“Stop Praising Your Shiny Chains and Shackles. Disobey with Great Love.”
Photographs of him being handcuffed and arrested while meditating at the Occupy Oakland encampment circulated far and wide last fall. And Riyana Rebecca Sang, writer for Tikkun, describes him as “probably further up the road of Shambhala warriorhood than anyone else I know.”
While the images of Pancho’s half-lotus arrest are certainly, er, arresting, :) there is much more to him than this single act of civil disobedience. We are delighted and honored to highlight another side of Pancho’s work: his connection to the earth, farming, and the dharma of food justice.
This piece originally appeared on Pancho’s blog, Earthling Opinion. Thank you, Pancho, for sharing it with us, for your work to better this world, and for your abundant metta for all beings and the earth!
— Turning Wheel Media
Open Letter To…
… Government Officials, Law Enforcement Employees, people of the University of California and Occupy The Farm Community. To all humanity in general.
That we live now in an economy and society that are not sustainable is not the fault only of governments, administrations of public institutions, and corporations armed with political power, heavy equipment and police enforcement.
We all are implicated.
We all, in the course of our daily (economic, educational and social) life, consent to it, whether or not we approve of it. This is because of the increasing abstraction and unconsciousness of our connection to our economic sources in the land, the land-communities, the land-use economies, and the way we learn.
Bellow you will find, first, A) a set of questions, then B) an open letter with my invitation to collectively step-up our love, truth and courage and, finally, at the PS of the open letter, C) a longer and more detailed part divided in the following sections: I. Some History [of the Gill Tract]; II. The Joy of Farming; III. The 99% Uniting With Courage & Love to Overcome Tactics of the 1%; IV. The University of California and Monsanto, BP, Novartis and Bechtel; V. Real Science and the Gill Tract; VI. Food Sovereignty and Food Justice; and VII. If You Eat, You Are Involved in Agriculture.
Farming Truth & Love – Stop Praising Shiny Chains & Shackles.
- What is the foundation for happy and healthy communities?
- Who elected the University of California (UC) Regents?
- What’s the connection between the UC Regents and the economic-social-moral crises in the parts of the Planet we call Greece and the U.S.? [no kidding]
- Why do some people in the UC administration favor the partnership with corporations like Bechtel, BP (British Petroleum), Monsanto, Syngenta, Novartis over a partnership with local people?
- Why is it that Monsanto and UC have at least twenty agreements that include licensing, sharing materials for research, sponsoring research, and utilizing their specialized, technical services? [confirmed by Monsanto’s spokeswoman]
- Why did the UC and its police, deny access to three scientists —one of them a global leader in the science of agro-ecology using the Gill Tract since 1981— who are supporting the co-existence of the farm at the Gill Tract and their research but the UC spokesperson claimed that it was “impossible to do good science” due to the presence of farmers?
- How have radioactive material experiments done by some researchers for almost ten years at the Gill Tract affect the health of the neighbors of Albany and the Bay Area Residents? Is this —or contribution to GMO research— what the UC means by “good science”? [Here is a radiological historical use assessment of the land]
- Why is there a big gap between what the UC declares in the press and reality?
- Who benefits from teaching how to legalize torture at UC Berkeley? [At times, the law of men and torture intimately relate to each other]
- Why does a student have to pay close to ~$20,000 per year to attend to a “public” university?
- Is it true that every nuclear weapon the part of the Planet we call the U.S. has ever had has been designed by the UC?
- Can we use taxpayer money to improve the lives of impoverished people in our community and throughout the World instead of constructing nuclear weapons or bailing out the banks with trillions of dollars?
- Why the Federal Goverment of the part of the Planet we call the U.S. is trying to crush the “American Autumn” or the so called “Occupy Movement”? [We knew it, but now it is out there]
- How can we improve our personal, local and planetary security? [slowdown, slow food, slow science]
- What is the purpose of learning and true education? [Here is a hint]
- How can we facilitate the co-creation of spaces that foster friendship?
- What is the meaning of life?
These are the basic questions raised by many of us, and while we don’t have the answers to all of them, I hope this compilation of information can shed some light so that you can reach your own conclusions. The details are at the PS of the open letter.
