Voices from the South Central Community Garden
Interviews by Jessica Hoffmann and Angela McCracken
The following are excerpts from oral histories gathered at the South Central Community Garden on various dates in December 2005. A feature article about the struggle to save the garden is in Clamor’s current print issue.
Albert Tlatoa, Farmer-Organizer, Section Captain
My family has been farming here for about eight years. … When I was growing up, my parents wouldn’t allow me to go to my local park, because there were drugs, alcohol—all the violence that occurs here in South Central. Basically, this environment has provided, for my family and for many other families, safety. A lot of families, this is the only safe environment they actually know of. Here, parents will be working on their crops and allowing their kids to run off and not worry about them.
…Before this was a community farm, it was basically a dump, where they had concrete, glass, and metals everywhere, so basically it was completely wasteland. Nothing actually grew here. I remember my parents filling barrels and barrels of concrete and glass and metals from the plot that we have… Now they’re growing lima beans. We have chipalin—it’s one of the Mesoamerican plants that we grow here; it’s part of the heirloom tradition that we have here. Some of the plants that grow here, you cannot find them in California, and they’re traditional, being passed from generation to generation.
… I’m 19. … I live in the 9th district [where the farm is located]. When I heard that this place was about to be destroyed, I felt that the community needed to organize itself and try to preserve this vital environment for our community.
Era mucho estrés antes [del jardín], mucha ah, presión. Aquí me siento como, “relaxed.” Es muy muy bonito. Es muy bonito porque aprende uno como vivir con gente que nunca había conocido, que no es mi familia; entonces, al ultimo todos somos como una gran familia; nos juntamos en la noche a comer y es todos, no hay diferencia de, de gente, de quien es otra persona, nada. Todos somos…campesinos, familia. Todos somos una gran familia.
…Todos los hijos y otros se juntan y andan…lo que me gusta es que conocen--por ejemplo las lizards, y ellos, no las habían visto antes. … Todos los insectos es nuevo para ellos. Entonces, les estamos enseñando que se pueden agarar, pueden verlos, jugar con ellos, pero no hacerles daño.
…Sobre las políticas, la verdad es no me gustaría hacer comentarios. A mi me interesa simplemente luchar por lo que es justo.
Rocio Cardozo, Farmer
I’m one of the newest members of the farm. [My husband and I] used to come here to buy herbs and plants. My husband is from Puebla [Mexico], and there’s a lot of plants that you don’t get at the store – there’s papalo, pepicha … [People] said that there’s some little lots on Alameda and 41st that you guys can get that stuff. So it was like a little delicatessen for him. We’ve been coming here over 10 years already. [Three years ago] there was an open lot and that’s how we could get involved. We signed the agreement and we do volunteer work and we pay our water and we work and cultivate our little piece.
… We have a little guayaba tree, and all these [gestures] are radishes—the long kind. They’re not the short, stubby kind—the long kind; those are better with posole. And this is pipicha; this is ready for seed now. This is sort of porridge with little tender squash—or pumpkin. And I have another plant that’s called alachi…The tomatoes are growing down there. That’s chipalin, from El Salvador.
Our family comes here and they pick their own radishes and their own cabbages. I have four kids. [They helped] when we were counting and sowing the dirt. …When we get to the garden I lose track of them. They’re all over the place. That tiny one there is mine. I just hear him in the [outdoor] hallways.
On the weekdays, we’re here three days a week. My husband’s a musician, so he works on weekends. Today he’s off, so we’re here on Sunday. And we’ll come by on Saturdays for the guard [shift]. We stay here from 7 to 12… We work on our garden on the weekdays, and on the weekends we help out with the other garden. My husband has a community—a lot of friends. And he has a little machine to sow the dirt so he brings his machine and we go from garden to garden.
…. This little one says—he doesn’t say, “Can we go to the little parcels?” He says, “Can we go to my garden?” Because this is his garden. That’s what my husband says. It’s their garden.
Jenny Caldera, Farmer-Organizer
I have had my parcel here for four years. … I have chayote, cactus, sugar cane… I’m growing to eat, to take home to my family and friends. Every morning I come here at 7 o’clock and I work. I have peppermint yerba buena, and I take some to make a tea for my supervisor. And then I come back in the evening and help them to prepare themselves for the evening, and I accompany them up to 10 o’clock or 9 o’clock, and then I go home. Every Saturday I spend the night.
… I collect dues from all of them to pay the water. I organize the people. My work is to be here because the people trust me. They know that I really like to be here and work for them because I’m working for my friends, for my farmers. They trust me a lot. When you’re working, you have to show them that you care so they can trust you. And to see you work. If you don’t work, they don’t trust you.
They say “we are going to leave it for the community.” I don’t know who is going to manage the place, but if it’s gonna be somebody that the people can trust or the city can trust, we go. But we’ve done a good job. But not for warehouses. Not for a private owner. This is a really good place to have a greenspace like we have had now for 13 years. This is a unique place, a historic place. I told the farmers: Cultivate your garden, keep it clean, go to march, do everything possible to keep this place, because we’re not going to go. I prefer to sleep here whatever time is necessary to keep this place alive.