South Central Farm to Forever 21?

This just in: Turns out the former site of the South Central Farm – where low-income, indigenous/immigrant Latino farmers grew food in the midst of a toxic industrial area for 14 years before being evicted two summers ago in one of the saddest, most maddening examples of private business interests trumping community and environmental good that I’ve ever personally witnessed – is being developed as a Forever 21 warehouse.

You know, that clothing company that was the subject of a national boycott for exploitative labor practices a few years ago? Turns out LA’s supposedly progressive mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa – who campaigned at the then-flourishing farm several years ago and claimed to support it, only to fail to find a way to help save it despite massive community (and celebrity) support, clear social and environmental benefits, and his own celebrated promises to “green LA”“has received nearly $1.3 million in contributions and commitments from Forever 21 and its executives over the past two years.”

The former site of the South Central Farm has sat vacant for the past two years. The South Central Farmers are now growing food at a new site about an hour outside of LA. They sell food at several farmers’ markets in the area, and they recently set up a CSA

(Background: A few years ago, I wrote several articles about the South Central Farm for the late and lamented NewStandard, including this history of how the community has used the land since 1985.)

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10 comments for “South Central Farm to Forever 21?

  1. Yuri K.
    August 18, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    That’s an atrocity. The whole incident, from start to finish.

    And I really did have some hopes for Villaragosa, too.

  2. August 18, 2008 at 7:06 pm

    Yuri — I too had some hopes for Villaraigosa. His time as mayor has, sadly, crushed the last bit of hope I had that someone in that kind of position of power might be able to maintain and enact any kind of progressive/social-justice politics. I wanted to believe it might be possible at the local level. Alas.

  3. Acta Non Verba
    August 18, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Unfortunately, this is how markets work. Society values Forever 21’s ability to warehouse its clothes over whatever marginal benefits came from having a farm there. I don’t think blaming the mayor or anybody in government is productive – this is a free market. Blame consumer’s preferences.

    Also, I don’t know the specifics of the particular farm in question, but agriculture *tends* to be environmentally very bad, especially to water sources.

    L.A., unfortunately, is far, far from being a “green” city like Austin, TX or Portalnd, OR. People there are too dependent on cars, and too conservative.

  4. August 18, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    Acta Non Verba, I think your comment would be a bit more accurate with some slight rephrasing:

    Unfortunately, this is how markets work. The society of people with money values Forever 21’s ability to warehouse its clothes over whatever benefits came to marginal people from having a farm there.

    I admit to being puzzled about this:

    Also, I don’t know the specifics of the particular farm in question, but agriculture *tends* to be environmentally very bad, especially to water sources.

    I’m not sure how there will be a net environmental gain to the planet by shifting the agriculture from a locale close to its consumer base to one that is far away and where — in addition to whatever pollution is generated by the farming itself — you have to add the additional oil consumption and greenhouse gas production that comes from the demands of shipping the foods to the consumers.

  5. paintdreams
    August 19, 2008 at 1:12 am

    i’m pretty sure the land in question was privately owned by a developer then seized by the city thru eminent domain. The land wasn’t used by the city and was taken and turned into a vibrant farm by the community, but eventually it reverted back to the developer. it wasn’t public land, it was/iss private property. Villaraigosa didn’t have a leg to stand on. now it’s a warehouse. tragic.

  6. Whiskas
    August 19, 2008 at 11:51 am

    I love Forever 21. They have amazing stuff that is so, so cheap. I can always find something cool to wear that I can actually afford. I think 9/10ths of my wardrobe comes from there.

  7. masquerade
    August 19, 2008 at 12:25 pm

    paintdreams is correct.

    While the situation is sad, the land never belonged to the farmers and the person who owned the land was really screwed over by the city. It sucks that the farmers lost the garden, but it was never their land to begin with.

  8. August 19, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    paintdreams, i don’t know for certain, but you’re probably right that that’s how things went down and that Villaraigosa didn’t have a legal land to stand on… That doesn’t mean he couldn’t have advocated and couldn’t have done something. The law isn’t always right, particularly when it comes to these eminent domain issues and it’s up to our elected leaders to protect their constituencies in cases like this. Legality aside, this was yet another sign of piss-poor leadership (i.e. The complete lack-there-of) on Villaraigosa’s part.

    Acta Non Verba…. I see where you’re coming from, but I feel that saying “It’s the market,” is a terrible way to excuse the actions of individuals. Somewhere down the line someone(s) had to say “We are taking this land away from people who are using it productively and partly for their own livelihood so that we can build a warehouse which will benefit next to no-one in this community.” They can’t even make the argument that this is the sort of thing that is going to generate enough jobs for these people. They can’t make the argument that there are plenty of places where this warehouse could have also gone.

    Yes, blame “consumer preferences” but I certainly think those in government are culpable as well for allowing such a ridiculous thing as “consumer preferences” to degrade the standard of living for a group of people. Particularly true when it is a group of people who have little to no say in these “consumer preferences” which allegedly dictate the course of society.

    Most tragic of all is that as they build upon here, put in a foundation, concrete and asphalt, build a huge waste of space and energy…… Nothing will grow on this land again. They are robbing the community now and robbing this community in the future (if and when the warehouse becomes a bombed out and decrepit shell).

  9. August 19, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    The comments here that the land was owned by a private developer, that the mayor had no leg to stand on, that this is how markets work, etc., point to precisely why I don’t believe a capitalist/individualist/private-property-based system is a just system — or even a smart one. It’s a very limited framework that privileges individuals’ financial profits over just about everything else.

    In this case, there was actually a rather complicated history and legal battle over who had rights to the land, and when, even within the context of the current legal/economic system — the history I linked to above explains some of that, dating back to 1985.

    But I think the SC Farm story really begs the question of whether that legal/economic framework is a just, sensible one to begin with. Does it make sense that the private property rights of one individual should ever trump the right to good food of hundreds of families? The right to greenspace in a neighborhood? The right to community self-determination? Does it make sense that one individual’s property rights should trump a community’s/city’s/neighborhood’s environmental needs? etc., etc., etc.

  10. GallingGalla
    August 19, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Jess @9: Totally agreed.

    Whiskas @6: Dunno if you are just some kind of troll, but assuming you are not, i buy clothing similar in style to that offered by forever 21, and believe me there are like a gazillion outlets for this style of clothing. really, do you *have* to shop at forever 21 when they participate in destroying a *critical* community resource and buy off the mayor?

    i realize that every vendor of clothing has some serious ethical failings, and its really not possible to find clothing that doesnt have some serious ethical problems behind its manufacture (unless maybe you make it yourself) but whats happening with forever 21 is so egregious that maybe you can consider one of the many other outlets?

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