Growing Cities Blog

Humans of New York Captures Dreams of Farming

March 23rd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

It’s inspiring to think about how many kids are learning about urban farming!

Thanks Humans of New York!

“I’m going to be a farmer. I know how to grow two types of crops. One crop is the normal kind. The other kind uses aquaponic systems. We have an aquaponic system in our classroom. It has a one ton tank with nine tilapia fish in it. It used to have ten fish but the biggest one died over Christmas break. His name was Frank. Anyway, the water in the tilapia tank gets filtered into another tank, where we are growing kale, hybrid spinach, and lettuce. Afterward, it gets funneled back into the tilapia tank and starts all over again. Everyday we have to measure nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, and one other thing that I forget the name so let’s not mention that one. Anyway, at the end of the year we are going to harvest everything that we grew. Then we’re going to make fish tacos.”


Food Not Lawns!

March 3rd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

We here at growing cities are big supporters of the Food Not Lawns movement. Support author & founder of Food Not Lawns’ National Tour to teach workshops, plant gardens & build community here:


A talk with Maggie McProud- Farmer & Educator!

January 22nd, 2015
Sophie Brinker

Maggie McProud works as the Farm to Table Manager at The Woolman Semester School in Nevada City, CA. She has worked as a farmer in a number of amazing settings and has inspired those around her to enjoy growing and cooking healthy food. As an educator, Maggie works to give her students essential skills in farming, nutrition and healthful eating. To learn more about Maggie and the Woolman Semester, check out their Facebook, or visit their website!


Sophie: What is the Woolman Semester and how does the school support local and sustainable agriculture?

Maggie: The Woolman Semester School is a progressive academic school for high school students who want to make a difference in the world, who want to take charge of their education and study the issues that matter most to them.  Students take an active role in their learning experience through community work, organic gardening and cooking, permaculture, art, wilderness exploration, service work, and by doing advocacy and activism work with real issues of peace, justice and sustainability in the world.

At Woolman we hope to embody a vibrant food system on campus and welcome participants of all backgrounds.  Integrating our students into our food systems and educating them about current food industries helps to foster reverence for natural systems in and out of our garden.  Students and Interns help grow produce in The Woolman Garden that they prepare in our kitchen.  We source additional organic, local and regional foods when needed, and visit many of these businesses on field trips.  The Garden Program also donates time, resources and produce to local schools hoping to share the bounty.

Sophie: What is your role at Woolman, and how does it influence your work as a farmer?

Maggie: I am the Farm to Table Manager at the Woolman Semester.  I manage our once acre site, our orchard and oversee many of the food systems on campus.  It’s a pleasure to provide our kitchen with as much fresh produce as we can use thought the year, put up surplus for the offseason and diversify our meal plans to utilize choice, seasonal produce.

Additionally, I coordinate garden and nutrition education for our students, interns and visiting schools. I teach a weekly Farm to Table elective, an advanced Farm and Garden Course to our interns and I lead educational field trips for local schools.  I also generate funds for the garden program by selling produce and transplants in addition to offering an 18 week CSA.

My roll at Woolman greatly influences my work as a farmer.  From the crop plan, system design to lesson plans, I am constantly evolving my growing practices to support the kitchen and inspire those who eat and cook on campus.  Primarily, I’m focused on creating a space and an experience that is not only beautiful and inviting but also encourages learning and connects our community to the land and the food that nourishes us.  My experience as a commercial farmer informs my understanding of how we have become separated from our food.  At Woolman I have the opportunity to design and share a food producing system in a new way, focusing on facilitating connection and resiliency instead of profit margins.

Sophie: Describe a day on the Woolman Farm, if possible!

No day on the Woolman Farm is ever the same, nor is it entirely predictable.  This makes it very exciting but makes planning difficult.  Our garden is a flurry of students of all ages, hummingbirds, pollinators, cats even occasional skunks!  Our learnscape is home over sixty annual crops, dozens of perennials and is dripping with flowers and herbs; all needing their own form of care.  There is always something to do and always that sweet quite spot that beckons the daydreamer.  We might start the day with recording and discussing observations, harvest or planting, bed prep and them move on to a class on permaculture, a 3rd grade field trip or knock out some weeding.  Because of the variety in our schedule, participants of our program learn a divers set of skills and practices in any given day, including me!

Sophie: What’s one issue in agriculture you wish people were more aware of?

Maggie: This is a very difficult question.  I could basically start anywhere because many of us are disconnected from where our food comes from, how its grown and who grows it.  We have so far to go in educating the public about the environmental and social ramifications of the current industrial food system, its affect on our health and that of the natural systems that we rely on.  One obvious improvement would be awareness around externalized coats in food production.

