It was bittersweet, turning right on 41st Place off Alameda. The South Central
Farmers were celebrating the opening of their community center. There they
were, the Farmers bringing fresh organic vegetables into South Central, where
Whole Foods, Wild Oats, and Trader Joe's dare not tread.
The Farmers had lined the tables at the tianguis with chard, radishes,
pomegranates, almonds, squash, and grapes. Grapes not too sweet, grapes
that tasted like a crisp, slightly fruity wine. Four dollars could be
swapped for two plastic bags of fresh produce, all from small farmers in the
local food shed.
The center itself is four freshly painted rooms, lined with art and photos
and reminders of the fight to save the Farm, waiting for more art, music,
computers, and eventually a storefront. It is here that the Farmers and
their supporters will meet to assess the community's needs and how best to meet
them, where they will continue their efforts to engage and educate the
And they will use the center, just yards from the now-bulldozed Farm, to
pressure local officials to take "a principled stance," as Tezozomac,
one of the Farm leaders, put it. With pride, he added, "We delivered
what we promised: we said we'd raise the money to save the Farm, and we
did. We promised to deliver healthy food to the community, and we
are. We'll be here every month."
The Los Angeles City Council approved the sale of the land--abandoned by the
City and cultivated by local Mexican and Central American Farmers for years--to
a local developer for $6M. The developer, Ralph Horowitz, promptly raised
the price to $16M. In spite of an international outcry, hundreds attending
nightly vigils, pleas from celebrities and ordinary residents, the Annenberg
Foundation and other sources' offer to buy the Farm, and a standoff with
sheriffs that ended in protestors being plucked from trees and jackhammered out
of concrete-filled barrels, Horowitz ultimately refused to sell the land to the
A band of musicians played, sang, and danced in the street, while children
romped in one of those big, blow-up balloon houses. Perhaps four hundred
people were coming and going, streaming by with bags of groceries. Friends
from the Farm struggle smiled and hugged. New Farm supporters were
introduced to old. One newcomer, Irene, had helped facilitate a small
grant between the Farmer and the Community Research in Cancer Network, a project
of UCLA Public Health Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network. The
money produced DVDs for South Central residents on healthy eating. Irene
had spent her day helping children make gift cards printed with fruits and
She cited a Community Health Councils initiative to bring quality food to
South Central. Although the CHC was working to use existing local
outlets--she mentioned Vallarta Market--she feared that the City would end up
subsidizing large chains and, as always in Los Angeles, developers would suck up
the subsidies. A Farmer chimed in, "Vallarta has three types of
potatoes, all tasteless sugar. Here today we have twelve types of fresh,
Some of the original Farmers have relocated to a community garden at Avalon
and Stanford, last month inaugurated by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the third
time. Both the L.A. Garden Council and Councilmember Jan Perry have opened
the same garden in past months. The Stanford Avalon gardeners, where sixty
of the three hundred and fifty original South Central Farmers now labor, have
chosen to use chemical fertilizers on their fields. High tension
electrical lines, suspected of causing cancer, leukemia, and brain cancer, cut a
swath across the land, but the L.A.
Garden Council notes that the electrical towers and their electromagnetic
fields guarantee that "the land is not threatened by development over the
long term." Villaraigosa's "grand opening" ride on a
tractor was heralded by mainstream media in an obvious ploy to distract his
largely Chicano and Westside base from his disastrous handling of the South
Meanwhile, according to The
Planning Report, Perry is enticing developers with "300 acres of
industrial land in South Los Angeles," noting "there is no shortage of
opportunity"--except for the South Central Farmers and healthy food.
One of the struggle's organizers stepped up. Dele went to the political
core: "Villaraigosa's boulevard to higher office is plowed straight through
the South Central Farm." His jaw was clenched, his eyes
sparked. "And Jan Perry won't do anything that doesn't satisfy the
real estate interests."
Before the Farmers began reclaiming the fourteen acres at 41st in Alameda
back in 1992, it had been an informal dump and drug hangout. Today, in the
custodianship of Horowitz, uncultivated nopales and corn stalks struggle against
the intrusion of countless of styrofoam cups, yards of broken glass, car
bumpers, abandoned sofas, and dozens of discarded tires. It's easy to
imagine dealers and customers once again scurrying in and out of the holes in
the fence, crouching in the shadow of the bulldozer or sliding under the black
walnuts that had nestled tree-sitters in their limbs just four months ago.
It's difficult not to despair. The Annenberg Foundation has boxed up
the trees for Mr. Horowitz who, by city statute, has to preserve or replace
them. The sister walnut trees are still in the ground, but a shallow
circular trench marks where their roots will be cut.
Villaraigosa has offered to find the trees a temporary sanctuary in Griffith
Park. There's an odd irony there. The city has just completed a $93M
renovation to Griffith Observatory--nearly six times Horowitz's asking price for
the Farm--and admission now requires reservations and three fees to get into the
observatory there: for parking, for a shuttle, and for the observatory
show. Villaraigosa and the city council couldn't find a dime to save the
Farm, and now, if the low-income Farmers want to visit their trees, it's
unlikely they'll be taking their children to Griffith Park's chief attraction.
I asked a middle-aged Farm supporter why he had come out today. He
said, "Eighty percent of the youth volunteers have not given up on the
land. This is their Oaxaca. And now they're fighting for Oaxaca and
Atenco. They're fighting police oppression. And they're still
fighting for the Farm. I'm here for the kids--they keep me fighting.
We're getting hundreds of calls from young people across the county today.
They want to know what they can do."
On one side of the sidewalk was a neighborhood dump where a Farm has once flourished.
Trees are yanked from the earth, their roots imprisoned in wooden cages.
On the other, hundreds of Farmers, shoppers, supporters selling fresh produce
where no Whole Foods will go, with Azteca dancers, bouncing children, and a
bright art-laden community center. It is an act of will, a leap of faith,
a commitment to the power of the people to believe the Farmers can win.
Aqui estamos y no nos vamos.