Today my guest is Dan Susman, director of Director Growing Cities. Growing Cities is the first documentary about urban farming across America.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. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. Growing Cities been accepted by American Public Television to reach a guaranteed 80% of PBS markets, but the filmmakers are responsible to secure all funding for the broadcast, including all the editing and conforming the film to PBS standards. So they are reaching out through a Kickstarter program to raise $30,000 by July 9th.
Dan has lived, breathed, and eaten urban agriculture over the past three years making Growing Cities. He has visited countless urban farms and food projects across the country 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. www.growingcitiesmovie.com
TOXIC FREE TALK RADIO
Growing Organic in the City—Yes! It’s Possible!
Host: Debra Lynn Dadd
Guest: Dan Susman
Date of Broadcast: July 01, 2014
DEBRA: Hi, I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio, where we talk about how to thrive in a toxic world and live toxic-free.
It’s a gorgeous summer day here in Clearwater, Florida. It’s the first of July, 2014. And this morning, I just posted, actually announced. I was going to tell you to just go to my website at ToxicFreeQA.com, and read my Declaration of Independence from Toxic Chemicals.
But I just realized that it isn’t at the top of the list. I posted it a couple of years ago. But if you just go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and go to the search box, and type in “independence” and it will come up, I think, as the first item.
It’s Independence from Toxic Chemicals. And in there, I talked about the whole idea of independence and freedom, and why we have the right to be toxic-free. There are some interesting things about the Declaration of Independence, which is one of my favorite documents of all time. And you’ll just learn a little bit more about me by reading that.
So I invite you to do that this Week of Independence in America.
I’m very excited today. Actually, I should say I’m very inspired because I just spent the last hour watching a film about growing food in cities. It’s a documentary film, and I invited my guest to be on the show today because he’s the director of the film, and they have been accepted to be on the American Public Broadcasting, PBS stations all over America.
Except here’s the catch, they have to come up with all the production costs themselves, and it’s $30,000. And they have to come up with it by July 9th.
So we’re going to be talking about the issue of growing food in cities, or the opportunity of growing, the wonderfulness of growing food in cities, and in your own backyard. And as people, all of us, taking responsibility for feeding ourselves in our community.
We’re going to talk about that during the show today, but I also invite you to go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and scroll down until you see, there’s a video. The Kickstarter video is right there on my website. There’s also a link to their Kickstarter page.
And if you’d like to make a contribution towards the $30,000, that would help them get this out there.
It’s a fabulous, fabulous film. I was inspired by every second of it. And we’re going to talk about that on the show today.
So hello, Dan. Thanks for being with me.
DAN SUSMAN: Hey, no problem. Thanks for having me and all of the really nice and kind words you said about the film already.
DEBRA: Well, I’m going to say more because it really is. What an accomplishment, and what an inspiration.
I saw it in the film, so I know the story, but tell our listeners how you became interested. What inspired you to make a film about urban farming?
DAN SUSMAN: I was really interested in sustainable agriculture just all throughout growing up. I grew pumpkins in the backyard with my mom and my dad. So from at a young age, I was very interested. And in college, I worked on farms.
Basically, I just decided, “Hey, this is what my passion is. This is what I want to learn more about.”
My partner, Andrew Monbouquette, he was really interested in filmmaking. He has dedicated his life really trying to do that.
We grew up together in Omaha, Nebraska. After college, we just came back together, and he really wanted to make films. I really wanted to learn more about urban farming in whatever cultures. So, we just combined our passion.
Four years later, this is where we’re at.
DEBRA: What a great accomplishment, just a great accomplishment. I have some experience myself with growing food. I used to live in California, so I was very interested that the first city that you want to as having a lot of urban agriculture was San Francisco.
I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area, and lived there until 13 years. That’s when I moved to Florida.
And you’re right when you say it in the film that there are a lot of people doing a lot of creative things about how they garden, and how they farm even. I don’t know if it’s still there, but I remember on 4th Street in Berkeley, there used to be—I don’t remember the name of it. But one of the lots, instead of having a store there—maybe this was just when they were still building it up. One of the lots that was empty had a farm right there where they had plots on the lot.
They were growing lettuce, herbs and things like that. And you could just go there and buy just right out of the plot.
And it wasn’t seedlings. You could actually buy a full head of lettuce out of these boxes.
And I thought that that was one of the coolest things that you could actually buy, a fully grown live plant instead of going to a supermarket or even a natural food store and buying a harvested head of lettuce. You could just buy it right out of the ground or right out of the box.
And one of the things that I thought was so wonderful about that is that you can grow things in a box anywhere. You can grow things in a bag. I have a lot of permaculture friends, and one of the permaculture things is you just buy a bag of compost and split it open, and plant things in it.
