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South Central Farm: A community Outreach

by Warren Huntington Post Tuesday, Jun. 20, 2006 at 3:04 PM

An essay regarding the South Central Farm and how it is helping to ease gang and inter-ethnic tensions. Also addresses the farm's ability to allow the community to interact with Chicano and Mexican culure, despite the fact that the farm is not anywhere near Mexico.

The 14-acre plot of land located on 41-st. and Alameda in South Los Angeles is unique in that it is considered to be one of the largest urban gardens in the United States. Over the decade the South Central Farm has been used by the community as a garden, it has been subjected to multiple owners and numerous development plans. Ever since 1994, the community of South Los Angeles has transformed the land into a bottom up production of agriculture in an area predominantly used for industry labor jobs. As a result of planting vegetation that is native to Mexico, the South Central Farm has become a cultural landscape that provides to a hybridized community of African Americans and Latinos, histories and cultural practices that may have been forgotten. In addition, since the land is not imposed by elites, the farm is considered to be an organic landscape because everyday people going about their everyday lives create it.

As you pass through the neighborhoods of South Los Angeles, which is commonly referred to as South Central, one striking feature of the houses are the metal bars affixed to the windows and doors. More of a symbol of the aftermath of the 1965-Watts riot in the community, than of poverty, these bars outline the alienation and disintegration of the dreams of a community that “remained by necessities of … inertia, internal despair, and external disinterest” (Ovnick 306). The 1965-Watts riot catalyzed the movement of Anglos, whom were originally being “pulled outward by the lure of cheap suburban homes and a planned decentralization of industrial jobs” (Fulton 76). They left out of fear, feeling that their lives and property values were in jeopardy and settled in homes that were built far away from the city. In addition, since the 1940s and 1970s, “jobs in the large-scale factories of South Central Los Angeles … have been replaced by nonunionized, lower-paying positions in hundreds of smaller companies” (Phillips 66). This limited the community in terms of economic opportunity and contributed to their feelings of being ignored by the LA City Council. The only things that remained after the Anglo migration and the deindustrialization of work were the remnants of the city’s past. Industry plants that once provided jobs to the community were shut down, but remained standing as if to remind the people of South Los Angeles of their economic situation. Furthermore, from 1988-1992, South Los Angeles received fewer “per person in poverty economic development, job training, and human services funds than the more affluent West LA” (Gottlieb 143). These set of limitations caused the South Los Angeles residents to strike out against the City Council for not doing anything to alleviate dire conditions inside the community. The community was eventually considered a haven for crime activity. Drugs were bought and sold, and internal fighting amongst neighborhoods ensued. In addition, vandalism of property and gang fighting became all too prevalent and further prevented individuals from returning.

In a personal interview with the Newton Division Gang Unit, the 38-st. gang, composed mainly of Latinos, are located in the neighborhood near 41-st. and Alameda. Once in a while, the Pueblo Bishops, a constituent of the Bloods and whose members are African American, enter their territory and a turf battle ensues. The gangs fight and the dangerousness of South Los Angeles is once more strongly affirmed. However, the community is not without activists and leaders who urge an acceptance of both cultures and an end to neighborhood fighting. As if it were a peacemaker of its own, the South Central Farm is situated in-between the 38-st gang and the Pueblo Bishop’s territorial vie for dominance. For the twelve years that it has been used as a community-operated farm, the South Central Farm has been attributed to the decrease in neighborhood violence and has acted as a bridge between Latino and African Americans.

Similar to South Los Angeles’s economic change, the demographic of this part of the city has changed from mostly African American to African American and Latino. A major contributing effect was that “much of the Black population redistributed itself, abandoning the central area and fanning out into suburban communities” (Fradkin 323). New immigrant Latinos chose to settle in the area because of lower income housing availability and unskilled labor jobs. The migration of African Americans from South Los Angeles and Latino growth caused the African American population to decrease and this reversal of dominance has been the cause for strife between the two ethnic groups.

