Black Los Angeles farmer helps metropolis residents
| Special to USA TODAY
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As demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables has increased, so too has the number of urban farmers markets sprouting up across the nation. (Aug 3, 2012)
Jamiah Hargins is serious about eradicating food inequity in South Los Angeles’s Black and brown communities. It is a passion that arose out of necessity and a sense of desperation.
“When I found out I was going to become a father I looked around my community and realized we were in the middle of food apartheid,” he says. “I felt powerless and did not want there to be any surprises or disruptions to her peaceful, happy upbringing.”
He got to work building a garden and irrigation system to capture and recycle rainwater in the backyard of the home he shares with wife, Ginnia, in Los Angeles’ historic West Adams neighborhood.
“We had corn, lettuces, herbs, callaloo, tomatoes, borage, a peach tree, plum tree, lemon tree, lime tree, orange tree, grapes, beans, peas, banana plants, blackberry bushes and long-term perennials that would produce even if water became a desperate resource in drought-knit Los Angeles,” he says.
There was such an abundance, Hargins turned to social media to see if anyone would be interested in swapping what they had for what he had to offer. The first weekend more than 15 people showed up with food to swap. The next week, more people arrived in his backyard. The food exchanges grew into a monthly free food and health movement called Crop Swap LA.
That simple act led the former equity trader to his purpose. He started the West Adams Farmers Market, and his community work caught the attention of then-California State Senator Sydney Kamlager, who served under California State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell.
By 2018, Crop Swap LA was on a mission to help homeowners grow healthy food on their unused front yards, rooftops, walls and on city land, and create green jobs that strengthen the local economy. The Los Angeles Food Policy Council named Hargins a Good Food champion and Time Magazine recognized him as one of “27 People Bridging Divides Across America.” Crop Swap LA won a $50,000 grant to create a garden district, and in April, 2020, the first microfarm named Asante (after the Swahili word meaning thank you) was unveiled in the Los Angeles area’s View Park neighborhood through a collaboration with a private homeowner .
The 1,000-square-foot water-recycling front yard microfarm operates as Community Supported Agriculture that allows nearly 50 subscribers of the Crop Swap LA Membership Zone who live within 2 miles of the farm to pick up bags of fruit and produce weekly or have it delivered to their homes.
Asante Micro Farm saves 92% of the water previously used to grow 600 plants that include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, beets, turnips, radishes, potatoes and a variety of lettuces. The property also has a Hood pear tree and a guava tree. Crop Swap LA is nearing completion of its second urban farm that will serve local restaurants owned by people of color, says Hargins.
And Crop Swap is about to get even busier. It was one of the small businesses awarded a $4 million grant from the California state government in 2021 to build the infrastructure to create 400 microfarms throughout the city.
Hargins says he hopes his team’s work will inspire people to travel to Los Angeles to witness the West Coast urban farming movement. Crop Swap LA employs a staff of dozen part-time employees and four contractors and relies on volunteers to help with weekly maintenance and harvesting.
In the last few months, the company has been inundated with requests. “We’ve heard from about 60 families who would like for us to transform their space, schools, developmental disability centers, organizations that work with the unhoused, nonprofits, and government officials,” Hargins says.
Crop Swap LA has a model, he says.
“We grow food, create jobs, and reuse water. If we can’t figure out how to dig holes and wells, grow food and create jobs, then we won’t do the job because one can’t exist without the other two.”
Before the height of the pandemic, when the harvest was low, Hargins noticed homes in the community with fruit trees in need of harvesting. He turned to social media again to ask neighbors for permission to pick some of their fruit.
“We were surprised when hundreds of people offered everything from guavas, apples, oranges and avocados, to persimmons and Moringa seeds from the Moringa tree,” he says.
As they began to harvest, another business arose. “We now offer tree trimming, soil abatement, landscaping, composting and gutter installation services,” Hargins says.
Hargins says farming and community building is in his blood. A recent DNA test revealed his bloodline is the second oldest on record and that he comes from a legacy of farmers from South Central Africa, Spain and Morocco.
“It is important to me to be an example for my daughter, Triana, and to show her that she can solve a big problem. Black people have grown food for everyone through forced servitude for centuries. We must be proud of our accomplishments and lead this century in technology. If it is in agriculture, then we must honor the legacy of the Black farmers that came before us, step up and take our place,” Hargins says.
“There is nothing more gratifying than to see a child’s eyes light up after they pull a tomato out of the ground and taste it for the first time. It’s powerful.”