Bulldozers can destroy crops, but not the movement to save the urban farm at 41st and Alameda in Los Angeles.
Leaders among the 350 families who have tilled the 14 acres designated July 7-10 as International Days of Solidarity. Centered in Los Angeles and Oakland, but echoed in other cities in California and around the world, supporters are wearing green tee shirts, leafleting at farmers' markets, and holding prayer vigils.
Sarah Nolan, a member at Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood, California, became involved after touring the farm with a group from All Saints' Church, Pasadena. She came to Holy Faith as a participant in the Episcopal Urban Intern Program. While a lifelong Christian, it is over the last five years that she has discovered the "call [of Christ] to the church to be the life-giving and reconciling body that works against the bonds of oppression." This call led to her struggle alongside the South Central Farmers.
Since destruction of the farm began in late June, non-violent witness has increased on the site. Even after the bulldozing of July 5-6, candlelight vigils continue each evening.
"Farmers and their supporters from around the city walk the perimeter of the farm with candles while they chant songs of sorrow, hope and resistance," Nolan said. Often the vigils are led by Aztec dancing and drumming, while some nights other community groups, such as Korean drummers, lend their support. At the end of the walk, the witness culminates in prayers and words of support.
Jennifer Snow, associate director of Progressive Christians Uniting and member of All Saints',
recounts that when she visited the farm on July 6 not only annual crops had been destroyed, but trees, belongings within the garden perimeter, and the little houses used for shade by farmers' families.
She recounts "An older Latina woman, sitting with her child, called out something to a passing police car -- something along the lines of ‘How can you do this? Why don't you care?' The response was ‘Hey, it's not my house!'" Snow adds: "We can remember that, yes, it is our house, and our community -- that whatever we can do for the poorest among us, we do for Christ and in Christ."
"We are farmers, not gardeners" is one of the often repeated assertions of those who have tilled plots here. Many are carrying on traditions of their forebears in rural Mesoamerica. All are part of a burgeoning movement to grow fresh produce in urban areas where few markets offer any, and thus to improve nutrition, enhance food security, and nurture green open space in neighborhoods with no parks.
On July 12, the case filed in 2003 -- challenging the legality of the sale of the property to Ralph Horowitz -- will be heard in the Superior Court of California in downtown Los Angeles.
Nolan has found many churches "reluctant to come on board as a communal body". Snow reflects, "I think many people are confused about the proper response given the legal situation. It's not easy for everyone to see how challenging the law in this case is right and just; we all want to believe that the law protects everyone, and I think this situation has to disturb that belief."
All Saints' Church marked a day of solidarity on Sunday by bidding continuing prayers, having the South Central Farm as the main "action table" on the lawn, and encouraging involvement and donations.
Nolan adds that individuals who have been moved by the farmers' situation can still make a difference "by asking Los Angeles City Council Member Jan Perry, in whose district the Farm lies, to broker a win-win solution."
"For me, being part of this situation has strengthened my hope constantly," says Snow. "I've been deeply inspired by all of the activists, the campesinos and the friends of the farm, as they cross a thousand boundaries of race, class, culture, age, and religion to support one another."
When thinking toward the future she notes that "Developing a network of clergy and laypeople...is an important goal." Similar situations will arise again "as the very poor struggle to create a space for life for themselves and their families in Los Angeles."
When asked what other communities might learn from this struggle Nolan answered "It speaks to the assaults committed every day in the name of ‘urban renewal'. As neighbors and people of faith we need to become more aware of the continual displacement of the most vulnerable in our society. And that this includes the land itself."
For up-to-date information on the South Central Farm
A recent article on urban farming as a worldwide trend
For more information on Progressive Christians Uniting