UCCE contributes to LA agricultural 'oral history'

Feb 15, 2011

The public television station in Los Angeles, KCET, has produced a multi-media package on its website that delves into the unique circumstances of Richland Farms, an agricultural district in the heart of urban Los Angeles County.

The series, called Departures, is an oral history project that thoroughly explores neighborhoods through the people that live there. Director of UC Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County Rachel Surls provided commentary in four online videos. She noted that LA County was the United States' top ag county until the 1950s

"It sort of dates back to the founding of Los Angeles when people first came and looked at Los Angeles as a potential site for a mission," Surls said. "They saw that it had great soil, they saw that things grew well here and they thought, 'ah ha, perfect place for farming.' So that's how it started."

Other industries have since become more important than farming in LA, but agriculture hasn't been erased. According to the website, when the city of Compton was formed in 1898 on land donated by Griffith D. Compton, he stipulated that certain acreage be zoned for agricultural purposes only. Large lots in what came to be known as Richland Farms enabled residents to grow food and tend livestock.

"It's like being out in the country, but you're right in the middle of this huge urban area," Surls said on the second video.

Today, interest in urban agriculture is growing. Surls said a survey found a 19 percent increase in home vegetable gardening between 2008 and 2009 and she attributes it to two things: the economy and a new way of thinking about the environment and nutrition.

"Even though we haven't been a huge agricultural producer since the 1950s, I'd like people to remember that food matters in Los Angeles."

Surls said she hopes UC Cooperative Extension can help reintegrate the practice of urban agriculture in communities such as Richland Farms and provide working "pilot" models for other communities across the county and throughout the state. The Departures website suggests visitors take a look at Surls' curation of links in her Twitter stream to see why.

Here are links to view Surl's four videos on Departures:

  1. An overview of agriculture in SoCal
  2. Information about Richland Farms
  3. Agribusiness in Los Angeles
  4. Farming during the Depression and beyond

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By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist