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Occupiers give conditions for leaving UC farmland

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Occupy activists who set up an encampment and planted crops on land owned by the University of California, Berkeley said Monday they would only leave if campus officials give them continued access to the 10-acre parcel and meet other demands.

A group called Occupy the Farm said in a proposal issued Monday night that it wants the university to let its supporters use city water at the site to tend their fledgling farm and for researchers who do agricultural work there to stop using pesticides and other chemicals.

About 200 Occupy squatters broke into the Gill Tract on April 22 to protest planned housing and commercial development nearby.

The protesters want the parcel preserved as an urban farm to serve the community and educate children. The land is the remainder of a larger piece of farmland the university acquired in the 1920s.

“Because of its unique location in a thriving urban area, any future use of the Gill Tract has an immediate impact on East Bay food sovereignty, equity and access issues,” the group said in a statement listing its conditions.

UC Berkeley officials say the protesters have disrupted agricultural research by faculty scientists and students. The activists pruned a diseased branch from a fruit tree before learning that researchers had intentionally infected the tree to study the impacts of disease.

The university wants the activists to leave the land in exchange for allowing the group to participate in discussions about using part of the property for farming, and warned them on Friday they could be prosecuted if they did not break camp.

Campus research must resume by mid-May, said spokesman Dan Mogulof.

“Time is running out,” he said. “You can't have people living and sleeping in the middle of an open-air laboratory.”

The university will not press charges if the protesters leave voluntarily, Mogulof said. “But if they continue with what they're doing, then we'd be in a different situation.”

About 30 to 50 protesters camp on the property each night to prevent campus police from seizing it, and up to 200 people from the community work on the farm during the day, Gopal Dayaneni, a spokesman for Occupy the Farm, said.

“This is the last, best soil remaining in the East Bay,” he said. “The university has mismanaged this public asset.”

Occupy the Farm activists are protesting the development of agricultural land as well as growing corporate influence on public universities, Dayaneni said.

The standoff comes as UC officials call for a less confrontational approach to campus protests after university police came under fire for harsh crackdowns on Occupy demonstrators at the Berkeley and Davis campuses last fall.

A UC report released Friday offered 50 recommendations to help administrators avoid using police force to respond to campus demonstrations.

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