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A Breath of Fresh Air for the Occupy Movement: How Occupy the Farm Hopes to Reclaim the Commons

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When hundreds of people took up the banner of "Occupy the Farm" on April 22nd and laid claim to a patch of urban farmland owned by UC Berkeley, it was not the first time this 5-acre parcel had become the flashpoint of a struggle between the University and local communities. But it was the first time anyone had done something as brash as simply taking the land without asking.

On that sunny Sunday two weeks ago, an ad-hoc band of UC alumni, urban farming proponents, families, and veteran Occupy activists ended an Earth Day parade by arriving at the site, cutting the lock and pitching in to till and plant 3/4 of an acre of guerilla farm. At least in the short term, the action worked fantastically well. Fears of a police raid the first night went unfulfilled. Rather than sending its well-appointed riot squads to dismantle the trespass, the UC took the tack of firing up its public relations machine (and cutting off water to the site). Media, from Alternet to ABC to Forbes, picked up the story. Occupiers took the high road by engaging in direct dialogue with faculty, students, and administrators. Two weeks later, the land continues to be occupied - and, more importantly, farmed.

Now, with several UC research teams needing to get their crops in the ground by mid-May, and the University unwilling to meet the demands of the Gill Tract Farmers Collective, as the group working the land calls itself, confrontation seems imminent. Whether or not the Farmers manage to stay, the experiment is a bold, largely unprecedented act of reclaiming the Commons in the most immediate sense - taking land out of private speculation and putting it into community use.
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