A Communal Farm for People from Mexico. Uh, Did You Ask Them About This?

Categories: Schutze

Millet_Gleaners.JPG
Wikipedia Commons
The gleaners in Millet's famous painting were not out there because they wanted to reconnect with the soil.
A reader who is a better student of Mexican history than me (not hard to be, frankly) called with a caveat about plans for a community farm in Mexican-American West Dallas. The idea, cheerfully trumpeted yesterday in a Dallas Morning News editorial, is for some kind of communal farm to be created in La Bajada, the neighborhood at the foot of that new bridge over the Trinity River.

The editorial said, "The farm would have a lot of models and expertise to draw upon, including New Orleans' Grow Dat Youth Farm, a partnership with Tulane University's School of Architecture, and of course, Paul Quinn College in southern Dallas."

My caller suggested it would also be important to consult some Mexicans. A community farm can be a grand adventure for people to whom it is a foreign and exotic idea in the first place, but my caller said he thought a good percentage of the residents of La Bajada are probably all too familiar. Before plunging ahead, it might be a good idea to check and see how many of them are in La Bajada in the first place, in fact, because they are escapees from communal farms.

Half of Mexico's arable land is still held in the form of communal farms or ejidos, most of which were created during and after the administration of President Lazaro Cardenas (1934-1940). In the early 1990s President Carlos Salinas de Gortari struggled to find ways to make the ejido system compatible with the NAFTA free trade framework. Since then the solution has been mainly to convert them to private property and sell them off.

Ejidos were one of those great concepts that failed to engage the facts on the ground. Agriculture has always been about borrowing money; you can't use some kind of non-private non-public sort-of-whatever land as collateral; the people who worked the communal farms, called ejidatarios, more often than not found themselves trapped in perennial penury, unable to borrow money for new tractors, unable to save enough to get out.

After that new bridge got built, speculators rushed into La Bajada hoping to buffalo people out of their homes and turn the whole area into just what we really need, more brewpubs, web-page design offices and cheese-ball apartment buildings. The residents of La Bajada carried out a long and courageous fight to save their community and, amazingly enough, they pretty much won. A year ago the City Council granted them about as much protection from real estate exploitation as anybody in this wretched city can hope for.

See also: Bridge to Somewhere

But the fact that they didn't want their neighborhood totally overrun, supplanted and expunged in favor of crapola apartment complexes and brewpubs doesn't mean they're all dying to become ejidatarios again. We all see this stuff very differently depending on our own cultural narratives.

I know exactly how my own grandfather, the German immigrant, felt about farms. He had worked on a farm in Missouri as a child before running off to St. Louis in the 1890s, where he worked his way through high school carrying pig iron in a basket on his back and finally became a successful small businessman. I was sent to visit my grandparents as a child and asked my grandfather one day to take me to a see farm.

"Oh, Jimmy," he said, "you must never leave the city. There is nothing on farms but dirt."

I think my caller has a point. Before City Hall goes all bananas about an ejido for La Bajada, somebody needs to tour around La Bajada and try out the Grow-Dat idea on people. The response might be yeah, stuff dat, too.

NOTE: commenters below are interested in origin of ejido concept for La Bajada neighborhood. The Dallas Morning News editorial credits the idea to architecture students at UTA and an outfit called West Dallas Community Centers. Most recent IRS 9990 for West Dallas Community Centers shows it is a publicly supported nonprofit with total revenue in 2010 of $645,140, of which it spent $381,793 on salaries and wages in 2010, including $96,222 to associate executive director Hannah Marsh and $27,877 to Cheryl Mayo, executive director (??), with total expenses of $711,207 including $95,452 for contract labor. Its mission is to "help youth excel through community involvement, social development, group and social adjustment programs."

West Dallas Community Centers 2010 990 by Schutze


note to note: my callow comment below, "poverty is theft," was posted 13 hours before I posted the 990 and is not related.

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37 comments
brewer_anthony
brewer_anthony

I don't think these folks are dying to be ejidatarios or anything else. If they are like the Mexicans in Oak Cliff, I suspect that the response (if asked) was/would be probably more  "...uh, OK,  yeah..farm. Sure." vs. "Si! My Aztec blood yearns to till the soil and bring forth the victuals that will fuel La Revolucion de La Bajada!!!


This whole thing reeks of gastro-pub paternalism. 

DFWconspiracy
DFWconspiracy

This smells like communism to me. And we all know communism doesn't work. Except for you, comrade Schutze. Nice piece of propaganda, but this thing is destined to implode. Furthermore, everyone involved with this should be put on a list. A McDonalds on every corner! Capitalism! Infrastructure!

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

I'm stilled amazed these people beat City Hall and the developers.

Dallas built an art project leading to their neighborhood, conveniently located across the river from Downtown, and they told the developers to scram. No easy profits here.

I wonder if we'll get a bridge over I-30 to stimulate investment in south Dallas. Maybe they'll offer to plant some community cotton fields.

bvckvs
bvckvs topcommenter

Who, in city hall, is proposing this?

bmarvel
bmarvel

A silly argument, Jim. 

The crucial difference was that the communal farms or ejidos were compulsory. Why not set up the farm and see if anyone shows up? Mexicans have shown an ability to vote with their feet when necessary. They're perfectly capable of walking away from something that does not please them.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Are the people who were scarred by the perennial penury of farming in the worlds fattest country unable to differentiate between that system and a neighborhood garden, or is Jim's caller putting him on?

