By Don Simpson | May 20, 2010
Director: Scott Hamilton Kennedy
Featuring: Danny Glover, Daryl Hannah, Antonio Villaraigosa
Writer-director Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s The Garden tells the saga of the South Central Farm – an urban farm that was located at the intersection of 41st Street and Alameda Avenue in South Central Los Angeles. In the aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots, the city government granted a revocable permit to the L.A. Regional Food Bank (a private, nonprofit food-distribution network) who converted the bleak landscape of rubble, litter and debris into a lush 14-acre farm (the largest urban farm in the U.S.).
Simply dubbed the South Central Farm, the garden began to produce fresh fruits and vegetables and the local farmers were able to enjoy their own home-grown crops rather than rely on food stamps for subsistence. For over a decade the South Central Farm thrived, but in January 2004 the farmers received an eviction notice. The revocable permit was being revoked. It turns out that the city decided to sell the 14-acres of land to a developer – the very same developer from whom the city had previously acquired the land by eminent domain in order to build a waste-to-energy incinerator (a plan that was thwarted by the Concerned Citizens of South-Central Los Angeles).
The farmers enlisted a team of lawyers (Hadsell & Stormer Inc. and Kaye, Mclane & Bednarski LLP) to represent them in order to dispute the validity of the purported “backroom” sale of the land. Kennedy documents the two-and-a-half-year court battle which showcases the power plays that subsequently unfold along the lines of race, poverty and political agendas – the local Latino farmers versus the unlikely bedmates of the city government, a powerful businessman and a Black community activist group (the very same group that prohibited the waste-to-energy incinerator from being developed on this land). Comparisons to the biblical tale of David and Goliath are obvious – and the Latino community hopes that they have the same luck as David. Kennedy’s camera unravels complex assortment of personalities and personal agendas which eventually proves to be the downfall of the South Central Farm.
It is quite obvious whose side Kennedy is on (conveniently the same side I am on) and we are forced to rely primarily on what the farmers of the South Central Farm and their lawyers say about their enemies’ motives. I will say that Kennedy does appear to give the leader of the Concerned Citizens of South-Central Los Angeles ample opportunities to plead her case – but she comes off as a total nut-job. The local city council member is also given screen time but she does not come off any better. We will probably never know the true reason(s) why the South Central Farm was evicted from 41st Street and Alameda Avenue; but that certainly was a very sad day for urban and subsistence farming-enthusiasts, environmentalists and the Latino community. The mere thought of the bulldozers demolishing such a beautiful plot of land still makes my blood boil and brings tears to my eyes.
Originally released in 2008, The Garden was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature (it lost to the astonishing Man on Wire). The Austin Film Festival recently screened The Garden to a capacity crowd at the Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock Museum in celebration of Earth Week. Many thanks to Kelly Williams (AFF’s Film Program Director) for getting me in to this screening!