The Rise and Fall of a 14-acre Urban Farm

South Central Farm

South Central Farm

Written by Stephen Fisher – 

In August 2011 my wife and I drove through L.A. with a specific detour in mind.  In 2009, we had seen the Academy Award-nominated documentary film, “The Garden.”  I tracked down the exact address of the movie’s subject.  The formal name of the garden is the South Central Farm.

After many fits of L.A. traffic, blocked streets, and stop signs, we were suddenly there.  I thought it might be difficult to realize where exactly the garden was, but it was more than obvious. And it was gut-wrenching.

August 2011 069-45

August 2011

You see, in the movie they recount how this 14-acre lot hosted 150 families growing on their own subdivided plots.  It was a lush cornucopia of fruit and vegetables that could feed thousands, under all kinds of business models from bartering to co-ops to direct sales.  From 1994-2006, the property was in limbo, having been condemned and owned by the City of Los Angeles and then the Los Angeles Harbor Department.  However, the city included a repurchase agreement with the previous owner(s).

In the meantime, the land was farmed.  Politically and functionally the farm was a boon.  But when the city and the land owner settled a lawsuit, it became squatting.  One day in 2006, the land owner exercised his rights and abruptly terminated it with bulldozers.  It is an interesting tale of the ultimate power and legality of land owner property rights.  It is also a sad tale because the land was once a lovely plant – wanted, beautiful, and productive – only to become a weed – unwanted, ugly, and unproductive – once again.

2006

2006

2007

2007

As we circled the block, we were amazed at the stark blight, saddened by the lost opportunity, and felt a small bit of anger about the imperfect workings of law and politics.  As a researcher of food systems, it represented to me a number of things in a single case study: intensive urban agriculture, land use, policy, politics, and social benefit.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/fisher54/6187283615/

“There are too many streets and avenues”
– Gregory Alan Isakov in “Garden”

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