Dear beloved sisters and brothers,
May this letter find your thoughts, words and deeds in harmony.
This is a warm invitation to collectively step up our love, truth and courage. You could be within or without the system, inside or outside a corporation, it really doesn’t matter. We must appeal to our highest aspirations.
If you are not a religious person this means it is time to bring more integrity to your life to fully develop your potential as a compassionate, courageous, loving, kind and wise human being.
If you are a religious person this means that it is time to bring God, Allah, Yahweh, Krishna, Rama, Buddha, Jesus or whatever name you use, closer to your life. Acknowledge God in your heart and let it shine.
Don’t do it for you or me. Do it for your children and future generations.
In the next following days, when you look at the eyes of a child close to you, don’t tell him or her that you are following the orders of your boss. Rather, tell him or her that you are following your heart and the Law of Love, it might or might not be aligned with the law of men.
Then, before going to bed, reflect on how your days went. How am I feeling right now, and how am I feeling after a hard day at my job? Am I loving me, my family and my children enough? Am I loving with no strings attached, purely, selflessly? Am I acting with as much integrity as I can? What am I willing to do if I’m fearlessly choosing to lose title, job and to not have fear of prisons? What will it take for me to follow my highest aspirations, my highest ideals? Is my job aligned with these aspirations?
If you look deeper, you will see that we don’t need jobs. What we need are meaningful livelihoods. We need work that supports not an industrial growth society but a life-sustaining civilization.
It doesn’t matter if you are part of the apparatus of the University of California (UC), BP (British Petroleum), Bechtel, Novartis, Syngenta, Monsanto, Wall Street, the army, the police, the FBI, the CIA or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). You could be asked to be a spokesperson of the so called 1% or to participate in violence, you disagree with, that destroys families and the Planet. What cannot be denied is that nuclear weapons, deep ocean oil-drilling, genetically modified crops (GMOs), attacking urban agriculture —like the raid this morning [last Monday] at the ongoing farm at the Gill Tract in the East Bay—, privatization of learning, wars, police brutality and leaving children orphaned due to the deportation of their parents, all these facts are harming, in concrete and real ways, not only our present but also the future (physical and spiritual) environment we are leaving for our children.
A few weeks ago, a person who lived for 23 years with Mahatma Gandhi was asked at a UC Berkeley talk how to be nonviolent and compassionate with an institution that is actively proliferating hydrogen bombs —like the UC is doing as we speak— by the development of “safer nuclear weapons”. He responded, “If you have 50% of Gandhi within you, you will stop cooperating with this institution and you will start creating a new way of learning, an alternative university.”
It is time to pull out from institutions that are harming us. What a great opportunity for a personal transformation to boost-up your happiness and that of your loved ones! A wonderful opportunity to unconditionally serve others. For real.
Please remember you are not alone. Move from ‘me’ to ‘we’.
We are looking for a spokesperson of truth not for the 1% but for the 100%. We are looking for officers who can enforce the Law of Love. We are looking for intelligence balanced with the heart. We are looking for entrepreneurs fully invested in the business of kindness and generosity. We are looking for scientists organically supporting the magnificent web of life. We are looking for students of creative love and gratitude. We are looking for lovers of life.
We are waiting for you, with open arms, to join the greatest movement around selfless service humanity has ever witnessed.
It is time to pull out from institutions that are stopping your development as a complete and happy human being. It is time to make a wise decision. It is time to farm truth, love, courage, compassion and wisdom. At least, it is time to _let_ farm truth, love, courage, compassion and wisdom. This is true security, security that involve all of us.
Look into the eyes of a happy healthy child. Then look within yourself. Connect with that inner wisdom we all have. There are no paths, the paths are made by walking. As you walk, please look around. You are surrounded by gifts. Your means are the ends in the making.
We trust you will follow integrity; as true happiness is when our thoughts, words and deeds are in harmony.
We are waiting for you.
We are the 99% facilitating the healing of the 100%.
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.
Please receive all my love and universal blessings.
