L.A. South Central Farm Receives Eviction Notice
March 4, 2006 12:06 AM   Subscribe

L.A. South Central Farm Receives Eviction Notice 350 families have been growing organic produce on 14 acres in inner-city LA for over a decade. Now the owner wants them out -- so a warehouse for Wal-Mart can be built on the site. LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa says he wants to see the farm saved, but the city can't afford to buy the land.
posted by Artifice_Eternity (46 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've eaten food from that garden. That land - that garden - is beyond price.

So they can use eminent domain to support the chintzy, trashy, flashy concrete jungle that is the Staples Center but they can't use it for something irreplaceable like the farm?
posted by loquacious at 12:14 AM on March 4, 2006

loq, surely you want a gallon of pickles at affordable prices.

otherwise, you == pinko
posted by secret about box at 12:25 AM on March 4, 2006

I have also been amazed by this place, it's value to the city as a whole is immeasurable. In a city with no Central Park, unique, useful spots are part of the mosaic which makes the city special and livable. This has to be stopped.
posted by chaz at 12:25 AM on March 4, 2006

It's a shame that Americans are so afraid and ignorant of what government subsidies mean--the immediate reaction, probably thanks to Reagan, is "OMG Welfare Queens!" Of course, it's OK to subsidize oil prices and agri-business produce, but not something as simple, low-key, and cool as a community garden. Hell, it probably improves the local real-estate market a bit. Provides an opportunity for community that is sadly lacking within the the contempo urban landscape. But no. That's socialism. If the UAE does it for ports, that's the free market. Americans trying to do the appropriate thing? Not so much.

Meh. Arnold is shifting left, so maybe he'll go all Deus Ex Machina and save the land. Probably not. Important post, A_E.
posted by bardic at 12:40 AM on March 4, 2006

I was about to ask why this outcry didn't come three years ago when the second link in the FPP says Horowitz bought it.

But, digging further into the farm's website, I found this page - the third pdf file here gives a brief history. Apparently, Horowitz has owned the land since the '80s. Sometime in the mid-'80s, the city forcefully acquired the property from Horowitz to use as a site for an incinerator. The city paid him $4.8 million in '86. Due to community protest the incinerator project never happened. It went to a food bank after the LA riots and has been used to community purposes since - but Horowitz had been fighting court battles to buy back the property because he was never given the chance to do so after the incinerator project was scrapped. He finally won in 2003 and bought the land for $5 million.

I don't know what Horowitz paid originally, but after 20+ years and plenty of legal expenses, his returns are not nearly as attractive as the 3x return after 3 years as stated in the 2nd article in the FPP (not that it's wrong, technically, but it is misleading). And I'd be curious to know when exactly Horowitz began his effort to buy the land back - allowing the farmers to develop dependency on the land while it was in legal limbo seems irresponsible to me.

Anyway, as is usually the case with these things, the situation is much more nuanced than the sensational reaction would imply. Horowitz may indeed be a scumbag, but until I see more proof of that, I can't blame the guy for trying to realize his investment.

And LA can't afford $16 million? Really? That seems bogus to me. I know CA has fiscal problems, but a city the size of LA must have some cushion in its budget or borrowing capacity. I wonder if they're playing to Wal Mart privately while publicly placating the farmers.
posted by mullacc at 12:59 AM on March 4, 2006

b1tr0t: I don't think you get the context of how this farm developed. It's not about maximum efficiency -- it's about a group of people choosing to productively use land that was available in the area where they lived for a large community garden project. Relocating it tens or hundreds of miles away would defeat the whole purpose.

It was not "trapping them in the poverty cycle" -- it was probably helping them rise above it or stay out of it, and supplying them with a much richer and healthier diet than would otherwise have been available. These people aren't serfs -- they were growing food for themselves, and I imagine it was at least partly a hobby or recreational activity for many of them. I don't think it was full-time agricultural labor for anyone... it was an amenity, and a choice, that enhanced their lives.

Replacing it with a warehouse for Wal-Mart certainly will diminish their quality of life.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 1:35 AM on March 4, 2006

A farm in the middle of a big city sounds about as smart as a skyscraper in the middle of the ANWR.

