“If you put beauty into a place that generally doesn’t have it, that’s a game changer.”
Can gardening change people’s lives? That is the question that led Delila Vallot to make Can You Dig This?, a documentary that features urban gardening in some of the must depressed areas of Los Angeles.
The idea of guerrilla gardening starts with Ron Finley (whose TED Talk on the subject has nearly 2.5 million views). In the film Finley tells a bit of the story using the parkway at his house to grow vegetables and creating a small movement of urban gardening. But at the center of the film are some people who are following through with this idea. We see a young man and young woman who are each tending a small plot in a community garden in Compton. They come from areas that are filled with gangs and drugs (and they are a part of those cultures). But in the act of planting and tending their few square feet of garden, they begin to see other possibilities. Their lives don’t miraculously improve, but they are beginning to learn new lessons that could help them find new ways of living.
My favorite urban gardeners in the film are two men at a halfway house. They are here transitioning back into the world after a combined time in prison of more than fifty years. When one of them decides he wants to plant things like when he was growing up, he and another of the residents go through all the work to make a little corner of the backyard into a garden. They face hurdles (like the landlord not letting them use the house’s water for their garden), but they persevere. What really impressed me about this garden is that it was very much a project of hope. The garden that these two men started isn’t ready for harvest when they are released and return to their homes. Rather, this garden is turned over to others who will continue the work they began and enjoy the fruits of the labor.
I think hope is often at the very core of planting a garden. There are no guarantees that we will get the things we plant. There are many things that we may do wrong. Nature doesn’t always cooperate with our plans. That is true in many facets of life, not just agriculture. But we step out with hope to make the world a better place. And often, as with the halfway house residents, what we do may not be rewarding for us, but will touch someone else because of what we did. I think it may be worth noting that the biblical creation story is set in a garden. Consider the hope that is implied in that, as well as the chances for either growth or failure that make up that story.
So, the answer to the main question is “Yes, gardening can change lives.” Can You Dig This? Gives us a chance to see some of the lives it has touched and may encourage us to, in the words of Ron Finlay, “Plant some shit.”