and harvesting effort led by two Albany City Council members has been canceled following plans by activists to crash the event.

Councilwomen Joanne Wile and Peggy Thomsen announced the Saturday gardening effort, which was not open to the public, at Monday’s council meeting.

Occupy the Farm activists put out a call to supporters on July 4, asking people to come to the Gill Tract on Saturday morning prepared for a direct action protest: “Come ready to farm.” Occupy the Farm described the city-organized event as “private” and said officials were “excluding the public” from it, via a text blast Wednesday afternoon.

This was followed by an email message Thursday afternoon: “Occupy the Farm will crash an exclusive invite-only harvest party sponsored by the Albany City Council and UC Berkeley. Join the farmers to demand access for all to a historic public resource. The city has organized a harvest party for a small hand-selected group. Participants in the Occupation are expressly forbidden from participating in the harvest of crops that were sown while Gill Tract was briefly open to the public.”

A representative of Occupy the Farm, Effie Rawlings, said the group will still hold a rally Saturday morning “to protest their ‘community’ inclusion being completely token.”

University of California, Berkeley, College of Natural Resources Dean Keith Gilless, who oversees the Gill Tract as part of his responsibilities, said it became clear to him Thursday that a casual volunteer effort would not be possible in the face of the tensions surrounding the site.

Activists took over the land in April and planted vegetables inside the gated research field, arguing that the space would be better used as a community garden.

Gilless said he was aware that activists had planned to show up Saturday, but added that it wasn’t the reason the event was canceled.

“The tensions are just too high for us to just go out there and do a little weeding,” he said, “so we’ll postpone it.”

Gilless said he’s working with Wile and Thomsen to come up with a plan to seek volunteers.

“It’s clear that we need to be very transparent about the volunteer process,” he said. “If there’s confusion over that, the easiest way forward is just to move that process along and be clear.”

In the meantime, he said, his staff will continue to handle weeding and watering the 40 rows planted by activists earlier this year. Some of the crops, he said, are almost ready to be harvested. Gilless also said his staff may replace items that “didn’t take well.”

Wile and Thomsen were appointed by the Albany City Council to serve as a subcommittee to work with the university to explore the future of the Gill Tract.

Wile said Monday that she and Thomsen had visited the Gill Tract last Friday and found vegetables planted by activists during the Occupy the Farm activities nearly ready to harvest.

Wile said she had spent three hours weeding the land Monday morning, and that she and Thomsen were looking for a group of volunteers to participate in the Saturday morning event.

Wile called it a “one-time volunteer weeding,” by invitation only, for approximately 20 people.

Volunteers, she added, could not include people who had had charges filed against them for activity at the Gill Tract.

The goal, she said, was to “restore the collaboration with UC and invite people who will not destroy property, and will not destroy research going on.”

Wile also noted that, over the weekend, someone had removed some carabiners from a gate inside the fenced research field designed to keep animals at bay.

“It’s only a miracle that deer did not enter that land and destroy the 40 rows the occupiers planted,” she said. “For people to be so thoughtless is really problematic, and not the direction we’re wanting to go.”

Dean Gilless said Thursday that there had been several security issues since UC police took back the land in May, but that, so far, none of the research crops appeared to have been damaged.

Wile’s public announcement Monday night followed an announcement by Councilwoman Peggy Thomsen about a message she said had been posted on the Occupy the Farm website, and had erroneously been attributed to her.

The message, she said, was a “tweeted invitation” by someone using the name “Peggydigsthefarm,” which said Thomsen was hosting a public work-day on the farm on Saturday, to which “Anyone can come!”

Thomsen announced Monday that she does not have a Twitter account, did not post the message, and that members of the public should disregard the post.

WHERE WILL THE VEGETABLES GO?

Wile wrote, according to an email of hers posted on the Occupy the Farm website, that any produce harvested from the Gill Tract will be donated to the Bear Pantry, an emergency food bank for low-income Cal students, after testing for safety.

“The 40 rows that the occupiers planted are now sprouting lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and other vegetables,” she wrote, in an email Albany city officials, which also was posted on the Occupy the Farm website.

Dean Gilless said he has had no indication that produce grown on the Gill Tract, where activists planted it, would be unsafe to eat. If, in the future, produce is planted nearer to the road, he said, he would do intensive soil testing to ensure its safety.

Click the “Keep me posted” button below for an update when we publish future stories on this topic. Read more on Albany Patch about the Gill Tract

If there’s something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email her at albany@patch.com.

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