Undocumented and unafraid, in radical love, your brother always,
Oakland, California, Earth, May 14th, 2012.
PS: This is my perspective about food sovereignty, public learning and the so called Occupy the Farm, right after this morning [Monday, May 14th] raid by the Alameda County Police and University of California Police Department. Many people inspired me to create this compilation. I’m adding my point of view to it. Many thanks to siblings Effie, Miguel, Claudia, Antonio, Jake, Lesley, Eric, Jason, Tree, Molly, Will, Darwin, Michael, food authors, writers, academics, activists friends, Susie and so many other love warriors —not listed here but who I hold deep in my soul too— for contributing to the well being of the entire humanity, the 100% of it, one heart at a time. This is just the beginning.
And many many thanks to you reader, who will join us soon. We, and the entire Earth Community, are going to win with your support.
I. Some History
II. The Joy of Farming
III. The 99% Uniting With Courage & Love to Overcome Tactics of the 1%
IV. The University of California and Monsanto, BP, Novartis and Bechtel
V. Real Science and the Gill Tract
VI. Food Sovereignty and Food Justice
VII. If You Eat, You Are Involved in Agriculture
I. Some History
The “Gill Tract” is now a 10-acre parcel that has been owned by University of California, Berkeley since 1928 when the Gill family farm sold it with the condition that it should be used forever as an agricultural research station. These are the last acres of the best (“class-one”) soil left in the urbanized East Bay. Close to 90% of the original land, 104 acres, has been paved over and developed, contaminating the soil. The university’s founding as a land grant college made the purchase of this agricultural land an obvious choice for experimentation, and for years much of the property was used for biological and chemical pest control research. By 1997 the administration, funding and future of the station at Gill Tract became unclear and only recently has the University decided to develop the land for student and faculty housing, community activities and retail shops.
Then came the formation of the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture (BACUA), composed of UC professors in the College of Natural Resources, food justice and sustainability organizations, and local citizens.
For 15 years professors, students, local residents and a collection of more than 45 non-profit organizations presented UC with a detailed proposal —after proposal— for an urban agriculture center at the farm. According to their mission, “The center would conduct fundamental technical, economic, and sociological research and education into ways cities can create food systems that serve citizens and the environment well through localized, economically healthy and ecologically sustainable production and distribution.”
Occupy the Farm organizers confirmed these efforts. Many Albany residents and Gill Tract neighbors have expressed their desire for a community farm at the site —but the university has failed to truly listen: “The university has had listening sessions so they can say they have listened. But they don’t incorporate our ideas into their plans”, said sister Anya Kamenskaya a UC Berkeley alum (class of 2009) who has been involved in sustainable agriculture initiatives such as The Greenhorns and Future Farmers.
In fact, UCB Capital Projects has slated the entire tract for rezoning in 2013, meaning the farm at the Gill Tract is the only thing stopping the Bay Area’s most pristine piece of growing land from becoming an apartment complex, a Whole Foods (as ironic as it sounds) or even a parking lot.
Therefore the urgent call to wake up.
As one sees, calls to transform the Gill Tract, this unique plot of land, into a community farm offering sustainably grown food to local communities have been made through official channels for over a decade, but no positive response from the administration of the UC.
And so, Occupy the Farm was organically born to support communities forging local food security with urban farming, consistent with the University’s education and public mission as a Land Grant institution with a Cooperative Extension function, (the latter established in the Smith-Lever Act of 1914), to promote community involvement and initiatives in agriculture.
Occupy the Farm began with a thoughtful planning, close to 200 people, half a dozen chickens, 150-foot long rows of vegetables —over two acres of organic lettuces, beans, corn, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, and leafy greens. We cleared the farm’s weeds by hand and by the end of Earth Day —April 22, 2012— in one single day, the Bay Area had a new urban farm with close to 15,000 sprouts.
During the first days, we set up an encampment and an information center and started holding community workshops on urban farming, community food security and food sovereignty. There were families, children and day care. Kids were led through the farm by their parents and we created the Lady Bug Patch where they can learn more about farming and play at the same time. We started a permaculture garden with community input and support. We had face painting. Someone brought some goats, so we had a little petting zoo. In fact, the first day we spot a family of deer among the fava beans!
