Like many big cities, Los Angeles has quite a few problems including homelessness and food insecurity. While the city is not somewhere you’d traditionally think of as a place to farm or grow food, one L.A. man is using his small space to tackle food insecurity in a big way.
As you walk into Jamiah Hargins’ garden, the first thing you notice is how lush the vegetation looks, even on a scorching 108-degree day. Then, you spot Hargins himself — at home among leafy greens and ripe tomatoes at ground zero for his personal contribution to the fight for food liberation.
“My daughter was coming along, and when she was born I realized I would need to have quality food around all the time, so the best idea is to grow my own food,” Hargins said of the origin of his garden. “Living in a city like Los Angeles, there are situations where food scarcity intensifies in terms of natural disasters or economic trials, so what I decided to do was build my own garden and grow food as often as I could.”
In addition to being driven to make sure he’d have quality food for his daughter, Hargins also was mindful of a deeper problem, especially within underserved communities. “Food has always been used as a weapon against those who are economically disadvantaged or in terms of racial dominance. So in the United States and abroad, there’s no secret that food even in our penitentiary systems is used as a weapon against,” people behind bars, Hargins said. “We have to use food as our own strength and opportunity as folks who live in this country are aware of the history to put ourselves in a better position.”
And Hargins practiced what he preached. But he didn’t put just himself in a better position; he shared it with the community. He started Crop Swap LA in the community for people to get together and share extras from their gardens. “I had so many extra sprouts and seedlings and seeds that were growing that I offered them and many others came. Over 100 people in the last year-and-a-half have attended our crop swaps and we have grown to do more initiatives from then,” he said.
Right now, the Crop Swap LA only harvests fruits from trees that have been harvested in people’s backyards. Fifty percent of the produce is sold, and the other 50 percent is given away. Hargins said plans to expand are in full bloom.
“In the future we’ll have our gardens where we’ll have our staff growing the food and we’ll be selling that continually through the West Adams Farmer’s Market, the Crop Swap app, and individual chefs and restaurants that we know here in Los Angeles,” Hargins said.
In his personal 100-square-foot space, Hargins has everything, including several varieties of tomato, nuts and the elusive callaloo. He believes that not only growing one’s own food within each person’s range, but that it’s essential to do so in the name of sustainability.
Though some may think of farming as more of a thing of the past, Hargins points out that growing your own food is becoming increasingly trendy. “For our generation, as someone who’s 36, I don’t think there’s much of a stigma around growing one’s own food. I think for our parents and grandparents, there was a fair amount of tendency to be away from the field, and in our case we’re coming back to a new awareness of the need to grow food,” he said. “Many of us went to college and got educated in the formal system, and that’s what we were told was best. And now we see that that was useful, but now there are other things we also need to know.”
Hargins also offered another perspective. “More of us would be growing our own food if the systems were designed to allow us,” he said, citing that materials such as manure and hay are often expensive and difficult within the traditional landscape where monopolies and large corporations control them. “So what we’re doing here at Crop Swap L.A., is we’re informing people of those free resources and cheap resources that you can get abundantly in your neighborhood that will help you grow food.” He points out that a local farmer gifted hay. “It cost me nothing and it’s giving me excellent mulch here in the backyard. We can find solutions like that in every city, every island, every place where people grow food,” Hargins said.
In the wake of the pandemic, Crop Swap LA moved from the Earth to online, hosting virtual meetups to share knowledge and tips. The West Adams Farmers Market is open outside each Sunday, and the Crop Swap App is still in full swing, allowing patrons to search for and purchase anything local sellers have in their yards or farms.