How Planting Pumpkins Created an Urban Agriculture Advocate

urban agriculture practitioner eugene cook

Editor’s note: Dan Susman, one of the producers of the documentary Growing Cities, offered me another guest post this week, and I took him up on it. How does a kid from Nebraska end up making films about urban agriculture? Here’s how…

I grew up planting pumpkins in the backyard with my parents, always hoping I might end up like James and the Giant Peach. Each Spring, I would eagerly plant my seeds and nurse them through the sweltering Nebraska summers. Evil 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 traveled over 13,000 miles across the country for my film, Growing Cities, that I realized 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.

urban farmer carol ann sayle

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 their food, strengthens communities, creates jobs, revitalizes blighted areas; and much more. More than anything, 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 providing for ourselves and one another.

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 rabbits 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.”

growing cities pbs kickstarter

Please support our Kickstarter today! We need to raise $30k by July 9th to broadcast the film nationally on PBS this Fall: www.kck.st/1kDfhgP

Dan Susman, Director, Growing Cities: Dan has lived, breathed, and eaten urban agriculture over the past three 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.

Images courtesy of Growing Cities.


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