Published on Environmental Echo December 2014.
The St. Louis screening of “Can You Dig This” was a packed house. The film followed several community members of an often violent, gang inhabited, and poverty-stricken, South Central Los Angeles neighborhood. The common factor between the characters revolved around the often harsh daily realities they face, and the positive influence of urban gardens.
The characters were diverse. The main focus was of several characters, a strong feisty little girl with four sisters and a father in bad health, a young woman that had suffered under domestic abuse, two older men that had been released to a half-way house after long prison sentences, a younger man searching for a job to get out of the cycle of poverty, and the man who started the gardens.
“Potential is not a word most people think of for violent urban areas.” This statement stood out at the beginning of the film. Breaking away from the neighborhood’s social culture started with one man. Ron Finley. He wanted access to healthy food for himself and his neighbors. So he started planting a “food forest” in his yard, along the curb, in traffic medians and vacant lots.
The area is considered a “food desert” because access to fresh organic produce is limited. Planting the gardens gave residents the means to grow their own food and spend peaceful time together tending to them.
Finley said he wants gang fights to be over who has the largest tomato and let the weapon of choice be a shovel. “There is a choice,” he said. “Every day is a rebirth and every day is another shot.”
Finley had to fight city regulations to keep the gardens in place. He won and the laws were changed. He now travels giving lectures about being a “gangster gardener” and the importance of fresh food and the power to make positive changes.
The movie drew a few laughs, a few sighs, and at times, silence. The personal narratives and issues faced by the characters ranged from heartbreak, remorse, hardships, desperation, hopefulness, family relationships, and struggle. The seeds of hope and the idea that there is “joy, pride, and honor, in growing your own food” ended the movie, along with the audience’s applause.
Gateway Greening hosted the event, and Executive Director Matt Schindler gave a short statement before the showing. He thanked everyone in attendance for coming out, and Wehrenberg’s participation. The film generated enough interest that it had to be moved to a larger capacity screening room at Wehrenberg Ronnie’s 20.