Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Protest sprouts at party:
Uprooting of community garden stirs furor during Mardi Gras celebration.

By Pablo Lopez
The Fresno Bee
(Published March 8, 2000)

In the heart of Fresno's Tower District, they protested in the rain, oblivious to hundreds of partygoers celebrating Fat Tuesday, the final fling before Lent. The protesters were upset because Tower District businessman Keith Tur had bulldozed a lot that was being used as a community garden to feed the hungry and homeless. Tur said he leveled the lot in order to charge Fat Tuesday partygoers $4 to park. The protesters said they and Tur had an oral agreement that should have spared the garden. Tur said there was no agreement. In the end no one won, but lessons were learned, both sides said. "I don't need the hassles," Tur said, taking down the parking signs.

He returned the $4 to the lone customer who slipped past the protesters. "Next time, we need to talk with the landowner," protester Jeremy Hofer, 23, said. "This way we won't get hassled and lose our garden."

The garden took root three weeks ago when a group of teen-agers and young adults decided to transform a trash-strewn dirt lot at Maroa and Hedges avenues into a garden.

Tur said he is leasing an empty storefront just south of the lot and has permission from the landowner to care for the lot. One day, the garden just appeared without permission, he said.

In the beginning, Tur said he tried to work with the protesters. The protesters picked up litter and broken glass and pulled weeds. They then planted onions, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce and flowers.

"It was beautiful and for a good cause," said protester Lauren Ferber, 17, who helped dig the garden.

All was well until about a week ago, protester Josiah Maskaleris, 18, said. That's when he and Tur talked about saving the garden from the bulldozer.

Tur confirmed he talked with the protesters, but they had to move a few plants so most of the lot could be used for parking. "But they never did it," he said. Maskaleris said he and others moved the plants, but Tur reneged on the deal anyway. With the garden gone, he said their only recourse was to protest.

The plan worked. For the first hour, only one person paid to park. Tur then took his signs down. Upset, Tur said, "I don't have anything positive to say about someone squatting on private property." Most people passing the protesters were unaware of the conflict. They were headed to the Mardi Gras celebration, where they could purchase beer and food and listen to live music.

The rain made the celebration "pretty mild," said Janelle Schneider, the executive director of the Tower District Marketing Committee. Maskaleris and others said they knew of the tradition. But they also said there is a time to party and a time to reflect. Tuesday night, the protesters thought about the hungry and homeless and celebrated by handing out free soup.

There were wall-to-wall people on Olive Avenue from Van Ness to near Palm Avenue. By 9:30, more than 1,000 people lined up outside the entrances to pay $5 to get in.

Many of the partygoers wore masks and costumes. Capt. Marty West of the Fresno Police Department said his officers, on foot and horseback, were having little problem with the crowd but were making an effort to prevent indecent exposure by women wanting beads. Live bands played at many corners, but the big attraction was the Motels band, which was playing behind the Tower Theater.

Followup letter from protester

Contact: Josiah Maskaleris
I am a part of The Guerrilla Gardeners. We had onions, carrots, lettuce, beans, squash, tomatoes, and lots more until it was bulldozed a week ago. In desperation I tried to find out who did and it turned out it was a man who I helped move bricks for. He told us that if we helped him prepare the lot for Mardi Gras, our garden would be spared and he would make money on parking. He is leasing the business in front of the garden from a woman who he said was fine with the garden and he suppoted it too until he bulldozed it and showed his true colors.

One of our members is homeless and we serve food from our gardens every Sat. and Sun. at a park not far from the garden which was bulldozed.

Tuesday March, 7th we had a civil disobedience there which ended up working and he only made $4! We fabricated signs from cardboard boxes and even got some kids who had a bike jumping area there as well.

Because people cared to help support our cause, the garden lives! We were donated $5 and two, half-acre lots, not far from our original site.

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Revised March 15, 2000

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture