“10 Days in Watts,” a new series from PBS member station KCET, chronicles efforts by a community organization to open an agricultural park.
Produced by actor and filmmaker Raphael Sbarge, the series not only offers a glimpse of what went into finishing the park, MudTown Farms, but also introduces viewers to the community members working to make the community a better place to live.
The four-part series, which premieres on Feb. 12, centers on Tim Watkins, president of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee, as he and other community members work to finish the park; it’s a place they envision as an open space for community gardens, orchards, and reading areas – and ultimately a tool to enrich the lives of Watts’ residents.
An image from “10 Days in Watts” featuring the granddaughter of Tim Watkins, president of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. (Courtesy of WLCAC / KCET)
Oliverio Ortiz of Mudtown Farms in a still image from “10 Days in Watts.” (Courtesy of WLCAC / KCET)
A still from “10 Days in Watts” featuring Janine Watkins (Courtesy of WLCAC / KCET)
“10 Days in Watts” director Raphael Sbarge. (Courtesy of WLCAC / KCET)
The series hits on some of the issues for Watts – including the fact that it’s a food desert, and that it has grappled with poverty, environmental issues and gang violence, but it also shines a light on people trying to make things better, including city volunteers, religious leaders, journalists and others.
Sbarge said he conducted roughly 40 interviews with people that Watkins introduced him to and said the recurring theme he encountered was a sense of Watts pride, a sense of resilience and a desire to make things better for future generations.
“The actual farm is both literal and a metaphor for this sense of renewal and going back to the earth and trying to go back to the essential things of food and water and air and really this idea of growth,” Sbarge said. “And that’s what the MudTown Farms, what it represents and what it actually is.”
Sbarge said he not only wanted to tell the story of the city’s residents, but he also wanted to tell the father-son story about Watkins, and his father, Ted.
Ted Watkins was a civil rights leader and labor activist who founded the WLCAC before his son took up that mantle and continued the organizational mission.
“This is an organization whose singular mission, which always inspired me, was simple, so simple and so profound, which was to improve the lives of the community of Watts and the surrounding neighborhoods,” Sbarge said.
The series culminates with the April 2022 opening of the farm after more than 12 years of work by Watkins to make it a reality. A lot has happened since then.
Now, nearly a year later, the park is fully operational. It distributes 17,000 pounds of produce to the community every two weeks from a network of partners in accordance with a $4.9 million dollar grant from California, and hosts classes and volunteer opportunities.
Though much of the produce comes from partners, a lot of it also comes from the farm itself.
“So, if we have pumpkins then the community gets pumpkins, if we’ve got greens, they get greens,” Watkins said. “We’ve got an orchard that’s very young but it’s starting to produce fruit already and so it becomes a place that you can get food.”
Watkins said the farm has planted grapevines and other edible plants along a fenceline so that when the farm is closed people can still walk up to the gate or to the fence and pick fruit.
It’s also become a spot for people in the community to rest and enjoy the outdoors.
“There’s exercising equipment; there’s other places where you just sit down and enjoy the peace and the quiet,” Watkins said. “And everybody that visits the farm remarks the same thing: That in the midst of what’s characterized as a violent place there’s the most remarkable peace – great solace,” he said. “You can seek respite there without being hurried along.”
MudTown farms has plans for future growth, with Watkins saying it has secured funding already to build a culinary arts facility,
“It’s really a state-of-the-art kitchen that will teach people how to plan, grow, gather and prepare food that can be stored,” he said, adding that the point of the kitchen will be to help the community grow enough food to feed itself.
Watkins said MudTown is also exploring the idea of potentially giving people in the community chickens for the purpose of helping to reduce community waste.
“And at a time when a dozen eggs cost $7 in L.A., a family can live off those chickens,” he said.
As Watkins continues his work at MudTown farms and other community projects on behalf of WLCAC, he said it’s not about filling his father’s shoes.
“This has been about extending the work that he’s done,” Watkins said. “And he taught us damn well long before there was a Nike. He told us, ‘if something needs to be done, just do it.’”
If you watch
First two episodes: 8 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12.
Final two episodes: 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 19
Encore: All four episodes will premiere back to back again starting at 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, and can also be streamed on http://www.pbssocal.org/tendaysinwatts and http://www.kcet.org/tendaysinwatts