Generally speaking, ‘cheaply’ produced food doesn’t actually help anyone accept big business owners.  We rarely stop to ask, What are the actual coasts of manufacturing and consuming affordable and highly processed convenience foods?  Our bodies, our landfills, our soils, our atmosphere, our medical industries… are all paying for it. Many of the cheapest foods require the most energy, medical and environmental problems.  In particular, generating awareness of how subsidies and other externalized coasts end up affecting food scarcity, food access in low-income communities and the resulting effects on their health and well-being is very important.

Producing healthy food has many coasts but if we were to allocate resources to producing nutrient dense fruits and veggies instead of feed, refined foods and sweeteners we could improve food equity and affordability.  Most organic, fresh produce has fewer externalized coasts making it closer to its true cost and sadly, unaffordable to many who need it most.

Also, the production of conventional flowers and nursery plants is one of the most toxic, inhumane and environmentally impactful agribusinesses in the world today.  There is no regulatory body that governs this industry to safe practices because it’s not a food product.  Thus, it is no surprise that very few people hear how destructive this agribusiness has become. Addressing this exploitative industry could go a long way for fare trade, social justice and global sustainability.

Sophie: Anything else you’d like to add?

Maggie: Surprisingly for me, spending my time growing food is one of the most radical social, environmental and political occupations I can design.  Fortunately, this form of subtle activism affords a rewarding daily experience that greatly enhances my life. I am so grateful to have to opportunity to continue farming without the privilege of owning property and without the pressures of a commercial business.  At Woolman I have the pleasure of continuing my own education and practice in a community that celebrates learning and inspiration. I would encourage anyone who is interested in growing food to look for alternative settings where compromising visions because of economic pressures are minimized.  It is in these settings that for me, the joy and experience of farming has really come alive.

Sophie: Thank you so much Maggie!


 Illustrations by Sophie Brinker of Growing Cities

Women in Agriculture

December 20th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

There have been many projects popping up recently celebrating the growing number of female farmers around the world. Here are a few links to learn more!

1. The Female Farmer Project by Audra Mulkern:


(photo from website)

This wonderful photojournalism project helps illustrate the rise in women in agriculture. Audra shows the strength and diversity of farmers around the world!

2. The Women Farmers, Land, and Agricultural Trust (WFLAT) in Zimbabwe


(photo from website)

This organization is training women in Zimbabwe to grow their own food & through community gardens come together in solidarity. The hope from Phides Mazhawidza, the Director of WFLAT, is that women have equal access to land and resources.

3. And here is a great article on US agriculture and the role of women in farming throughout history…


(photo from website)

It’s wonderful to see the ways women are working to change the system through farming! Let’s continue to support female farmers around the globe!

Looking for a Holiday Gift?

November 29th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

Imagine curling up by the fire with friends and family, sipping some hot cocoa, and learning more about urban farming this holiday season! We are so excited here at Growing Cities to offer our documentary for sale on DVD! Click here for more information, and we hope you stay cozy as winter arrives!


Save Springdale Farm!

November 21st, 2014
Sophie Brinker

Springdale Farm, located in Austin, Texas, and featured in our film, has been under fire recently over land use regulations and events that are critical to the financial stability of the farm. Zoning and land use have long influenced the ability of communities to grow their own food. Paula and Glenn Foore, Springdale Farm’s founders, have recently been at the center of that debate within the neighborhood that the farm is located. Yesterday the city held a meeting regarding urban farm code, and listened to both sides of the story. Here is the summary of the meeting via Springdale Farm!

“City Council doesn’t think the Future Land Use Map needs to be changed for us to apply for a Conditional Use Permit. That’s good.
They voted 5-1 to allow Outdoor Entertainment as a conditional use. That’s what we wanted.
We need to go back to council on December 11 with a negotiated agreement with the neighbors on what would be a mutually beneficial plan for future events on the farm. Fair enough. That’s what we want, too”.

After traveling the country speaking to urban farmers in all stages of growth and struggle, we saw first hand how these laws can have a lasting effect on the presence of urban farms in communities. It is exciting to hear that cities are taking steps to listen to neighborhoods and farms and support folks to grow where they are. Congratulations, Springdale Farm!

Learn how you can support them by clicking the picture below.

Springdale Farm and their supporters show up for the meeting:

(photo from Springdale Farm’s Facebook page)



Cute Goat Break

October 29th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

Sometimes, it’s important to take a break and check out some amazing goat farms around the US!

1. Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA:

This goat farm is full of amazing dairy practices and adorable goats. Learn more about them here!


(Photos from the Harley Farms website)


 2. Lively Run Goat Farm in Interlaken, NY

One of the longest operating commercial goat dairies in the country, Lively Run is home to a healthy herd of Alpine and Sanaan Goats. Learn more about their farm practices and delicious cheeses here.


(Photos from Lively Run Website)


3. Green Faerie Farm in Berkeley, CA

Thought goats only lived in the country? So did we, until we met Jim Montgomery at Green Faerie Farm located in the heart of Berkeley. Jim not only makes delicious cheeses, he also walks his goats around the neighborhood! Learn more on his Facebook, or watch Growing Cities and see Green Faerie Farms on the silver screen!


