Growing cities: revitalising blighted areas with urban agriculture


By Dan Susman

Growing up I always planted pumpkins in the backyard with my parents, hoping I might end up like James and the Giant Peach. Each spring I would eagerly plant my seeds and nurse them through Nebraska’s sweltering summers. Merciless squash bugs and ever-looming drought aside, I usually ended up with at least one pumpkin bigger I was.

Even though sports (and later girlfriends) kept me away from the garden as a teenager, I’ve always had that experience to show me the importance of growing food. Whether it was the magic of a tiny seed growing into something so huge or the responsibility I felt for caring for another living being, I understood this was something essential. However, it wasn’t until I travelled over 13,000 miles across the country for my film, Growing Cities, that I realised how lucky I was.

I became interested in urban farming while working at Zenger Farm in Portland, OR. There I saw the incredible things people were accomplishing with urban agriculture and yearned to learn more. Fresh out of college, I hatched a plan to visit urban farmers across the country. I spoke with my childhood friend (and filmmaker) Andrew Monbouquette about the idea and he said, “We have to make this into a movie.” And that was the beginning of Growing Cities.

We have all heard about the problems in agriculture, from GMOs to CAFOs, but what all these acronyms don’t add up to is change. So, we figured it was time to show off the people on the ground who were doing something positive, right in their own backyards. And this is what Growing Cities is all about.

The film follows Andrew and me as we visit folks who are challenging the way this country grows its food one vacant city lot and backyard chicken coop at a time. We found urban agriculture has remarkable power on many levels—it connects people to one another, greens neighbourhoods, revitalises blighted areas; and much more. More than anything though, urban farmers challenge us to re-examine our assumptions about what it means live in the city, and how all us can be part of a new blue print for sustainability – one in which everyone participates in providing for their families and neighbours most basic needs.

Urban agriculture will not fix every problem our communities face. However, I do think it’s a place to start. A conversation—“Woah, you have goats in your backyard? My grandparents had them on the farm!” A journey—meet growers in your city, you’ll be surprised how helpful they are. And a place to start a movement—we’ve met someone of every age, race, and class who are growing food for reasons as diverse as they are people. This is not a hippie (or hipster) movement, though there are plenty of each. This movement is for anyone and everyone, whether you have a window, a rooftop, or a backyard. As Eugene Cook, a farmer in Atlanta told us, “We’re not asking you to grow everything. We’re saying grow something…grow where you are.”

Please support our Kickstarter today! We need to raise $30k by July 9th to broadcast the film nationally on PBS this Fall and share the film to millions for FREE!

Dan Susman has lived, breathed, and eaten urban agriculture over the past four years making Growing Cities. He has visited countless urban farms and worked with many leaders in the sustainable agriculture movement. He is also the co-founder of Truck Farm Omaha, an edible education project which teaches local youth about sustainable farming and healthy foods.


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