Anybody could do that anywhere. And that’s one of the messages, I think, that I was so impressed with in your film, was that you go all around the country, and you show all these great examples of people in different walks of life, and economic situations.
I was taking notes while I was watching the film because I wanted to bring up different things. I think the thing that most impressed me was the scene when you were talking about, people had just put compost over the cement.
You don’t even have to have a park or something. You just put down compost on the cement and start growing things.
DAN SUSMAN: There are so many different ways to do it. It’s incredible how creative people get. When you’re presented with challenges, like you are typically in the urban environment whether you have space or they’re not great soil/medium to grow in, whatever it might be, people are figuring out really creative ways whether that’s putting soil down on old basketball courts, like you’re saying, or rooftop farms. There are vertical gardens on walls.
There are so many different solutions for growing in small amounts of space. And whether you’re in an urban environment or not, I think people even grow in window sills inside. They don’t have a yard at all.
I think there are a lot of opportunities. It’s pretty easy to focus on the challenges. There are so many opportunities that we have.
And that’s the […] the film takes. It’s really solutions-oriented, and it really shows what people can do in their own community, to grow, and to really make those communities better by growing food.
I think you saw that in the film, but it’s something where we—kind of getting back to your first question—have seen so many problems. And so many films and media that really show the problems in the food system, and what was wrong with what we were doing. We really just felt like it was time to put a spotlight on the people who are doing things right, the farmers, the activists.
There are so many people, community gardeners, every day people really, who are really making their communities better by the simple act of growing food.
DEBRA: Well, we need to go to our break, but we’ll come back and we’ll talk more about this.
This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dan Susman. He’s the director of the documentary film, Growing Cities. And he’s trying to get funds together to be on PBS across the country. They need $30,000 by July 9th. You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and see their Kickstarter video, and get the link, and make a contribution if you’d like.
We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Dan Susman. He’s the directory of a documentary film called Growing Cities. It’s all about urban farming, and they have a Kickstarter campaign. They need to raise $30,000 by July 9th in order to get their film on PBS across the country.
But if you go to my website, ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, scroll down, and you’ll see a link to their Kickstarter. It’s hard to remember, or I would give it out over the air. But just go and click, and see what their offers are, see their trailer. They’ve got a list of all the things that those $30,000 need to go to.
You’ll see their big block of awards for the film. There’s more information about Growing Cities, urban agriculture, all of it. It’s a good supplement to this show to go and take a look at that page.
And you can make a donation, as small as $1. Every little bit helps.
So Dan, I wanted to ask you, could you just tell us, I was trying to figure out the difference, the definition. When you talk about urban farming, the first thing that comes to my mind is people having farms in a city, where they’re feeding other people in the community.
But in watching the film, I saw that you had some examples of backyard gardening, where I didn’t think he was feeding other people. It looked like you were referring to people growing food in their own backyards, or digging up their front lawns, just all opportunities, I guess, for growing food in the community.
What is your definition of urban farming?
DAN SUSMAN: That’s a good question. That’s one I get quite a lot. People define it in different ways. For us, we’re really inclusive about it. I think you could tell by the film probably. There are so many different examples of people growing food at a shed in their backyard, they’re on vacant lots, community gardens. There are so many different ways.
So we try to be as inclusive as possible with that definition. But basically, we say anybody who’s growing food in the urban environment. Even suburban areas, they’re […]
That’s not to discredit farmers. That’s their job, and that’s what they do every day. I think that’s something we really value what they’re doing.
Almost by that definition, I guess, we just try to be as inclusive as possible because this is a movement. People are growing food for so many different reasons and so many different ways that, to us, whether they’re growing it for themselves, their families, their neighbors, the broader community or for sale, everybody’s growing food, and I think that’s the important part.
And they’re making their communities better.
I would say, yes, we tend to be most inclusive about it, and not worry too much about definitions, I guess […]
DEBRA: I guess I’m just thinking about, it sounds like this is a new thing, but as one person said in the film, it’s just what people have been doing all along. It has a new name. And so I think about my grandmother, I’ve said this before on the show, but it bears repeating a lot.
My grandmother had a huge garden which she and my grandfather tended for many, many years. Just their own backyard, and they had trees, fruit trees. One of my earliest memories was my grandfather picking me up, so that I could pick my own peach off the tree, and how delicious that one peach was, just heated by the sun, really the ripest one that he found for me, and then picking me up to pick it.
And that’s part of my food memories. And I think that a lot of people don’t have those kinds of memories.