We organized Family Farm days, too. Very laid-back events, with music like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What Its Worth” playing in the background, while Albany residents and their children learned how to plant corn, beans, tomatoes, and other crops. The close to 200 people on the Gill Tract were enjoying the unusually warm days and attending farming workshops and listening to UC Berkeley Professors Miguel Altieri and Laura Nader during the “teach-out” sessions.
The administration of the University demanded the Occupy Farmers leave as a precondition to any negotiation about the Gill Tract’s future (of course it is only the condition of being occupied that has led UC to negotiate in the first place). During the first couple of days the UC admin said they were coming to talk with the farmers. Instead, they shut down the water.
During the second day of the existence of the young farm the administration of UC Berkeley shut off the water and Mother Earth responded with rains. The administration closed the access to the site and we jumped the fences, used slides and have been irrigating the crops with water donated by the neighbors. The administration built more fences and the nearby residents responded by opening their homes to let us use their kitchens to prepare our local and healthy food and to take showers. The spokesperson of the UC said we are “blocking research” and three scientists from the UC openly declared that scientific research and occupy the farm can co-exist to serve the needs of those people seeking to produce fresh, healthy, local food. The UC administration declared it is not a safe space and scores of residents, many with children in tow, have visited and worked at the farm. “Police were dispatched early Monday to clear an encampment that didn’t exist since Occupy The Farm had removed tents from the tract last Friday in a good-faith gesture toward other researchers who were set to begin planting” according to farmer and UC Berkeley alumn brother Ashoka Finley.
Such is the contrast of reality.
While a part might seem devoided of love, deep beneath, many of us trust most of the people in the administration of the UC will recognize the beauty of this project and will join us, as community. In fact, the farm will only fully thrive with their support. In the meanwhile, we will keep disobeying with Great Love, or rather, we will practicing this (mass) act of moral obedience.
A couple of us were arrested while watering. Next time, we will have our video cameras ready to see what the general public thinks about this. We won’t be bailed out. We won’t sign any tickets. If watering crops and practicing organic farming in public land destined to farm is a crime, we will break that law, we will serve time in jail, and we’ll keep farming. The girl in the photograph above cannot be a criminal but a heroine of the Planet.
As stated before, the UC administration completely ignored the effort of an urban farm for the community (and many similar efforts: see here and here) and instead made plans to sell development rights to various interests, including Whole Foods store and a for-profit home for the elderly. This move might be a surprise for someone under the impression that a public institution’s mandate is to serve the public, not private interests. But understanding the force of “neoliberalism” on governance in the past ~40 years means that we instead can expect such acts: governments are now expected to solve societal problems with increasingly austere budgets, and to turn to entrepreneurship (like the sales or rental of their assets) to bolster those budgets. Privatization and the dismantling of public programs in favor of “public-private partnerships” are only logical outcomes of this condition. Austerity (seen in reduced state funding for UC and resulting tuition increases) combines with deregulation (which led to the most recent recession) and the consolidation of corporate power within the government to create the neoliberal framework.
They will demonize the protestors as much as they can, belittling their image, intent, or naiveté–much like neoliberals belittle “protectionist” or “socialist” government moves (see the Economist’s recent critique of Argentina renationalizing its previously privatized oil company). If neoliberalism myopically seeks to grow markets, its opponents push for real development: of democracy, equality, and environmental health, and yes, of markets which can coexist with these values. We could attempt, as the BACUA did, to petition those in command to support development over growth. But as the Farmers at the Gill Tract decided, waiting around for powerful people to “do the right thing” can be a fools’ errand and at times it takes people rising up in powerful acts of disobedient love to force the hand of defensive elites.
In this particular case, UC elites in question are already reeling from many recent losses of legitimacy: A massive student movement perpetually protests their fee increases and union busting; their mishandling of these protests with overly zealous police violence reaps world and official condemnation; reports on the Regents’ financial conflicts of interest breed further distrust; and the general occupy movement has put the one percent on the defensive.