From cityfarmer.org:

1. References Relevant to Urban Agriculture.

2. Urban Farming suggested for Detroit by UM Urban Design Grad Students. (what a great way to deal with blight - there are so many vacant, effectively abandoned buildings in Detroit, farming would be a breath of fresh air, indeed)

If that's not convincing, replace 'farm' with 'park' and see if your argument still sounds good.
posted by tweak at 1:54 AM on March 4, 2006

This project strikes me as similar to a private marina at public expense.

A private marina doesn't feed 350 families.
posted by bcveen at 2:08 AM on March 4, 2006

bcveen: to be fair to b1tr0t, your statement is a little bit mis-leading. A private marina, ostensibly, hires people, who get paid, and feed their families. Maybe a private marina feeds more than 350 families in that sense, but an emotional argument like that eh, looks silly when it's not being parroted on TV.
posted by tweak at 2:13 AM on March 4, 2006

True, Tweak, but I guess I took b1tr0t's statement to imply that this farm was somehow a luxury for those who used it, when it seems to me something more fundamental than that.
posted by bcveen at 2:22 AM on March 4, 2006

Where's that Don Henley fellow? Isn't this a better cause than stopping some guy from developing his land because Thoreau may have walked there and it's just under a mile from Walden Pond?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:26 AM on March 4, 2006

I can see a lot of angles to this story; a lot of pros and cons for each side. Ultimately, I feel that a community garden is more important than any kind of warehouse - it provides grounding to the neighbourhood, gives people a sense of accomplishment and purpose, feeds them, teaches them how work with the land as opposed to just using it up, looks better than a building and probably many more things that I haven't thought of. I hope that the city does the right thing and keeps that land the way it is.
posted by ashbury at 5:21 AM on March 4, 2006

mullacc writes "And LA can't afford $16 million? Really? That seems bogus to me."

I was thinking it wasn't just about the initial outlay but also future tax revenue. Not only would the city have to pony up 18 million they'd be loosing 10's of thousands of dollars every year in tax revenue.

b1tr0t writes "A farm in the middle of a big city sounds about as smart as a skyscraper in the middle of the ANWR. "

If we're going to house thousands in ANWR I'd rather them concentrated in a single skyscraper then spread about at 4 families to the acre.
posted by Mitheral at 6:38 AM on March 4, 2006

Always there are the humorless practical people who see things like an urban farm in terms of production, cost, and hallowed bottom line. Sadly, such folk rule the world. They are Republicans with calculators who tally the monetary value of life.

I suppose such folk don't generally find beauty in poetry or understand the value of art. That garden in the middle of the city feeds 350 people, that's a good thing. Yet, why don’t such people ever see the larger picture?

Such a garden also feeds the hungry spirits of millions who simply walk past and smell the freshly tilled earth, or see fruit on the vine, or hear the creatures.

I've never seen or heard of that farm before. Now I know it exists, and it feeds my imagination. A Wal-Mart warehouse just doesn’t do that, bottom line.
posted by BillyElmore at 6:50 AM on March 4, 2006

Arnold is shifting left, so maybe he'll go all Deus Ex Machina and save the land

it's not an important issue like killing elderly black convicts, for God's sake. Arnold's power is not needed here
posted by matteo at 6:52 AM on March 4, 2006

It's not a farm in the traditional sense. LA is big on recreational gardens because you just don't see dirt here. Very few people have yards, and there is no way for people to garden, grow vegetables, flowers or anything else. It's recreational as well as productive, and people do this type of thing because they enjoy it.

In Santa Monica, there's a 115 person waiting list to reserve a spot. There are others in Encino, Hollywood, and about 60 more. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank plot in Vernon charges $12 a month so people can reserve a plot tp grow vegetables or whatever else they may want to grow.

So b1tr0t, I think you're missing the point. This is a question of what's really in the public interest. Another public gift to the Wal-Mart corporation, or a community focus point and recreational area for people who want to grow things and temporarily get out of the concrete jungle that is South Central, at least in their minds.
posted by AspectRatio at 7:05 AM on March 4, 2006

If Artifice_Entity is correct, then we have 350 families with enough leisure time to be recreational farmers.

Yeah. Totally.