But it used to be commonplace for people to be growing food in their backyards.
I live in Florida, in a neighborhood that is—my house was built in 1940. But all the backyards have old fruit trees on them.
Everybody has citrus trees around here.
If a house was built in a certain time period, it’s got citrus trees in the backyard. The brand new houses don’t.
There was a time when everybody grew food and victory gardens. It was just part of what you did. And then we lost all that and we stopped growing food. I’m not saying everybody stopped, but it stopped being part of what everybody did.
I remember when I lived in California, I lived in a small rural community. And one of the things that I loved was a neighbor gave me raspberry canes for my garden. I grew a lot of food in that garden. And my neighbor gave me raspberry canes.
And they multiplied and multiplied and multiplied.
But everywhere you went, all my neighbors had my neighbor’s raspberry canes. And it was just wonderful to know that I was eating one neighbor’s tomatoes, and another neighbor’s raspberries. And it was just a lovely thing that really tied our community together, to be sharing these plants.
And that’s not so common as it used to be. And that’s the kind of things that I thought when I was watching your film.
It’s been difficult for me to make the transition in Florida because I’m accustomed to growing in California. And so I have some herbs, but I haven’t been as successful with some things as I was in California. But the other day, I had bought a box of mint tea bags from the store. And as I was walking up, my back stops where I have my little herb garden, and I went, “Wait a minute. Why did I buy mint tea bags when I could grow it?”
And I immediately went down and bought mint plants, and put them in pots.
I think a lot of it is just changing the way we think as individuals, and realizing that we can grow food.
DAN SUSMAN: Yeah! No, totally. Everything you said is really spot on. I think that especially when you were talking about […], that’s really been happening for a long time. Just like you said, this has been happening since World War I, World War II.
As you see in the film, we go over it pretty quickly, but it isn’t new.
DEBRA: It isn’t. We need to go to break. I’m sorry to interrupt you, but we need to go to break, and we’ll come right back.
This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. My guest today is Dan Susman. We’re talking about his documentary film, Growing Cities.
You can go to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com and find out more. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dan Susman. He’s the director of Growing Cities, a documentary film. And they are doing a Kickstarter campaign because they’ve been invited to be on PBS, but they have to pay $30,000 in production fees in order to do that.
So you can help them out by going to ToxicFreeTalkRadio.com, and clicking on their Kickstarter page, and finding out all about how you can make a donation, if you’d like to do that.
Dan, I have a question for you. So I have a fairly large backyard, and I can rip out all my lawn. After seeing your film, I wanted to do exactly that. But I had chickens. I had, past tense, chickens, which is one of the most wonderful experiences that I’ve ever had. And it was so great to be able to go out in the backyard and feed my chickens, and they would lay eggs, and then I would eat the eggs.
And I just knew the whole life cycle of that egg. I knew exactly what that chicken had eaten. And there were no pesticides.
There was no whatever else they put on eggs. They were delicious. They were wonderful.
And then the police came and took them away.
I was wondering if you have any comments about different cities having different regulations, how people get around that.
Any thoughts on what the regulations should be? Anything on that subject?
DAN SUSMAN: I’m sorry to hear that. Unfortunately, it’s the story that’s too common, I think. I think, in general, the laws in cities and towns and everything are, generally, moving in the right direction, I think. There’s a lot of places that are legalizing backyard chickens, goats, rabbits, and all of these things that you wouldn’t think you can have in a backyard.
But actually, when you think about it, if you’re describing that—a chicken is a lot less dangerous than a Rottweiler or a Pitbull. It’s a lot nicer too because instead of just picking up the poop, you can just […] in the morning.
In terms of why it makes sense that these laws are there, I don’t think it really makes any sense except that there’s a lot of places that are—in my hometown, I think, is one of them, here in Nebraska, where really a farm state. And I think there’s this fear in a lot of cities and towns that are in the Midwest that are also just more generally, in suburbs and areas like that where they’re really afraid that people are going to think, “Oh, they’re still back in the dark ages. They’re still farming.”
The city leaders, “Well, I think we need to make laws to make sure that nobody has chickens or does that.” These big metropolises, places like San Francisco and […], these types of places, the biggest cities and most urban places we have are actually saying, “Oh, yes. Sure, you can have chickens. Sure, you can have those if you get the right permit.”
So I think it’s really this sort of reaction, this sort of backlash to, “Oh, we don’t want people […] backwards or something,” when, in fact, it’s so much more. It’s more about how do we take control of our food, and what’s inside of that.
So I think, in general, we’ve seen a lot of cities, a lot of people coming together, neighbors going to their city council and saying, “Hey, this law doesn’t make sense. We should be able to have chickens in our backyard.”
In particular, there’s one place, this woman up in Seattle, Jennie Grant, she formed something called The Goat Justice League. They advocated to make goats legal in backyards in Seattle. She had a […] protest. They’d walk goats around.
They worked with city leaders in the end and got a bill passed. So they could actually have goats in the city.
So I think there are numerous examples of that. But I think a lot of people with the same story as you, it’s unfortunately because so many people feel like they’re alone and are like, “Well, what do I do? How can I fight this? It doesn’t make sense.”
But there’s a lot of inspiration that could be drawn from other places I think.
DEBRA: I think so too, and I think that one of the things that’s inspiring about your film is that you really show—Independence Day is coming up on Friday—you really show our right to grow our own food, that we should all have the freedom to grow our own food and why.
It’s something that we’re designed to do as human beings, that we’ve been growing our own food for millennia. And yet, today, most people have other people growing their food, and are dependent upon the availability of food for the few distribution system.
One of the reasons why I started learning how to grow food when I was living in California was that I had this idea that if, and I’m not saying this is going to happen, but if our food system were to collapse—that has happened in places in the world, if our food system were to collapse, I wanted to know how to grow food. I just wanted to know.
And when you look at the quality of food that we get in the world today, I just had an epiphany—I’ve had lots of epiphanies in my life, but recently, I had an epiphany. I asked what would be my ideal food to eat. And what I got was fresh, whole, organic vegetables right out of the ground. That would be the ideal thing.
And I’ve eaten that kind of food, and I always love it. And I always go, “Yes, this is great.”
And yet, I’m not even growing those. I’m not even growing it in my own backyard, in part, because I don’t know how to grow here. And yet, I could learn how to do that. Everybody could learn how to do that. There are people who know how to grow here. Just because I spent most of my life in California doesn’t mean that I can’t learn this.
And then my other excuse is I don’t have time. But what am I doing with my time. Not that I’m flittering my time away doing useless things, but I’m one person living by myself, and to do all the things that one needs to do to maintain a home, or money to pay the bills and all those things, to also maintain a garden, oh, my God.
But you know, I do know that there are people who don’t have land that want to come and work on a garden. And I think that if I were to really think this out, I could grow so much more food than I could possibly eat, and share it with the people who come and help me to grow it.
Here we are at another break.
DAN SUSMAN: That’s so quick.
DEBRA: I know. It is so quick. And I’m doing all the talking. I need to let you talk more.
DAN SUSMAN: It’s okay. I’ll try to jump in more.
DEBRA: But I love this subject, and I love your film. We are going to go to break. This is Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dan Susman. And I promise I’ll let him talk more in the next segment. We’ll be right back.
= COMMERCIAL BREAK =
DEBRA: You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd, and my guest today is Dan Susman, director of Growing Cities, the movie.
I just discovered that you actually have a website, GrowingCitiesMovie.com, and you can go there. I was looking for that. But you know, it wasn’t on the press release that I could find.
You can go to GrowingCitiesMovie.com. You can find out more about the film. There’s also a list of screenings, and it also gives you information on how you can host the screening, how to find the screening, how to host the screening. You can just find out all about this. There’s also a link there to their Kickstarter campaign.
Dan, would you tell us about food justice and food security?
DAN SUSMAN: I was going to mention it eventually. But food justice, food security, I think are some of the biggest issues here, especially in urban agriculture and farming cities, this idea that everyone should have the opportunity to access fresh and healthy food regardless of their income level or background or where they live.
So food security, people have often heard of food desert, these places where there’s very little access to fresh, healthy food.
That often happens in the inner city, although there are plenty of food deserts that are in the rural environment as well.
So many of the projects we visited occurred in these places where it’s miles and miles to reach a grocery store, and then maybe even that store doesn’t even have really high quality produce or any of the types of things you’d want to really live a healthy lifestyle.
In a lot of those places, you have people who get their groceries from a gas station. When you think about what’s in gas stations, candy, chips, soda, and that’s about it. Literally, people are living off of that.
So I think that’s where urban agriculture and community gardening can really—especially in people’s lives who don’t have access or don’t have the monetary funds in order to access that food, then this can bring them straight to that. It’s in the community. It’s something that were there often growing. People can grow the food themselves. It’s affordable.
It certainly takes some time. But in terms of the benefits, even in terms of just improving the community itself, things like housing values go up next to a garden and all sorts of auxillary benefits besides health. I think that’s pretty cool.
But I think in a lot of the cities we visited, there are people who are working with folks who were just out from prison for instance. In Chicago, you saw on the film folks, convicts who don’t necessarily have violent crimes or anything. They just made a mistake when they were young. Maybe they had problems with substance abuse or something like that. It’s really hard for those types of people to get a job when they out of prison.
