Sunday, June 28, 2015


For this week's arts and culture column, I interviewed Erika Cuellar and Richard Garcia, the amazing duo who head up the East L.A. non-profit Alma Backyard Farms.

Here's how the column begins:

“Re-claim lives. Re-purpose land. Re-imagine community.” That’s the motto of Alma Backyard Farms, an East L.A. non-profit that teaches recently released prisoners to grow, harvest and market local produce.

Erika Cuellar, 29, and Richard Garcia, 35, are the heart of the project. Erika grew up in South L.A. Richard was raised in the Hollywood area in a devoutly Catholic Filipino family.

Richard’s house on Alma Avenue, beautifully landscaped with native grasses and trees, doubles as the organization’s headquarters. We sit down in the back with a cup of tea. The adjacent vegetable garden features cauliflower, eggplant, Swiss chard, kale, onions and fennel — “the butterflies go crazy for it.”

As a seminarian (he’s since left), Richard worked with Jesuit priest Father Mike Kennedy to help establish a Restorative Justice Initiative. “Classically, restorative justice would be a face-to-face interaction healing with an attempt made on the part of both the offender and the victim. We were facilitating retreats in prison in the Ignatian tradition, giving a name to the contemplative experience that already existed among prisoners.”

I spent a leisurely, beautiful morning with Richard and Erika. It restored my soul.


photo credit: Paulina Forgette

photo credit: Paulina Forgette

photo credit: Paulina Forgette

photo credit: Becca Yee

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