Spring Lecture Series Recap: The History of Gentleman Farming in Los Angeles County

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By Ty Robinson

Last week, the Gastronomy Department hosted its first guest lecture of the season. Laura Barraclough presented a talk entitled “Cultivating Whiteness: Gentleman Farming as Settler Colonialism in Los Angeles.” Barraclough is an Assistant Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity, Race and Migration at Yale University.

Her engaging lecture started with a brief history of what “gentleman farming” is and how it became a part of the American lifestyle, especially in the Los Angeles, CA area. Gentleman farming is a practice in which landowners engage in agribusiness but do not depend on it for a living. It is typically practiced by upper-class, white families as a means of providing additional income to the household. Barraclough’s research compared two suburban regions of Los Angeles and found that, while gentleman farming was originally a driving force behind the purchase of larger home lots, it was never a realistic means of supplemental income as the businessmen who purchased the lots had no previous farming experience. The region of Shadow Hills became largely equestrian as farms were turned into stables thereby increasing property value.

Once Barraclough had discussed suburban gentleman farming, she shifted her talk to urban farming. She talked about the history of the South Central Farm in Los Angeles and its subsequent destruction in 2006. The South Central Farm, founded to help cultivate food for those in poverty, provided a modern day example of urban farming. Barraclough made the important distinction that, while historically, gentleman farming was dominated by white upper class men and women, the farmers who worked the South Central Farm were primarily lower class Hispanics.

The historically high cost of homes in the Los Angeles suburbs, that were originally designed for gentleman farming, are still dominated by white upper class families. Whereas, the families who are farming in urban Los Angeles areas today are primarily Hispanics living below the poverty line. Using these points, Barraclough concludes that the racial divide between suburban and urban Los Angeles stems from historically high property costs and the history of gentleman farming.

Questions after the talk were diverse and provoked a lively discussion amongst the audience. Topics ranged from why she chose her subject and how she did her research, to a discussion of urban farming in Boston and how things could have been done differently if the organizers of the South Central Farm had been white. She answered each question with a lighthearted attitude that was constant throughout the presentation.

To get a more in depth view of the South Central Farm, Barraclough suggested the movie “The Garden.”

Ty Robinson is in his second semester of the Gastronomy program. He works at The Wine Emporium in the South End (Columbus Ave. location) and his focus is on all things related to wine, beer, and spirits. 

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