City residents living in “food deserts” lack easy access to grocery stores or other healthy food options. This situation disproportionately occurs in low-income communities, lowering overall public health and exacerbating inequality. Ron Finley of South Los Angeles, one of the primary subjects of Can You Dig This, paints an even grimmer picture. He likens the situation to a “food prison,” whereby permission is often required to simply grow food in cities.
Through a series of intimate portraits, filmmaker Delila Vallot shines a light on not just the challenges of urban farming as they pertain to environmental justice but of overall urban life in Los Angeles. For her subjects, gardens represent more than just access to healthy food. An ex-con living in a halfway house finds refuge in his garden as he adjusts to life outside of prison. A school-age girl, bursting with enthusiasm, connects with her family and neighbors in public housing over her garden. In a community garden, an occasional drug dealer finds purpose and love with a fellow gardener, an ex-gangbanger struggling to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse.
As the film implies, urban farming should not simply focus on sustainability or solving the challenges of food deserts. We should recognize that urban gardens provide a chance to plant more than just food. One can plant ideas, plant hope, plant love, plant purpose. As Finley appeals to the audience during his 2013 TED talk: just #plantsomeshit.