Through multiple testimonials, The Naked Gardener showcases sexual misconduct and non-profit mismanagement perpetrated at the Pepperfield Project. This film provides a platform for silenced voices and catalyzes individual and organizational accountability towards a cauterized end to patterns of injustice.
Deep in a futile valley of beautiful topsoil, lives some of the most alien and mesmerizing fauna in the world. Is this Heaven? No, it’s Iowa. Nestled within this ecosystem is the Pepperfield Project, an educational non-profit retreat center, centered on “health and the development of body, mind, and spirit through food and gardening in harmony with nature.” The Pepperfield Project was established in 2008 in Decorah, Iowa by David Cavagnaro, a prominent horticulturist, entomologist, photographer, as well as expert in seed saving and crop circles. Brought to Decorah, Iowa through a connection with Seed Savers Exchange, an international seed-preservation non-profit, David expanded from his advising and summer gardening work with SSE to create the PP. Both nonprofits share more than a commonality of location and board members, as they share a common desire to build resiliency with regards to humans, food systems and the natural world.
The film consists of interviews of past apprentices, interns and a past board member of the Pepperfield Project in addition to footage of Iowa fauna and landscapes.
None of the subjects have been criminally charged or investigated.
Founder and Executive Director David Cavagnaro did not respond to request for comment.
Events are true as expressed as to the best recollection of those interviewed.
I've worked in this soil. Starry-eyed after four years at Luther College, a small liberal arts college in Decorah, Iowa, I wanted to expand my world view. Having studied critical theory and art, I wanted to learn what human systems could exist as alternatives to industrial capitalist models, let alone Iowa's king of influence: "Big Ag". A farmstead, surrounded by new-age neighbors, led by a person both knew Ansel Adams and spoke of Jung in connection to the sacred geometry of crop circles was what I was looking for. I could give back, get my hands dirty and do some work. Some good work.
For the past 10 years those young at age and young at heart have flocked to the Pepperfield Project to engage with practices of sustainable food systems, live in the bosom of beautiful farmland and to learn from a great sage of the natural world. Eyes glistening with expectations of a wonderland of knowledge and beauty. Interns, seasonal workers, protégées and students have wandered into this situation. David's testimony is intentionally removed from this film, as this project does not seek journalistic neutrality with a man who has dominated, contorted and bent the conversation.
It is hard to say when this project started. It could be Summer 2014 when I showed up with all my things packed into a Toyota Camry? It could the following summer when I left Iowa no longer entranced by the PP? It could be during one of the many phone calls with new PP interns who wanted to get some answers? It could have been when, 1300 miles away in Montana, I got a call that told me that a friend of mine had issues with David? But with all abuses of power, the start date matters as much as the intention: very little. What is important is when it will end.
The Naked Gardener seeks to provide a platform for the testimonies of past workers, concerned neighbors and curious board members. With these past experiences made public, the hope of ceasing the rhythm of injustice at the PP becomes all the more possible. This film showcases the misdeeds and non-profit mismanagement perpetrated at the Pepperfield Project as well as the avoidance and denial of connected individuals and groups. Through this exposé, this project displays the interconnections of power at non-profits, in local and alternative communities and illuminates possible solutions. The ultimate goal is to amplify the testimony of the past and to cauterize an end to patterns of misconduct and abuse of power.
The filmmaker acknowledges and honors the Indigenous communities native to the regions in which this project was filmed, and recognize that this country is built on Indigenous homelands and resources. The filmmaker recognizes in particular the Miami, Delaware, Potawatomi, Shawnee, Sauk, Fox, Wahpeton, Sioux, Salish, Kootenai, and Dakota peoples as past, present, and future caretakers of this land, and also recognizes the inherent sovereignty and resilience of all native communities.
Filmed on location in: Decorah, Iowa; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Missoula, Montana and Bloomington, Indiana.