Listen to Your Elders: Save the South Central Farm
An Interview with a 130-Year Old Issei Grapefruit Tree
by Tony Osumi


The following interview was conducted with the wise 130 year-old Grapefruit tree living in the JACCC plaza located on San Pedro Street, between Second and Third Street in Little Tokyo.

Tony Osumi:
Grapefruit Tree, how have you been? It’s been 10 years since I first interviewed you. Thank you for speaking with me again.
Grapefruit Tree: My pleasure, young man.

TO: To help some of our newer readers, may I ask you again when you were born?
GT: Back in the late 1800s, 1870 or so. My mom, dad, sister, brother, the whole family, a citrus grove, grew up on 2nd Street near Central Ave.

TO: That’s amazing. You’re over 130 years old. So genki.
GT: I try. My leaves have grayed, my bark has wrinkled, and as the young people say, “There’s more junk in the trunk,” but I still got my noggin—knock on wood.

TO: Can you talk about your sapling-hood?
GT: Let me see… When I was just knee-high I wanted to be a Redwood. I looked up to them giant Sequoias boys. I mean, who doesn’t? When I was a teenager I was really self-conscious. It was rough being yellow in the 1880s. In my 20s I thought the road to success was transplanting to Florida and getting a 9 to 5 for Sunkist Inc. But it never felt right.

TO: What do you mean?
GT: I got tired of all the manure. Then in my 40s I had a midlife crisis and started a long distance relationship with much younger beauty. Her name was Sugar Caine, from Hawaii.
TO: From Hawaii...
GT: I can picture her now, tall, slender and growin’ in the sun.
TO: Growin’ in the sun…
GT: Enough! She was a sweet, sweet girl, but it didn’t work out. She ended up with a good-looking Coffee Tree from Kona.

TO: You must have been broken hearted.
GT: I was for years. But the truth is, it wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I embraced my J-Town roots and really blossomed. I’m living proof it’s never too late to turn over a new leaf.

TO: What are you doing these days?
GT: Well, right now I’ve been helping out the South Central Farmers. The 14-acre farm is over on 41st Street and Alameda. Not too far from J-Town.

TO: Isn’t that the one with 350 farmers I’ve seen in the news?
GT: That’s the one. The largest urban farm in the nation. They’ve been farming it since 1992.

TO: What’s the Farm like?
GT: All my bird, bug, and bee buddies call it an oasis in the middle of a concrete jungle. Along with individual garden plots, it a family space where people gather for meetings, music, and cultural events. They can let their children play without the fear of gangs. A sense of community is like good soil. But it’s in danger of being bulldozed by a developer named Ralph Horowitz. He wants to build warehouses on it. You can’t eat warehouses.

TO: What do the Farmers grow?
GT: You name it: organic corn, squash, watermelons, chiles, tomatoes, beans, Swiss chard, cabbage, lettuce, nopales, sugar cane, bananas, cilantro, onions, mint, aloe vera, radishes and much more. They’re able to feed their families, and sell the extra at their Farmers Market on Sundays. It all helps when you’re poor, neh?

TO: Finding a supermarket in South Central is tough. That’s great how people are taking care of their needs.
GT: Not only with fresh foods, but medicine too. Most of the Farmers are from Mexico and Central America. They grow 120 medicinal herbs for whatever ails you. You humans need to get back to natural healing. The Farmers are fighting heart disease, obesity, and diabetes with exercise and nutritious foods and creating an alternative to expensive prescription drugs. The rest of country needs to catch up with the South Central Farmers.

TO: My Grandpa Yoshio used to keep a vegetable garden in the backyard.
GT: Then you know how much joy and happiness growing food can bring seniors. But you know, the farm is also important because it helps people breathe. All those plants and trees filter and clean the air.

TO: That’s good. I know a lot of kids have respiratory problems in South Central from all the factories.
GT: You’re telling me. I love L.A., but it needs more parks and green spaces like the Farm. My friend Ginko Biloba-san remembers everything he reads and he says that there’s 1300 acres of parks in West Los Angeles, but only 75 acres in L.A.’s urban core.

TO: But doesn’t the developer own the land?
GT: Yes and no. After farming the land for 11 years, three years ago the City sold it to Horowitz in a backroom deal for $5 million—$10-15 million less than it was worth. I tell ya, it gives the word shady a bad name.

TO: Aren’t the Farmers trying to buy the land back from Horowitz?
GT: Yes, in an agreement with the City he offered to sell it for $16 million.
TO: And make an $11 million profit?
GT: That’s a lot of cabbage for someone who hasn’t touched the soil. The good news is an anonymous donor has already donated $6 million. Last month Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa promised the farmers he’d raise $5 million from the City, but at the last moment, he didn’t come through.
TO: That’s not cool.
GT: It’s got my sap boiling. Antonio has said he wants to make L.A. the greenest big city in America and plant a million trees. The farm already has 500 trees, including my old friends Senor and Senora Walnut Tree. They’re good people.
TO: I saw the Walnut Trees on TV. Some activists and actresses were tree-sitting to help raise awareness about the farm.
GT: That’s right. But us trees don’t call it “tree-sitting.” We call it “human-hugging.” I tell you though. That actress Daryl Hannah, she could leave her shoes under my branches anytime.
TO: Oh my god. That’s too much information.
GT: Hey, I made be old, but I ain’t compost yet, sonny boy.

TO: The news said the Farmers could be evicted. Is that true?
GT: Since May 23, the sheriffs could come at any time. But all kinds of people are showing their support by visiting the farm. Many folks are sleeping over to protect it. Donations are coming in every day. Given more time, the Farmers could raise the money. It can be a win-win situation for everyone.

TO: That would be great. What else can people do?
GT: Stop by the nightly candlelight vigil at 7pm. You can also donate water, canned foods, AAA batteries, camping supplies and of course, money to buy the land. Any money donated will be returned if the land isn’t bought. Also call, fax and e-mail letters to Mayor Villaraigosa and City Councilwoman Jan Perry asking them to save the farm.

TO: Wow! How do you know so much?
GT: Well, you humans have the World Wide Web. But us plants and animals have the World Wide Spider Web—you know Spiders love to chit chat. And whatever the Spiders miss, the Wind picks up. There’s always something blowin in the wind. You just gotta know how to listen.

TO: Maybe I’ll visit the farm with my family.
GT: When you do, tell the Farmers another bag of grapefruits is on the way. Ever taste fresh grapefruit juice with crushed mint leaves? Oishi. By the way, where’s that hot ocha and almond duck you promised me 10 years ago?
TO: I’m sorry. But Far East Café hasn’t reopened yet. I hear it’s coming soon.
GT: I know, I’m just playing.
TO: How about a snow cone from Fugetsu-Do?
GT: Make it a cherry.
TO: Okay, you got it. Thanks for speaking with me. I always learn a lot.
GT: No no, my pleasure. Just remember to do your part to save the South Central Farm. They’re leading L.A. to a greener future. It’s like my old friend Bamboo-san says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”

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To find out more how you can save the South Central Farm visit www.southcentralfarmers.com.


Published in The Rafu Shimpo, June 10, 2006

Updated: 6/11/06

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