Sustainable America Blog

Dan Susman: ‘Urban Farming Is Our Generation’s Back to the Land Movement’

Urban farming featured in Growing Cities documentary

Today, we’re featuring a guest post from our friend Dan Susman, director and producer of Growing Cities, a documentary about America’s urban farming movement. Right now, he’s raising money to help get the film featured on PBS through a Kickstarter campaign that ends tomorrow, July 9. Let’s help him reach his goal!

What’s the first thing you think about when you hear there’s a great new environmental documentary? For me, it’s a sense of panic about being a documentary filmmaker who can’t stand to sit through another movie that says we’re doomed. Whether it’s about dying dolphins, floating islands of garbage or cutting down the last piece of virgin forest, I just can’t do it.

It’s not that these issues aren’t incredibly important or that the filmmakers don’t do a good job – it’s just very difficult to feel so helpless after watching a movie that doesn’t show a pathway to change.

As a filmmaker, it’s my belief that stories without hope do not inspire people to make the world better. So, close to four years ago, my friend, Andrew Monbouquette, and I figured it was time to highlight positive stories of people transforming their communities, right in their own backyards. And this is what our new documentary film, Growing Cities, is all about. Here’s the trailer:

The film follows us 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. From New York to New Orleans, we’ve found urban agriculture has remarkable power on many levels—it connects people to their food, strengthens communities, revitalizes blighted areas and much more.

In many ways it appears that urban agriculture is our generation’s back to the land movement, but with a crucial difference—today’s new farmers are not running away from society’s problems but tackling them head on. They are helping solve issues of hunger and childhood obesity and giving hope to many communities where there was little previously.

And sure, while many people continue to flock to urban centers like New York and San Francisco, more and more are putting down roots in their smaller hometowns. For instance, in Omaha, where I’m from, a collective of young people came together to form Big Muddy Urban Farm, which has a 25-member CSA and grows on vacant lots throughout the city. In the heart of industrial farming country, these farmers are a wonderful example for residents, many of whom don’t know a CSA from a GMO — which, let’s be honest, is probably true for a majority of Americans.

I’m not saying urban farming will fix every problem that our communities face. It won’t. However, I do think these farms are an integral part of changing the food system. In fact, they’re on the front lines when you consider close to 80% of our population is considered urban. As Eugene Cook, a farmer in Atlanta, says in the film, “Grow something, grow where you are.”

Dan Susman
Growing Cities

Please help Growing Cities spread these inspiring farmers’ stories to millions on PBS! Learn more and donate on their Kickstarter page by July 9: Sustainable America is proud to partner with Growing Cities, and we encourage everyone help them spread these inspiring farmers’ stories to millions on PBS! Learn more and donate on their Kickstarter page by July 9.

Inspired to become an urban farmer yourself? Here’s are some ways to get started, or consider offering your own backyard to others to garden at

Grow Where You Are: How to Be Part of the Urban Farming Movement
3 New Urban Farm Projects to Watch
‘Growing Cities’ Digs Into Urban Farming

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By the Numbers

Currently 50 million households suffer from food insecurity, meaning that family members cannot always meet their basic food needs.

10 million people a year could be fed through the recovery of just one-fifth of food waste.

Only 2% of food waste is composted or otherwise recycled—62% of paper is recycled.

Consumers throw out about 40% of the fresh and frozen fish they buy.

The U.S. produced 208 pounds of meat per person in 2009—60% more than Europe.

Low income commuters spend a much higher proportion of their wages on gas—8.6% versus 2.1% at $4 per gallon.

Food prices rose 35-40 percentage points between 2002–2008.

Americans consume 25% of the world’s produced oil, but our nation holds less than 3% of the world’s proven oil reserves.

The International Energy Agency says greenhouse gas emissions rose 3.2% last year, with a 9.3% increase in China offsetting declines in the US and EU.

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