I'm sick of "poor" people who mend their own clothes, too. If they've got time for recreational crafting, they're part of the liesure class. Stupid welfare!
posted by verb at 7:06 AM on March 4, 2006

The LA gov should invoke the new imminent domain law and take it for the common good of the city residents. Of course, imminent domain is usually used for the common good of big business so I doubt it would happen.
posted by stbalbach at 8:46 AM on March 4, 2006

stbalbach writes "The LA gov should invoke the new imminent domain law"

They'd still have to pony up the cash, imminent domain doesn't allow a taking without compensation.
posted by Mitheral at 10:54 AM on March 4, 2006

Imminent domain in Los Angeles
posted by lazymonster at 11:08 AM on March 4, 2006

What is "imminent domain"?
posted by Kwantsar at 11:10 AM on March 4, 2006

I wonder if they're playing to Wal Mart privately while publicly placating the farmers.

posted by PinkStainlessTail at 11:29 AM on March 4, 2006

Amen Billy Elmore. I remember the 80's and early nineties when the artists all live in the East Village in NYC. Vacant lots were cleaned up and vegatation and art grew out of them. It was incredibly interesting to see what the local artists did within these gates and sometimes to the gates. Sadly those lots are mostly gone now and ugly condos have been built on their hallowed ground. Now the one thing that made the village the village has been transformed so that the East Village is just another mall. The spirit is gone and that's what made it valuable.
posted by any major dude at 11:53 AM on March 4, 2006

Bette Midler, call your office.

Seriously, where are all those celebs who say they want to "give back"?

Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Sean Combs... they can fly halfway around the world to scope out the poor people but can't write a quick check to the local landlord to save something that's literally in their own backyard?

posted by GrammarMoses at 12:06 PM on March 4, 2006

b1tr0t writes "We all understand that Wal-Mart is a private corportation (well, publicly traded, but ownership is private), but its stores are distribution points for low cost goods. Now, this community farm is a place where a very small and privileged group of LA residents can go make their luxury food and enjoy life. I don't think it is unreasonable to guess that the lives of far more than 350 families will be improved by the lower cost products offered at Wal Mart."

How will a warehouse affect property values around it compared to a community garden?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:45 PM on March 4, 2006

um. b1tr0t, you may want to do a little research before you repeat your explanation for LA sprawl. I'm pretty sure I heard differently in urban geography class.

and Kwanstar, I don't know but I assumed that everyone knows that eminent domain and imminent domain are synonyms. stbalbach told me so.
posted by lazymonster at 12:47 PM on March 4, 2006

Now, this community farm is a place where a very small and privileged group of LA residents can go make their luxury food and enjoy life.

Apparently you've never been to South Central.

Privileged? Obviously, you don't know what you're talking about, you haven't read any of the posted links, and have have no experience in LA. And in case you didn't read... it's a warehouse to primarily deliver goods to Wal-Mart stores. It isn't a Wal-Mart store.

Privileged few. In South Central. Riiight.
posted by AspectRatio at 1:02 PM on March 4, 2006

Driving around LA for a few hours or using google earth? Sorry, clearly you know all you need to know on the matter. Much of the growth occurred after WWII, but along much older infrastructure that allowed for your little houses and private green spaces. That's why LA doesn't look like most other US cities. Now if only we still had all that mass transit instead of all those pesky cars.

History aside, there is sprawl in Los Angeles. It appears that developers are beginning to address this issue. I've seen a lot of mixed use (commercial at street level with residential above) projects popping up and I agree with your basic premise that building up instead of out is a good idea. However I don't think a community garden/farm in South Central is a waste of real estate. We're talking about Walmart, am I missing something?

BTW if you are interested, there is an exhibit in the lower level of the Natural History Museum with a streetcar section.
posted by lazymonster at 2:04 PM on March 4, 2006

People want something, but they're not willing to pay for it, so they're going to lose it.
posted by NortonDC at 2:12 PM on March 4, 2006

Basically, if you haven't been there, don't bother to comment. It's a place which refreshes the spirit of anyone who goes there. It's a place which is just different from anything else around it.

Tomkins Square Park is a waste of land too, might as well put a warehouse there. Sorry, I know it's not an accurate comparison, but the point is that the SC Farm is something worth protecting in a city which doesn't have a lot of things like that. It's a monument of sorts, a park, a place to get fresh vegetables, and a place which has developed its own culture. It would really be a shame to see it go.
posted by chaz at 2:32 PM on March 4, 2006

I should add that the satellite imagery belies the ground level realities. Many people rent and don't have the option of changing the yardscape. Some of the houses you see have more occupants than they were originally built to contain. My neighbors, for example have a modest two bedroom early 70's house with a yard, they also have someone living in the garage, 6 cars (not pretty) and as many total occupants - not including a big dog and a cat.

