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The Garden. 80 minutes, 2008. Black Valley Films. $24.95
www.thegardenmovie.com

REVIEW of The Garden

The Garden is a 2008 documentary detailing the creation and ultimately destruction of the South Central Garden- the largest community garden in the United States. Located in downtown Los Angeles, the film illuminates the struggle of roughly 300 gardeners to maintain the fourteen acres of land given to them by the city after the 1992 race riots in an attempt to foster a sense of community. When the initial landowner decides he wants the land back, the farmers find themselves becoming overnight community organizers and fighting a political battle to save what they feel is their own patch of earth. Learning city hall’s inner workings by firsthand experience, the farmers must confront the contradictions between their expectations for democracy and the reach of urban power brokers.

The filmmakers follow the struggles of the mostly Latino gardeners from 2003 to 2004 as they attempt to save the garden while resisting alienating themselves from the broader community and coping with internal organizational conflicts. The intersections of economics, environmental justice, race, and politics meet as the gardener's race against the clock to prevent the previous landowner from evicting them with court injunctions. By the end of the film, the viewer has witnessed the hopeful moments (the farmers were able to raise the $16 million asked by the developer) and the ultimate despair of the farmers (watching their garden get bulldozed) making the final scene powerfully emotional regardless of whether one favors the position of the farmers or the developer.

Persons concerned with community gardening, issues of urban development, food deserts, racism, and political justice will appreciate watching an “underdog” battle the powers that be. With appearances by Zack de la Rocha of “Rage Against the Machine”, Joan Baez, Daryl Hannah, Danny Glover, and Dennis Kucinich, the film's appeal to general audiences is as wide as it was for the popular culture icons who became involved in the struggle.

The film is successful in telling the story from the gardener's perspectives and illustrating their struggles for self reliance and autonomy. This film could be used to stoke a discussion about the importance of self-provisioning by those who may be rich in gardening knowledge or desire, but lack the means to buy the land necessary for self-sufficient food production. Many questions are raised about people and subsistence agriculture, political empowerment, the framing of “community,” and the limits of private enterprise. It also raises important questions about public and private spaces, ownership of the city, and the forced reliance upon the industrial food system.

Supplemental Resources:

Consider reading the following to delve deeper into this issue:

Lyson, Thomas. (2004). Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Food, Farm, and Community. Tufts.

Lawson, Laura. (2005). City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America. UC Press.

A guest lecturer from a locally organized community garden to discuss their experiences with land use issues and inter-community relations could also foster a local dialogue.

Reviewer:
Lisa Conley
University of Kentucky

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS for The Garden:

1. What is your initial reaction to the film?

2. How did the gardeners relate to the South Central garden?

3. What was the primary dilemma faced by the South Central gardeners?

4. The garden began as a project to foster a sense of community in the wake of the L.A. Riots of 1992. Do you think the garden was successful in this endeavor?

5. What was the connection between the Concerned Citizens group, councilwoman Jan Perry, and initial landowner Mr. Horowitz?

6. What political obstacles did the gardeners face in order to keep the garden from being demolished?

7. What economic obstacles did the gardeners face in order to keep the garden?

8. What legal obstacles did the gardeners face to keep the land?

9. What are your thoughts on the Court of Appeals decision to overturn the injunction while keeping it from setting a precedent for other cases by not publishing the decision in the law books?

10. How much did Mr. Horowitz, the original landowner sell the land for initially?

11. How much did Mr. Horowitz ask for the land in the end?

12. Was Mr. Horowitz's land ever declared to be worth what he was asking for it?

13. How did the strife internal to the gardeners affect their community garden?

14. What was the role of the police in the demolition of the garden?

15. When Mr. Horowitz is asked why he would not sell his land to the farmers, what was his response?

16. A sense of belonging to the community was a reoccurring theme of the film. How is a “community” defined? Who defines it?

17. What did you think of the film's final outcome?

18. Why do you think the filmmakers wanted to tell this story?

19. What would have to change in our society to have reached a different outcome?

20. What can you take from this film and use in your own life?

21. Does your community have its own community garden? If not, why do you think that is?

22. What motivates the people you know to engage in community gardening?

23. Can the assets that spring from community gardening be reached in ways other than gardening? Explain.

24. How does the lack of available farm land affect urban dwellers who would like to produce their own fresh food? Consider issues of community well-being, health, and food security in your response.

Questions by
Lisa Conley, University of Kentucky

in cooperation with
Michigan State University
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