Three-and-a-half years ago, Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette ventured out on a road trip across America to find a seed of positivity amidst a field of problems in the current food system. What they found, after travelling to more than 20 cities, documenting the stories of more than 100 farmers, was a bounty of inspiration bursting through concrete and rooftops and backyard fences.

Growing Cities, a film about how urban agriculture has revitalized cities in America, is the first feature-length documentary directed by Susman, a 20-something graduate of the environmental studies program at Dartmouth College.

The film, in some ways, was a personal journey for Susman and Monbouquette, who were seeking both adventure and purpose after graduating. “We wanted to see the country and find out what was happening in other cities and see where a good place for us to make an impact would be,” admits Susman in a gentlemanly Midwestern twang.

While filming, though, Susman learned that urban agricultural initiatives were ubiquitous throughout the US, and they were already having a significant effect.

“Urban agriculture and community food is happening everywhere,” says Susman. “And there are lot of different benefits of urban agriculture that aren’t just about food. It’s a symbol, especially for young people, that change is happening and that you can live that sort of urban lifestyle that a lot of people want to live, but you can also be connected to your food and the land.”

GC-SFWindmill-m2With so much negativity in recent media about GMOs, factory farms, pollution and obesity, there is a lot of cynicism around the current food regime.

“People see all these indications that our food system, in a lot of ways, is broken,” says Susman.

Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, otherwise known as food stamps, has contributed to this broken image, increasing rates of hunger in American cities and making healthy, affordable food a necessity.

“The face of hunger in America is pretty different than what you might imagine,” explains Susman. “We don’t have a lot of starving people but there are plenty of people who aren’t getting enough to eat, especially kids and young mothers.”

Susman, however, is optimistic about the potential for urban farms to change the face of hunger, not only in American cities but elsewhere in the world.

“Nobody’s saying that urban agriculture is going to solve every problem,” says Susman. “But I think it is uniquely positioned to localize the food economy.”

GC-citysproutschickens-m3After witnessing the successful implementation of numerous food programs feeding inner-city neighbourhoods fresh fruits and vegetables, Susman and Monbouquette both realized the best place for them to be was back home in Omaha, Nebraska.

Since finishing the film, Susman and Monbouquette planted a garden in the back of a 1975 Chevy pickup truck and drive it to schools and community centres to teach kids about growing healthy food.

“There needs to be people doing this work in all different communities,” he says.

Growing Cities will premiere in Calgary on Thursday, May 15th at the Central Library’s John Dutton Theatre at 6 p.m. Admission is free. The screening is being held in conjunction with Feeding People: A roundtable discussion about food security and urban agriculture in Calgary on May 29 at the John Dutton Theatre at 6 p.m. 

By Tamara Cottle

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