Forty people were arrested this afternoon in a community garden in Los Angeles, including actress Darryl Hannah. They were protesting that the 14 acres of privately owned land used for urban agriculture was going to be developed to build a warehouse.
People living in the neighborhood had been raising food there for 14 years. While I don't know enough about the ownership issue to comment on that, I have been told that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had visted the contested site earlier this spring only to leave after protesters began chanting. About 350 people grow food on the land.
I do know that Los Angeles does a poor job of providing community gardens for its citizens: the city of 3.8 million had only 27 communtiy gardens according to primary research conducted as part of SustainLane's 2006 US City Sustainability Rankings. A city official even contested our organization's measurement of community gardens as part of our study, saying that in Los Angeles many people have backyard gardens in which they raise their own food, and so we shouldn't be measuring community gardens.
I don't put much stock in the city's claim that the 350 people can just go to other community gardens in the city. The numbers indicate they just don't have the opportunity to do so.
Compared to Los Angeles, many other large US cities have thriving community garden programs. Philadelphia, for instance, has 465 communtiy gardens for its 1.4 million people. Many other US cities also have far more per capita community gardens than does LA: Chicago, New York, Boston, Cleveland.
SustainLane inventoried community gardens because we feel it is important that all citizens of a city, whether or not they own or have access to a "backyard," should be able to grow some of their own food if they want to. Community gardens are important not only so people are able to grow their own fresh and healthy produce, but also so people learn how food is grown and what is in season. When people understand these issues, they can make better decisions about the food they buy, which positively impacts their regional economy, the environment and their personal health.
Los Angeles should think twice about having 120 of its officers, some with riot helmets and batons, performing such symbolically questionable duties. The issue transcends this one piece of land.