movie review: the garden

While I was perusing the documentaries on Netflix recently, I found a short one about the attempt to save an urban garden. It wasn’t spectacular as far as documentaries go, but the events it concerned made me want to find out more. In doing a little research, I realized a longer documentary was done on the events – a film that was nominated in 2009 for an Academy Award for best documentary. So I ordered it from our library and checked it out.

The Garden is the story of an urban garden/farm that occupied 14 acres smack in the middle of South Central Los Angeles, an area that had been ravaged after the Rodney King riots in 1992. The farm had 350 plots, which provided food for families, most of which were low income. It was like an oasis of earth and growth surrounded by concrete and urban decay.

The documentary goes into the history and timeline in more depth, but basically the city of Los Angeles decided to sell the land that the farm occupied in a back room deal for drastically less than fair market value to the owner who had lost the land to eminent domain laws 15 years before. The farmers had been on the land because the city let them – they had no formal agreement. The owner decided he didn’t want the farm on the land and tried to have them evicted.

A legal fight ensued. I won’t tell you exactly what happened because the documentary tells it powerfully, but it wasn’t good. It was another tale of the rich and powerful using the government like puppets to advance their own desires, regardless of the needs of the community. 

It seems to me that governments should be doing anything they can to support groups who want to reclaim urban spaces that have been left to decay, particularly those that can be turned into gardens that feed people. I see a lot of rhetoric about low income families needing to “help themselves” – and this is a classic case of people who try to do just that and get thwarted by the roadblocks of power and money. 

The Garden left me wondering how willing I’d be to chain myself to a fence and be arrested if someone was trying to bulldoze the way I provided for my family. How much would I fight? Do we listen to those who do, or do we assume they are just disturbing the peace? This is a great documentary, especially for people who are interested in issues of economic justice and community activism, as well as urban agriculture. Definitely worth a watch, even if it leaves you unsettled (which is kind of the point anyway, right?).