The 14 acres of land on which the South Central Farm is located, has been subject to numerous planned development and construction. Each of the proposed uses of the land share a recognizable characteristic: they all call for the organization of space in order to accumulate private wealth. This is the difference between a top down and bottom up production. In a top down production, political and economic elites use their power to impose a specific idea of how the land should be used in order to achieve wealth. On the other hand, a bottom up production is a natural landscape created by everyday people and the meanings of the land are collectively understood. In the early 1980s, nine private landowners held the 14-acre property located at 41-st and Alameda. Of the nine, the Alameda-Barbara Investment Company, partners Ralph Horowitz and Jacob Libaw, owned approximately 80 percent of the land. However in 1985-86, ownership of the property was acquired by the City of Los Angeles through the law of eminent domain. The city intended to construct on the site a trash incinerator , but “abandoned that plan in the face of public protests organized by Juanita Tate and the Concerned Citizens of South Central Los Angeles” (South Central Farmers). After the mayor Tom Bradley abandoned the project, Ralph Horowitz retained the rights of first refusal if, “within 10 years, the City determined that the parcel formerly owned by the Alameda-Barbara Investment Company was no longer required for public use” (South Central Farmers).

After the 1992 Los Angeles riot, the city set aside the 14-acre property for the community to use as a public garden. This gesture by the LA City Council was meant as a temporary solution to remedy the conditions that caused the riot and was not intended to be in the community’s control for very long. In 1994 , plans for the construction of 316 town homes on the site were proposed, but shortly thereafter cancelled. In the same year, the LA City Council transferred the title of the property to the Harbor Department. The Harbor Department, with assistance from the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, granted the community legal permission to use the garden as a farm. The farm, as it is today, is divided into 360 plots, for which families can grow and raise their own crops. The farmers grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs and work in a communal setting providing for their families and communities by donating to the LA Regional Foodbank and selling the excesses of unused crops. Additionally, the South Central Farmers arranged themselves as a membership organization, were one must pay dues in order to grow. In 2004, they democratically elected two leaders and established regulations for the farm and the community. They did this out of necessity and fear in order to oppose Ralph Horowitz and the LA City Council from taking away their land.

One of the most striking features of the farm is the abundance of green in a relatively colorless area. The farm’s green only appears to be magnified by the gray industrial and clothing manufacturing buildings surrounding it. Typically, some of the vegetation grown, such as herbs, are not native to South Los Angeles. Some come from Mexico and are viewed by the farmers as important cultural links to their homeland. By planting crops domestic to Mexico, the farmers and their families are bought closer to a culture and country they may never have touched or seen. As a result, planting becomes their way of identifying with their homeland. Additionally, the South Central Farmers have taken action to alleviate poverty by providing food for the homeless.

Before the LA City Council transferred title of the property to the Harbor Department, the land was originally going to be absorbed into the landscape of accumulation and become the site for industrial warehouses. However, it did not become a top down production, as many previously believed it would be. Instead, it became a bottom up production were Mesoamerican, Chicano, Latino, and Mexican meanings are placed on the land and collectively understood by the community. Currently, Ralph Horowitz is waiting for the LA City Council to buy the property from him again and to meet his demands for income tax advantages. As such, an eviction notice was posted on March 1, 2006 by the LA County Sheriffs Department. Whatever the outcome may be, the South Central Farm has been more than just a community garden, it has provided the community with a means of cultural and political actions that have not occurred in the area with such great intensity as it does today.

Work Cited

Fradkin, Philip L. The Seven States of California: A Natural and Human History. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995.

Fulton, William. The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los

Angeles. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Gottlieb, Robert, et al. The Next Los Angeles: The Struggle for a Livable City. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005.

Newton Division Gang Unit. Personal interview. 04 April 2006.

Ovnick, Merry. Los Angeles: The End of the Rainbow. Los Angeles: Balcony Press, 1994.

Phillips, Susan A. Wallbangin’: Graffiti and Gangs in L.A. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

South Central Farmers. 03 October 2005. 02 April 2006


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