The Man on a Mission to Solve Los Angeles' Food Crisis
Jamiah Hargins' Crop Swap LA is changing the way homeowners garden, one yard at a time.
Jamiah Hargins is a passionate guy. As the founder of the gardening collective Crop Swap LA, he's determined to eradicate food inequity in Black and brown communities in Southern California.
His passion arose almost four years ago out of necessity and desperation. "When I found out I was going to become a father, I looked around the city and wondered how I was going to feed my daughter," recalls the former stock and equity trader and self-proclaimed "gardengineer." "It became clear that I needed to create it myself so there would be no surprises or disruptions to her peaceful upbringing." He quickly built a fruit and vegetable garden on the West Adams, Los Angeles, property he now shares with wife, Ginnia, and three-year-old, Triana.
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In October 2018, he founded Crop Swap LA, a gathering of gardeners who shared their extra veggies, fruits, and herbs with each other and the community. The abundance was enormous, and it grew into the West Adams Farmers Market. A year later, the Los Angeles Food Policy Council named him a Good Food champion; Time Magazine recognized him as one of "27 People Bridging Divides Across America"; and last May, Crop Swap LA won a $50,000 grant to build seven inner city gardens.
The group's goal is to eliminate food scarcity by farming unused front yards, backyards, rooftops, and city land while creating green jobs, independent economies, and nutrient-dense food. "We should harvest and eat at the same time," says Hargins, who chose the middle-class Los Angeles community of View Park, considered a food desert, as the location of his first microfarm. "If you draw a one-mile radius of grocery stores closest to View Park there are only two, and they also service the neighboring communities of Baldwin Hills, Windsor Hills, and Leimert Park. Residents of other areas also rely on these stores, so they're over-burdened and the quality of the produce is low. We deserve better like other areas of town."
The 1,000 sq-ft. Asante Microfarm is the first of many water-recycling microfarms Crop Swap LA plans to build around the city. Asante, which means thank you in Swahili, grows 600 edible plants, including bok choy, tatsoi, basil, thyme, radicchio, green oak, Jericho romaine, butter lettuce, garlic, chives, oregano, rainbow Swiss chard, eggplant, Sakura red cherry tomatoes, Tuscan kale, and a Hood pear tree. The microfarm uses just 8% of the water that was previously used for grass. The produce is grown in the front yard of a house using organic and regenerative growing practices, composting, and all-natural animal and pest deterrence. The innovative technology and design hasten the growth pattern of the seedlings (that grow in soil soxx) so they stay on schedule to replant the next harvest.
Twice weekly, Hargins leads volunteers (the unhoused and re-entry citizens are also welcomed) to prune, pick, wash, and bag produce for 50 subscribers of Crop Swap LA Membership Zone who receive produce weekly either by pick up or delivery. Ten percent of the harvest is donated to community fridges, and some is sold to organizations affected by food scarcity. "I've always wanted my 40 acres," says Asante Microfarm homeowner Mychal Creer. "My home is now my business."
Hargins is now busier than ever, preparing the business to become entirely scalable. He has nearly 35 open requests from residents offering their homes and private institutions with land that would like to grow food for Crop Swap. Crop Swap LA is also on the Crop Swap app that connects farms to consumers in their area who can purchase produce the same day it is harvested. As for welcoming new members to the Crop Swap LA Membership Zone, they're completely booked and there's a waitlist.
"Affordable and easy access to healthy, nutritious food is a right, not a luxury, and it should not depend on one's zip code," says Hargins as he clips a pristine leaf of Swiss chard and offers it for a taste. "This is a Black American resistance to food apartheid."
For more information on Crop Swap LA, visit www.cropswapla.com.