In 2010, Compton, Calif. was declared the 8th most dangerous city in America. The L.A.-adjacent urban community is notorious for its violent crime and the “gangsta” culture popularized in rap, television and film. Owing to this unsavory reputation, outsiders passing through Compton might expect drive-by shootings and the wail of police sirens. Few would expect to encounter friendly youth on horseback, or hear the lulling “moo” of a cow basking in the sun.
The unlikely rural neighborhood is called Richland Farms. Griffith D. Compton, who owned the majority of the land that now comprises the city, donated Richland Farms to Los Angeles County in 1889 with the stipulation that the area would remain zoned for agricultural use. Residential properties in Richland Farms were parceled out with enough acreage for families to supplement their livelihood with their own livestock and crops.
Such small-scale agriculture was widespread in L.A. County at the time and continued as a lifestyle until the 1950s. According to Rachel Surls, an historian of agricultural planning in L.A., “[I]t was very popular to have a home that had a very small acreage around it like a half acre to 3 acres,” says Surls, in an interview with NPR. “There were places like this all over the county. What’s unique is that this one still exists.”
In the 1950s, Richland Farms became a haven of rural familiarity to African-Americans migrating from the South. Decades later, it is also home to migrants from Mexico and Central America. Richland Farms is currently the largest urban agricultural zone in the Los Angeles basin. The neighborhood buzzes with barnyard activity: cows, horses, goats and chickens also share this “inner-city country.”
“I think I have close to 50 or so chickens,” says resident Tomas Carlos. Carlos frequently gives his cage-free eggs to neighbors in exchange for homemade cheese, milk and meat. Other residents describe Richland Farms as a “tight-knit” community, where children join 4-H Clubs and other work-oriented youth groups. It is common to see residents trot by on horseback.
The rural lifestyle creates unity in Richland Farms. Mayisha Akbar, who runs a nonprofit youth group called the Compton Jr. Posse, calls the soil a common denominator.
“We [are] a community based on soil and animals,” says Akbar. “We know each other’s animals, if somebody’s animal gets loose, a horse or cow, we know whose it is just like we know their children.”
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons