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"Growing Cities" is a new documentary film about the rise of urban farming in the United States. When Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette, two young men from Omaha, Nebraska, become disillusioned with the lack of urban farming projects in their hometown, they strike out on a road trip. They are searching for people who grow their own food, who believe in the tremendous potential of urban farming, and who are changing their communities through growing food.
The filmmakers certainly find what they're looking for. It's not surprising that the West coast has many well-established urban farms. In San Francisco, municipal laws are lenient toward urban farmers, even inner-city livestock; and Seattle provides land to anyone willing to farm. Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit boast incredible operations that feed thousands, build community, and offer employment opportunities. New York City boasts impressive rooftop gardens; Boston continues to maintain an original, World War II-era Victory Garden; and farmers in Atlanta and New Orleans are working to make urban spaces green and productive, while training underprivileged youth.
Urban farming is beneficial for many reasons. It can offer much-needed nutritious food to urban dwellers. Many Americans nowadays live in what's called a "food desert," where local stores don't stock fresh produce regularly. In Detroit, for example, 550 000 residents (over half the city's population) don't have close, reliable access to vegetables and fruit.
Urban farming teaches Americans how to view vacant land in a new light. Wherever there's space, there's an opportunity to grow something. Even if you don't own the land, many landowners are happy to have someone actively improve and beautify their empty lot for free, while benefitting the community. As one Atlanta farmer explains:
"The hugest part of sustainability is having people understand the importance of caring for land, regardless of whether you think you own it or not."
Urban farming helps secure the national food supply. Americans have done it before, thanks to the tremendous growth of Victory Gardens during the two World Wars. Just a few years after being established, these homegrown gardens provided 40 percent of all produce consumed in the United States. There's no reason that can't happen again. Americans possess 35 million acres of lawns that could be productive.
What's needed is a cultural shift in the perception of agriculture. Farmers need to be raised up in our society, and regarded in a similar way to doctors and engineers. After all, farmers are the most important people in our lives because they are the ones who feed us. And people need to get their hands dirty, to learn about growing food in limited, compromised spaces. You'd be amazed at what's possible.
"Growing Cities" is definitely worth watching. It's inspiring, lighthearted, and educational, and has been very well received at film festivals. You can find a list of screenings here, or learn how to host your own. The film's website also has lots of helpful information for starting your own urban farming projects.