Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

(Soundbite of song, "Straight Outta Compton")

ICE CUBE (Rapper): (Rapping) As I leave, believe I'm stompin'. But when I come back, boy, I'm comin' straight outta Compton, Compton, Compton.

GUY RAZ, host:

Compton, California, called the eighth most dangerous city in America last year; more than 500 violent crimes so far this year, the place that put gansta rap on the map. It turned Dre, Ice Cube and Easy-E into household names.

But in one part of the city, this is what the break of dawn sounds like.

(Soundbite of rooster)

RAZ: Welcome to the other Compton. It's called Richland Farms. And this morning, as he does every morning, Tomas Carlos walks into his barn in his backyard, and he picks up some freshly laid chicken eggs and starts to feed his horses.

Mr. TOMAS CARLOS (Farmer): I think I have close to 50 or so chickens.

RAZ: And where do they lay their eggs?

Mr. CARLOS: They lay eggs. They just - sometimes, they put them in here. You know, I have sections where you kind of have to look around, and then you'll find eggs, and you'll know that that's...

RAZ: Farm fresh, free range eggs from the city of Compton. In exchange for his eggs, Carlos often picks up some homemade cheese from neighbors who raise goats. Sometimes, he grabs a cage-free chicken from a friend down the block.

And all of that happens right here, in a 10-block neighborhood of Compton, California. It is the largest urban agricultural zone in the entire Los Angeles basin, where in almost every backyard, you'll find horses and goats or cows, even chickens.

The neighborhood is called Richland Farms. It's not one farm. It's several homes that make up the farm. And back in 1888, the man who owned the land, Griffith Compton, donated it to the county, but on one condition, that this part of Compton be zoned for agricultural use.

Ms. RACHEL SURLS: Richland Farms was started at a time in the county when it was very popular to have a home that had a very small acreage around it, like a half an acre to three acres. And there were places like this all over the county. What's unique is that this one still exists.

RAZ: That's Rachel Surls. She studies the history of agricultural planning in L.A. And she says back in 1950, Los Angeles was the biggest agricultural county in the United States. Today, it's the most urbanized. And yet somehow, no developer, no city planner, no politician was able to touch Richland Farms.

(Soundbite of song, "California Love")

Dr. DRE (Rapper): (Rapping) Now let me welcome everybody to the Wild, Wild West, a state that's untouchable like Elliot Ness.

RAZ: When Tupac and Dre rapped about Compton in this song in 1995, they describe it as the Wild, Wild West. And while the analogy is almost certainly about something else, here in Richland Farms, it's almost freakishly accurate.

(Soundbite of horses)

RAZ: It takes a bit of getting used to, seeing young men on horseback, wearing cowboy hats, trotting through the streets of Compton. But this is all very, very normal for Yvonne Arcenaux. She's a Compton councilwoman, and she's lived in this neighborhood most of her life.

Ms. YVONNE ARCENAUX (Councilwoman, Compton, California): My husband actually had an aviary, and we started raising birds. We had all kinds of tropical birds. My children immediately became members of the 4-H Club. So we started with cows. We had donkeys, goats. I even had a horse.

RAZ: When Arcenaux was a young girl, most of the people in Compton were still white. Two future presidents even lived here for a while: The young family man George H.W. Bush raised his son George W. in Compton for a brief spell in the late 1940s. But around that time, neighborhoods here began to integrate and middle class African-Americans like Yvonne Arcenaux's family started to move in.

Ms. ARCENAUX: The complexion of the community has changed a lot. It was predominately African-American when I first moved here. We have some Caucasians still here. But within, I guess, maybe the last 10 years, it has changed. We still have a lot of longtime residents that still live here that are African-American, but we have a lot of Hispanics here now.

RAZ: And change has created some tension between the old-timers and the newcomers. Many of the Latino families who are now here are originally from Mexico, the rural parts, where everyone raised animals on their land.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

RAZ: When Tomas Carlos' father, Luis(ph), arrived here almost four decades ago from Zacatecas in Mexico, he was worried that his kids would never grow up with a connection to the land. In Mexico, Luis was a charro, a rancher and a horseman. So when he stumbled on Richland Farms, he just knew it would be the perfect place to raise his family.

Mr. CARLOS: My dad already had a saddle. We had no horses, but he already had a saddle. So he's kind of putting the cart before the horse. And when we saw that, we knew it was just a matter of time before the horses came. And the next thing you know, my dad wanted to build chicken coops. And so the first was the chickens - the saddle, the chickens, then the horses, then the goats. It was right away.

RAZ: Today, Tomas Carlos calls their patch of land Hub City Farms. He and his dad compete in horse shows all over the country. They even have jackets that say Hub City Farms, Compton, California.

And a few weeks ago, they went to a horse show in Idaho wearing their Compton jackets, and the inevitable questions were asked.

Mr. CARLOS: It's the first thing: Well, do you know Easy-E? Do you know Dr. Dre? You know, what about the shootings?

(Soundbite of song, "Compton's in the House")

Dr. DRE: (Rapping) And we're born and raised, and we're born and raised, and we're born and raised in Compton. Compton's in the house.

RAZ: Now as I mentioned earlier, when Councilwoman Yvonne Arcenaux was growing up, Richland Farms was predominately African-American, solidly middle class. And most of those old-timers are now gone.

She says back in the old days, animal rearing was more of a hobby. But now, it's different.

Ms. ARCENAUX: I think that the raising of animals is on a much larger scale now, to the point that it is a problem sometimes.

RAZ: Yvonne explains that some of the newcomers have started to lease out parcels of their backyards for non-residents to keep horses and goats. That's illegal. And last year, a few others were selling raw milk from their cows, also not allowed.

And then there was the cockfighting. Now, in parts of Mexico, cockfighting is a tradition. In Compton, it's illegal. But some of the residents in Richland Farms were still staging fights.

And so on fight nights, dozens of people from outside the neighborhood would park on the streets until the early morning hours. So Yvonne Arcenaux had the city council ban street parking for non-residents.

Ms. ARCENAUX: What has happened here today with the preferential parking is to preserve the lifestyle in the Richland Farms area.

RAZ: But many of the Latino residents here see it as a reaction to their growing numbers. Again, here's Tomas Carlos.

Mr. CARLOS: Yes, you do have cleaner streets. You do have less traffic in your community. But you also have less family gatherings because now you have to go to the city, you get permits, and you're only allowed certain permits. And the means doesn't justify the ends.

RAZ: A few steps from Tomas' home, Mayisha Akbar sits under a canopy as her brother drives by on his tractor.

Ms. MAYISHA AKBAR: His favorite thing to do, play on the toys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Behind Mayisha Akbar's home is a working dude ranch. She keeps several horses and runs a youth club called the Compton Jr. Posse. Mayisha is African-American. She's also unhappy about the parking restrictions, but she thinks the tension is more about a generational shift rather than a racial one.

Ms. AKBAR: People are afraid of change. And as the demographics change in the city of Compton, there are a lot of people who are afraid of that.

RAZ: And Mayisha says some of those new restrictions are just a reflection of those fears. But she says the people who live here are tight-knit. They're rural oddballs in a concrete jungle.

Ms. AKBAR: The soil is our common denominator. And so there wasn't a big stretch to become neighbors or to become a community, because we were a community based on soil and animals, and so we all know each other. We all speak to each other. We know each other's animals. If somebody's animal gets loose, a horse or cow, we know whose it is just like we know their children.

RAZ: This is Compton: no Dre, no Cube, no guns, no gangsters. It doesn't fit the story we all know. But if you're ever passing through the city, keep your ears open. You might just hear the roosters.

(Soundbite of roosters)

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.