You Gotta Fight For Your Right to Garden
The gardeners at La Finquita won a small victory in their fight against developer Mayrone, LLC. The development company recently acquired the lot at 428 Master St. in South Kensington, a move that has drawn much criticism from the volunteers at La Finquita for quietly purchasing the lot without regard for the people who are currently using it to grow vegetables for the community.
The quiet purchase has spawned a not-so-quiet battle between the farmers and the developer. According to volunteer farm leader Shazana Goff, a back and forth game of cutting and replacing locks ensued following the purchase. Amy Laura Cahn, staff attorney on the case, told Spirit News that a person showed up at the garden and told one of the volunteers that they were going to come back with a bulldozer.
According to Cahn, this was the last straw. The volunteers filed a title action on behalf of the Philadelphia Catholic Worker (PCW), which is the group that began La Finquita in 1988. According to Cahn and Goff, prior to the PCW taking over 428 Master St., the lot was abandoned and frequently used as an illegal dumping site.
Cahn says the basis of their case is that Pyramid Tire, LLC, the original owners of the lot, legally had 21 years to evict PCW from the time they began farming there.
“They missed their chance to eject Philadelphia Catholic Worker, which they could have done over 21 years, and they didn’t do it,” Cahn said. “Catholic Worker has maintained possession openly for now 28 years.
The initial action was denied without a hearing, so neither party got a chance to plead their case before a judge. According to Cahn, La Finquita filed for “emergency relief.” As part of the appeal, the case was heard by an emergency judge who ruled in favor of La Finquita.
This means La Finquita will be able to remain on the land while the case is pending. “The court has said maintain the status quo until the next step, and that Mayrone should not be breaking locks and threatening the workers,” Cahn said
This comes as some relief for the volunteers who are already working on this year’s crop. “Things are already in the ground,” Cahn said
Cahn believes that it’s beneficial to the community to maintain the “status quo” of La Finquita.
“Keeping the status quo really keeps the peace in the neighborhood,” Cahn said. “To take the matter into their own hands doesn’t benefit anyone.”
Cahn also thinks it’s important for developers to start off on the right foot with the neighborhood. “There’s a need to build relationships and if you want to be involved in the neighborhood over time, anyone who’s involved in a neighborhood as a developer knows the benefit of having those relationships,” Cahn said.
Cahn says the timeline on the legal process is uncertain, but for now the volunteers are trying to put this out of their minds and focus on this year’s growing season. “The gardeners have never left, Catholic workers continues to have possession. The gardeners have never quit and they’re not going to quit. It’s very important for them to just keep going,” Cahn said “That kind of collaboration between long term and newer residents is so important in our city as part of the change,”