Is Occupy the Farm a powerful show of how an occupation can daring, illegal, inspiring, and strategic? Is it challenging the power of a delegitimized elite while building up power from below?
The decades-long privatization of public universities has not only shifted research, hiring and resources away from public concerns in favor of corporate interests, it has put the financial burden for education on those students who can afford to pay and left those who cannot to fend for themselves. The unprecedented increase in student debt will be felt for decades to come.
In addition to the gargantuan debt most of the students of the UC face or will face, we can summarize some of the tactics of the 1% as follows: The university’s response to the occupation was swift. Starting with cutting the water and then incapacitating its fire hydrant, in the second week UCPD placed concrete barriers around the land, preventing vehicular access and locked all entrances. University officials faced occupiers with an ultimatum insisting that they vacate the tract before any discussion on its preservation can continue, citing that the occupation “threatens to block university research” typically conducted on the Gill Tract. On May 9th, they severed 14 of the farmers with law suits, including your humble servant. May 9th also marked the first threat of significant violence as UPCB threatened to use “chemical agents and impact force,” on occupiers locked inside. Now the UC wants to treat Occupy The Farm like defendants to a gang injunction. No exaggeration (pages 8-10).
Where does the administration of the UC get such ideas?
For some it might seemed unclear the ties between the UC and Monsanto. You can come to your own conclusions after reading this article on how some UC researchers have actively contributed to GMO research. Or just read what sister Kelly Clauss, a Monsanto spokeswoman, has to say about it:
”Monsanto and UC have at least twenty agreements that include licensing, sharing materials for research, sponsoring research, and utilizing their specialized, technical services. We’ve had a long-standing relationship with the University of California, as well as many other land-grant universities across the country, for decades.”
And she means it. Monsanto not only attempts to control politics and food, but now, even universities curriculum. Are you wonder why the UC filed a lawsuit against 14 urban farmers? Take a look at the tactics Monsanto is using against the people of the state of Vermont. A bill supported by the people demand mandatory labeling bill for genetically engineered foods, it is a bill to label GMOs. But now Monsanto is threatening to sue the state if the bill passes. These are the tactics of the 1%. They trust the judicial system will rule in their favor by applying legaloid tricks. But the soulforce, cannot be stopped not even in prison.
Perhaps now we all can understand better the position of the following two researchers. On the one hand, UC Berkeley researcher Damon Lisch, who likened the farm occupation to sharing an office with a hostile colleague. Brother Damon, who conducts research on GMO corn in which Novartis has purchased a stake, has been a vocal opponent of the farm, but not of its goals. “I think it would be a terrible precedent if they were allowed to stay. It’s just profoundly un-democratic,” he told reporters last week. “What I hope will happen is that it will be resolved peacefully and people who advocate for urban farming will be allowed a seat at the table.”
On the other hand, UC Berkeley scientist Miguel Altieri came prepared to plant his dry-farm tomatoes last Wednesday morning. “We’re going to show that the coexistence of research and the occupation is possible,” he said. “I wanted to contribute to an atmosphere that would promote dialogue toward a peaceful resolution which is basically the commitment of the university to preserve this land for a center for urban agriculture. We need a center for urban agriculture badly.” When brother Miguel came to check on his tomatoes last Friday, UC police would not allow him on to the tract.
Occupy the Farm collaborators and UCB community members see this a continuation of a greater trend toward privatization by the university. The plot itself has become more and more the home of corporate funded agricultural research. But, the realm of corporate influence spreads well beyond the farm, as UCB has taken flack for several high profile “public-private partnerships” with pharmaceutical Novarits and more recently giant oil corporation British Petroleum (BP).
As an example of the egregious corporate takeover of public education, the new report from the Food and Water Watch specifically singles out the University of California’s 1988 partnership with Novartis (then the world’s largest agribusiness company). With $25 million, the company was able to direct not only to the University’s agricultural research, but also control the flow of publications. Novartis’ donation also bought them a third of the licensing options for innovations produced in the department of plant and microbial biology —even for research Novartis did not fund!
