By TERENCE CHEA
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Occupy activists who took over farmland owned by the University of California, Berkeley on Monday planned to respond to campus demands to vacate the property.
A group called Occupy the Farm broke into the five-acre plot in Albany on April 22, set up an encampment and began planting broccoli, lettuce and other crops.
The protesters want the Gill Tract, about three miles from the main Berkeley campus, 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.
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.
The protesters missed a weekend deadline to reach a departure agreement. 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."
Gopal Dayaneni, a spokesman for Occupy the Farm, said the group will offer a response on Monday afternoon, but it remains committed to preserving the land for urban farming.
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, Dayaneni 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.
Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.