(Photo from


Watch Growing Cities on PBS!

October 19th, 2014
Sophie Brinker


Tune in to your local PBS station this Fall to see our movie! Check out the broadcast schedule here: If you don’t see your station on the list, don’t worry! We’ll be adding more showings for the spring too. Have a great day, and remember to #growwhereyouare!


Getting Creative in City Spaces

October 7th, 2014
Sophie Brinker

It can seem like living in a city may mean the absence of living in nature and working in a garden. But think again! Many communities all over the world are and have been planting gardens in urban spaces for centuries. Here are a few ways people have gotten creative with the space they have, and built community through those efforts!

1. DJ Cavem is a rapper and song writer from the 5 points in Denver, CO. He encourages his neighborhood and others to garden as a form of empowerment and community building:

2. Sky Greens in Singapore is the “world’s first low carbon hydraulic water-driven, tropical vegetable urban vertical farm, using green urban solutions to achieve enhanced green sustainable production of safe, fresh and delicious vegetables, using minimal land, water and energy resources”. They help create ways for companies and individuals to have access to greens in a city where space on the ground is hard to come by.


3. Bus Roots in NYC is a fun and exciting way to bring farming on the road! Used as an educational tool, these farmers are reclaiming forgotten space and growing plants that can be transported anywhere.



Q & A with Emily Snyder from Food Day

October 1st, 2014
Sophie Brinker

This last week Growing Cities had the opportunity to talk with Emily Snyder about Food Day 2014! Emily joined the Food Day team in August of 2013. Prior to this, Emily worked on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Nutrition Action Healthletter. Emily earned a B.S. in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell University, and completed the Cornell Dietetic Internship. She is a Registered Dietitian, and a member of the Board of Directors of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Area Dietetic Association (DCMADA). Click the photo below to learn even more about how you can get involved with Food Day!


Sophie: What is Food Day ​and how do you​ ​all ​support local and sustainable agriculture?

Emily: Food Day inspires Americans to change their diets and our food policies. Every October 24, thousands of events all around the country bring Americans together to celebrate and enjoy real food and to push for improved food policies. October 24 is a day to resolve to make changes in our own diets and to take action to solve food-related problems in our communities at the local, state, and national level. In 2014, Food Day will have a special focus on food access and justice for food and farm workers.

Food Day aims to support sustainable and organic farms. Currently, sustainable farms receive little to no federal support and often lack market access to keep them competitive. Meanwhile, the largest 10 percent of industrialized farms—which contribute to poor health and severe environmental degradation—receive 75 percent of all farm subsidies.

Sophie: How long has Food Day been happening, and where did it get its start?

Emily: Food Day was created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in 2011, but it is powered by a diverse coalition of food movement leaders and organizations, including student leaders, public offices, school districts, and local organizers.

Food Day invites you to be a part of the movement that seeks to transform the way Americans eat.

Sophie:​ How can people get involved with Food Day in their community?

Emily:There are a number of ways to get involved depending on your time, interest, and resources. Here are a few:

•Spread the word about Food Day to your friends, family, and network, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

•Advocate for a food or nutrition policy in your community. 35 Ways to Change the Food System: The Essential Food Day Toolkit is a great resource.

•Host an event or organize an activity, whether large or small.

•Coordinate Food Day activity for your area.

•Attend events in your community.

Sophie: ​What’s your favorite part of our film, Growing Cities, and why?

Emily: I first saw Growing Cities in April 2014 at a film screening that Food Day hosted in Washington, DC, and I loved it.

While it’s hard to pick a favorite part of the film, I think it has to be the part about Windowfarms. I live in an apartment building in Washington, DC, on the sixth floor. I have no yard for a garden.It’s neat to see innovative ways to grow food wherever we are. From the film: “Instead of blinds [in windows], why don’t we use that space for farming? … They can also be something beautiful that we live with.” I have a windowsill herb garden, but now want to get a Windowfarm also!

Sophie: What’s one issue in the food movement you wish people were more aware of?

Emily: Justice throughout the food chain—from farm workers to child consumers. And that is one of the reason’s that Food Day 2014 will have a special focus on food justice, as well as increasing Americans’ access to healthful food.

America’s food system is extraordinarily productive, but aspects of it represent injustices to workers on farms, in slaughterhouses, and in restaurants; to child and adult consumers; to farm animals; and to the environment. To find out more, check out this infographic we created as part of Food Day’s focus on food justice.

Sophie: Anything else you’d like to add?

Emily: Please get involved in Food Day! However you and your community chooses to celebrate, the key is participation. For more information, please get in touch with us at or202-777-8392.

These good food interviews are part of Growing Cities “Grow Where You Are” campaign to inspire and empower people to get more deeply involved in their local food systems and create healthier, more sustainable, and just communities.