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

If a certain percentage of the residents have garden-related phobias, can't they just not participate in gardening?

Or is that too complicated?

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

Uh... How do we know they didn't ask them? How about doing some (ahem) journalism and finding out if they did.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

The Gleaners is a brilliant work by Millet.  I actually had tears well up the first time I saw it.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

This is just another instance of Americans refusing to assimilate to the culture.

PerryMoore
PerryMoore

If Americans of Mexican descent and Mexicans wanted to work on farms, wouldn't they be living in East Texas?

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Mexican fear of vegetables is one reason mcdonalds makes so much off that community.

Rumpunch1
Rumpunch1

Its like the City is channeling my dead grandparents to determine the quality of life needs of different ethnic groups.  My grandfather always commented that blacks like to keep their cars real clean, maybe that's is why they are trying to buy a car wash in South Dallas.

dallasdrilling.wordpress.com
dallasdrilling.wordpress.com

They will probably tell you that even THEY know that the soil in the area is lead contaminated. That's something City Hall prefers to wistfully ignore since they don't consider themselves obligated to finish the job of clean up.

Voot
Voot

This recalls the episode of a vintage police drama where the main course served at the honorary dinner for the retiring Colombian lieutenant was tacos - because isn't that what Hispanics eat?


And, by the same token, every non-U.S.-born person in La Bajada must be an "immigrant", yearning to breathe free, the newest synonym for Hispanic.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

*duh*

Everyone knows urban farms belong in hipster neighborhoods.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

City hall has nothing to do with it. Read the link Jim provided.

MargaretHuntHill
MargaretHuntHill

@bmarvelEjidos were not compulsory unless you count having no ability to earn money as economic bondage.  And the point here is that there's a 100% chance that no one at DMN knows that there are La Bajada residents who left ejidos to come here.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@ruddski 

Would you object to somebody maybe walking the neighborhood first, knocking on doors and asking them what they want? 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@JohnSmallBerries

Well, apparently they didn't ask the person that supposedly called Shutze.

Granted, anecdote =/= data, but that's what got the ball rolling on this blog.

kduble
kduble

@Rumpunch1 Just the opposite. I think Schutze's point is the city assumes what's cool for yuppies is equally cool for aspiring working-class immigrants. The issue is more class than ethnic.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

Maybe we can make Cadillac Heights a farm too!

bmarvel
bmarvel

@MargaretHuntHill@bmarvel Margaret -- I do count having no ability to earn money as economic bondage. Servitude, at least. Faced with rich landholders who controlled all cultivatable land, poor peasants had no recourse but to accept the government seizure of those lands and their redistribution as communal farms. It was that or starve.

Here the situation is not so dire (though for many migrants, it is dire enough). I am simply proposing that those who choose be given that choice. We'll see soon enough what they think of it. Or is it that we don't trust them to choose for themselves?

I'm always nervous when we decide what others -- immigrants, the poor, whoever -- should or should not do, (Jim on the other hand is often delighted to make these decisions.) If the idea is a bad one, we can trust them, I think, and not some pundit, to let us know soon enough. 

Buy the way, note the subtext in Jim's column. (There's ALWAYS a subtext with Jim.) He doesn't like farms or farming. His pig-iron toting ancestor warned him away from the soil. Jim's all city, through and through -- except when he's out paddling a canoe. I don't know why that gives him the confidence to say what folks from other places might like or dislike. Maybe they'd rather be toting pig iron. Me, I have no idea. I'd rather let them decide.      

     

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@bmarvel @TheCredibleHulk @MargaretHuntHill  Soil, sun, seeds and water - that's it. Anyone can do it. Gardening is the ultimate democratic exercise, and if you are implying that these people probably don't have the intellectual or financial wherewithal to grow vegetables, you are worse than what you accuse Jim of, here, about deciding what people can and cannot do for themselves.

bmarvel
bmarvel

@TheCredibleHulk@bmarvel@MargaretHuntHill   "Presumably, if they wanted an urban farm, they would create one."

Not so presumably, Hulk. 

Where would poor immigrants get the capital? Where would they get the help and know-how to thread city bureaucracy? Whom would they turn  to for advice on local soil, crops? 

Keep in mind these are by and large  strangers here. If you were dropped inn the middle of a big, busy country where you didn't speak the language, could  start from scratch an urban farm or any other enterprise without help?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@bmarvel @MargaretHuntHill  

It's not a bad idea, but I think the point of the piece is a step beyond JSX's anti-farm bigotry subtext: It's their neighborhood. Presumably, if they wanted an urban farm, they would create one.

Now, if UTA and WDCC are just looking for a convenient place to land this thing, that's one thing - but if they are all, "Ooooooh, look at that juicy piece of land. It's a real shame that La Bajada doesn't realize the potential of that wonderful asset that they have and we absolutely must rush in and save them from this missed opportunity!!!" Well, that's another thing altogether.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Landowners phone is 214.760.8353, maybe an intern can find out.

JohnSmallBerries
JohnSmallBerries

@ruddski Everyone is presuming they didn't ask anyone simply because Jim said so. He may be right but I am seeing no evidence either way.

ruddski
ruddski topcommenter

Why should the landowners ask the neighborhood if they can start a garden on their own land?

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