The recent $500 million USD grant from BP to the UC Berkeley —established a world record in the contribution from a corporation to a public university— can reasonably be expected to have a similar, though proportionately much larger, effect on the academy than that of the partnership with Novartis. The list of unethical corporations in partnership with the UC is large benefiting the private agendas of monopolies like Tyson, Walmart, Monsanto, BP, Bechtel, Novartis, Cargill, Conagra, General Mills, Unilever, Mars and Coca Cola.
Many of us, (former) students, professors and workers have been trying to persuade the administration of the UC to sever ties with them. We fasted for 9 days to ask the UC regents to include a point in their agenda to discuss how to sever ties with the nuclear weapons labs managed by the UC and Bechtel. We’ve been trying for years to stop the teachings of legalized torture at UC Berkeley. We urged the UC to “Stop BP!” —way before the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico— and to not invest in a relationship with the oil giant and instead we implore them to invest in permaculture.
The university’s cozy corporate relations and insistence on selling the Gill Tract put into question its so called “public” university’s commitment to the public interest.
The crisis of priorities is clear: instead of policing with riot gear an urban farm, building new fences, arresting urban farmers, making deals with unethical corporations, and wasting all this time and resources, the UC ought to look to the people and support projects like the farm at the Gill Tract that plant curiosity, wonder and amazement in our children, let alone the growth of healthy and local food culture.
It is time to embrace love. It is time to make partnership with the people, not with multi billion dollar corporations that are destroying our precious home in the Cosmos.
(True)Science and violence the two cannot coexist in the long run. Violence must be done away with if science is to survive. If both are sought to be retained, humankind, along with its science also, would be destroyed. This disastrous combination inhibits the development of critical inquiry: our thinking becomes narrow and circumscribed if we are associated with any organization which will not be fully conductive for the quest of nonviolence.
For almost ten years some UC Berkeley researcers used part of the Gill Tract to experiment on trees and crops with radioactive materials up until 1997. The public is the steward of public land. The public shouldn’t seek to poison itself. Public farmland is for public farming.
The farmers at the Gill Tract have enlisted another important ally to help make their case: UC Professor Miguel Altieri, a global leader in the science of agro-ecology. Dr. Altieri has been running field trials at the Gill Tract since 1981 —thirty-one years!— longer than any other researcher, and so he has one of the strongest claims to the site. He planned to begin planting his research plot with his students this week, but an hour before he was scheduled to begin, the UC administration barricaded the Gill Tract with concrete, metal barriers and dozens of police who threatened farmers with “chemical agents and impact force,” according to brother Miguel. Despite the blockade, Dr. Altieri and the activist farmers did manage to plant a small part of his organic, drought-resistant crops that the activists say have benefited East Bay soup kitchens for years.
“The Master Plan of the university is obscure,” professor Miguel said. “They say it’s going to go from academic to recreational use. That could be baseball fields or whatever. This could be a huge opportunity for the university to play a huge role in urban agriculture, to create a center for urban agriculture that could show how you can reduce transportation, and lower emissions, by producing food in cities.”
In an essay that he submitted to the Daily Cal UC Berkeley campus newspaper, brother Miguel and another professor, sister Claudia Carr, argue that as a Land Grant university, UC has a tripartite mission —to educate students, to undertake research, and to share that research with the public through Cooperative Extension programs. An urban farm that balances undergraduate classes, graduate level research, and food production for the community would fulfill all of those functions.
Farmers are upset that the UC Administration is preventing scientists from carrying out their research around dry-farming tomatoes on the Gill Tract. More than two times, UC Berkeley Professor Altieri has come to the Gill Tract to attempt to plant his crops. Whereas the Gill Tract Farmers Collective has directly assisted Altieri with his planting effort, the Police of the UC has physically prevented him from planting his dry-farmed tomato crop, saying he has no “authorization” to do his research. Dr. Altieri says that he is “disappointed that the University has missed this opportunity to acknowledge that a coexistence of researchers and occupiers is possible, and that they have blocked access to my experimental plot.”
Despite the police blockade and intimidation tactics, Professor Altieri brought his tomato plants onto the Tract and held a press conference, and then with assistance from Gill Tract Farmers and community members, officially began the planting of his research areas.
