Urban gardener is changing the landscape of South L.A.

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By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — When it comes to urban gardening, Jamiah Hargins has emerged as a hero in his local neighborhood.

Hargins is the founder of Crop Swap LA, a gardening collective that provides fresh fruits and vegetables to his neighbors through one of three microfarms he founded in View Park, Leimert Park and Hyde Park.

“Infertility clouds our minds when we eat garbage food,” Hargins said. “When we are not in control of our own food, we can become enslaved.” 

According to statistics, the availability of fast-food in urban areas and the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables contribute to obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure among African Americans.

“It was in 2017 when my first daughter Triana was born that I became concerned about her nutrition,” said Hargins, a former stock and equity trader who Time magazine named as one of the “Twenty Seven People Bridging Divides Across America” in 2020.

“I thought, ‘How can I protect my daughter from the bad food out there?’ So I went to the back yard and started a garden,” said Hargins, a self-taught gardener who had no previous experience tilling the soil. 

Hargins and his staff of 17, composed of part-time employees, trainees and volunteers who grow oregano, garlic, chives, eggplant, bok choy, herbs, radicchio, butter lettuce, swiss chard, red cherry tomatoes and kale just to name a few of the herbs and vegetables grown on the microfarms and then distribute it to the neighborhood.

No chemicals or pesticides are used, only organic compost. Hargins has plans to grow food in unused spaces that create jobs and recycle water. 

“Our entire operating model is eco-friendly,” Hargins said. “Our recycling practices use 92% less water than traditional lawns and we hope to use front lawns, backyards, rooftops and empty alleyways and turn them into thriving gardens.

“People have traveled from Thailand and Japan just to see how we are using water here,” said Hargins, who added that visitors are impressed with the microfarm’s irrigation methods and its innovative water recycling system, which uses only a tiny fraction of water needed to keep a lawn maintained. 

“I  call my garden project Asante Microfarm, named after a Swahili word meaning ‘thank you,’” Hargins said.

For his efforts to educate the community about the importance of growing and eating nutritional produce, Hargins and Crop Swap LA were the recipients of a $50,000 LA 2050 grant from the Goldhirsh Foundation. 

Hargins used the funds to establish his first microfarm and provide green jobs to neighbors as well as to teach them how to grow nutrient-rich crops.

“I grew some rainbow chard, then I called on other local gardeners and we began swapping each other’s vegetables. That’s how Crop Swap LA was born,” he said.

A stroll through his backyard garden reveals an abundant crop of vegetables.

“We grow about 200 plants and we distribute the extra produce to 70 local families as well as to area schools,” Hargins said. “We have a lot of  care and concern for our neighbors.

“To join Crop Swap, neighbors must live within a two-mile radius from the nearest microfarm.

“We get calls from Santa Monica and other cities to deliver our produce to their areas, but we want to keep our produce distribution at the local level and give them to locals who might not be able to access such resources,” he said. 

“Sometimes, we have a lot of produce left over and we exchange it with other urban gardeners,” said Hargins, recalling how 15 people once showed up at his home  to exchange artichokes, kale, and onions from their own gardens for Hargins’ herbs, lemons and beans. 

“When we garden, we’ve gotten a lot of love from people,” Hargins said. “They drive by and smile and honk their horns. They also approach us on the farms and offer us seedlings, trees and even a ginger plant, which I had never seen before.” 

Hargins said that response from the public has been 99% positive.

“Crop Swap LA represents kindness, love and compassion,” he said.

Hargins’ future goals include expanding Crop Swap LA to 400 micro farms across the city.

Hargins said he has gained a sense of freedom since he transformed himself into an urban gardener. 

“When I was a stock trader, it was fluff,” he said. “Gardening is something I can hold on to because it is spiritual. It’s a holler back to our ancestors.”

For more information, visit cropswapla.org.

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at metropressnews.com.

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