Meet Don Francisco at the Stanford Avalon Community Garden
It was 7:00 am on a Saturday morning, and I was sitting with Don Francisco under his little open hut to avoid the early morning sun and share some freshly cut pepinos from his garden with tajín and lime juice. We were in the Stanford Avalon Community Garden, an eleven city block-sized garden with 206 plots, located in the South LA community of Watts, between liquor stores and corner markets, abundant in sodas and packaged food while lacking fresh veggies and fruits.
He is diabetic and before having a plot, he was eating a lot of junk food. Now, his family has access to fresh beets, green chile, chipilín, pápalo, corn, cucumbers, moringa, red cauliflower, alache and raspberries. But his plot is more than just a garden; his children and grandchildren, neighbors and elderly, and families all come together here to interact between generations, to share knowledge and culture, and to relax. Since it opened in 2006, Stanford Avalon has been an opportunity for everyone to support their families through eating healthy and building community.
When Don Francisco first started at the garden three years ago, it reminded him of home. He came from Michoacán, Mexico nearly 30 years ago. He grew up working in the fields since he was 7 years old- planting crops, raising animals and cutting sugar cane. As he was telling me about his farming background in Mexico and showed me a picture of him and his truck back in the day, some neighbors approached us and asked if Don Francisco had pápalo for preparing semitas and chipilín for making tamalitos. Don Francisco took his knife and a couple rubber bands to hold the freshly cut plants. Pápalo and Chipilín are culturally grown harvests from Latin America that are more difficult to find in supermarkets. In a neighborhood located in the middle of a food desert, this small interaction between Don Francisco and his neighbors is an essential act of environmental justice that comes directly from and for the people.
Don Francisco and his friends at the garden are worried about the impacts of the new policy by the LADWP that would raise water prices enough to push many of the families out the garden. While not all the members of Stanford Avalon have the same techniques for watering their plots, they are all making a collective effort to conserve water and pay their water bills. On July 28th, a group of Stanford Avalon gardeners and their families walked together with other urban agriculture advocates through the offices of City Hall to speak with our city representatives about investing in the community garden movement. Be part of the conversation to keep community gardens alive!
By Arissa Moreno Ruiz