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The Garden, in film and reality: Two surprises in Cambridge

Two surprises of the garden variety came in rapid succession last Wednesday at an event sponsored by the Food Literacy Project at Harvard. Fitting, given they came but a few days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and WGBH’s upcoming broadcast of Food, Inc.

The first was the focus of the event itself, namely a screening of The Garden, an Oscar-nominated documentary about the largest urban garden in the United States. The garden, located in south central Los Angeles, was initiated after the Rodney King verdict and riots of 1992.

The music, the tone, the dialogue, and the setting of the early scenes of the film all indicated a fairly predictable story of a nature-oriented project healing a community’s wounds.

Here’s some of what the viewer took in, at least during the first few minutes:

“The vegetables taste so good because you took care of them, you made them.”

“Plants without chemicals. It’s better.”

“We’ve worked this land because you can’t eat the earth.”

“It’s a pretty simple idea. Land, people, food. Happy days.”

But then the reality sets in that will ultimately take the land away from the people who farm it, who are mostly undocumented Latino and Latina workers. Even though it’s a reality of ownership contention, back-room political deals, race relations, infighting, underrepresentation and misrepresentation, it still comes as a surprise.

Most specifically, and most poignantly, is the surprise of the developer’s bulldozers razing still-healthy plants like corn, papaya, bananas, and cilantro while their farmers stand just a few feet away, watching from the other side of the fence.

The second surprise of the evening actually came before the screening of the film itself, when a sophomore Harvard College student introduced the Harvard College Garden Project. The garden, in conjunction with the university’s Office for Sustainability and the Center for Health and the Global Environment, officially opened to the public two days ago, on Saturday, April 17.

The garden itself is located at the corner of Mt. Auburn and Holyoke Streets, in front of Lowell House near Harvard Square. The garden is meant as a multi-use space, with educational, cooking, and social events planned — but the main goal is to educate on the subjects of growing your own food, nutrition, and consumption.

The announcement of this garden and its intentions was made to the same audience who were about to watch the gut-wrenching story told in The Garden documentary. The irony was lost on no one: hope — like gardens — springs eternal.

Cathy Huyghe writes the WGBH Foodie blog. Read new WGBH Foodie posts every weekday, in which Cathy explores myriad ways and places to experience good food and wine.


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