“What happens here…it’s church.”
That’s how Richard Garcia ’10 describes Alma Backyard Farms, the urban farming nonprofit in East L.A. he co-founded in 2013. Alma Backyard Farms is a social enterprise that offers urban farming training for formerly incarcerated adults. They grow fruits and vegetables in re-purposed land throughout L.A. and offer the hyper-local produce to restaurants, catering companies, and partner-organizations that transform the produce into healthy meals.
While pursuing a master’s degree in pastoral theology at Loyola Marymount University, Garcia honed his interest in prison ministry, completing a pastoral project on restorative justice and the sacrament of reconciliation. After graduation, he worked on farming projects at Homeboy Industries, an organization for formerly gang-involved men and women founded by Jesuit and fellow LMU alumnus Gregory Boyle, S.J., M.A. ’85.
A few years later, Garcia worked with LMU alumna and co-founder Erika Cuellar ’08 to get Alma Backyard Farms off the ground.
For Garcia, the urban farm is an ideal place for ministry. By working in urban farms–often in their own neighborhoods–formerly incarcerated Angelenos have the chance to rewrite their story for themselves and their families; they are given a chance to be productive citizens and leaders by giving back to their communities.
And farming is only half the ministry, he says. The conversations that happen while farming–and eating–can be transformative. “The entire crew eats together,” he said. “We break our lives open together. It’s Eucharistic!”
Garcia credits his Jesuit education with teaching him to value vulnerability in his ministry. “Jesuit spirituality teaches you to let your heart be broken,” he said, “And you trust that it will open over and over again.”