Meet the New Farm, Same as the Old Farm? Occupy Seizes Berkeley's "Gill Tract"
Are you ready for the most ridiculous and pointless Occupation ever?
Last week, on Earth Day, the Occupy movement illegally took over an entire farm and transformed it into...a farm!
So proud are they of this revolutionary act that they showed off the farm to the media yesterday, so naturally I had to check it out.
The farm they seized was not a working farm per se, but rather a "research farm" for the University of California, near its Berkeley campus. The only difference between the way the farm used to be (prior to a week ago) and the way it is now is that the Occupiers have transformed what was essentially a well-maintained and important open-air laboratory into a disheveled and ultimately purposeless pretend-farm for trustafarian dropouts.
The struggle over the farm is not just a struggle over land; it is a Battle of Narratives. The "Occupy the Farm" group (loosely affiliated with Occupy Cal and Occupy Oakland, but a new separate group) has already put up a slick web site called "Take Back the Tract" which explains the "philosophy" justifying their behavior:
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 make use of available land - occupying it where necessary - for sustainable agriculture to meet local needs.
...followed by a raft of conspiracy theories involving Whole Foods and senior centers and baseball fields.
The university, on the other hand, has fired back with a devastating press release of its own, dismantling Occupy's ludicrous theories and moral gymnastics:
• The agricultural fields on the Gill Tract that are now being occupied are not the site of a proposed assisted living center for senior citizens and a grocery store. The proposed development parcel is to the south, straddling the intersection of Monroe Street and San Pablo Avenue, and has not been farmed since WWII.
• The existing agricultural fields on the Gill Tract are currently, and for the foreseeable future, being used as an open-air laboratory by the students and faculty of our College of Natural Resources for agricultural research. Their work encompasses basic plant biology, alternative cropping systems, plant-insect interactions and tree pests and pathogens. These endeavors are part of the larger quest to provide a hungry planet with more abundant food, and will be impeded if the protest continues. And, they are categorically not growing genetically modified crops. We have an obligation to support their education and research, and an obligation to the American taxpayers who are funding these federally funded projects.
• The university has been actively participating in a collaborative, five-year long community engagement process about our proposed development project with hundreds of hours of meetings, hearings and dialogue. We have a great deal of respect for all those who have been involved and regret that “Occupy the Farm” appears to have little regard for the process or the people who have participated in it.
• We take issue with the protesters’ approach to property rights. By their logic they should be able to seize what they want if, in their minds, they have a better idea of how to use it.
To clarify matters for those not familiar with the area:
The University of California has its main campus in the center of Berkeley, but that's not the only property it owns. Scattered around the East Bay, the university also owns several other large tracts of land, used for housing, office buildings, research facilities, storage, and so forth. One of these properties, known colloquially as "Albany Village" because it's in the adjacent small town of Albany, is home to a housing complex for students who are married (and/or who have children) which is called "University Village"; and nearby on the same property is an experimental farm technically known as the "Agricultural Research Fields" but more commonly referred to simply as "the Gill Tract," named after the Gill family which farmed the land originally.
The Gill Tract, about the size of a city block, is used by researchers and graduate students in UC's College of Natural Resources to study biology, crop yields, plant diseases and genetics — often with an eye toward ecologically friendly, sustainable and organic practices.
Here's one of the few articles in the mainstream media about Occupy the Farm, giving the basic facts and also pointing out that the biological researchers need access to the land immediately for their experiments because of the spring planting season.
The scientists themselves are for the most part royally pissed off at the Occupiers and some may have years of work ruined by the Occupiers' juvenile prank.
Now that you know the whole story, let's look around the Gill Tract today, shall we?
COMPOST CAPITALISM! In this context, is "Compost" a verb, or an adjectival noun? Are we supposed to compost capitalism, i.e. throw it on the compost heap; or is Occupy engaging in the practice of compost capitalism, a form of free trade based on the compost standard? Only your Marxist knows for sure.
Working in the hot sun. The thrill of breaking into gated property and "liberating" land is exciting; the tedium of then spending endless hours over the next year in the blistering heat, in order to legitimize your actions and prove you're not just jacking everyone around — not so fun.
Prediction: Very few, if any, of these "crops" will ever be harvested, or even grow to maturity.
Before the Occupation, the Gill Tract was an agricultural research farm where twenty-somethings getting their PhDs would work the fields to grow crops, as they researched biology or how to raise better, healthier plants. But now, after this incredible revolution by Occupy, the Gill Tract has been utterly transformed into a farm where twenty-somethings work the fields to grow crops. The only difference is that before, the farm served a scientific function to improve society, and was managed by experts and hard-working students doing meaningful research; but now, it's run by a bunch of smug amateurs and dropouts who plant store-bought seedlings in the middle of what once was a controlled research environment. Meet the new farm — same as the old farm, except worse.
Just as in collective farms in Russia and China, the first order of business at the occupied farm was to set up an open-air lecture space so the "workers" (necessarily with sarcastic quote marks in this case) can receive their daily political instruction.
Only a handful of rows, right near the entrance, were planted all along their length, from end to end. Soon enough, those rows gave way to other rows with just a few plants near the walkway, seemingly just for show, while the rest of the row went unused.
Many rows' plantings were pretty pitiful, or perhaps just symbolic; in this case, for instance, a single full-grown leek was stuck in the ground at the start of one row, to simulate the concept of "farming leeks."
The vast majority of the tract had been Roto-tilled but still remained unplanted as of yesterday.
