In 2006, the South Central Farm (SCF) was a flourishing oasis in the heart of Los Angeles until bulldozers razed the land, displacing hundreds of farmers and leaving a scar for the local people and the entire city.
A decade later, in June of 2016, farmers and supporters formed the South Central Farm Restoration Committee with the intention to #BuyBackTheFarm. Our goal is to secure the farm and protect one of the last and largest remaining undeveloped parcels of land in metropolitan Los Angeles. Working to secure a land trust, the farm and associated regional food hub would be a permanent jewel for the city of LA’s sustainability endeavors, promoting environmental justice and food sovereignty.
In South Central LA, this 14-acre life-giving haven flourished from 1992 to 2006. Serving 350 families who represented the diversity of the neighborhood, the South Central Farm was the largest of its kind in the United States and provided a dazzling array of locally grown fruits and vegetables. This verdant expanse of land in the midst of an underserved part of the city was a sentinel that broadcast the values of community food sovereignty far and wide.
“The Farm served as a hub for wellness and engagement where the community grew its own healthy food and created a safe green space,” notes Rosa Romero, a longtime SCF supporter and current Co-President of the nonprofit, SCF Health and Education Fund.
“The Farm thrived for over 14 years so we know first hand the many benefits of this farm — beyond providing access to healthy food, it helped reduce crime, and allowed for our culture to pass down knowledge from generation to generation,” reflects Alberto Tlatoa, an original South Central Farmer and current SCF Cooperative member.
Shortly after the 1992 LA riots, the South Central Farm community organized when LA Mayor Tom Bradley gave them the opportunity to transform the once barren, trash-ridden block into a place of pride where many in the local community voluntarily opted out of taking food stamps, growing their own organic produce instead. The story of their efforts to sustain a viable farm under adverse conditions is depicted eloquently in the film South Central Farm: Oasis in a Concrete Desert by Sheila Laffey, as well as featured in the Oscar-nominated film The Garden by Scott Hamilton Kennedy.
Located alongside the LA Metro Blue Line, adjacent to both an industrial, commercial landscape, as well as to a residential area, this urban oasis, unfortunately, became the victim of the city’s bureaucratic neglect and dubious practices. Unquestionably successful, the farm’s future was not secure. For years it was mired in legal battles that eventually resulted in displacing the farmers.
“Facing eviction by the developer, and with the local LA Council member opposing the farmers and the farm, thousands supported a campaign to save the farm, holding a round-the-clock encampment that held off eviction for eight months,” recalls Mike Feinstein, former mayor of Santa Monica.
In solidarity with the South Central Farmers, a number of celebrities gravitated to support the effort to save the farm. Ultimately, the protests organized by community leaders and residents and joined and supported by activist-celebrities such as Joan Baez, Darryl Hannah, Martin Sheen and Willie Nelson, among others, failed to impede the LA County Sheriff’s bulldozers, power saws and blow torches. By destroying this #JewelofLA, they deprived the farmers of their crops and labor, as well as their important resources for food, herbal medicine and cultural practices.
In a show of true resiliency, the South Central Farmers formed a cooperative and continued to farm “in exile,” first in Fresno, then in Buttonwillow and now in Lake Hughes. They continue their mission to bring organic, seasonal produce at affordable prices to underserved areas of Los Angeles. They sell at many farmers markets throughout the city; run a community supported agriculture program throughout LA County; and donate organic produce to food banks, schools and community organizations.
Today the land is owned by the PIMA Alameda Partners, LLC, which is comprised of the following companies: Poetry, Impact Mfg., Miss Me and Active Basic USA. Working with CEG Construction and REA Architects, they currently plan to develop the parcel into a retail manufacturing and warehouse facility. PIMA Alameda Partners have applied to the City of Los Angeles for approval of their proposed project. The City’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee has granted approval but the South Central Farmers are appealing this based on what they believe to be an inadequate EIR and insufficient responses to residents’ concerns.
Paralleling the appeal process, the Restoration Committee members and supporters have extended numerous pleas to PIMA to consider selling the parcel back so that the farm could be restored, along with establishing an associated regional food hub, and be part of the solution for a greener, more equitable Los Angeles. While PIMA admirably promotes “Made in LA” labels, they could choose from other available warehouse/factory spaces in the LA metro area to pursue their operations. By selling this land back for restoration purposes, they could create a win-win for the greater greening of Los Angeles, preserving this rare 14-acre open space for future generations.
A restored farm with a regional food hub has the potential to form the foundation for a local, food-sovereignty movement in a food desert by providing vital access to locally grown, organic and culturally appropriate fruits, vegetables and herbs. At the same time, it would educate another generation on resourcefulness, good eating habits, the benefits of sustainable living, cultural celebration and grassroots democratic community building activities through its programs and facilities — in a part of Los Angeles that truly is hungry for change.
The Restoration Committee holds the vision that the Farm could be a regional destination landmark within South Central, akin to the world-famous Watts Towers, welcoming visitors while simultaneously fostering pride and providing a valuable resource for all Angelenos. Imagine the farm restored, along with a revitalized LA River nearby, allowing the earth to breathe and greening LA for us all by producing oxygen, soaking up air polluting gases and mitigating global warming effects in the part of the city with the worst air quality.
Response to the initial phase of this new campaign has been strong with widespread support from respected community organizations and change-makers, including local neighborhood councils, local nonprofits and celebrity advocates like Daryl Hannah, Scottie Thompson, Nicole Richie, Shailene Woodley, Ian Somerhalder, Frances Fisher, Moby, Darby Stanchfield, Malin Ackerman and others.
In addition to signing our Petition, join the conversation online through following @BringBackSCFarm on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In the coming weeks, we will share community events and powerful opportunities to lend your valuable support. You can reach out to the campaign directly by emailing [email protected].
Authors: Julia Jaye Posin & Linda Piera-Avila