Still Supporting the South Central Farmers: One Year Later
Rafu Shimpo column for 6/27/07
Life sure has been busy lately. But never too busy to slow down and reflect. I do that every year when I return to Manzanar to visit a place that represents my families’ stories of internment and incarceration. It is a time of healing and a time to rededicate why I am active in the community.
Two weeks ago today, I took time to remember and reflect when I went with my husband Tony and my 2 1/2 year old daughter Maiya to visit what remains of the South Central Farm on the one year anniversary of the forced evictions of the farm.
I went back to visit a place that I have come to love. In a community marked by warehouses and urban blight, the South Central Farm was a cherished poem, nurtured and tended lovingly by hundreds of people for 14 years. It was about people coming together to plant seeds, grow organic fruits, vegetables, indigenous herbs, and to feed their families and the community. People doing their part to help make this city and our world a greener and healthier place.
But it is no longer there. What remains is a barren 14-acre piece of land stretching across 41st and Alameda, that has been bulldozed over, not once or twice, but 3 times. You probably heard about the struggle because of high profile supporters like Joan Baez, Ralph Nader, Willie Nelson and Danny Glover, or you might have seen the evictions on the news with the police in riot gear.
Last year, Tony, Maiya and I went to the farm several times a week from May-July. Part of why I was so interested in the South Central Farm, is from my experience with the urban gardening movement in Detroit where I spent several summers volunteering with Detroit Summer’s urban gardens. Here is an entry from my blog on June 1, 2006:
“Tonight, we went to the South Central Farm, for the third time this week. We went to the Candlelight Vigil on Friday, the Farmer's Market on Sunday, and again tonight for the vigil we went with friends from Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress.
It is a beautiful green oasis amidst warehouse after warehouse. 14 acres of urban farm, the largest in the nation. 350 families, mostly Mexican and Central American, grow fruits, vegetables, herbs and other indigenous medicinal plants.
Tony, his teaching partner Kathy, and their students have been going more frequently, supporting the farmers. Kathy took a 4 a.m. shift the other day, and one of their students has been staying at the encampment several nights for the last week.
We saw Julia Butterfly Hill and Daryl Hannah, who are up in a walnut tree in protest. You just have to walk the farm and see the beauty of all of the lush green vegetables and fruits, and why it should not be destroyed for the developer to build another lousy warehouse.
The other night, Maiya, Tony and I joined the procession, walking around the perimeter of the farm. Maiya walked about 3/4 of the way around by herself. Tonight's chant was ‘Save the Farm, Si Se Puede.’ I could see Maiya swaying and rocking to the beat. It's ok that her favorite part was playing in the dirt. She's getting the seeds of activism from a grassroots perspective, so to speak.”
We had known that the City was going to evict the farmers—that it was just a matter of time. Police helicopters had been circling over the farm every day and night. The Farmers had secured commitments for $16 million to purchase the land, but the offer was rejected. So when it happened, it was heartbreaking.
After the eviction, we continued joining the Candlelight Vigils held nightly around the farm. No longer able to go inside, we walked around the outside of the farm with a declining number of people. Eventually, life got busy again and we stopped going. But the farmers did not quit.
“Displaced, but not defeated” became their new slogan. I realize that it was because the farm was about more than just food and gardening, it was about human spirit and the community. Just like our Japanese American families started life over again after coming back from camp, the farmers have had to start over again.
In the past year, the farmers have created the South Central Farmers Community Center & Gallery across the street from the farm and hold a South Central Farmers Tianguis marketplace with artisans, local merchants and live music on the first Sunday of every month. They also sell fresh produce at the Leimert Park Farmer’s Market every Saturday, and at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market and Atwater Village Farmer’s Market every Sunday.
They continue to challenge and fight legal battles with the City. They have reorganized and set up a nonprofit health and education fund whose mission is to preserve, maintain and cultivate farm land in urban areas. They also provide educational programs and activities about urban farming techniques, and healthy living and nutrition.
Going back to what remains of the farm after one year was difficult and emotional for me. Seeing the barren dirt absent of all the lush green plants and trees in my memory, I couldn’t help but get choked up and teary-eyed. I thought about my grandfather who was a Cantaloupe farmer before World War II, who never farmed again. And about all the families who had to start new lives.
But, hearing how the farmers have continued to fight and to grow gave me hope. And as Tony, Maiya and I walked back to the car, looking at the farm, I saw thousands of tiny bits of green shoots poking through the dry dirt despite the lack of rain this year. It’s something that bulldozers, police in riot gear, politicians and greed cannot erase: the power of nature and the resilience of the human spirit.
Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida has been active in the Japanese American community for the last 15 years. Her web blog can be found at http://kuidaosumi.blogspot.com. For more info about the South Central Farmers Health and Education Fund and to support the farmers, see www.southcentralfarmers.com and www.southcentralfarmers.org. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo. © 2007