Local filmmaker puts urban agriculture in focus

. January 26, 2017.

Can art be powerful enough to change policy? That’s one of the questions a local filmmaker may face on Thursday, January 26, when Black Kite Coffee & Pies and Third Space hosts “Steven Boatman: A Toledo Filmmaker’s Evolution,” a screening of six short films, concluding with his most recent work, “Reclaiming the Landscape: Urban Agriculture in Toledo.”

Boatman’s latest documentary tells the story of Toledoan Thomas Jackson, 44, a certified master gardener and a pio- neer for urban agriculture in the center city. Jackson recently made local news as he was sued by the City of Toledo after building garden beds on his properties.

According to Steve and his father and publicist Glenwood Boatman, the Janu- ary 26 event will focus on his development as a filmmaker and showcase Jackson’s unrelenting efforts to jump-start Toledo’s urban agriculture movement. Jackson will also speak, following the screening of “Reclaiming the Landscape.”

The price of produce

A master grower, certified through the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Asso- ciation, Jackson also holds a certificate in aquaculture from the Ohio State Uni- versity Extension Office. He cited his children’s health as the primary cata- lyst for returning to gardening on his empty lots.

“Organic produce is expensive, and with my kids getting sick and being around other children, the doctor dis- cussed changing their eating habits,” he explained. He decided that one way to get better access to healthy food would be to utilize the empty lots he owned by con- verting them into productive gardens.

Jackson used wood chips in raised beds to prepare the gardens, a method recommended by the EPA for urban farming. As the chips decompose over time, they will create new, fresh soil, en- suring the safety and quality of the har- vested food, while avoiding the potential dangers of arsenic and lead, often found in urban soil.

Things turned sour for Jackson when a handful of neighbors complained about the mulch on his properties. According to Jackson, despite the fact he’d received approval— and even “congratulations,” he said— from US Representative Marcy
Kaptur and EPA officials, the complaints resulted in a lawsuit filed by the City against Jackson in December 2015, citing failure to comply with several nuisance ordinances. The case first came before the Housing Court last February, accord- ing to court records. While the complaint contains eyewitness affidavits, no reports or violations have been noted by any en- vironmental or agricultural entity.

After Jackson plead not guilty in early December 2016, the court ordered Jack- son to remove his beds. The order is set for a progress review on February 22.

A chance for change

Jackson’s initiative and subsequent citation from city government struck Boatman and his father as the perfect opportunity to tell an important story. “I couldn’t believe [Jackson’s gardening] was even an issue,” Boatman explained.

Surprisingly, this is Boatman’s first documentary. “With the techniques I de- veloped in narrative filmmaking, it was easy to apply many of them to the docu- mentary[…]itwasaverypositiveex- perience,” he said. And though it’s only ten minutes in length, the film definitely provides food for thought. Think about it: movies like Making a Murderer; Food, Inc.; or Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead used real experiences of individuals to discuss issues that reach far beyond a single movie; the judicial system, our national health habits, and factory farming are all fair game. In Boatman’s case, “Reclaim- ing the Landscape” was finished before Jackson’s clash with the city made head- lines, but the documentary is a gateway to a larger conversation on Toledo’s ur- ban agriculture policies and planning.

“I truly believe this opposition [from the city] is just giving me notoriety, I don’t see it as something that’s gonna ruin me,” Jackson said. “There are less than 10 people in [my] neighborhood that don’t like what I’m doing, and the city is behind them right now,” he continued. “It’s just truly odd to me. You’d think the City would be with the majority.”

“Steven Boatman: The Evolution
of a Filmmaker.”
6-7:30 p.m., Thursday, January 26
Black Kite Coffee & Pies |
2499 Collingwood Blvd
419-720-5820 | facebook.com/BlackKiteCoffee