In an open field on the northern edge of Berkeley, Calif., planting vegetables is the latest form of political insurrection.
On the morning of April 22, 2012, hundreds of people broke the lock on a fence surrounding the Gill Tract, a 14-acre plot of land owned by the University of California. They set about planting thousands of vegetable seedlings.
This "farm occupation" was, in part, a protest against the university's plans to convert part of the Gill Tract into a commercial development. But the protestors also had bigger things on their minds, such as malnutrition among the poor. The Gill Tract protest, which has evolved and persisted for more than two years now, has become a symbol of the subversive possibilities of urban agriculture.
There's now a documentary film about events at the Gill Tract, called Occupy the Farm. Since we missed the actual protest, we called up the director of the film, Todd Darling, to learn more.
You can listen to our whole conversation at the link above.
"What surprised me when I first got there was how much fun everybody was having," Darling says. "All these kids were running around. People from the neighborhood were there. I realized that doing this as a group, in a piece of open land, was fulfilling people in a way that everyone was surprised at. When people talk about growing food as community, as a way of building communities, I realized that it's not just rhetoric, it actually is true. There's something magical about that activity."
Darling's film highlights many of the big issues that motivated the protest's organizers. "It certainly was a protest against the university's plans to essentially privatize it by paving it over and leasing it out to commercial operations, but at the heart of it is the story of food and malnutrition in urban areas," he says.
At the end of the first summer, the impromptu farmers harvested two tons worth of food. Darling says he was startled by the amount. "I came to realize how much food you could really grow in a small area," he says.
Darling isn't giving away the ending to his film, but he promises that it's not depressing. "Rather than having martyrs led off at the end of the film, it's a more hopeful ending," he says. "But that was never certain, and it happened in fairly dramatic style."
The film had its premiere in Berkeley this week. In the coming weeks, it will arrive in New York and Pasadena, Calif.