Paul Harris

THE STEREOTYPE of the ecological protester, sitting up a tree and refusing to budge, has stringy hair, poor personal hygiene and colourful, ancient clothing. But in Los Angeles they might just be a glamorous movie star.

Actress Daryl Hannah, who starred in Kill Bill, Splash, and Blade Runner, was firmly perched up a walnut tree last week in a bid to save a threatened urban farm in a deprived area of Los Angeles and she was not the only Hollywood name backing the cause.

As protests have grown around the threatened project, the list of celebrities coming to man the barricades has looked more like the invite list for an Oscar party than a demonstration. Alicia Silverstone has popped by. So have Danny Glover and Martin Sheen. Leonardo DiCaprio has sent a letter of support. It is probably safe to say that no other farm in history has received quite so much A-list attention.

The South Central Farm is an oasis of rural life in the middle of one of the most deprived urban areas in all of America. The 14-acre farm is home to about 350 farmers, most of them Hispanic. It is a patchwork of tiny fields planted with fava beans, flowers, cacti, and other crops.

It also supports several hundred trees. Its supporters say the farm helps reduce the city's smog and also reflects the traditional lifestyle of the ancestors of many of the city's Hispanic citizens.

The farm was born in the early 1990s, after Los Angeles had witnessed severe rioting, when the city council leased the land to a local food bank, which allowed the farmers to move in and grow their crops. But now the place is under threat from a developer who wants to build a warehouse on the site.

The news has prompted an increasingly high-profile campaign to save the farm. A crowd of tents has now sprung up, in which movie stars and local politicians mingle with eco-warriors. Hannah has now been up a tree for most of the last 20 days, sharing the spot with environmental activist Julia "Butterfly" Hill, who has been on a hunger strike, drinking only water.

Press conferences have been held at the farm, candle-lit vigils have attracted attention and even Joan Baez has moved among the demonstrators strumming her guitar and singing protest songs.

Deputy Mayor's backing

At the moment the future of the farm hangs in the balance. Last week a charity foundation announced that it had pledged an unspecified sum of money to help buy the farm outright. However, the deal has not yet been accepted by the developer who owns the land, Ralph Horowitz. "Don't give up hope. No one can predict how this will end," Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Larry Frank told the protesters at the end of last week. The Mayor's office has now offered to help in searching for a settlement that will save the farm.

This means the story has become an even more "Hollywood" sort of protest: it is a cliff-hanger with the audience hoping desperately for a happy ending.

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006