In this Op-Ed, one can see more of the relevance of having a farm at the Gill Tract, when the authors highlight the benefits of urban agriculture, going beyond food production:
“Why is having a center of sustainable urban farming important as we start the second decade of the new Millennium?
The rapid urbanization that is taking place in the Bay Area goes hand in hand with a rapid increase in urban poverty and food insecurity, a situation aggravated by the economic crisis affecting California. Half a million people are at risk of hunger every month. About 38 percent of them are children, especially in summer, because low-income children who normally receive free or reduced lunches during the school year no longer have these meals. As a result, parents struggle to find the extra funds needed to provide healthy, nutritious meals for their children, even in the face of high unemployment. Many low-income urban residents in the Bay Area reside in “food deserts,” i.e. in areas having limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly in lower income neighborhoods and communities.
Urban agriculture plays a key role in enhancing urban food security, since the costs of supplying and distributing food from rural to urban areas, or to import food for the cities, are rising continuously, thus increasing therefore urban food insecurity. Take Oakland as an example: in that city publicly owned land with productive potential totals 1,201 acres. Food production with agroecological methods at these sites could potentially produce as much as 15 to 20 percent of Oakland’s fruit and vegetable needs.
But to realize this potential, UC Berkeley first needs to recognize the potential of urban agriculture to help solve problems of hunger and unemployment, and then launch a major research, education and extension program on urban agriculture that should involve local governments, urban farmers and the whole community in participatory ways, so as to address the real needs of the poor and hungry.
The benefits of urban agriculture go beyond producing food: They extend to the promotion of local economic development, poverty alleviation and social inclusion of the poor—and of women, in particular. Urban agriculture also contributes to the urban ecosystem by greening the city, productively reusing urban wastes, conserving pollinators and wildlife, and saving energy involved in the transport of food (in addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions!).
We are reclaiming this land to grow healthy food to meet the needs of local communities. We envision a future of food sovereignty, in which our East Bay communities —Richmond, Albany, Berkeley and Oakland— make use of available land —occupying it where necessary— for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.
Shortly after UC police locked entrance and exit gates at the farm a few Fridays ago, UC Berkeley student and farm activist sister Marika Iyer perched on the perimeter fence and addressed the crowd. “This isn’t about Albany,” she said, gesturing toward the town. “This is about food sovereignty and sustainability for the whole bio-region.”
Urban and urban-adjacent agriculture produces about 30% of the U.S. food supply. Food deserts —better named “food apartheid” because they are very well planned— in low-incomes communities prosper about as well as fruits and vegetables in the East Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate do, and poor city residents can spend as much as half their income on food each year. Controlling even some of that income would mean the kind of food sovereignty farm activists speak of so glowingly.
As brother Jason spoke with love warrior Anya (same Anya in section 1), a convoy of borrowed pickup trucks was dumping load after load of dark black compost next to where a dozen straw bales had just been dropped off. Volunteers were busy painting banners for an upcoming weekend of community farming events. A flock of six laying hens pecked about among the trampled mustard stalks. “The reason we’re here is because it’s farmland, and it’s farmland in an urban area, and it should be used as farmland, especially since there are tens of thousands of people in the Bay Area who are food insecure,” sister Anya, wearing a floppy straw hat, said as she directed the delivery of some port-a-potties.
Taking back a public good that a public university wants to privatize, to serve this land for agricultural research and community outreach supporting organic means of food production, seems like the correct thing to do. No matter the consequences. In fact, we are riding a planetary wave of land reclamation inspired by the Landless Workers Movement and Via Campesina.
According to this post in The Nation: “Occupy the Farm is arguably one of Occupy Wall Street’s most important offshoots—a movement that not only draws attention to the rotten corporate practices of the education industrial complex and Big Ag but also focuses on issues near and dear to Occupy’s heart, such as the environment, true education and overall health of society.” I agree.
