South Central Farm — Four years later

Dec. 13, 2010, 11:25 a.m.

Site of the South Central Farms now.

The farm may be absent, but its committee members remain confident through their efforts.

Four years ago, the nation’s largest community garden was demolished, leaving the 350 families who cultivated crops there evicted, paving the way for a Forever 21 warehouse. Since then, Forever 21 has left the picture, the plot is up for sale and the Farmers vow to buy their land back.

The farm now

In a campaign simply called “Buy Back the Farm,” the South Central Farmers Committee, which is composed of roughly 15 to 20 farmers and community members, is currently trying to fundraise the amount needed to buy the 14 acre piece of land located on 41st St. and Alameda Street. The asking price? Sixteen million dollars.

The land was once home to hundreds of crops and species of fruits and vegetables and was where hundreds of families came together to cultivate organically grown food. Now, a lot of those farmers and families have moved on to new jobs to sustain themselves. To Danny Santana, an organizer with the South Central Farmers Committee, the farm that he once knew was a place where kids could play, learn and grow.

“Especially those of us who come from under-served communities,” Santana said. “The farmers took me into their space and struggle with open arms. This is something we lack in urban communities."

Despite public support and acknowledgement dwindling over the years, the Farmers remain hopeful and active.

“We had political officials tell us that there was nothing that could had been done to save the land,” said Tezozomoc, an organizer from the South Central Farmers Committee. “But we fought Forever 21, a million dollar corporation, and won. Now we’re going back and telling them that there is something that could be done.”

Now holding weekly meetings in the South Central Farm Center across the street from the now deserted land, the committee continues its fundraising efforts to buy back the farm. But they also hope to raise community awareness on healthy eating. They hold weekly produce giveaways, dinner fundraisers, have a table at 13 Farmer’s Markets throughout Southern California and push for healthy food options to resolve South Central’s food desert dilemma.

“We have proposed to have a Food Hub where the farm used to be,” Tezozomoc said. “Local farmers would be able to come together and distribute their organic goods.”

Other food reform organizations are catching up this idea, such as the L.A. Food Task Force and the California Reformation Agency in Los Angeles. Food Policy Task Force Coordinator, Alexa Delwiche, said that community efforts such as the South Central Farmers, were “critical in educating the community,” and allowing the community “access to healthy foods.”

Just this past June, the farmers held “Farmchella,” a music festival in Bakersfield with agricultural tips for farmers and families. About 1000 people attended throughout the day and night, according to Tezozomoc.

Another Farmchella is already in the works. The Committee has also planned a free Dia De Los Muertos event November 7 in South Los Angeles, where community members and families can come and participate on arts and crafts activities and produce giveaways.

A struggle for preservation

The South Central Farm was established in 1992, after the city of Los Angeles leased the land to the L.A. Regional Food Bank. After that, what started off as a handful of farmers grew into hundreds of families cultivating crops for themselves and their community.

In 2006, the farmers were evicted by developer Ralph Horowitz, despite having raised the needed $16 million to keep the land and having garnered the support of celebrities and government officials alike, and were even the subject of the 2008 Oscar-nominated documentary, “The Garden,” directed by Scott Hamilton Kennedy.

To Danny Santana, an organizer of the South Central Committee, the farm can be seen as a valuable community resource.

“To me and others it represents our culture and constant struggle of preserving it,” Santana said. “It was important to me because I grew up in a gang environment, and the farm gave me somewhere not just to go as an alternative but it gave me real reason to stand for something. I looked at all the elders, parents, and youth there and it made me want to fight for them because I saw they were cultivating something important--a sense of community that was foreign to me in many respects.”

The farm's future

Earlier this year, the group was granted 128 acres of land to cultivated in Buttonwillow, California, and will soon move into another facility in Bell Gardens to further expand their organizing.

However, Tezozomoc said they would continue their produce giveaways, hold their weekly meetings, and remain present at Farmers’ Markets in the Los Angeles area.

“We believe that [this] is an opportunity that we have been waiting for over four years,” said Tezozomoc in regards to their campaign. “What we really need now is the political will from our councilperson to have many of the foundations that supported us to come back to the table.”

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