Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Community Gardens Bulldozed

Posted:  June 13, 2006  4:16 PM

The Farm is being Bulldozed! Let's not mourn but continue to fight for its life and the livelihood of the South Central Farmers!

Over 50 arrests have been made, a few demonstrators have suffered blows from batons and the bulldozers were sent in to demolish the blooming crops, indigenous plants and 14 years of love that have been put into the farm. We are continuing to stand strong with tears in our eyes. It is not over yet! The community cannot be defeated. Join us to peacefully protest the police attack on our community.

A candlelight vigil will be held tonight at 7:00pm as we have for 21 nights at the Farm. There is police perimeter set up so be respectful of that barrier for your safety and the safety of the rest of the community. We want safety for our families and the land to be returned to the community. We are gathered at the corner of 41st St & Long Beach Ave. Los Angeles, CA.
-please bring candles and supplies such as water or food to share as we have been dispossessed.
A demonstration at the mayor's house is also being organized simultaneously with the vigil at the Farm. Here's the info:
At 7pm tonight we will be gathering at Villaraigosa's
house in protest of the actions taken by the state
against the community today.

Bring banners, instruments, chants and signs.


When: 7pm today, Tuesday

Where: the "mayor's mansion"
605 S. Irving St., LA
(In Hancock Park near Wilton and Wilshire)


Thank you for all your support and dedication to the struggle of the South Central Farmers.
-South Central Farmers Support Coalition
Why the nation's largest community garden must become a Wal-Mart warehouse

Posted by Tom Philpott at 2:56 PM on 07 Mar 2006

The fate of LA's South Central Community Garden, the largest of its kind in the United States, looks fairly straightforward: It sits on private property, and its owner wants to sell it for development. The 300 or so families who garden there, most of whom by all accounts live under the poverty line, will have to find a new source of food. If the owner/developer, one Ralph Horowitz, has decided to erect a massive Wal-Mart warehouse there, well, that's just the way it goes.

However, an excellent article in Los Angeles CityBeat by Dean Kuipers shines an interesting light on this unhappy deal.

(Note: The gardeners, who recently received an eviction notice, have won a stay until March 13. I assume all L.A. greens -- including movie producers, Baldwin brothers, etc. -- will hop in their hybrids, rush over to the garden, and rally to its defense in the meantime.)

Like most urban community gardens, this one sprang up on land that no one much wanted originally. In the late 1980s, the city seized the land under eminent domain from an investment group led by Horowitz, Kuipers reports. Horowitz's investment company ended up receiving $4.7 million in compensation. The city's plan (alternative-energy fans take note): to build an incinerator to generate electricity by burning trash.

Most people don't like to live amid the stench of garbage, so the neighborhood successfully organized to stop that project. By the time of the Rodney King rebellion in 1992, the lot had become trash-strewn and abandoned. The city agreed to allow a soup kitchen to turn it into a community-garden plot. By all accounts, neighborhood residents rallied around the asset, turning it into a vital source of fresh food in an area with few grocery stores.

Here is how Kuipers describes it today, in an account that jibes with others I've read:

The contrast with community gardens elsewhere in the city is shocking. These aren't tiny weekend projects with a few tomatoes and California poppies. The 330 spaces here are large, 20 X 30 feet, many of them doubled- and tripled-up into larger plots, crammed with a tropical density of native Mesoamerican plants -- full-grown guava trees, avocados, tamarinds, and palms draped in vines bearing huge pumpkins and chayotes, leaf vegetables, corn, seeds like chipilin grown for spice, and rank upon rank of cactus cut for nopales. The families who work these plots are all chosen to receive one because they are impoverished by USDA standards, and use them to augment their household food supply. These are survival gardens.

But the birth of a thriving, productive community garden wasn't the only thing that changed in the area after the King riots. In the 1990s, the city of Los Angeles dropped a cool $2 billion building out the Alameda Corridor, "a modern rail and big-truck super-pipeline from the Port of Los Angeles straight through the warehouses of South L.A. and Vernon," Kuipers writes. And that made the once-depressed warehouse district an important hub for big-box retailers to organize the booming influx of goods from points west, including China. In turn, South Central land suddenly became very valuable.

In his dealings with the city in the 1980s, Horowitz had retained right of first refusal if the city ever decided to sell the land. In 2003, he successfully sued to force the city to sell it back to him for $5 million --a figure many observers find extremely low, given the city had a few years earlier valued it at $13 million. Since then, he's been wrangling to evict the farmers from the land, a goal he looks set to reach on March 13.

Let's think about this. The city of Los Angeles dropped $2 billion to beef up its port infrastructure, a move that brings undeniable benefits to import-minded big-box retailers and the consumers throughout the southwest who buy their gear. The great bulk of the jobs it creates, though, are of the low-wage, unskilled variety.

And what does South Central get? Some low-wage jobs, and the loss of a garden that neighborhood residents cleaned up and turned into a vital place when no one wanted it. In place of a food source, they get a warehouse that will distribute food (among other things) to other localities. Here we have another example of public policy -- and cash -- subsidizing global commerce and smashing local production, under a false "free-market" banner.

If the city has $2 billion to hand over to make things easier for big boxes, why can't it buy out Horowitz and turn the site into a permanent public farm?