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Growing Kale In Compton
Colorful array of city activities: food truck, cyclist, vintage car, barber, girl in quinceanera dress; 6th street bridge in the background with purple gradient overlay
(Dan Carino
/
LAist)
Episode 8
7:15
Growing Kale In Compton
Alma Backyard Farms in Compton is a lot of things to a lot of people. It grows fresh produce to sell to its neighbors, trains formerly incarcerated people to work the land, and teaches kids to garden and eat healthy meals. It brings the community together. During the dog days of summer, Brian De Los Santos and team went to see how it all works... and pick up some tomatoes. Guests: Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia, co-founders of Alma Farms

Unknown Alma Backyard Farms Associate

Who here likes to sing?

 

Kids

Me!

 

Unknown Alma Backyard Farms Associate

Who here likes to dance to music?

 

Kids

Me!

 

Alma Backyard Farms

Oh, perfect!

 

Brian De Los Santos 

I mean, I like to dance. How do you think I got this knee busted up? From LAist Studios, this is How to LA. I'm Brian De Los Santos. Today we're headed to a place called Alma Backyard Farms. It's a real farm, and it's in the city of Compton. A couple of streets over you've got warehouses, industrial machines and folks living in tents outside. People might think they know Compton, but they might not know everything. So we wanted to find out what it means for folks to be growing kale in the middle of this city. We pulled up at the farm in the morning, and there's a summer camp going on, which explains all these kids running around. We headed through a gate to meet Richard Garcia and Erika Cuellar, they found out the farm.

 

Erika Cuellar

Brian, nice to meet you guys. Here, let's walk over we're about to transition the kids.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Okay. This place used to be an abandoned field on a property of a Catholic school. But in 2017, they turned into a half acre of beautiful native plants, veggies and fruits, and an astroturf soccer field.

 

Richard Garcia

So we have yellow squash, this is a romanesco one, you see how it's a different color.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Right now, they've got tomatoes, peppers...

 

Richard Garcia

Summer is when everything's jamming. So, like these are-these are baby eggplants-the eggplants we pass over there. They've been there for a couple seasons already.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

They also have a little grove of banana trees.

 

Richard Garcia

Bananas like to grow in community. So if you plant a single banana, it doesn't do well. That's because it needs all the bananas around.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Richard says Bananas are a metaphor for the whole project. He wants to include people from the neighborhood in the farming process. That's why the kids are here.

 

Erika Cuellar

The kids are gonna learn a song about how plants grow.

 

Richard Garcia

I think the cucumbers want to hear you sing it. You see the cucumbers are all the way over there. Okay, they need to hear you. They need to hear it, okay let's do it together.

 

Kids singing along with a guitar: Planted in soil, and let the roots grow. Water and sunlight are just what it needs."

 

Richard Garcia

Okay, (Clapping.) I want to name your band?

 

Brian De Los Santos 

The summer camp is actually a new thing. The initial focus of Alma Farms was job training for people who have done time in prison.

 

Richard Garcia

Where people are reentering after 10-15-23 years in prison.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Richard and Erika worked at Homeboy Industries together. So this farm is kind of like an offshoot of that.

 

Erika Cuellar

So like every piece of lumber that's here was actually cut by someone who was locked up, and they learned the skills of carpentry. And they learned how to use tools. And I think, all that is very important. But at the core of what we're working with is like-building trust.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Richard says working with former gang members is personal for him.

 

 

Richard Garcia

I grew up on on Western and Melrose. I remember like, gangs back in the day when I was like 13. They would have big old meetings at Bellevue. And I've seen LA fluctuate from like, good, to okay to not so great, to better again. And I'm-I'm a part of that.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

They chose to base a farm in Compton, because there's a significant number of people on parole here. Also, because the city has an agricultural history. Maybe you know, those Compton Cowboys? Yes, they're still here, and you might spot them riding their horses on streets. But still, the community does not have a lot of options for fresh produce.

 

Richard Garcia

A lot of people here want to eat healthy. So they'll drive to El Segundo at the Whole Foods out there, and then there's just really sparse choice.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

So, Alma Farms opened up a Pay-What-You-Can farm stand. It takes place every other Sunday. They sell baked goods and fruits and vegetables they just picked. I checked it out and I met some pretty cool people who live in the area.

 

Livier Gonzalez

My name is Livier Gonzalez and I'm from Compton.

 

James Singleton

James Singleton. I'm here almost every-other Sunday, she can tell you almost everybody around here, as you see knows me.

 

Livier Gonzalez

I started seeing on Instagram-it came on my feed, and we're like, "Okay, what we'll try it." And then we start coming every-other Sunday, and the boys love the smoothies here.

 

James Singleton

First of all, on Sunday morning, I come in and I pick up my smoothie and my bread, so I can take my medicine.

 

Livier Gonzalez

Our routine is first the smoothies. They can't-they can't leave without their smoothie, and then I'll come back and get my vegetables and stuff.

 

James Singleton

Then I go shopping. I get produce, I get whatever I see I like.

 

Livier Gonzalez

I feel like it's cheaper than other farmer markets.

 

James Singleton

I'm going straight home and make fried green tomatoes.

 

Richard Garcia

And one thing I love about-about Farm Stand Sundays is when people from different backgrounds share recipes. Cuz you have the same okra in front of you, and there's a conversation that's sparked as to why are you choosing the smaller ones versus the bigger ones? And then they go on to this describe how they're going to prepare it. You know, when you break bread at the table, you could also break some barriers. And I think that's what happens here.

 

Brian De Los Santos 

So I obviously had to ask him from an Angeleno to another Angeleno. Why does he choose to do this work in LA?

 

Richard Garcia

I love LA, like it's where I call home. There are really magical moments, because there's even a particular time here on the farm, at like three o'clock where everything glows differently. I don't know you got me thinking about Tupac "to live and die in LA, it's the place to be." Like, I just, it's the place to be.

 

 

Tupac Song starts plays: "To live and die in L.A., it's the place to be You've got to be there to know it, what everybody wanna see…”

 

Brian De Los Santos 

Okay, y'all, I gotta take all these tomatoes home and figure out how to make a salsa, cuz I need to learn how to cook. This is How to LA from LAist studios. I'm your host Brian De Los Santos. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people.

 

 

Song continues to play us out: "Automatics rang free, guess we lost our way. Gang signs being showed, brother love your hood. But, recognize it's all good. So where my G's at?" (Son