By Georgia Antonia Lewis
As we enter Black History Month, JCI Worldwide is thrilled to celebrate the accomplishments of black entrepreneurs making significant strides in community building. This month, we shine a spotlight on Jamiah Hargins, the visionary founder of Crop Swap LA, and his impactful journey in cultivating positive change farm to table.
There is no loss in this work, only gain and abundance.
- Jamiah Hargins on Crop Swap LA | Civic Encounter Ep. 11
Jamiah Hargins: From Military Bases to Microfarms
Jamiah's journey is rooted in his belief that access to fresh food is intertwined with justice, economic opportunity, and health. Growing up on Air Force bases across the U.S. and Europe, Jamiah's experiences shaped his commitment to fostering change. His diverse background includes working as a stock and options trader in Chicago, managing a social enterprise in Brazil, and studying public policy at Columbia University.
Jamiah's expertise in navigating political and financial systems laid the foundation for his profound shift into combating food system inequality. Eventually, it was his entrepreneurial spirit that led him to found Crop Swap LA in 2018, a non-profit that installs water-recycling front yard microfarms, hyperlocally distributing organic vegetables to CSA subscribers while providing jobs to locals. The organization, which became a non-profit in 2021, has grown to a team of 20 people today.
Crop Swap LA’s Commitment to Community Engagement
Crop Swap LA has been a driving force in community engagement through several impactful initiatives. Notably, the organization collaborated with Neighborhood Housing Services of LA County, actively participating in workshops and leading labor-intensive activities in 2021 and 2022 for the Compton Center for Sustainable Communities. This showcases Crop Swap LA's commitment to not only providing fresh produce but also contributing to the broader sustainability and well-being of local neighborhoods.
Additionally, Crop Swap LA partnered with Crete Academy, a non-profit charter school in South Central Los Angeles, and local media production company HOORAE to establish a school
garden. This initiative, serving as an activity and learning zone, addresses the critical need for access to free meal programs and exemplifies Crop Swap LA's dedication to leveraging its resources for the betterment of the community, particularly focusing on educational spaces.
Furthermore, the nonprofit’s collaboration with Audubon Middle School in Leimert Park involves STEM-aligned gardening workshops and afterschool programming, led by CSLA Farm Educator Mychal Creer in partnership with Change The Tune, a local 501(c)3 organization offering entrepreneurial-based afterschool STEAM programs. This initiative promotes sustainable practices and aligns with Crop Swap LA's mission to bring more nutritious food to local communities while instilling a love for gardening and cultivation among future generations.
These collaborations exemplify Crop Swap LA's holistic approach to community development, combining sustainability, education, and empowerment.
Exploring Transformation: Highlights from Civic Encounter Episode 11 with Jamiah Hargins
Our podcast, Civic Encounter, recently aired a captivating episode featuring Jamiah, skillfully hosted by JCI's Bella Mendoza. This insightful episode delves into Jamiah's background and the pivotal role of Crop Swap LA in the broader food movement. Bella uncovers the essence of Jamiah's mission, grounded in his holistic 'Edges Approach.'
Thinking about the edges of things is to say that everything has a life cycle and on the edges is its growth. That is where it wants to put its greatest energy. So in our food system and in our non-profit, the edge looks like people having their own seeds and looking for alternatives to grocery store systems. In my experience leading this movement in this way, I see a lot of beautiful edges for the food movement...
- Jamiah Hargins, on Crop Swap LA’s “The Edges Approach” | Civic Encounter Ep. 11
This unique perspective aims to cultivate a movement within the larger 'food movement,' empowering the Los Angeles community with the tools for self-sufficiency and sustainability through the innovative concept of 'crop swapping.' The episode takes a deep dive into Jamiah's world, exploring the intersections of family, community, life cycles, the impact of COVID-19, and the influence of the younger generation, all woven together with creativity and a profound love for observing plants grow.
Harvesting Growth: Lessons from Soil to Self-Discovery
Upon reflecting on the enlightening Civic Encounter episode, I'm prompted to revisit my own transformative journey into soil and farming during the pandemic-induced interlude of my gap year. The initial wave of depression, existential pondering, and anxiety that gripped me propelled
a decision to take a pause, which unexpectedly unfolded into one of the most profound and healing experiences of my life. Stepping away from the hustle and bustle allowed me to rediscover self-love in ways previously elusive.
Embarking on a therapeutic farming odyssey, I immersed myself in permaculture practices on a tropical flower farm in Hana, Hawaii, traversed goat homesteads and vegetable produce farms in Oregon, and interned with an indoor aquaponic vertical farm startup in Hong Kong. This unconventional path became the crucible for reconstructing the pillars that now steer my journey into young adulthood: self-love, self-sufficiency, and curiosity. Breaking free from societal expectations, I liberated myself from a distorted vision of success entwined with prestige and wealth. Reconnecting with the true essence of learning, I emerged with a genuine passion for environmental and psychological anthropology, alongside resilient and equitable food systems.
The therapeutic impact of outdoor immersion on my psychological well-being cannot be overstated. From interacting with soil to feeling the sun on my skin, the possibilities for careers and community building expanded in the farm industry. I discovered the profound connection between nurturing oneself, both physically and mentally, and the love and energy embedded in the process. Jamiah Hargins serves as a beacon of inspiration, planting and nurturing the seed of his idea, watching it grow into the thriving non-profit it is today despite numerous challenges. His journey mirrors the transformative power of cultivating ideas, self-love, and impactful change.
Blossoming Connections: Exploring the Outdoors with Crop Swap LA
Crop Swap LA provides diverse avenues for individuals to actively participate in their mission. Whether you choose to volunteer during their Sunday morning sessions from 7 am to 11 am, send seeds by mail for their use, or contribute through their website, there are various ways to get involved. As a Los Angeles County resident, I'm personally eager to join the Sunday morning volunteer sessions – there's nothing quite like starting the day outdoors, knowing that your efforts contribute to a greener, brighter world and support a revolutionary food system capable of addressing food insecurity in LA. Integrating elements of my gap-year adventures into my routine within a bustling city like Los Angeles is essential for maintaining positive energy and gratitude for the food on my table.
In the spirit of Black History Month, let's celebrate the inspiring individuals shaping our future and lend our support to small BIPOC-owned businesses driving impactful change. Don't forget to tune in to Civic Encounter, follow JCI on social media for more uplifting stories, including the remarkable journey of Jamiah. Join us in cultivating success, sustainability, and positive change – be part of #TeamJCI.
https://www.cropswapla.org/communityprojects https://www.lisc.org/our-initiatives/community-leadership/michael-rubinger-community-fellows hip/2022-fellows/jamiah-hargins/