There’s an organization in Chicago called […] that works with those people, gives them jobs, teaches them skills through gardening as their tool to teach them.
So, that’s part of food justice. Things like working with kids, there’s a place called […] in the film. They work with kids and teaches them about growing food, both how to market it, and sell it, and all of these skills—math, public speaking, so on and so forth—that go along with running a business.
You’ll find in the film, food is the tool to really achieve a goal […] they’re working with people who can’t afford fresh, healthy food, or whatever it might be. I think what we show in the film is there’s just this wonderful possibility to use food as a tool to make your community a better place to live.
DEBRA: I really see that and that has been my experience too here. Several years ago, someone started a gardening group where what we wanted to do was help people learn how to grow food in our community, and what were the skills, and my best friends I made in that group, being somebody who had just moved here.
And we don’t have that group anymore for a variety of reasons, but I learned a lot, and I met people, and I still feel like a community with them. There’s something about growing the food, and eating it, and having pot lucks, and having people say, “Here’s my salad with my flowers that I grew.”
And we all go, “Hmm.”
And it gives you something, wholesome is the word, that comes to mind. It gives you all something wholesome to do together, and something that helps everybody, and something that improves your health and the community.
And I wanted to say earlier when you were talking about people not being able to afford food, a packet of seeds costs practically nothing, a dollar or two. And anyone can take a packet of seeds and a pot of soil and grow something.
It’s so much more economical. You can eat the best organic food for pennies because it doesn’t cost a lot of money to grow your food. You just buy the seeds, you plant it, you water it, you take care of it, and then you have food.
And so this whole idea that you have to have lots of money in order to buy food at the supermarket is not really true. And I think people don’t see the economic benefits of that. They have victory gardens. In our economic times, everybody should be growing food just for the economic reasons.
DAN SUSMAN: You’re so right. The economics of it is you need to have time which I think that’s the […] thing. You need to have that time. You can’t be working three jobs, and you have to get your kids at school, and do all those other things.
But you’re still right in terms of just all the people who are unemployed and who can’t find work, and they’re tough on their luck, and all these things, why don’t we look at farming as a viable career option? Why don’t we look at that because, one, we’d be employing people, two, we’d be providing fresh food in places that need it the most.
There is an incredible, incredible opportunity there especially in the urban environment where you have waste coming straight from the city. You could go and build a farm, using people who are usually thought of as useless to society.
You have this wonderful cycle that could take place and is starting to take hold in some places, but needs so much more support. I think you hit it right on the head.
DEBRA: I was just thinking. You were talking about back in the depression, there was something called the CCC, the Citizens Conversation Corp I think it was. And the government hired people to do conservation projects, environmental conservation projects.
There could be all kinds of programs hiring people to grow food in any kind of urban, suburban, even rural environment.
And just put people to work growing food, I think, would be a great idea.
So we only have a couple of minutes left. But what was the most inspirational to you, what was the thing that really tugged your heart, the one thing that you visited that was most memorable to you?
DAN SUSMAN: I think I mentioned them earlier just really briefly, but the group down in New Orleans […]—I think you saw it at the end of the film—what they do is they work with […] It’s just the place that was hit the hardest by Katrina.
And you say, “Katrina, when was that?” Well, it was a long time ago. But even when we were filming in 2011, for seven years after it hit, it looks like it had been hit last week. So it’s just a place which has almost been left behind. But there are still families there. There are still kids there.
So those kids, I […] in this place where it’s very dangerous for them to grow up. They’re carrying guns around as young as 8, or 9, or 10 years old.
We heard some of those stories. And I think that really touched me because I can’t even begin to relate to where these kids are at. But at the same time, to see, using food as this way to give them something to do, and give them a safe space, and give them the attention they need as kids, to really flourish and grow, I think was really special and powerful to me.
So I think that was probably one of the most touching. It really hit it home for me in terms of wow, farming and growing could really make an impact on people’s lives—and not only change these kids’ lives, but really change and empower the entire neighborhood.
DEBRA: Tears are coming to my eyes as you’re talking about that. Food can just be transformational in a lot of ways especially empowering people to do that basically for themselves.
Well, we’ve only got just a few seconds left now. So I’ll just say thank you so much for being on the show. And again, you should go to his website, GrowingCitiesMovie.com, and not only will you find out about the movie and the Kickstarter campaign, but there’s also a lot of information to learn lots of resources.
You’re listening to Toxic Free Talk Radio. I’m Debra Lynn Dadd. Be well.