Occupy the Farm Arrests Undermine Food Justice Movement


Oh, Occupy the Farm, I commend your efforts to protest corporate control of our food system. If only you had carried them out in a well-executed manner …

As an act of food justice, 25 to 100 people, calling themselves “Occupy the Farm,” took over two acres of land belonging to the University of California at Berkeley and planted a vegetable garden. Using sustainable gardening practices, the group intended to donate healthful, local food to nearby communities in need. They held community workshops on urban farming, community food security, bike maintenance, and other issues.

As an outspoken critic of agribusiness, which wreaks havoc on the environment, small-scale farmers, and our waistlines, I was happy to see likeminded Americans taking action. Occupy the Farm attempted to exemplify the belief that eating healthy food does not have to be environmentally wasteful and unaffordable, by farming sustainably and giving to the hungry. They spoke out against corporate food producers and the corn industry, which impacts the bulk of American diets. Grown on nutrient-leeching, chemical-soaked, massive farms across the country, golden kernels are reconstructed into anything from high fructose corn syrup, to Chicken McNuggets, or salad dressing.

Unfortunately, Occupy the Farm compromised its argument with its ill-conceived approach. The arbitrary occupation of public university property has not served their purposes well. The land, as UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof explained, was intended for a corn research project until Occupy the Farm inhabited it on April 22nd. Occupy the Farm has in fact, impeded research which might have actually furthered their cause. Repeatedly, UC asked them to leave the private land, called the Gill Tract. While the university attempted to propose compromise and commitments of resources to the causes of Occupy the Farm, the protesters refused to leave the Gill Tract. Occupy had succeeded in raising concerns about UC Berkeley’s commitment to public interests, and garnering support for the protesters. But the refusal to compromise and cooperate resulted in the end of the movement Monday. Protestors were forced by police to vacate the Gill Tract, and nine who refused to leave were arrested.

While I agree with the rhetoric of proponents of intelligent food production, and anti-poverty protesters, the action of Occupy the Farm has been misguided. The focus should be on protesting greedy agribusinesses that exploit the American people, not infringing on the rights of students to engage studies of their choice; and not taking university land paid for by the taxes of California citizens; land that, in fact, had been intended for research which considers their cause. The careless choice of Occupy to occupy this land, the inability to compromise and work cooperatively with UC Berkeley, and their evolution as “bad guy” based on provocation of police action has confused what is a legitimate, worthy message.   

Ashoka Finley, a leader of the group, stands by his actions, pledging that urban farming was a far better use of the land than corn research for notorious corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta.

“What I believe in is food justice,” he said. “That’s why I am here, and that’s why I continue to be here, planting crops, seeding crops and harvesting crops, and sharing with our community.”

As a sympathizer with the issues that concern the Occupy Wall Street movement and an advocate of food justice, I want to believe in Finley and his words. However, Occupy the Farm’s clumsy execution of its actions has tarnished its message.