Save the Garden

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Tezozomoc, or Tezo, is one of the main representatives of the 350 families here on South Central Farm. He became a rep 3 years ago when the first general notice of eviction came down from the city in September of 2003. "That's when we became South Central Farmers and formed an organized group." They immediately began going to city council meetings two times a week for 3 years straight...and they still attend. They ask one question every time: What can you do to help save the farm?

What has the city council done in response?

"Nothing. They haven't said a word," Tezo replies dryly. Perhaps even more frustrating was that recently Mayor Villaraigosa denied funding to several projects, the farm being one of them, saying the city didnt have the money to support such community endeavors. Yet, that very same day the city announced approval of an $25 million "renovation" to the LA Coliseum.

"We're not just speaking to power here, we're also speaking to policy," Tezo says, "Cities have to be livable. How do you do that? You save spaces like South Central Farm."

It sounds like the community could use more farms and less industrial pollution. The train tracks on either side of the farm not only provide defeaning horns and a thundering racket, but they also are responsible for almost 80% of Wal-Mart's south-western retail supply. Take a walk outside the garden and usually you'll run into a long train carrying hundreds of "China Shipping" crates to retailers. The trains help create some of the highest soot levels in all of Los Angeles. The farm helps dampen the combination of noise and air pollution for a community of people who can't afford to live in the rest of LA.

The structure of the organization (South Central Farmers) is boldly democratic. All farmers are invited to meet every Wednesday where majority rules and the group passes resolutions on membership, community regulations, budget assesments, family needs and larger community decisions. Most of the money the community and organization has comes from the farmer's themselves who unselfishly throw money into the pot to help deal with operating costs. Other funds come from weekly farmer's markets and selling their own fruits and vegetables. Once in a while, they'll hold a concert or other special event to help raise money. But really, they rely on each other.

"We rely on manpower. We are self-sustained and the will of the community is driving this effort," says Tezo. "We aren't the outcome of the situation here. We are merely the instrument of change."

One of the things that has changed the way the community defines itself has been the weekly trips to the city council meetings. There is an strong sense of pride around being a part of this community that has established itself in a rather out-of-place spot. That pride translates into a sense of inclusiveness that you wouldn't find in a gated community.

"We took anyone -- couldn't speak english, couldn't read, whatever -- and we put them in front of the city council. Thats a pretty powerful experience especially for some of our farmers." What this has resulted in is a change in the way the community interacts with the state and local government.

"Its really a way of engaging a people who have been traditionally thought of as passive or uncaring. Now, all of the sudden, you have a population of people who are very concerned with local decisions and leadership."

If anything this place has mobilized activism. And that activism is felt throughout the farm.


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