The Garden is a documentary film about the life and death of a community garden in Los Angeles. After the 1992 Rodney King riots which fractured the South Central Los Angeles community, the City of Los Angeles allotted a 14-acre piece of property to the community, allowing them to create farm plots for 347 families on the corner of 41st and Alameda (two miles from the location of my grandfather’s restaurant). The creation of this garden made it the largest community garden in the United States.
In 2003, after the garden had been in existence for eleven years, the City sold the property to Ralph Horowitz in a secret deal, and the new owner attempted to evict the farmers. The battle went back and forth for several years before the farm was bulldozed in a dramatic action in 2006. I am simplifying this story greatly — it involves backroom deals, corruption, the promise of a soccer field, infighting among the farmers, inexplicable court decisions, celebrities helping to save the farm and a furious rant by the landowner who ultimately refused to sell the property to the farmers at any price.
And interspersed between all of the drama to protect this property, we see a beautiful, peaceful garden where the families grow bananas, papayas, guavas, nopales, cilantro, and many other crops for their families. It’s calm among the chaos that creates a perfect foil for this story.
I can’t remember the last time I was so affected by a scene in a movie as I was watching the scene where the garden was destroyed after the final eviction notice was served. In front of the eyes of the farmers who had worked the land for 14 years, after innumerable fights, the garden was destroyed. Ralph Horowitz has not developed the land, and as of the time of movie publication it was still a vacant lot.
The community that developed around the garden is still going strong — they are looking for land in the area, and have started an 80-acre farm in Bakersfield that sells to Southern California farmers markets, and provides a CSA for local customers.
I highly recommend seeing this film while it’s in theaters, and I hope that it gets a wider release. The Garden is now playing at the Landmark Lumiere in San Francisco and the Elmwood Theatre in Berkeley.