Vegetable patch becoming illegal marketplace

September 30, 1998

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- They're selling meat in the garden. A 14-acre urban vegetable patch developed after the 1992 riot to help South Central's poor and homeless has become an illegal farmers market with shanties and entrepreneurs selling tacos and other prepared food. Last week, organizers shut down a mini-restaurant in the corn stalks. ``We are going to have to come up with a new agreement with each gardener or come up with a new self-governing plan for the entire garden,'' said Roberto Marquez of the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, which manages the self-ruling cooperative at Long Beach Avenue and 41st Street.

There was concern the future of the garden could be jeopardized by illegal food sales that violate health and safety codes and makeshift shacks that don't meet building and safety regulations. The directors of the food bank oversee the garden, but the day-to-day operations are managed by a seven-member committee of longtime members, who have the power to evict anyone who fails to abide by the rules. ``If we have one guy breaking the rules, we don't want to mess things up for the 320 other people who work here,'' said committee chief Willy Ordaz, who ordered one gardener last week to stop selling tacos, menudo and carnitas out of a shack he erected in the garden.

Ordaz, a part-time chauffeur from Jalisco, Mexico, who has farmed his parcel for three years, said the committee has already evicted several gardeners and even changed the locks on the garden gates to exclude one man who refused to keep his plot cleared of trash. Cooperative members are now being pressured to remove illegal shacks that dot the garden landscape. The illegal structures haven't been noticed by the city Building and Safety Department, but it's expected the citations will begin soon. Building inspector Dave Keim said owners of any illegal structures can be cited and given 30 days to either level the buildings or submit building plans and permit fees. ``It is a problem, and I hate to see it because we didn't have it in the beginning,'' said Doris Bloch, executive director of the food bank. The garden was created in the wake of the riot on a city parcel that was originally set aside for a garbage incinerator project that was killed in the mid-1980s after public opposition. To get a 12-foot plot, gardeners must meet federal poverty guidelines.