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Protesters Resist Sheriffs, Developers in Fight to Save LA Farm

by Jessica Hoffmann

As the conflict over gardeners' access to the nation’s largest known urban community agriculture site heats to a boil, activists use direct action to stave demise.

June 16, 2006 – Los Angeles County sheriffs have forcibly evicted a group of urban farmers from their South Central Los Angeles community garden. Some crops have already been bulldozed, but farmers insist, "This is not over."

The eviction from what is presumed to be the largest urban community garden in the United States started early Tuesday morning, when deputies woke farmers and supporters who were camping there to protect the South Central Farm. Several people secured their arms into cement-filled civil-disobedience tools called "lockboxes" and were not removed until deputies jack-hammered through the devices. Approximately 45 people were arrested for disobeying police within and around the farm.

Tuesday’s eviction came after weeks of tense waiting by farmer-organizers, who became vulnerable to eviction after they failed to raise sufficient funds to buy the farm by a May 22 deadline.

In April, after a decades-long struggle over ownership of the land, the national nonprofit Trust for Public Land (TPL) negotiated a deal with property owner Ralph Horowitz to give the farmers and TPL 30 days to raise his more than $16 million asking price to purchase the farm.

TPL’s Bob Reid told TNS days before the fundraising deadline that while he was "very encouraged" by the show of support from a diverse group of supporters across the United States, the total raised was only around $6 million. May 22 came and went with the farmers approximately $10 million short of Horowitz’s asking price.

The farmers appealed to supporters to help them resist eviction by maintaining a strong presence on the farm at all times.

The farmers appealed to supporters to help them resist eviction by maintaining a strong presence on the farm at all times. For more than three weeks, farmer-organizers and a diverse group of supporters camped on the land and participated in nightly vigils, weekly farmers’ markets and other events. The participation of several celebrities, including some who camped in the farm’s large walnut tree, helped draw international attention to the struggle.

Hopes of saving the farm were high at a vigil on June 7, when organizer Rufina Juarez announced that the Annenberg Foundation had pledged the $10 million needed to meet Horowitz’s asking price. According to farmer-organizers, an offer was made to Horowitz, but for days he did not respond. Horowitz told the LA Weekly that the offer was not legitimate because it proposed that he help finance the purchase while fundraising continued.

On Tuesday morning, a response of sorts arrived in the form of sheriff’s deputies surrounding the farm – which occupies an entire city block – and moving in to forcibly kick the occupants off the land.

It took hours for deputies to remove resisters. Around noon, emergency responders removed the tree-sitters, and law enforcement officers arrested them.

At an early-afternoon press conference amid supporters gathered across the street from the farm, Dan Stormer, an attorney for South Central Farmers Feeding Families, said, "This is not over." Stormer cited a trial date set for July 12 to contest the 2003 closed-door sale of the land to Ralph Horowitz as illegal.

It took hours for deputies to remove resisters.

At a closed press conference later that afternoon, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa expressed disappointment at the eviction of the farmers and stated that the city has begun relocating farmers to a nearby site that will hold as many as 200 plots, about 100 fewer than the current garden.

Farmer-organizers and their supporters say Villaraigosa has failed them, paying lip service to their struggle without intervening in any meaningful way.

Alberto Tlatoa, now 19, has been farming at the site with his family since he was a child. Tlatoa said Wednesday that he and his family have received no communication about relocating and that "it’s not even an option: those 200 plots are all under power lines. That’s not a risk we can take with kids here."

According to the LA Weekly, property owner Ralph Horowitz has said he would not sell the land to the current crop of farmers, in part because he feels he has been personally vilified by them.

Farmers cried as they looked through chain-link fencing at destroyed crops late Tuesday. But farmer spokesperson Tezozomoc remains hopeful: "We never give up. Three years ago it was ‘a done deal.’ We’re not giving up now."

At a vigil outside the farm Wednesday evening, Dele Ailemen of the South Central Farmers’ Support Committee said that everyone arrested on Tuesday has been released.

Ailemen shouted to a crowd of supporters gathered on the sidewalk outside the farm, "We want justice, and we want to get back into the South Central Farm."

Several young dancers led a vigil at the site last night.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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This News Article originally appeared in the June 16, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Hoffmann is a contributing journalist.

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