Farmworker Advocates Fight to Save Community Garden

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
The Tierras Milperas community garden in Watsonville feeds dozens of families and is used for cultural gatherings. Photo Credit: Tierras Milperas

A farmworker group in Watsonville is speaking out after a local church terminated the lease on land used for a community garden.

The group, called Tierras Milperas, has grown food for local families for 12 years on property which belongs to the All Saints/Cristo Rey Episcopal Church.

After a community outcry, Bishop Lucinda Ashby recently granted a 90-day extension on the lease.

Hugo Sanchez-Nava, community coordinator for Tierras Milperas, wants a meeting with the bishop to clear the air.

“Rescinding the lease termination and speaking with our members directly will demonstrate her commitment to making sure the church welcomes all the people in the community no matter their race or background or history or culture,” Sanchez-Nava asserted.

In the termination letter, the church said the church property has recently become unsafe, after a church employee was found dead in his car. Police are also investigating an alleged rape and reports someone left drug paraphernalia in the area. The church pastor did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Carmen Cortez, member of the Council of Gardeners for Tierras Milperas, said the threat of eviction is unfair to the 46 families who use the community garden, and said they should not be blamed for the incidents.

“These concerns that they’re raising are very serious,” Cortez acknowledged. “And we would have expected them to come to us when they actually happened, if they did happen. However, we are very certain that on our side of the fence where we manage our garden, they have not happened. And so we would like to have that conversation with the bishop.”

The bishop’s office said it will allow the families to harvest the current crop if it receives a contact list of Tierras Milperas’ membership. The office added it will consider a new lease, pending further negotiations.