Food sovereignty demands local and democratic control over our public institutions. And instead of a historically and logistically impossible division of “government” on one side and “markets” on the other, food sovereignty promotes a market that is accountable and humane because it is built up from the lives and decisions of those who are affected by it. This may all sound very theoretical, but land occupations like the effort to Take Back the Tract make these ideas real, immediate, tangible, and imaginable.
The issue is public access to public land, open decision-making processes regarding use, and succession to food sovereignty, to true sovereignty.
This is wise elder Wendell Berry‘s motto. According to brother Jake’s post in Waging Nonviolence, at the time the UC was shutting down the water at Occupy The Farm, farmer Wendell was in Washington, D.C., delivering the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities. Echoing the vision of the Gill Tract farm, he declared:
“An economy genuinely local and neighborly, offers to localities a measure of security that they cannot derive from a national or a global economy controlled by people who, by principle, have no local commitment.”
So, what would it take to take action for the environment beyond the fork? How do we move beyond this petition —that I hope you will sign?
This is a touching story of the personal transformation of UC Berkeley student sister Lesley Haddock:
“Each morning for the last two weeks, I have risen with the Sun, ready to get to work pulling weeds, tilling soil and planting seeds. Each night I have set up a tent and slept under the stars, reflecting on a long day of work. I am one of the many students, activists and locals who have taken back the Gill Tract, a public tract of farmland currently administered by the University of California that has been left underutilized for far too long. Before our project began, I had never planted a seed, but in the past two weeks, Today, I wake up as a farmer.”
Or take this other insight from brother Gopal:
“We don’t need corporations and we don’t need gene research to tell us how to farm. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. We just have to remind each other how to do it.”
Food Authors, Writers and Academics have been raising their voices and standing up for the wellbeing of all people, including the UC administration:
“The Gill Tract farmers are rooted in the Albany community, and supported by hard-working volunteers. Their vision of using the space to teach children agro-ecology, feed those in need in the community and train future farmers in organic farming is an admirable use of the land and can be realized without affecting the UC negatively. In fact, UC should welcome this stewardship as an instance of community-based education and sustainable land use.”
One day, I was asked to hold a meditation at midnight at the farm. I gladly accepted. Close to 15 people showed up, and while only 6 of us finished the 1 hr sit in receptive silence during the chilly night, our warm hearts were radiant with the peas —what an amusing typo! — with the peace that a still mind brings. Over the days, I have engaged with many “first timers” who would like to learn how to meditate, and we all can learn how to do it because this teaching is inside all of us.
We’ve been pretty active nourishing not only the body but also our minds and souls. Beyond fences, our hearts sing: we still farm.
Regardless of the outcome, if grassroots actions like Occupy the Farm catch on, we may well do more than focus this part of the Planet scrutiny on the corporate takeover of public goods… this disobedience with Great Love just might show us how universities can better serve the needs of those people seeking to produce fresh, healthy, local food.
We will keep facilitating the growth of soil and that of commnunity as spaces for learning how to grow healthy and local food. We will keep practicing yoga and meditation before starting our work parties at urban farms. Healthy and local food is the foundation of social justice.
If we want more security in our neighborhoods, let’s start urban farms and facilitate the healthy and local nourishment of people. This is the way. Not building more fences. We are here to co-create bridges of understanding and cooperation.
It is time to put principles before titles and profits. It is time for mass act of moral obedience. Farmers assembly. Respect. And celebration of life.
Lose fear to the prisons of the 1%. Lose fear to the threats of the Empire, Monsanto or the University of California or any other institution not aligned with the Law of Love. The people behind these institutions are our brothers and sisters. We’ll reach their hearts sooner or later. Let’s put not people in power but power in people.
If you really work for liberation, stop paying for war, stop receiving titles from irresponsible institutions, stop praising your shiny chains and shackles. Lose fear of the prisons of the Empire. Love your opponents, you don’t need to like them. Disobey with Great Love. Be informed and do it beautifully.
Watering crops of an urban farm, is the new equivalent to “Gandhi’s picking-up salt”. Join us at Occupy the Farm and if you feel inspired, here’s a petition to support the continuation of the work. Or even better, co-create your own (urban) farm with your community. Farming with Great Love creates abundance for all.
May all become compassionate, courageous and wise.