The Food Issues Book Club: Food and the City, Chapter 8

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Food and the City, Chapter 8: Southern California and Los Angeles - a tale of two farms


Los Angeles is notorious for its lack of green space, but is adjacent to some of the country's most productive farmland.  A mountain range creates a clear barrier between the two land uses.  As is common in urban areas, Los Angeles homes the very rich and the very poor, and clear socioeconomic divides can be drawn on racial lines: white neighborhoods afford two to three times more access to fresh food than do neighborhoods populated predominately by people of color.  Food instability is rampant, despite the area's high productivity.  Hearteningly, those without food access have begun to grow it for themselves.  Additionally, the city has assembled a Food Policy Task Force.

While Los Angeles county now boasts around 70 community gardens in addition to hundreds within the school system, not all such gardens are safe from the march of "progress."  After the "LA Race Riots" of 1992, the director of a food bank in South Central LA suggested that a community garden space in the neighborhood could help alleviate the community's dependence on the bank.  The gardens were quickly established by "Latinos with extensive agricultural experience."  They thrived, producing food while providing a much needed green space for the area.  An inventory revealed over 100 different kinds of plants being grown.

And then the seemingly inevitable occurred.  The original owner of the land, seeing its transformation, decided that it did in fact have value.  The city sold the land back at essentially its original price, and all parties expected the gardeners to simply give it up.  After a decade of working the land, the "gardeners" were evicted.

But they didn't give up.  Instead they organized, calling themselves the South Central Farmers Feeding Families.  They were crushed anyway.  "On the morning of June 13, 2006, Los Angeles police in riot gear used chainsaws to cut through the fencing to enforce an eviction notice.  Farmers and protestors who didn't go quietly were arrested.  Shortly thereafter, bulldozers razed the more than 350 garden plots."

Photographs of the eviction from LA Times
As of the publication of this book, the plot remains unused.  (Note: Per Wikipedia, the plot remained vacant as of May 2014.)  A documentary was made about the "garden" and its demise.

Despite this violent and unjust reclamation of the land by the city, the farmers have found ways to continue growing food elsewhere and now service two counties with Community Supported Agriculture programs.


There's no use mincing words about it: I found this chapter excruciating.  I yelled at the book.  A LOT.  Some of it was in exaltation:

WE'VE FINALLY STOPPED TALKING ABOUT PRIVILEGED WHITE PEOPLE.  139 pages in, we get to acknowledge that people of color also have an interest in urban gardening.  Some of them even need to grow food, rather than just wanting to!  It's a miracle!

Granted, we still spend a portion of the chapter talking about "Michael Ableman... an aspiring photographer and back-to-the-lander" who worked at "an agrarian commune managing a hundred acres of pear and apple trees..."  His farm was saved, with the "support of a community - wealthy donors foundation grants, and regular farm customer..."  Yeah, all that and the fact that that dude is totally and extremely very white.

Cockrall-King explains that "[a] group of disenfranchised Angelinos (read: Latinos) from South Central Los Angeles did not have such advantages..." You don't say?  Well I'll be darned.  We might also note that the person who was allowed to buy back the South Central Garden land was - you guessed it - a white guy.

Also, that wonderful documentary that made people besides the farmers care about the land being ripped away from them?  Yeah, he was a white guy too.  (I do think it's worth watching.  It is sometimes available on Netflix, though not right now it seems.)

It's almost as if to have any agency, to have your voice heard, or to be treated anything like fairly, you have to be a white male.  WEIRD.  Anyone else noticed this?  Have I come upon a brand new, unexplored idea?!

I realize that I'm directing too much of my anger about what happened to this community - what happens to so many communities, and what is withheld from so many others - at Cockrall-King.  Which is of course unfair.  At least she included them in this book, complete with a long section on her talk with Tezozomoc, one of the organizing farmers.  But I can rightfully be mad about this:

Somehow the author gets through the chapter without mentioning ONCE that one of the largest food labor strikes in US history occurred in California - you know, that whole deal with Ceasar Chavez et al.  A minor thing really.  Easy to overlook.  (Just a moment - my head has exploded from sarcasm.  Please come back later.)


  1. Just found your blog randomly searching anyone with an interest in bicycles. Funny how vegan bloggers always turn up. I really got into this post. What an outrageous situation! I don't think you're the first to join the dots re: privilege... Some people are allowed to succeed and rise above adversity... others are obviously not. It's pretty sad that we can easily predict who the others will be.

    1. Thanks for the comment David! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Ha, the "am I the first to notice" comment was said in EXTREME sarcasm! It's a reality that so, so many people struggle with every day. Thankfully, there are many brilliant and motivated people working to change it!

    2. Yep, it'll be a tough fight too! There's a few people with a lot of power who are going to make it very difficult for the most of us to get by. That retort about joining the dots was tongue in cheek.Sarcasm is a pretty valid pressure valve I reckon considering the overwhelming nature of the situation! I've just started reading a book called 'This Changes Everything' by Naomi Klein. Another reminder that food security will need to be addressed locally.

    3. No doubt; it has always been and will always be a vicious uphill battle to claim agency from those who wish to oppress in an effort to maintain their own power. (Ha, that was WORDY.) Ooh, I like Klein. I see it's about climate change - I'm VERY interested to know whether / how much / in what ways she talks about the food industry. For some reason, no one wants to admit that our industrial food system is a huge contributor to climate change - not even the far-left groups like Greenpeace.

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