Elsewhere around the acreage here and there were various ill-considered haphazard zones of a few transplanted seedlings. The plant with the label near the center is a young citrus tree, bought at a nursery, and stuck in the soil at this essentially random spot. Since it takes citrus trees several years to mature enough to bear fruit, this sapling will be growing here for quite a long time before it becomes a producing tree. Had Occupy really thought out the location of this tree, for the long-term -- or was it (as I suspect) just some dude who stuck it there without much (or any) foresight; and since he won't be around three years from now to tend it, why should he care that it will likely interfere with other uses for that part of the tract?
Wait, what — "our" lot? Suddenly you're in favor of private property and ownership, now that you've stolen it? How is that lot yours any more than it was the university's before you took it?
Hypocrisy, thy name is Occupy. When society draws boundaries, builds fences, and makes rules, Occupy gets to violate them at will. But once they've seized control, Occupy immediately starts making new rules and new boundaries that everyone else is supposed to honor. Perhaps that's the new Occupy motto: "Rules for thee, but not for me."
Despite several signs in the area declaring that the Gill Tract Occupation was not a "tent city," as detractors had worried, but was instead devoted entirely to farming, in reality a tent...well, let's just call it a "tent eco-village" has sprung up in the fields. This is not a tent city! Who do you trust — me, or your lying eyes?
Some leftist U.C. professors are lecturing today at the farm to show their solidarity with the Occupiers (and to thoughtlessly reveal their antagonism against fellow faculty members whose research at the farm was interrupted/spoiled by the Occupation), including Laura Nader (Ralph Nader's older sister, famous for helping to lead the field of anthropology toward self-critical Political Correctness); Gill Hart, a Gramscian anti-capitalist; and Paul Rabinow, a deconstructionist anthropologist. What do any of these professors know about farming, or plant biology? Nothing. But hey, they know about the significance of what it means to spout off a bunch of revolutionary socialist verbiage while absconding with stuff that isn't yours. And that will make the Occupiers feel ever so snug in their smugness. Group hug!
Because the Gill Tract occupation only began a week or so ago, there was no time to grow plants from seed — not that the Occupiers would have the patience for that anyway — so their version of "farming" means buying* (with daddy's credit card) flats and six-packs of sprouts from local nurseries, and then transplanting them into the ground. Wow! That is some major farming.
( • Or "liberating" or getting donations of pre-grown six-packs. )
In response to the "occupation," the university turned off the water at the Gill Tract. As a result, the "Occupiers" have to truck in giant tanks of water, which they sprinkle from bottles onto the seedlings. Sustainable! Eco!
Out in the field, the Occupiers had placed two scarecrows; this one in particular really emulated the Occupy "style," as it were. Or maybe that was one of the Occupiers, after a really rough night?
Whether made of straw or flesh-and-blood, the scarecrow wore Occupy and Anonymous buttons.
The other wore a hat made of a big funnel. Unfortunately, it resembled a coolie hat, costing the Occupiers -15 points on their colonialist sensitivity rating.
Occupy Law #1: Smiley-faces and peace signs make theft OK.
Amendment to Law #1: Framing your crime in a heart shape transforms it into a "cause."
Occupy Law #2: Everyone — even the dorkiest dorks — instantly becomes cool with the addition of an Anarchy tattoo.
Visit Amy's tent for an individual stress-relaxation "hypnosis" session which she guarantees will have a "happy" ending.
The Occupiers heavily advertised their "Children's Village," unveiled on Saturday so the media could film it. Some parents brought their kids to the festivities.
A man sat alone in the weeds, wearing a shirt that used the word "far" as a verb.
Most of the action was in the sanitary — really, it was very very hygienic, I swear — Occupy Kitchen area, where Occupiers clustered around and ate food produced by agribusiness and corporations.
To justify their theft of publicly owned land, the Occupiers produced this magnificent manifesto explaining the moral underpinnings of their action, and then posted it at the front gate of the farm. It might be a little hard to read at this size, so click on the image to see it in full-size high resolution. Here's a transcription:
This Poster Comes Out of the Gill Tract Occupation
On April 22, 2012, students, activists and neighbors came together to reclaim the last untouched tract of soil in the East Bay. This piece of public land has been (mis)managed by the University of California Regents for private interest for generations. On Earth Day, the land was liberated; transformed into a living, breathing space for the community to know food and stories.
This farm embodies what we envision as an alternative to the profit-drivern educational system. With bolt-cutters, shovels, Roto-tillers and thousands of plants: we reclaim our right to shape our communities, our universities + our minds + bodies.
Love the Land!
This is what the ecstatic wonder of a truly public education looks + feels like.
Isn't that precious? Pin it on the bulletin board next to the turkey-hand tracings and the construction-paper collages.
As always happens with Occupations, the Occupiers spend almost all of their energy on the day-to-day business of occupying, and rarely have much time to actually do whatever it is they claim they're doing at that particular Occupation. Thus, in this case, as I witnessed out in the fields, not much in the way of actual farming has happened yet; as the camp's official volunteer sign-up sheet reveals, nearly 80% of the activities at the "farm" have nothing whatsoever to do with farming, but instead are political and/or household chores. Of the 51 volunteer man-hour time-slots listed, 40 (79%) are non-farm activities ("parking/trash transport," "table crew for workshops," "kitchen," "Porta Pottie cleaning," "trash can monitor," "security (creepwatch)," "MCs," "movie set-up," "childcare/art," "media tent," and "info desk," while only 11 (21%) are farm-related (planting, watering, permaculture, and to be generous "clucking," which may have something to do with chickens).
Because, prior to the Occupation, this tract of land was used exclusively for agricultural research (and not establishing a grunge encampment), there's actually less farming going on now than there was before.
But that fact gets in the way of The Narrative, so it must be vigorously discarded and ignored.
UPDATE ON MAY 14: