Growing Cities (educational)

A film about urban farming in America
  • Directed By: Dan Susman
  • Produced By: Dan Susman, Andrew Monbouquette, Dana Altman


 Discussion Guide


Educational Release: 2014

Running Time: 92mins/ Educational Running Time: 58mins
NTSC / English
Subtitles: Spanish, Croatian, 
Subjects: Agricultural Studies, Environmental Studies

Special Features: Closed Captioning, Spanish subtitles, includes both 90 min and 60 min version of film, blooper reel, deleted scenes

From rooftop farmers to backyard beekeepers, Americans are growing food like never before. GROWING CITIES tells the inspiring stories of these intrepid urban farmers, innovators, and everyday city-dwellers who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food. From those growing food in backyards to make ends meet to educators teaching kids to eat healthier, urban farmers are harvesting a whole lot more than simply good food.

Growing Cities (Trailer) from Collective Eye Films on Vimeo.

 

“Growing Cities” is a new documentary film that examines the role of urban farming in America and asks how much power it has to revitalize our cities and change the way we eat.  

Filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette grew up with one another in Omaha, Nebraska, the city that inspired their decision to take their trip across country.  Though their hometown is surrounded by some of America’s most fertile farmland, only a small fraction of that land is used to grow fresh produce. Upon returning home after college, the filmmakers find Omaha is one of the unhealthiest cities in the country and even prohibiting people from growing food in their own backyards. They wonder why their city, which was born out of agriculture, is running away so quickly from its farming roots.  And, more importantly, what would the consequences be for its future generations?

Pursuing this question, the filmmakers set out to discover how other cities are feeding themselves.  They meet urban farmers, policy makers, and everyday citizens who are challenging the way this country grows and distributes its food, one vacant city lot, rooftop garden, and backyard chicken coop at a time.  Along the way they learn that this grassroots movement takes many forms—from those growing food in their backyards to make ends meet; to educators with the goal of teaching kids to eat better; to activists seeking a meaningful alternative to the industrial food system, and more.  

They realize their hometown isn’t unique in its problems and that some cities are facing much worse—Oakland, where it’s easier to buy a pack of cigarettes than a bag of apples; New Orleans, where kids in the Lower Ninth Ward are better versed in dodging bullets than planting seeds; and Detroit, which has so much vacant land that the footprints of Manhattan, Boston, and San Francisco would fit within it’s city limits.  What they all have in common, though, is that their residents are growing food to improve their communities.

To put urban farming in a broader historical context, the film uses archival images and interviews with garden historians to examine how the country’s relationship to agriculture has changed over the past 150 years and to speculate what this means for city dwellers today.  At its core the film challenges viewers to rethink their roles in society and encourages them to create “Growing Cities” of their own—places that are healthier, more sustainable, and socially just.

Awards:

    • Closing Night Film - Portland Film Festival 2013
    • Official Selection -  Wild and Scenic Film Festival 2014
    • Official Selection - Environmental Film Festival in the Nation's Capitol 2014
    • Official Selection - Flagstaff Film Festival 2013

Quotes:

"I've watched many, many films about food and agriculture … Growing Cities is the most inspiring one I've ever seen." - Chris Hunt, Director Sustainable Table

"Watching the film Growing Cities is like witnessing a successful garden. As it quickly proliferates with it's rich bounty it blossoms into something unexpected … all served up in a refreshing, down home, organic style, it imparts a feeling of deep satisfaction." - James Brown, Film Studies Professor Dartmouth College

"Growing Cities provided a new, refreshing look into some of the food issues that our campus is most interested in, and really engaged a new conversation among our community." - Levi Rogers, Sustainability Fellow Skidmore College

"3 out of 4 stars. In this informative and inspiring documentary about urban agriculture, filmmakers Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette—buddies since elementary school—embark from Omaha on a road trip in order to talk with enthusiastic folks of varying ages and ethnicities with backyard produce gardens and intense let farmed small lots which are proliferating all over the country. GROWING CITIES points out that the US has 35 million across of lawn—space that could be supporting crops more useful than grass. Adopting the "victory garden" approach that cemented communities during World Wars I and II, neighborhoods might once again be able to feed residents. While other documentaries have suggested that small-scale sustainable farming is only feasible if enough people could be enticed to return to the land, Susman and Monbouquette argue urban farmers need look no farther than their own backyards or local vacant lots to "grow where you are." In Milwaukee, for example, entrepreneur Will Allen is famous for growing food for 10,000 on 100 acts using advanced techniques such as vertical gardening (he also trains about 1,000 new farmers every year). Along the way, viewers will see lush shots of fruits and vegetables thriving in gardens in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, New York City, Detroit, New Orleans, and elsewhere. Recommended." —Video Librarian

"“What if the millions of acres of lawns in the United States today were used to grow food instead?” Not only do these gardens contribute to community health and sustainability, the rooftop farms of New York are an example of adaptive reuse, the Detroit farm exists in an area where healthy food is difficult to acquire, and some farms employ individuals who would otherwise have a difficult time finding work. The New Orleans farm even functions as a program for at-risk kids to participate in outside of school. Each of the gardeners interviewed affirms the community unifying benefits of collective urban farming.The film concludes with Dan and Andrew returning to Omaha to see urban farming efforts that had either sprung up while they were on the road, or they didn’t realize existed. Following their own call to action, they created a mobile garden in the back of a pickup truck, which can be used to educate children on the benefits of urban growing. The concluding message is to “grow where you are.”Growing Cities is very accessible, with the personal narrative of the filmmakers in addition to their input about the benefits of urban farming from people with diverse backgrounds and reasons for doing it. It concludes with the sense that urban farming is not only important, but an attainable pursuit for anyone in any area. The DVD comes with a 58 minute Broadcast version in addition to the 92 minute theatrical version. Recommended" - Educational Media Review