Many feared that the day the 14-acre community farm in downtown LA--one of the nation's largest urban farms--was shut down and bulldozed in 2006, the South Central Farmers' would disband and stop farming. On the contrary, the South Central Farmers continue to thrive and grow produce on an organic farm on leased land in Bakersfield. Now, thanks to the generous support of concerned neighbors, the inner-city group's goal to farm on their own land will finally come true.
Just a few weeks ago--thanks to the determined efforts of Mira Tweti, an environmental journalist and author--a link of several key donations totaling over $300,000 dollars came together to enable the farmers' cooperative to get access to the water they need to irrigate the 85-acres of arid land donated to them in 2006. Contributions from manufacturers came together after Tweti spent weeks on the phone asking Central Valley businesses to help.
Goulds Pump gave an expensive well pump. Rain for Rent supplied steel piping and their skilled labor to install it, gratis. US Motors donated a 100-horsepower motor to power the water supply. Even one unlikely donor--a small business owner struggling with losses and layoffs--donated a 10,000-gallon water tank.
Pat Biggs, the owner of Central Valley Tank, felt compelled to overlook financial hardships to provide an $8,000 tank when he heard the South Central Farmers' story (documented in the 2008 Oscar-nominated film, The Garden).
When Tweti heard of Biggs' personal struggle to keep his company afloat, she hesitated to accept a donation from the business owner. "How can you take something from someone that has lost so much?"
Biggs admits that being generous in a depressed economic climate isn't easy. Yet despite the risk, Biggs says, there is a value in giving back to people who work hard to give back to others.
"The thing is, right now California is just pounded with everything," Biggs says. "Everything is negative. Where are the good stories?"
The small business owner stepped up to the challenge, bought thousands of pounds of steel, and--with the help of his employees--built the tank quickly. "I decided I could do something good, in my terms and in my control," says Biggs. " I got to decide how I could make a difference."
Tezozomoc, a South Central Farmer and one of the group's vocal leaders, believes that neighbors helping neighbors is the only way small businesses will survive in a struggling economy. "As we move through these hard economic times," says Tezozomoc, who goes by a single name, "we need to build community to support. We have to rely more on each other."
Biggs is first to admit he's just a piece in a bigger puzzle of donations. "I'm one of a lot of people that did a lot of stuff. I'm just a tank guy."
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Tezozomoc hopes the successes of his non-profit farmers' collective can be used as a model for growing business in the future. "We have to build more community to endure these desperate economic times ahead of us. The well being of our neighbors is important. We can't do it alone."
Tezozomoc is excited for the future of his farm. With the new irrigation lines in place, a whole new crop can be planted. Artichokes are coming in. Ten varieties of squash will soon be ready for the market. "We already have our New Mexico chilies started. And eggplants and tomatoes. We should have all of that coming in from our 110 acres."
South Central Farmers' sell organic produce at several L.A. farmers markets (including Hollywood and Beverly Hills) and offers over 30 CSA's. For more information, go to their website.
Brooke Burton is also the author of Foodwoolf.com.