PHOENIX — A sprawling urban garden on a vacant lot where Phoenix residents have grown everything from melons to okra closed Friday after the gardeners were mysteriously ordered out as a federal agency reassumes ownership of the land, stupefying and angering gardeners who called their eviction a classic case of government dysfunction.

Families, senior citizens and refugees spent the last week harvesting their final crops and expressing frustration that the U.S. Department of the Interior won’t say why they have to leave – or what it plans for the 15 acres of land in the shadow of high-rise apartment buildings.

The department is getting the land back from a Florida-based developer that bought it decades ago but stopped making payments promised to two Native American education trusts. The developer now owes about $60 million and is immersed in several related lawsuits, including one being settled now that gives the lot back to the government.

Caught in the middle are the gardeners, who turned the ugly lot into a tidy, verdant grow-your-own food area in Phoenix’ center.

“That lot was a fenced-in, locked-up vacant eyesore on the busiest intersection in the city of Phoenix for 20 years. We beautified it and now it’s gonna go back to being dust and Bermuda grass,” said Tom Waldeck, the chief executive of the nonprofit Keep Phoenix Beautiful group.

The garden was born from a city effort to get rid of eyesore vacant lots that emerged throughout Phoenix after the 2008 financial crisis that hit the city’s then-hot real estate boom extremely hard.

The lot’s owner, Florida-based Barron Collier Companies, had obtained the land from the federal government and agreed to allow the gardeners in.

But Barron Collier notified Phoenix officials and Keep Phoenix Beautiful late last year that the land would go back to the government and all gardeners had to vacate the premises because the government wanted the land back vacant.Longtime U.S. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, did not get a response after he wrote a letter late last month asking about the garden’s future prospects to Acting Interior Department Secretary Kevin Haugrud. Haugrud is running the department pending a Senate confirmation vote on President Trump’s interior secretary pick, Sen. Ryan Zinke, a Montana Republican.

“Complying with the request to vacate the property presents a challenge to the city of Phoenix, Keep Phoenix Beautiful and their community partners, many of whom are nonprofits who are actively engaged in community projects on site,” McCain wrote.

Phoenix’s balmy climate lets the 150 or so gardeners grow their fruit and vegetables in small plots all year. The city’s mild winter is best for broccoli, cauliflower, herbs and tomatoes, while the scorching summer is good for cucumbers and melons.

Refugees resettled in Phoenix by the International Rescue Committee often grew food from their countries that they can’t find in local supermarkets. Among them was Tareke Tekie, an Eritrean refugee, who said through an interpreter that he cultivated okra and a leaf he can’t buy anywhere in the U.S.

Joanne Beard started growing broccoli and kale as a form of physical and mental therapy after she suffered a heart attack in 2013, and is angry that the empty space she helped make useful is going away.

“It’s helped me heal my body and my mind. I call it my therapy,” Beard said.