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Farm versus factory: an endless American debate

Beth Pinsker
Aug 23rd 2008

You might think all the stories left to tell in this genre are about quaint family farms in the mid-West being overrun by giant corporations, but the latest salvo comes from industrial Los Angeles.

Two years ago, a community garden was razed to make room for a warehouse for the clothing retailer Forever 21, and now community activists are looking at the still-empty tract of land and they want their plants back.

The Los Angeles Times says the story is complicated by political ties -- the company made hefty donations to the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who had initially opposed the destruction of the garden, which is located in South Central. This being L.A., there are celebrities involved: Daryl Hannah, Joan Baez and Danny Glover are among those who protested the initial plans, and it was the subject of the short documentary South Central Farm: Oasis in a Concrete Desert. The Forever 21 project is now stalled by community activists who are trying to get more stringent environmental restrictions placed on the 14-acre site. The mayor, who has received $1.3 million from Forever 21 over the past two years, is staying out of the fight for now.

Community gardens like this abound in urban spaces and are always on the verge of being crowded out by development, so this is a good test case for what will happen in the future since the profile has been so high. With the cost of food rising so fast, and environmental concerns such an issue, the stakes are pretty high for regular folks who use things like this. But most little gardens don't have celebrities to shill for them, or filmmakers to shoot documentaries. So what will become of them?

author- "The Black Holocaust for Beginners"