The warehouse wouldn't have anything to do with this would it? Insult to injury. Obliterating a useful green space so they can leapfrog the goods into smaller stores that squeek past the anti big box ordinances.
posted by lazymonster at 3:40 PM on March 4, 2006

There's some truly unsettling ignorance demonstrated in this thread about the benefits of community gardens in general and South Central Farm in particular. Spending a little time at the website would make it clear that, unlike a "private marina", the farm holds a monthly farmers market, hosts local bands, Dia de los Muertos celebrations, campouts, and health fairs. It's ridiculous to assert that a community farm is only worthwhile to the city if it feeds "10,000 people in a city block". WTF? what kind of retarded artificial benchmark is that? because this farm only feeds 350 families and the people who visit the farmer's market, it should be paved over? The resulting warehouse isn't going to feed 10,000 people unless it somehow manages to employ 2,500 people on that same site, so maybe it's better to just keep the land vacant in that case. I have to agree that it is a "privelege" to have land to grow things on, but it's a privelege that comes at the expense of spending all your free time off work tending your garden.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:35 PM on March 4, 2006

We can't just have people creating something from nothing without making a financial transaction, that's Anti-American!
posted by Space Coyote at 7:56 PM on March 4, 2006

"For many reasons it may be hard for Americans to imagine a city life that is spiritually rewarding. There is so much in our history and especially in our current behavior that rebukes everything that cities seem to stand for. But human beings are social organisms. Most people actually like other people and seek to be them, and need to be with them in places worth being in, places of memorable quality and character."

-James Howard Kunstler: The Geography of Nowhere
posted by thisisdrew at 10:32 PM on March 4, 2006

> We can't just have people creating something from nothing without making a financial transaction, that's Anti-American!

By "nothing, " I take it you mean "someone else's property," since that's clearly what it is.
posted by NortonDC at 11:20 PM on March 4, 2006

If Artifice_Entity is correct, then we have 350 families with enough leisure time to be recreational farmers. It is nice that they enjoy farming, but their ability to feed themselves has little to do with the public good.

Heh... I've never had anyone misread my username that way before.

Hey b1tr0t: Who exactly do you think "the public" is, anyway? Aren't those 350 families "the public"? Isn't what's good for them the public good?

Or do you subscribe to the theory that what's good for Wal-Mart is good for America?
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:06 AM on March 5, 2006

California has plenty of arable land outside of LA, and plenty of infrastructure to keep it efficiently productive.

Build the warehouse there then.

A Shiny new warehouse and hundreds of people with one less place to buy their produce, sweet deal for Walmart.
posted by fullerine at 4:26 AM on March 5, 2006

If Artifice_Eternity is correct, then we have 350 families with enough leisure time to be recreational farmers. It is nice that they enjoy farming, but their ability to feed themselves has little to do with the public good.

Aw, c'mon y'all - don't feed the troll.
posted by GrammarMoses at 7:44 AM on March 5, 2006

As I walk the streets of Hollywood Boulevard
Thinkin how hard it was to those that starred
In the movies portrayin the roles
Of butlers and maids, slaves and hoes
Many intelligent Black men seemed
To look uncivilized, when on the screen
Like a guess, I figure you
To play, some jiggaboo

On the plantation, what else can a nigger do?
And Black women in this profession
As for playin a lawyer, out of the question
For what they play Aunt Jemima is the perfect term
Even if now she got a perm
So lets make our own movies like Spike Lee
Cause the roles being offered dont strike me
Theres nothing that the Black man could use to earn...

Burn Hollywood burn

-Big Daddy Kane

and in other news, our friendly Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency has struck a deal to sell roughly two blocks of parking lot that it owns off of hollywood and vine to the W hotel for 400 million, imposing eminent domain procedures on surrounding businesses, including Daddy's Bar, one of hollywood's more historic watering holes...
posted by phaedon at 11:47 AM on March 5, 2006

Aw, c'mon y'all - don't feed the troll.

