by Emanuel Preciado, MA, PhD student, UCI Community Resilience summer fellow, October 2018. I got involved with CRECE the summer of 2016 as an urban planning masters student at UC Irvine, at the time the group that ran la granjita was not yet called CRECE. I was an intern helping out en la granjita and doing research on the benefits of urban community gardens. I became fascinated with the cultural, economic, public health, and political value that community gardens can bring low-income communities of color. Since then, CRECE has evolved into an urban campesino-owned cooperative committed to transforming the local food system through cultural cohesion, community-based stewardship of land, and equitable policy advocacy. La granjita has become a community space where people make meaningful connections with each other. Also, CRECE regularly hosts workshops and events on diverse topics ranging from environmental stewardship to sustainable agricultural techniques, from leadership trainings to know your rights, or simply to meet and share food in the spirit of community. I am a student intern again – only this time as a PhD student in urban planning and policy at UCI. In my internship, I work hands-on en la granjita, do research, draft narratives, and participate in meetings. This time around I’ve come to realize la granjita plays a more significant role in my life now that I live in Orange County and I am no longer commuting to campus from my hometown just north of San Diego. Starting a PhD program and moving to campus housing in Irvine, CA turned out to be a much more difficult transition than I anticipated. The culture shock of living in Irvine coupled with the mental and emotional drain of starting a PhD program while supporting a family took a toll on me.
The opportunity to intern again with CRECE came up unexpectedly and I was excited to return to la granjita. The farm became a healing place for me where I am able to share my personal struggles and experiences with others with similar backgrounds. Connecting with others while working the land has a unique ability to replenish the soul and I find it improves my mental and emotional well-being. There’s also the added element that la granjita is a place of cultural empowerment, demonstrated through the cultivation of cempasuchil flowers for the Day of the Dead, the stories people share about their homeland, and educational workshops for example. On any given Saturday a community member may share agricultural techniques or discuss different plant varieties they remember growing back home. In Santa Ana where most of its residents are of Latino descent, la granjita is a place that celebrates Latinx culture and promotes self determination for working class families in pursuit of a more just and equitable Santa Ana.
Scholarly literature aligns with my intern experience as it describes urban community gardens as regenerative spaces, particularly in low-income communities of color where people often have few resources. The healing properties of these gardens are multidimensional, meeting the many intersecting challenges that face individuals who may be a racial/ethnic minority, poor, immigrant, and/or undocumented. The urban community gardens allow for people to practice what Dr. Hondagneu-Sotelo describes as not only self-care but community-care, they are not simply tending to crops but tending to themselves, their love ones, and neighbors.
As an urban planning scholar, I am especially interested in the spatial politics of marginalized communities. Make no mistake that low-income communities of color are the result of generations of mishandling, divestment, redlining, disenfranchisement, racism, classism, and criminalization by political leaders and city officials. The gardens in many cases are the only means of obtaining land on behalf of the community, for the community by the community. Such is the case in Santa Ana, like other predominantly Latinx cities where the vast majority of working-class residents are renters and likely will never own property. There are a number of community urban gardens in Santa Ana managed by the city with a narrow focus on promoting healthy eating habits according to the city website. The goals, values, and mission of CRECE are very different as they seek to create community-run microfarms for the health, empowerment, and sovereignty of working-class families in Santa Ana. Generally speaking, the spaces utilized for community urban gardens are often underused or abandoned public lots, nevertheless they are considered contested spaces – where developers and land speculators compete for the same land. In the US, where private property rights and neoliberal economic policies reign supreme, reclaiming communal space by acquiring land is one of the few ways that low-income communities of color can gain community control. Paraphrasing Dr. Mares and Dr. Pena, urban community gardens can be a collective expression of a community’s political power asserted through the demand for space to support the community and gain autonomy.
CRECE cooperativa’s social media\