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By growing food, Occupy the Farm helps a movement grow up

This post originally appeared on the Earth Island Journal website.

All photos by Jeff Conant/Climate Connections.

It doesn’t take an agricultural expert to know that you can’t grow vegetables without water. So it wasn’t surprising that after hundreds of people marching under the banner “Occupy the Farm” took over a University of California (UC) agricultural testing station on the edge of Berkeley, Calif., April 22, UC officials responded by shutting off water to the site. The next day, a late-season storm brought a half-inch of rain to the San Francisco Bay Area, irrigating the thousands of vegetable starts in the ground and lifting the spirits of the urban farming activists who are determined to save the site from development. Score: Occupiers, 1 — UC administrators, 0.

Social change activists in Berkeley, Calif., have always been ahead of the curve. Today, May Day, is the spring reemergence for the Occupy movement as activists around the United States engage in work stoppages, street marches, and various forms of civil disobedience to press their demands for a more equitable economy. The folks with Occupy the Farm got started early. On Earth Day, they marched from Berkeley’s Ohlone Park to a five-acre plot of land in the adjacent bedroom community of Albany. They cut the locks on the gates of the UC-Berkeley and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) field trial plot, pulled up nearly an acre of thick mustard growing there, and got busy working the soil with a pair of rented rototillers. Then, scores of volunteers planted 150-foot rows of lettuce, beans, cucumbers, and leafy greens. By the end of Earth Day, the Bay Area had a new urban farm.

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The U.S. organic cotton industry has a tough row to hoe

The view from the Panoche Cotton Gin outside Firebaugh, Calif., reveals a great deal about the state of the cotton industry in the U.S. A generation ago, fields of cotton surrounded the gin as far as the eye could see. Today, the gin -- a warehouse-sized plant that can clean and bundle dozens of tons of cotton a day -- is flanked on all sides by almond orchards, groves upon groves of the tall trees. An endangered species? Photo: iStockphoto "Cotton used to be king -- it was our No. 1 crop," Joseph Maron, the operations supervisor for the gin, …

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Workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts

When Elena Ortiz found a job on an organic raspberry farm after working for nine years in conventionally farmed fields, she was glad for the change. The best part about her new job was that she no longer had to work just feet away from tractors spraying chemical herbicides and pesticides. An added bonus was the fruit itself -- "prettier," she said, and firmer, which made it easier to pick. Better living without chemicals? Photos: iStockphoto But when it came to how Ortiz was treated by her employers, little was different. Her pay remained meager: $500 a week at peak …

Read more: Food

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Could the battle for South Central Farm be coming to a close?

The scene at South Central Farm would look familiar to anyone who's ever attended a multi-day protest: there's a makeshift kitchen to feed the masses, a small sound stage, a tent for banner-making. But the kitchen is preparing nopales quesadillas instead of vegan stew, the stage features a Norteño band replete with cowboy hats, and the banner-makers are nine-year-old Latina girls. Que Dios bendiga esta jardin, reads one sign: God bless this garden. Situated among the warehouses, railroad tracks, and truck depots of industrial Los Angeles, South Central Farm is something of an oasis, and it's become a vital food …

Read more: Food