On March 14th, farmers and neighbors of the historic Gill Tract turned out in large numbers to disrupt business as usual and eventually shutdown a local Sprouts supermarket. Their message to this corporate supermarket chain? “Don’t build a Sprouts ‘Farmer’s Market’ on our historic Gill Tract Farmland”.
A crowd of 100-150 protesters, including a brass band, “occupy the farm” activists, and a large delegation of workers from the Fast Food Workers Union converged on a normally quiet Sprouts Supermarket in suburban Walnut Creek. Protesters held a sit-in to block the main entrance to the store, rallying around a 600 pound stump they had set down in the entranceway. The stump came from an approximately hundred year old Gill Tract tree that had been recently cut down by contractors preparing to pave the Gill Tract for the construction of the Sprouts store. Meanwhile, at the the other set of doors, protesters bearing branches from felled Gill Tract trees held a robust picket line turning away many would be customers.
During the protest, a series of speakers addressed the assembled crowd while protesters distributed flyers to would be shoppers explaining their reasons for boycotting and picketing the store. Many shoppers chose to turn away and honor the picketers. Store employees also received a flyer from union organizers that urged solidarity and encouraged them to join efforts with a newly launched campaign to unionize the Sprouts supermarket.
After the rally concluded, protesters decided to move their pickets into the store for a “shop-in”. Protesters grabbed dozens of shopping carts and made their way into the store, with the brass band in tow. The store was filled with noise as the band played while protesters chanted, blew whistles, and spread their message to would be shoppers. Managers and police were unable to address the disruption effectively.
Finally, a large force of several dozen walnut creek officers and several highway patrol officers arrived. The officers shut down the Sprouts parking lot and surrounding streets. A large group of officers entered the store to began to attempt to force the crowd to leave the store. One shopper was arrested as the officers pushed and shoved, and some store displays were knocked over in the commotion. Sprouts management then completely locked down and shut down the store. Protesters said they were already planning followup actions, announcing plans to protest at the April 15 grand opening of a new Sprouts supermarket in San Rafael, CA. They are also calling for people to organize similar protests and boycotts at hundreds of Sprouts stores in other cities across the country.
The Gill Tract is an approximately 20 acre plot of undeveloped public land owned by UC Berkeley and located in Albany, CA. Sprouts “Farmers Market” wants to pave over this historic farmland to put up big-box store. But farmers and supporters are demanding that all 20 acres of this valuable and rare natural resource be protected as an education and research center in urban agriculture and food justice, including a productive urban farm.
Farmers like Hank Herrera want to highlight the hypocrisy of Sprouts calling itself a “farmers market” while it is destroying historic Gill Tract farmland to build its newest store.
“Sprouts is not a Farmer’s Market. Using that name for a big-box supermarket is an insult to local farmers who are actually working to fix our broken food system.” – Hank Herrera, New Hope Farms & Gill Tract Farm Coalition
Supporters from the labor and food justice communities, like Brooke Anderson, are also expressing their concerns with Sprouts.
“We do not need another corporate supermarket giant that exploits its workers, especially not on public land. We need a real farmers market.” – Brooke Anderson, Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project
In late February, UC Berkeley cut down 53 trees in preparation for the construction of the new Sprouts store, despite an ongoing lawsuit regarding the projects’ Environmental Impact Report. Farmers and supporters want to see the land used for a community-university partnership exploring innovative solutions to problems in our food system.
Despite almost 20 years of local organizing against commercial development, UC Berkeley continues to push for a chain grocery store and commercial retail space on the Gill Tract.
In April 2012, Occupy the Farm raised the profile of this 20-year community struggle by camping on the land and planting a publicly-accessible farm on the Gill Tract. Under pressure from community activists, Whole Foods pulled out of the proposed development, and instead opened two blocks south of the tract. Occupy the Farm helped win temporary protection for a portion of the land, some of which is now the vibrant Gill Tract Community Farm. Farmers hope to see this project expand to all remaining 20 acres of the historic farmland stewarded by the University of California, Berkeley for research and education for the public good.
Learn more at occupythefarm.org