Richard Garcia, executive director and co-founder of Alma Backyard Farms, and his staff transformed an empty lot in San Pedro into an urban farm. He noticed an elderly lady next door and would chat with her while he worked in the garden. Her name was Celia. She sat on her porch and watched as a dirt lot became a garden with flowers and produce. She would comment on how the raised beds looked pretty. Richard learned the woman had dementia. Her family said she did not remember much but, for some reason, could recall facts about the new garden next door. Alma, which means “soul” in Spanish, is bringing healthy food to San Pedro while beautifying an unused space.
Alma Backyard Farms, a nonprofit agency, started in Compton, which is known as a food desert. There are few healthy choices in Compton, and food insecurity is prevalent. A practitioner from Holy Trinity who owned an empty lot in San Pedro visited the Compton farm. Alma was offered the chance to use the San Pedro lot to create an urban farm that would provide fresh produce for the community. It took six months to build and plant the garden. Curious neighbors who wondered what was going on at the property were relieved to learn it would be a garden and not an apartment complex.
Alma transforms empty lots into useful gardens that grow flowers and produce. The bounty is sold twice a month at each location. On every other Sunday in San Pedro, fresh-baked bread, flowers, agua fresca, kale smoothies, and produce are sold at The Farm Stand. Visitors start arriving as early as 7 a.m., as items are known to sell out.
Alma creates beautiful spaces that were once underused and has a program that provides job training to formerly incarcerated individuals. They learn carpentry, framing, irrigation, soil composition, and the business side of running a nonprofit agency. The garden plants seed that creates farm-to-table produce, and their program provides opportunities for people to grow with a fresh start.
Alma also donates food and produce back to the community and local nonprofits. Plans for Alma include gardening workshops for youth and cooking demos for the community on the weekends. The Compton location has special events that include cooking instruction and live music. Residents from San Pedro have visited the Compton location and vice versa, creating an interplay between the two cities where food connects people. There are volunteer opportunities for groups and individuals who can make an ongoing commitment of time.
Garcia had hoped to have the garden completed for Celia the neighbor to enjoy, but unfortunately, she passed away before completion. The pollinators and flowers that were planted in the front space are in honor of Celia, who watched a barren lot become a vibrant garden from her porch. It may be called Alma, but the intention is that it feels like everybody’s backyard for people like Celia and many others who can enjoy it for years to come.
“We look forward to growing in San Pedro and have been so moved by how welcoming it has been,” states Garcia. “It really feels like a small neighborhood, and we are deeply grateful to nourish people.”
To learn more about Alma Backyard Farms, visit almabackyardfarms.com. The Farm Stand is open every other Sunday from 7 a.m.–1 p.m. in San Pedro. Updates can also be found on Facebook and Instagram at @almabackyardfarms. spt