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‘Micro-farms’ come to South Los Angeles with fresh food and produce

Jamiah Hargins knows the modest forecourt on the corner of Angeles Vista Boulevard and Olympiad Drive like the back of his hand.

A military kid who grew up moving from one country to another, he has walked the 970 square feet of the construction site countless times. He and a small team of volunteers spent a month cultivating the land, setting up equipment, and planting rows of sloping vegetables, including bok choy, Tuscan kale, rainbow chard, tomatoes. red cherries, basil and chives.

That’s enough to get the people of this View Park neighborhood, including their regular mailman, to admire the lush green grass turned into a mini-farm.

“For a while, we thought this was just the typical landscaping job at View Park. And we were curious to see how much work there was, ”said Ibiere Seck, 40, who lives in the neighborhood and has seen the farm come to life on walks with her children. “Every day we passed and saw it evolve. … There are many beautiful things to see in this neighborhood. But by far, it is the most fascinating and the most inspiring.

Seck said she was inspired to adjust a landscaping project she started months ago to include more green space – and that she was now interested in making room for a mic -closed.

It’s something Hargins, a 37-year-old man with the laid-back but determined disposition of a youth pastor, loves to hear. Its Asante Microfarm is named after a Swahili word which means “thank you”.

Jamiah Hargins, founder of Asante Microfarm, explains his irrigation system to neighbor Ibiere Seck.

(Antonio M. Johnson / For the Times)

According to USDA, large swathes of southern Los Angeles suffer from poor access to fresh food. It is a problem even in some socio-economically better off neighborhoods. In View Park, a Predominantly black neighborhood where families earn over $ 92,000 per year the nearest grocery store is an Albertsons more than a mile away.

Some residents responded by turning to community gardens and mini markets. Others build small backyard gardens. Angeles Vista and Olympiad Farm is a perfect hybrid of these approaches.

“The success of Asante Microfarm is an example of the need for more innovative approaches to food sovereignty created by, for and within communities that have been systematically and strategically excluded from food production,” said Pearson King, Manager agency relationships at Food Forward, a nonprofit organization that brings surplus fresh fruits and vegetables to food insecure people in Southern California.

VIDEO | 02:43

South LA does not have easy access to fresh food. Man wants to change that by turning lawns into micro-farms

Founder Jamiah Hargins discusses the Asante micro-farm in View Park.

The Asante Microfarm is not a private kitchen garden, a large urban farm or a community garden for a small group of green thumbs. Rather, Hargins designed an urban farmhouse just large enough to fit in a front yard, real estate most people use for decoration.

Hargins wants to empower underserved communities while giving them access to fresh food by planting small, sustainable farms in lots across Los Angeles.

“Everyone deserves the nutrients under their feet. This applies to people living in apartment buildings or condos, ”he said. “They have the right to have local food. People can have different lives. I hope to show that it can be done. “

For Hargins, the micro-farm, built on a residential front yard on the 4600 block of Angeles Vista Boulevard, is proof of concept for a much larger purpose.

Crops grow from bags of nutrient-rich compost, and the entire farm is supported by an irrigation system that not only recycles water, but uses only 8% of the water previously used for grass. The farm was built using part of a $ 50,000 LA2050 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation, but will be supported by subscriptions that cost $ 36 per month and $ 43 with delivery. For this, subscribers receive a mix of 3 pounds of greens and vegetables every week.

‘Micro-farms’ come to South Los Angeles with fresh food and produce

The Asante Microfarm can grow up to 600 edible plants and feed up to 50 families.

(Antonio M. Johnson / For the Times)

Hargins’ father was an Air Force engineer who moved the family from Colorado Springs, where Hargins was born, to a village called Haverhill in England – then Kaiserslautern in southwestern Germany before d ‘land in Clovis, New Mexico.

At Clovis, Hargins prospered academically, even winning a NASA colonization competition on Mars at the age of 17. On Sundays he served alongside his father as a deacon in the family church. His father, the chief deacon, taught him to bring people together and cemented his commitment to service.

The social conscience Hargins developed in his youth harassed him as a political science student at the University of Chicago and later when he pursued a career in finance. “I did this for a few years, but I never really felt the soul in him or felt it was real service to the world,” he said.

He went on to become a consultant for nonprofit organizations, but eventually enrolled in an economic and political development program at Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.

Hargins was married in 2015 and he and his wife decided to move to California, where his parents were from and where his mother has since settled. Their daughter Triana arrived in 2017. He found a place in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles, where access to fresh produce was not always easy. Hargins decided to start a backyard garden and quickly found himself loaded with more fruits and vegetables than his little family could eat.

“Growing food empowers and builds your confidence because you are producing something that only exists through your hard work,” he said. “You can own it fully. And usually, if you grow too much of it, you can donate some of it. “

Hargins logged into the Nextdoor app with the idea of ​​trading products with neighbors.

On the appointed day, 15 people – from all walks of life and walks of life, but mostly from West Adams – showed up to his home, ready to trade artichokes, kale and onions from their own gardens for lemons, herbs and Hargins beans. The group continued to grow until 2018, when Hargins launched Crop Swap LA, an organization dedicated to growing food on unused space and creating green jobs.

‘Micro-farms’ come to South Los Angeles with fresh food and produce

“I want to create the expectation that people will do something better with their space than water grass,” said Jamiah Hargins, founder of Asante Microfarm.

(Antonio M. Johnson / For the Times)

Hargins combined his charm and passion to secure the space that would become the Asante Microfarm. He got on with Mychal Creer, an educator who worked with Hargins’ wife at a charter school in Los Angeles. Creer felt for years that he could do more with his front yard. Turning it into a farm seemed obvious.

“All he had was his word and his plan,” Creer said of Hargins. “I can not lie; I was nervous on the jump but wanted to take the risk.

Further, he added, “Jamiah was adamant. He just kept following me until one day he said ‘Hey, Mike, let’s get started.’ ”

From there, Hargins partnered with a group called Enviroscape LA to map irrigation and landscaping. And he assembled a team of dedicated volunteers who helped with the hard work of cultivating the yard, digging trenches for irrigation, and tending to the plants.

“He’s a great teacher. It’s amazing to be a part of something where you work together, but there’s also leadership. I’m honored to call him a friend and also a mentor, ”said Gabriel Stout, 25, a musician who met Hargins at the West Adams Farmers Market and has since become an intern at Crop Swap LA.

It took a month from when the team started to the farm’s grand opening in April. Today, Asante can grow more than 600 plants and feed around 50 families.

There are already 35 subscribers, most of whom visit the farm on foot or by bicycle to pick up the products. In addition to serving them, Hargins and his team set aside 10% of each harvest for families in need via a community refrigerator on Degnan Boulevard in Leimert Park.

“It’s a community tithe. That’s what I called it. I guess this comes from my church days, ”Hargins said.

Hargins and Crop Swap LA hope to expand their project and feed Los Angeles one court at a time. The biggest hurdle right now is acquiring space, including a seat for Crop Swap LA – a property where Hargins and his family can live, garden, and accommodate others who want to replicate the pattern defined by Asante Microfarm. Ultimately, he hopes to help build and manage 400 micro-farms across the city.

Future South Los Angeles farms at the Westside can be funded, Hargins says, through a mix of approaches. Hargins intends to raise funds to support the planting of farms in the backyards of low-income homeowners. He is also working on the development of a sliding scale that will allow owners to share the profits made by the farm according to their level of investment.

“I would like to create a culture of economic sustainability,” said Hargins. “I want to create the expectation that people will do something better with their space than the water grass.”

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