‘The Garden’ Sows Seeds of Struggle

By Debayani Kar Dec 26, 2009

The Garden is a warmly portrayed moving documentary film that follows the real-life story of the South Central Farmers Cooperative in Los Angeles. The well-publicized fight of the farmers to maintain control of their land lent itself as an ideal film narrative. The Garden centers around a community’s struggle to hold onto a fourteen-acre garden in South Central Los Angeles. The community’s struggle received widespread attention in 2004-2006, when the farmers were fighting the city of Los Angeles and developer Ralph Horowitz to maintain control of the garden, ultimately working to raise funds to buy the land. The community garden was established on government property following the 1992 riots and was the largest of its kind in the U.S. The details of the story provide great footage: a wealthy developer engages in a shady real-estate deal with the city of Los Angeles to acquire the property, a city council member helps push through the secret deal, tensions between the Black and Latino communities complicate matters, while the impoverished Latino farmers at the heart of the story struggle not just for land but their livelihoods. The fourteen-acre garden was originally owned by developer Horowitz but the city acquired it under eminent domain, paying him $5 million. He sued the city unsuccessfully but ultimately struck a back-room deal to buy it back for $5 million, despite property values having skyrocketed in the intervening years. When the farmers are forced to consider buying the garden, Horowitz raises the pricetag to $16.2 million. The film is moving and expertly captures the intricacies of the farmers’ struggle. Where another documentary filmmaker might have shied away from some of the nuance such as divisions between communities of color, filmmaker Scott Hamilton Kennedy delves into the tough subjects, highlighting complex racial and political dynamics. At the core of the film, is a pressing question about land and livelihood — how do we create a sustainable society without maintaining our connection to land? Important to keep in mind as the U.S. attempts a transition toward a green economy. Despite their best efforts, according to developer Horowitz, the South Central farmers were not entitled to their land, because rather than work for the American dream they asked for handouts. But the investigation into Horowitz’s real estate fortune reveals what we have come to expect, it is the privileged white real estate mogul who amassed his fortune receiving undeserved handouts from the government and taxpayers of Los Angeles. The Garden rightly earned an Oscar nomination in early 2009 for best documentary feature. The film’s website asks: “If everyone told you nothing more could be done, would you give up?” Watch The Garden and find out.