Urban Roots
Urban Roots
Urban Roots
Urban Roots

Urban Roots

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  • Directed by: Leila Conners, Mathew Schmid
  • Produced by: Leila Conners, Mathew Schmid, Mark MacInnis
  • Release Date: 2018 (Educational)
  • Year of Production: 2011
Running Time: 93 min
Language: English
Digital Site License includes English Closed Captions
Subjects: Agriculture, African-American Studies, Environmental Studies, Urban Studies, Urban Farming, Sustainability, Social Justice, Food Studies
When everything collapses, plant your field of dreams.



URBAN ROOTS is a documentary that tells the story of the spontaneous emergence of urban farming in the city of Detroit.  Detroit, once an industrial powerhouse, is a city devastated by the loss of half its population due to the collapse of manufacturing.  By the looks of it, the city has died. But now, against all odds, in the empty lots, in the old factory yards, and the sad, sagging blocks of company housing, seeds of change are taking root. With the most vacant lots in the country, citizens are reclaiming their spirits by growing food. Dedicated citizens have started an urban environmental movement that is transforming not just a city after its collapse, but also America at the end of its industrial age. Urban Roots shows dedicated Detroiters working tirelessly to fulfill their vision for locally-grown, sustainably farmed food in a city where people – as in much of the county – have found themselves cut off from real food and limited to the lifeless offerings of fast food chains, mini-marts, and grocery stores stocked with processed food from thousands of miles away. The people of Detroit have taken on the enormous task of changing this for themselves, and to understand their story is to understand how we can change it for us all. Urban Roots is a story that reveals that the best in us can prevail in the most difficult of times; and in the most difficult of places, new hope emerges.  This growing movement of urban farmers is changing the way people think about food—and life in the “D”. It took men like Henry Ford, William Durant, and Lee Iacocca to build this city, but it’s taken a bunch of strong willed self-taught urban farmers to save it. 

Shepard Fairey designed "Urban Roots" Print which promoted farm programs in schools during and after the film's release.


Official Selection Reykjavik International Film Festival (RIFF) World Premier

Official Selection Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival

Official Selection Eco Focus Film Festival

Official Selection Planet in Focus Film Festival

Official Selection Imagesante Film Festival

Official Selection San Francisco Green Film Festival

Official Selection One World Film Festival

Official Selection Food for Thought Film Series

Official Selection Dig In! Film Festival

Official Selection World Community Film Festival

Official Selection Princeton Film Festival

Official Selection Saratoga Film Forum

Official Selection Marda Loop Justice Film Festival

Official Selection Utah Film Center Festival

Official Selection Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts Film Series

Official Selection Deconstructing Dinner Film Festival

Official Selection Regent Park Film Festival


“Urban Roots tells the compelling story of several native inhabitants of Detroit as they get involved in the urban farming movement. They literally transform vacant lots into active producing gardens that provide for their local communities. There are several agricultural programs which the film explores that have cropped up to solve a specific issue. The people involved have become emotionally connected and feel rooted in their city once again. The stories they tell are terrific.” - Earth Times

“Urban Roots shows us a different image of Detroit through the eyes of its dedicated urban farmers. In addition to giving background on Motor City’s rise and fall, and introducing viewers to the folks behind a handful of urban farms across town, the film digs into important topics like the racial implications of gardening. Despite its negative associations with slavery, the film argues, working the land can be a powerful vehicle of self-determination and empowerment for Black Americans — especially in a long-neglected city like Detroit, where residents have learned the hard way not to expect change from above.”  - Grist

“You may have heard about Detroit’s urban farming movement, but the documentary Urban Roots brings it alive by getting down in the furrows with the growers who are turning the city’s vacant lots into fields of abundance.” - Utne Reader

The sense that emerges from all these voices is one of Detroit agriculture as a complex social ecosystem, growing and developing in a way that is both interdependent and organic as the produce it brings to bear. This individualist, under-the-radar movement — small in acreage but ever-widening in scope and unparalleled in heart — is sowing new hope for Detroit, and by extension, a world full of dying industry and rising transportation costs. Urban Roots leaves no stone unturned, including the controversy over Hantz Farms, a larger-scale operation with an eye on being the first big investor to widen the gap created by the early pioneers.”  - Knight Foundation 

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