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Fight for your right to garden

by Archives February 3, 2009

In 2004, 14 acres of lush community gardens in South Central became one of the most hotly sought after properties in LA.
The tenants, Hispanic farmers, were pitted against the property’s owner who decided the land could be better used as a warehouse. The verdant plots of the South Central Community Gardens stuck out like a bastion against the neighbourhood’s concrete-on-dust-bowl aesthetic. But they were going to become more of the same.
The Garden is an extremely interesting documentary about this conflict of interest. The film goes swiftly yet concisely through the legal proceedings of South Central Community Garden vs. Horowitz. The film’s an academy award nominee; it’s screening at Cinema Politica next week and it’s definitely worth checking out.
The background story for the property is as follows: the 1992 LA riots (caused by the brutal arrest of Rodney King) had the city looking to heal wounds. They provided the South Central Community Gardens with a plot of land they had expropriated. Four-hundred-thirty-four families, mainly Hispanic, used plots on the property, and between them they shared a belief in their place under the sun.
After 12 years of happy farming, an eviction notice was placed on the garden’s gates – the land was to be developed and they were to leave quickly. Apparently Horowitz had repossessed his land from the city. But the farmers had become attached to their plots. The land had become sacred to many, especially the older farmers who were used to looking with pride upon their plot from the under the rim of their cowboy hats. Unfortunately, their land was seen by others as a valuable commodity.
The story has a “Mr. Smith goes to Washington” appeal in that this community group – one like any other – exercises their rights through district council and the courts. What is revealed about the nature of land ownership and personal struggle is captivating, but what makes this film exceptional are the reactions to their plight.
The movement for the garden garnered much support in some places (movie stars with nothing to lose) and little from others (politicians pitting their support on a vote value basis). The movie becomes a grand battle of personal interests; a lot of highs and lows grip the mood of the insulated farming community.
Scott Hamilton Kennedy directed this film. He speaks right to the heart through the emotive footage of farmer agony and the collective strife to save the land, all while presenting the rational and founded proceedings of the law and land ownership.
Watching the film, it becomes ever so clear how out of control these neighbourhoods are to the people that live there. Not in an economic or cultural way, but in regard to the physical enviromnent of the hood. It brings up the question of environmental racism, or truer yet, environmental discrimination – where whole communities are subject to the whims of those eager to exploit with empathy only given in the form of a soccer field or two.
All urban slums seem to lack green space. As if teetering on a sill between the lavish dressings found in the city core and the manicured flora of the suburbs, these forsaken lands look more like an urban desert than they do an urban jungle.
In The Garden, the community fights the good fight for the right cause: one they believe in passionately. The motivations to save the gardens have soulful roots, and the farmers are up against a mountain of money and power backing their opponents. In the end, the film says a lot about our true North American values.

The Garden screens next Tuesday in H-110.

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