The Garden: The Life & Death of a Community Garden in LA

| May 5, 2009 | 6 Comments
  • 6 Comments

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.

Other resources:
The Garden on Facebook
Huffington Post interview with the Director
Chicago Tribune profile

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Category: Bay Area Bites Food + Drink, farmers and farms, gardening and urban farming, sustainability, environment, climate change, tv, film, video, photography

About the Author ()

"My passion for food began young." I am the editor of the influential website www.EatLocalChallenge.com which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers. I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003. I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure. I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers' Market, which was released in February 2010. I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what's in season and chatting with farmers.
  • Sam

    Just your description alone has made me cry. I don’t like the sound of Mr Horowitz. Sounds like there are people down in LA who should be ashamed of themselves.

  • allyson

    I second your recommendation. Excellent film!

  • http://thy@wanderingspoon.com Thy Tran

    Thank you so much for helping getting out the word about this important, moving and inspiring film.

    Just one suggestion: Be sure to include spoiler alerts! I saw the documentary with a group of colleagues and friends, and all of us agreed that the way the film ended was very powerful, so it would be great to let other viewers experience that for themselves. It’s not a typical Hollywood happy ending, despite how hard everyone worked and how much we all wish for it and how much the community deserves it.

    But the garden is not dead yet! The South Central Farmers continue to fight to regain the land, and the case has gone on to a higher court for appeal.

  • Kay

    It’s his property – the fact that it was used for another purpose is no relevance. You should criticize the city council for selling it, not the owner for buying it.

    When you sell your own home, do you protest if the new home owners turns it into a daycare, massage parlor or coffee cafe? What if they paint it purple with blue spots?

  • http://fogcity.blogs.com/ Jennifer Maiser

    @Kay I do blame the city council more than Mr. Horowitz given what I know from the movie, though there was a scene toward the end that really soured me on him (if you’ve seen the movie, you know what I mean). I was just stating that it is now a vacant lot. Which is true, right?

  • Erich Riesenberg

    Just saw the documentary.

    Kay is wrong.

    If a thief offers you something, it is wrong to take it.

    If the Council sold at below market due to corrupt motives, the purchaser is to blame also.

    Just because someone has enough money to make something unethical legal does not make it ethical.