In Face of Challenge to Hold onto its Land, a Farm Built to Heal a Community Forges Ahead
April 10, 2017 | Charli Engelhorn
Inspiration comes from many directions, even from tragedy. That was the case for Randy Bekendam, proprietor of Amy’s Farm, a 10-acre farm located south of Ontario, California. Bekendam runs Amy’s Farm with Amy herself, who is also his daughter.
Originally a cattle farm, Bekendam was moved to make a change and do something to bring the community together after a 3-year-old boy was killed by a drive-by shooter in nearby Pomona. Bekendam’s idea? Bring everyone together to heal their neighborhoods by growing food as a community.
“When the little boy was shot, I had never planted anything. I was not a farmer, so with this vision of growing food to build community, maybe have an impact on gang violence, and bring urban farming to the city, I realized I better become a farmer,” he says.
In 1998, Bekendam and Amy started educational tours on their farm, beginning the conversion of the cattle farm to something greater. Ten years ago, they became serious about growing vegetables and proceeded to build the sustainable, polycultural farm that it is today.
A polycultural farm is one where both plants and livestock are cultivated and integrated to facilitate growth. Bekendam says this cyclical process grew from an evolution of their understanding of sustainability.
“The more we went down this road [growing vegetables] and the more we read about this whole concept of zero waste, the more we thought it would be great to use everything on the farm to benefit the farm,” he says. “Monoculture farms are unnatural and hard to sustain. Integrated farms make more economic sense.”
The plants grown on Amy’s farm are harvested and sold at a store on the farm. When a crop is finished, it is ripped up and fed to the cattle, who in turn eat it and produce more manure. The manure goes into the farm’s compost, which is used in its soil-making process. The livestock are processed, and the meat is sold at the farm store.
The produce sold at Amy’s farm is dependent on what’s in season. Customers can check the farm’s website each month to see what is available in the cooler, such as grapefruit, lemons, leafy greens, fresh herbs, root vegetables, peppers, and avocados. Almost any cut of organic-fed pork and grass-fed beef desired is also available.
Any produce not sold is donated to Inland Valley Hope Partners, an organization serving 75,000 no- or low-income people a year in San Bernardino and east Los Angeles Counties. Among their partners are five food banks, where the produce from Amy’s Farm is distributed.
Last year, Amy’s Farm donated approximately 8,000 pounds of produce, and that number should reach 10,000 pounds this year, according to Bekendam.
Partnerships like the one with Inland Valley Hope Partners are particularly beneficial for Amy’s Farm. Bekendam and his family rent the land the farm encompasses, and the land has recently been put up for sale. The land could be worth as much as $3 million.
“You can never sell enough vegetables to make a payment like that, but along with our for-profit side of the farm, we have a non-profit. On the non-profit side, the goal would be to fundraise enough to secure the property, then we could put a conservation easement on it and preserve it for growing food in perpetuity,” says Bekendam.
Bekendam believes securing the farm is a likely a doable action because of support from several entities who want the farm to continue doing what they do. For instance, Inland Valley might be able to help with grant writing and fundraising to help the farm remain viable and able to provide produce to the community.
Likewise, Claremont Colleges, a consortium of five universities, send interns to the farm to learn about sustainable farming and food justice. Support from one or all of these schools could help the effort to save Amy’s Farm.
“We’re optimistic about that,” says Bekendam. “We’re in the mode of building partnerships and networks. There’s a lot of momentum and support behind our concept.”
Beyond the growing and processing of produce and livestock, Amy’s Farm works toward a larger mission. The educational component is a major part of the farm’s operations, with tours for all ages and workshops for school-aged children offered year-round.
“Our desire in offering educational classes and workshops is to be able to offer further exploration for children and adults whose interests have been piqued and want to learn more,” says Melissa Castaneda, educational program director.
The Science of Farming workshop brings children 5 years and older together to explore the connection between science and farming. The classes explore the cellular makeup of plants, animal anatomy, and the use of simple machines used in farming. The children have an opportunity for hands-on experience with all aspects of sustainable farming.
Fun with Your Little One is for children 20 months to 5 years old, and parents’ participation is mandatory. The focus of these classes is to introduce a basic understanding of different plants and animals on the farm.
Bekendam says the community response to the farm is good and growing. Through word of mouth, the farm is becoming more well-known throughout the region. Securing the land and easement would allow this growth to continue and Amy to fulfill her desire of running the farm for the rest of her life. Still, in the face of this uncertainty, Bekendam and family remain faithful to their mission.
“We’ve been on the property for almost 30 years, and our attitude from the start has always been to take care of it as if we owned it,” he says. “We’ve always felt like if God wants this thing preserved, it’s gonna be preserved. We’ve created so much, and everybody loves Amy’s Farm. We don’t worry about it too much.”
If you are going to be in the Southern California area, the Seedstock ‘Future of Food – Urban Farming Field Trip’ will be visiting Amy’s Farm for a tour on Saturday May 20, 2017. Learn more and register here: http://seedstockfieldtrip.eventbrite.com