Lakshmi Sarah

Producer, Educator & Writer

Seeds of Occupy: The Gill Tract Contested Land and Oakland’s Planting Justice

This article originally appeared in Project Groundswell

On Earth Day, activists, community members, students and local farmers reclaimed the Gill Tract, a five-acres of a 14-acre piece of land in Albany, near Berkeley, CA. After a three-week occupation, arrests, and a court case, as of Monday June 11, all charges have been dropped. I just happened to be interviewing about his work with Oakland-based food justice organization, Planting Justice the day Occupy the Farm began.

In my initial thoughts before interviewing Garzo, I figured we would discuss the organizations work, and how he came to it (and of course we did), but just as Planting Justice is the beginning of a discussion of larger political issues, so too is speaking to Garzo.

Marcelo is a first-generation Chilean-American, who identifies as a “cultural activist and educator.” Growing up in San Diego, CA, he recalls that he was “politicized as a very young person through punk-rock music and Anarchism.” Going to a place called the Che Café, “I was exposed to a lot of leftist cultures.”

In high school Garzo dropped out and went to an intensive rehab program, it was here he “began to learn to love reading and encountered spirituality.” He transferred to UC Berkeley to complete his B.A. in Comparative Ethnic Studies in 2009 and is currently a graduate student in the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley.

Garzo originally transferred to UC Berkeley for music, but in his first semester he took a course with Clara Inés Nicholls, a Colombian professor activist who works with Via Compesina. As Garzo says, “She introduced the critique of the industrial agricultural model, and presented us the agro-ecological and food sovereignty alternative.”

Marcelo Felipe Garzo Montalvo Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson

Garzo’s parents were exiled (from Chile) as a result of their political involvement, in 1973. “Learning that the forces that displaced my family, were the forces of neoliberal capitalism, I realized I was always already a political subject.”

“We’re just planting,” he told me of the Occupy the Farmmovement he stepped away from, in order to do a brief interview.

As Garzo describes it, the Gill Tract is a piece of land granted to UC Berkeley from an agriculture family, “under the understanding it would be used for agriculture purposes.” However, some of this land has been sold off, which is far from an “agriculture purpose” related to justice.

Occupy the Farm had kids and adults planting 15,000 starts of kale, peas and other plants. After the initial rally, the plan included a series of workshops on technical expertise to oppression and racism in the food system. In solidarity, the group also received a letter of support from a landless workers movement of Brazil (Movimento Sem Terra, MST). As Garzo said, “it’s a dynamic, interconnected action that is happening right now.”

Organized by Occupy the Hood, and smaller subgroups, Occupy the Farm was mentioned in Adbusters Blog noted for its “sophisticated preplanning and careful execution — they even brought chickens — that offered a positive vision for the future and engendered broad community support.”

As we spoke via phone, Garzo exclaimed, “Wow, man, we are being visited by two deer!”

Garzo has been working with Planting Justice since January, 2010. Before this, he worked with the People’s Groceryin Oakland for two years.

Just a few of the 15,000 starter plants planted by Occupy the Farm on Gill Tract land owned by UC Berkeley.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Johnson

Working with predominantly “young, people of color immigrants,” Garzo teaches what he calls, “relevant education for young people,” at an after school program at Mandela High School in East Oakland. He teaches about social movements through cooking, growing food and learning about food systems. For example “we had one week where we learned about the Black Panther party, the 10-point program and we made a recipe that is relevant.” They also have a lesson based on the colonization of Africa, and then make black-eyed peas and talk about the production, consumption as well as relevant political history.

In addition to education, Planting Justice has programs with San Quentin state prison, offering living wage jobs for parolees as well as programs initiated by students from Mandela High School. EAT GRUB (Enhancing Access to Gardens and Revolutionizing Urban Backyards) began as a social entrepreneurship venture of Salvador Mateo and Julio Madrigal and developed through a 10-week training program with Ashoka’s Youth Ventures, under the mentorship of Planting Justice co-founders Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders.

As Garzo says, “One of the things I admire about Planting Justice, is our commitment to building relationships. Focusing on depth, as opposed to breadth.” Though not organized by Planting Justice, Occupy the Farm is an example of the kind of depth that can be seen when the ideas of Occupy are truly planted.

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This entry was posted on July 19, 2012 by in Project Groundswell Posts.


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