Grape Street and baby kale are about as synonymous as Secretary of Defense James "Mad Dog" Mattis and the Peace Corps.
Yet Wednesday afternoon in Watts, baby kale - along with roasted brussels sprouts, grilled eggplant and red and yellow bell peppers - starred in a buffet lunch at the groundbreaking ceremony of Mud Town Farms, a 2 1/2 acre plot near 103rd and Grape streets designed to be a model for the working urban garden. Mud Town Farms will have a mixed fruit orchard and a wide variety of crops, the first of which could be ready to harvest this summer.
"This is a dream project that was not supposed to happen, but it is happening," said Janine Watkins, a community activists whose family moved to the area in 1921. "This is a gift to the babies of one of the poorest and most maligned communities in our city."
She said Mud Town Farms will help people of Watts form a special bond with the land that for many, if not most, has been missing.
"When you disconnect with Mother Earth, Mother Earth forgets who you are," she said. "Let's make this suffering ground come to life. Put down your cell phone and pick up a shovel. This dirt right here is Watts happening."
The Los Angeles City Council was represented by Councilman Joe Buscaino of the 15th District which includes Watts. He called Mud Town Farms the "re-imagination of 103rd and Grape Streets," as he thanked, among others, gang interventionist and social architect Aqeela Sherrillsand chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson whose restaurant LocaL is a half block away.
Tim Watkins, the CEO of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, the non-profit that owns the land, looked at the chain link fence separating the farm from the Jordan Downs housing project and announced it would be replaced by "an edible fence", overflowing with fresh vegetables.
"People from the neighborhood will be welcome to come to the fence and pick what they need," Watkins told crowd of 150. "They won't have to sneak in at night. If they take a little more than they can use, that's okay with me. It's here for them, And if they want to get a little more involved in the garden, they can come inside the fence."
All the speeches went on. chef Eugene Johnson was at the grill, getting the buffet ready; The eggplants, the chick peas, the balsamic pomegranate vinaigrette, the tahini, the pumpkin seed pesto and, yes, the baby kale.