Claremont Man Stages Arrest in Organic Farm Access Dispute

Long-time resident of Claremont and three-time candidate for Claremont City Council Michael Keenan was arrested on Sept. 22 for trespassing on the Pomona College Organic Farm. He planned his own arrest to bring to light his distaste with recent enforcement of the farm’s access policies.

“Keenan was banned because he was involved in many verbal altercations with the hired manager of the farm, Juan Araya,” said Richard Hazlett, Chair of the 5C Environmental Analysis (EA) Program and a Pomona geology professor, who helps oversee the farm. “And he came back. That’s why he was arrested.”

Previously, Keenan had applied for and received a community farm pass, which allows members of the community to access the farm alongside 5C students, staff, and faculty. The pass system is operated by Pomona’s Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum and Araya.

The 2.5-acre farm, which was founded in the late 1990s by a group of EA students, was open to community members until 2006, when Pomona College instituted the pass system for community members in response to alleged acts of drug usage and vandalism, including the theft of the head of the farm’s statue of the goddess Pomona.

Keenan said he wasn’t told that his community pass application had been rejected.

“I turned in the paper [to apply for a new community pass], and nothing happened,” Keenan said. “They never returned my calls. There was no communication.”

Keenan added that his main motivation for staging his own arrest stemmed from his belief that the farm is no longer the student- and community-run institution it once was.

“The farm is being hijacked [by the administration],” Keenan said. “I just don’t get it. Change needs to happen. They need new leadership, new protocols, and more interaction with the community.”

“They’re stifling people’s projects, taking the farm from students, and I see an actively slow death of the farm,” he added.

Leaders of the Farm Club, which helps students maintain plots at the farm and organizes events like the semi-weekly Farm Stand, disagreed, pointing out that Keenan’s criticism ignores the positive impact that the farm has on the student body and broader community.

“I am very upset at the amount of negative press that this issue is generating, because it severely undermines the great work the students are doing at the farm,” Farm Club President Adam Long PO ’13 wrote in an email to TSL. “And it is giving the wider community an incomplete and incorrect view of what the farm is all about. I could provide a long list of great things that have happened so far this semester.”

“Any community members are welcome if they are willing to work with the current mission of the farm and support students working at the farm,” he added.

Hazlett also defended the Farm’s contribution to the community. “We hold seasonal harvest festivals and have a round-the-clock student staff of as many as a half-dozen individuals. We have poultry,” he wrote in an email to TSL. “This all would have been impossible before the mid-2000s.”

Hazlett said the decision to ban Keenan resulted from multiple complaints.

“While [Keenan] came into collision with the present operational agenda of the farm for several unfortunate reasons, he has certainly tested [this] pass system,” he said.

Keenan appears in court to face trespassing charges on Nov. 22.

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