When activists took over the Gill Tract on April 22, UC Berkeley Professor Miguel Altieri who works on the site, was out of the country. Altieri returned later in the week and offered a workshop at the Gill Tract over the weekend.
“I support this action as a private citizen,” Altieri told Albany Patch in an interview Saturday.
In fact, he said, many of the people involved with Occupy the Farm are former students. Asked if he knew about the group’s plans in advance, Altieri said no.
Altieri, a professor since 1981, teaches agroecology and is part of the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at UC Berkeley. His research, which can be called sustainable agriculture, looks at the effect of intercropping, covercropping weed management and crop-field border vegetation on pests.
According to his website, “Our group is also engaged in collaborative work with a number of Universities, NGOs and research centers in Africa, Asia and Latin America promoting research, training and capacity building in agrecology and sustainable agriculture.” Altieri earned his undergraduate degree in Chile.
RESEARCH IN ALBANY
At the Gill Tract, Altieri raises and studies dry-farmed tomatoes and also intercrops broccoli with other plants for pest management. He said he will start his tomatoes in a couple weeks, and that he will engage some of the activists to help, so they can learn about dry farming. “It has to be organized and supervised,” he said.
He has donated his produce to groups such as Food Not Bombs for 20 years, he said.
Asked about the conflict between the activists and the university, Altieri said, “it would not look very good that the university turns under crops that could feed hungry people in Oakland.”
The activists have left Altieri’s cover crop of fava beans on the largely untouched. Their farming has taken place on the section of the field previously used for growing corn (maize) for plant genetics studies by three other scientists. Those three—, and —have all because, at least in part, it has taken over their research space and left their work potentially hanging in the balance as a result.
A SHARED SOLUTION POSSIBLE?
During a talk to the activists Saturday, Altieri encouraged them to share the space with the corn researchers, said Lisch, who attended the talk.
But, when asked about in an interview later, Altieri said they could always “go to Davis” to do their work. When told that the corn researchers said the commute to Davis for their five-month field season would be problematic—time-consuming, polluting and prohibitive to student assistants without cars—and that the move would come too late for this year, Altieri dismissed the concerns.
“They have big money,” he said. “Federal and corporate.” Sarah Hake, director of the Plant Gene Expression Center (PGEC), responded that no one at the center has corporate funding.
Altieri said he really didn’t know what the corn researchers do—that he and they don’t have much professional contact. He and Hake are both part of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, but in separate departments. But he added: “I don’t think genetics is going to save us. You need to have a holistic approach to come up with systems that will resist climate change.”
Altieri also said he was a university member involved with the Bay Area Coalition for Urban Agriculture. About a decade ago the coalition proposed using the Gill Tract for a Center for Sustainable Urban Agriculture and Food Systems, but it never happened.
“I’m interested in promoting that again,” Altieri said.
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