Amen to that. It's possible to discuss the issues without having to argue with someone who believes that South Central LA's core population consists of gentleman farmers.
posted by palinode at 12:17 PM on March 5, 2006

Well, you're either too ignorant to discuss this further with or you're a worthless troll. Either way, enjoy your moment of glory there b1tr0t.
posted by AspectRatio at 8:32 PM on March 5, 2006

Well, you're either too ignorant to discuss this further with or you're a worthless troll. Either way, enjoy your moment of glory there b1tr0t.

Are you fucking kidding me?

b1tr0t's comments are neither trollish or ignorant. Your problem, AspectRatio, is that s/he just presented an economically sound and well-reasoned argument that you can't seem to find a way to refute.

Now, if you don't believe in property rights, and you don't believe that land should be put to its most productive uses, I can see why this whole mess is so difficult for you.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:08 PM on March 5, 2006

Are the 350 farming families recreational farmers from distant communities, or are they actually south central residents? If they are south central residents, why would you want to teach them a labor intensive method of procuring food that isn't economically viable?

My understanding, from spending some time around their website, is that these are South Central residents. And no one is "teaching them" farming; many of them are immigrants from Latin America who were already agricultural workers in their home countries.

Moreover, most of the farmers, as I understand it, are already employed full-time, but struggle to feed their families on the low wages they receive. A warehouse may provide more low-paying jobs, but for most of these individuals, it's not a question of unemployment, but of earning too little from their full-time jobs to feed themselves.

it doesn't make sense to operate a farm on high value urban land. It should come as no surprise to anyone that someone wants to buy the land and put it to more productive use.

What doesn't make sense is the unsustainable agricultural system we presently have in place, which requires food to be shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles from agricultural producers to distant population centers. In the midwest, the average food item travels some 1500 miles from producer to consumer, all of which incurs a huge economic and ecological expense.

American now spends about $139 billion a year in energy costs for growing and transporting food, not to mention all the other ills associated with petroleum-dependent transportation. And the problem is only getting worse as we depend more and more upon foreign food imports: This year, the US is expected to become a net food importer for the first time, buying more food from abroad that it exports.

On the other hand, the South Central farmers have been able to feed their families with almost zero petroleum use or transportation expenses. This is the sort of project that should be replicated around urban centers across the nation, not bulldozed under.
posted by bcveen at 10:26 PM on March 5, 2006

Geez - some of you people deserve the future. Let them eat cake, right? I think community center/green space is a more useful way of viewing this land. Okay maybe it's 'private', but it's become more than that and maybe the city needs to pay the owner off.

I'm not wasting any more time on this mess of a thread. Let Walmart have it. Once our over-priced organic house of cards in the desert collapses I will lead our dark skinned horde en masse to the pacific northwest where complex problems are easily dismissed with nary a scratch of the surface. You can keep playing Sims: Neoliberalism Edition™ until we get there. Make sure you have our biodiesel jetpacks ready along with gleaming towers of affordable housing. We're going to need some Walmarts too. Do you mind if we put them in your favorite outdoor spaces? I can see from google earth that there is plenty of wasted space up there.
posted by lazymonster at 1:58 AM on March 6, 2006

Wow... you are just so hung up on the terminology of the article that you just can't see past it.

Yes, people are growing organic food. So could you or I or anyone if we decided to grow some lettuce in the backyard and not spray it with pesticides. The world produced nothing but organic foods for thousands of years. It's not a question of priviledge.

Second, it's a community thing. Communities need more than warehouses and urban blight. There have been more than a few links posted that take the slant away that the FPP has.

A community is about more than economics.

But, let's go with your argument, there are better uses for the land I live on than for me to have a 700 square foot apartment. Let's get rid of that. Let's also remove all funding from non-productive organizations like the NEA, and let's tax people for supporting non-productive things like Symphonies. Let's get rid of movie theatres, golf courses and let's pave over Central Park. I mean, who needs a park in the middle of New York City when there's so much that can be done with the land!
posted by AspectRatio at 7:35 AM on March 6, 2006

The idea of people growing their own food in the middle of the second largest city in the richest country on earth should be a fucking embarrassment, which is probably why people are trying to twist it into some kind of eco-country club.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:54 AM on March 8, 2006

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