The words in the film title “Occupy the Farm” look to be among the most reflective words of the 21st Century. In the coming decades, keep an eye on farming, farming as in millions of people not a few corporate behemoths, urban farming where a critical mass of necessity is accumulating. Who farms, where we farm, and how we farm – such things will speak volumes about the health of this century.
Keep an open mind about the term “occupy.” It’s no longer just a military incursion. It’s a resonant concept for people, for living breathing dwelling, non-violent citizens who won’t be marginalized in a do or die century. What may seem to have faded away at “Occupy Wall Street” in 2011 ain’t over.
When officials of University of California at Berkeley asked Occupy activists in May 2012 to leave the Gill Tract, a core occupying citizen noted, “They want us to give up the one reason they’re talking to us before they will talk to us, so they really don’t have to talk to us.” The Gill Tract is UC acreage devoted for decades to agricultural pursuits as part of the university’s public trust. It’s the best agricultural acreage remaining on the east side of San Francisco Bay.
UC Berkeley might fairly argue that that farm land is appropriately dedicated to agricultural research, part of hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate partnerships with Monsanto and the like. One might fairly argue for such a commitment of the public trust even if the low income vicinity is sorely in need of local fresh food, along with practical, educational, and symbolic opportunity for students and residents.
Oh, and there’s the small matter of the proposed sale of this public land – “the last straw in the mismanagement of this public resource” -- to private real estate development. After 15 years of deflected dialog, you can see how an inspired iteration of the Occupy mentality might take hold. That mentality didn’t jabber about what they wanted. It made what they wanted real.
They planted an acre, a second acre. When the University cut off their water and fenced out delivery access, the surrounding community helped to supply water. Volunteers lifted gallon by gallon over fences. They carried gallon by gallon to pour dedicated nurture plant by plant.
Through the initial weeks of cajoling threats by the “good cops,” the volunteers pretty much ignored them. The people worked. They farmed. See where this documentary coverage gets to after the University had had enough after three weeks of “patience.”
See “Occupy the Farm.” It’s quite a story, with engaging personalities (even, in their way, the UC officials). The documentary tale has good movie tension and arc. It’s got kumbaya and official machinations that inspire and instruct. Journalistically, it’s a newsworthy way to stay familiar with the term “Occupy,” and it’s emblematic of how farming fits in the lay of the 21st century landscape.
** extracted from conversation with the film’s director, Todd Darling **
Chuck Jaffee: The core activists in “Occupy the Farm,” how did they manage to be such a good example of how to do this hard working, intelligent, non-violent, non-confrontational thing they were doing?
Todd Darling: This was not their first [activist] rodeo. Some of them had just experienced Occupy Oakland. It really was a great brain trust and they had a sunny charisma. It was a diverse group of people: some of them farmers; some of them good at the game of it; some good at talking with press; some good at crafting things as they developed. They were hopeful, not to mention that they were growing stuff.
CJ: Clearly, the film is an example of “Occupy” style activism and about the symbolic and tactical importance of urban farming. At the heart of the film was an incredible lesson about water. Say a little something about that.
TD: As someone says in the film, they were “learning what it’s like to be a world citizen.” Our connection with water, especially in California, is extremely tenuous. [When University of California turned off the water] it became the organizing principle that expanded the whole meaning and effort.