Growing Cities Blog

Reflections on Urban Farming in Russia

April 17th, 2014

When we started making Growing Cities, a new documentary about urban farming in America, we never imagined where it would take us. As a road-trip film, we knew we’d be traveling across country meeting farmers, innovators, and community organizers from New York to New Orleans – but what we didn’t know is the international interest the film would garner upon completion.

The film has screened in communities across the world, including in the U.K., Croatia, Iceland, Portugal, and Australia to name a few. We’ve found the issues in the film, such as community revitalization, food deserts, and land use are not unique to the US, but are the same problems communities across the world are struggling with.

Most recently, we had the opportunity to travel to Moscow, Russia, as part of the Ecocup Film Festival and with the support of the US Embassy. I spoke with many students and citizens there about urban agriculture, which is a relatively new concept for Russians. However, that isn’t to say they don’t have a long history tied to the land.

Almost every time we showed the film, someone would ask, ‘have you heard of dachas?’ At first, I had no idea, though by the third or fourth time I had a pretty good understanding. Dachas (literally meaning ‘something given’ in ancient Russian) are peri-urban seasonal homes, which usually have small land allotments attached. These plots were first given out to loyal vassals starting in the late 17th century with Peter the Great, though now Russians from all classes have these plots.
Many Russians, especially of the older generation, spend their summers at their dachas cultivating their favorite fruits and vegetables – not just beets and cabbage, but many others such as apples, carrots, leeks, and mushrooms. In fact, some estimate close to 40% of Russians food is produced by dachas, including half of the milk, two-thirds of the vegetables, and more than 80% of the country’s fruits and berries. So maybe it’s the rest of the world who should be learning from the Russians when it comes to food production?

The best equivalent I could come up with in the U.S. is the community garden, except these are obviously much closer to where people live and usually smaller. Since many Russians were very concerned about contamination of urban soils and air, I stressed techniques such as raised beds or bio-remediation in order to avoid soil contaminants like lead or petroleum.

Though I don’t expect my visit will start a wave of community gardens or aquaponics farms, it is my hope that Russians took as much as I did from our interactions. And who knows, maybe a rooftop farm in Moscow will sprout up sometime soon … let’s just call it a dacha!

To learn more about GROWING CITIES or to HOST A SCREENING  in your community visit: 

Growing Cities March Newsletter!

March 19th, 2014

Growing Cities Newsletter

A monthly update on our documentary and your chance to meet a few of the many inspirational people we’ve gotten to know in the urban farming movement.
Still time to Host-a-Screening for Earth Day!
As you start your seeds and prep your beds for Spring, there isn’t a better way to get some extra inspiration than by hosting a screening of Growing Cities to kickoff the gardening season at your farm, school, or local foods group!Remember, sponsoring organizations get…

  • Educational DVD with closed-captioning, Spanish subtitles, and bonus materials
  • Publicity materials (e.g. posters, postcards)
  • Discussion guide
  • Right to use film to promote your work

Dan InterviewDiscussionSt. Basil's Cathedral

Great screening success…

After returning from a great tour in Russia as part of the Ecocup Film Festival, we received ‘Best Feature Film’ at the Green Lens Film Festival! It was a very interesting time in Moscow presenting the film to many Russian students and citizens, as well as meeting filmmakers from around the world. Thanks to the US Embassy for sponosoring the visit!

It was ‘butter week’ while I was in Russia, including a day where we ate pancakes three separate times before lunch!
Awesome upcoming screenings…
The film continues to roll out cross-country including some upcoming premieres in D.C., San Francisco, and even Thailand:EcoFocus Film Fest – Athens, GA
March 23rd, 2014 at 3:00pm, tickets hereDC Environmental Film Fest- Washington, DC
Mar 26th, 2014 at 7:15pm, info here

Food and Farm Film Fest - San Francisco, CA
April 5th, 2014 at 4pm, tickets here (filmmaker in-attendance!)

…More upcoming events (updated daily). Not an event where you live? Then host-a-screening in your community!

Educational DVD now available on website…
If you want to bring Growing Cities to your local library, college, or K-12 school but don’t want to put on a big shin-dig, then visit our shop page to order an educational DVD today!
Thanks for your support and good luck with those seedlings!
-Dan, Andrew, & the rest of the Growing Cities Team
PS Join us on our Website or by following us on Facebook and Twitter, watching our clips on YouTube, or by adding a farm in your city to our Map!

Classes to Help Connect With Gardening

February 27th, 2014

The Urban Farm School of Seattle is a small farmhouse in the city that allows people to grow within a 4,000 sq. ft. area.  Below are some up coming classes for those in the area!  Here’s an excerpt from their post in regards to the classes.  The post is by Seattle Urban Farm School .

Urban Farm School

Urban Farm School

Hello, friends of Urban Farm School!

Spring is so close now I can taste it, so it’s time to get some spring classes on the books! I’m super excited about all the ideas I have up my sleeve for farm school this year! Not only that, it looks like I’ll be able to start construction on the farm schoolhouse any time now, so it is very likely that this spring’s classes will be held in our brand new schoolhouse classroom!!! Words cannot explain how excited I am about that possibility! Expect a post with updates soon! Until then, here are the upcoming classes I’ve posted so far! Sign up, friends! Let’s get growing!

Saturday, March 15th at 10:00am: From Lawn to Lunch

Missed this class at the Flower & Garden show? Didn’t get to sign up for the now SOLD OUT version of this class I’m teaching at the Pantry at Delancey? Now’s your chance to sign up! Topics will include preparing the site (including an explanation of the sheet mulching process to kill grass and build soil); general raised bed information, including dimensions and tips for construction; preparing the bed for square food gardening (tips for installing the grid system/philosophy); seed sowing 101 (general tips for sowing seeds for maximum germination); and thinning/transplanting techniques to give your veggies room to grow. Click here to register.

Saturday, March 22 at 10:00am: Space Saver Gardening

This class is all about the secrets of space saver gardening so that you can grow the largest yield of food and beneficial flowers that you can in a small space! You’ll learn square foot gardening basics; information on what vegetables, flowers and herbs grow well together (companion planting); container gardening suggestions and strategies for growing vertically. You’ll leave this class armed with strategies for making the most of your space! Click here to register.

Read more HERE!

Treehugger Film Review: “Grow Some Food. Wherever you Are.”

February 14th, 2014

A great review from … “Inspiring, educational … and definitely worth watching!”

Growing Cities doc film

© Growing Cities

“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 Trailer from Growing Cities Movie on Vimeo.

“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.

How the sun can be another tool utilized in your urban garden

January 28th, 2014

Good morning,

It may seem strange to mention the sun when many areas of the country are iced over and cloud ridden, but utilizing the sun’s full potential can help your urban farming experience.  Read the blog below written by Greg Peterson on the Urban Farm Blog for more details and explanation.


Sunlight—we all get some or a lot, but besides turning it into a nice tan, heating water or making a few hundred watts of electricity, what else can you do with the brilliant sunshine? How about channeling it into a cost-effective, energy-saving tool for cooking? Yep, I am talking about one of the greenest practices custom-made for us: the solar oven.

I am often asked in puzzlement, how hot can a solar oven really get? Well, there is that old anecdote about cooking an egg on the sidewalks of Phoenix in the height of summer…all joking aside, it really does get hot enough to cook in a solar oven. Sunshine can cook, steam or boil anything you can prepare in your conventional oven – all for free!

Believe it or not, solar cookers can be as fancy or as simple as regular kitchen ovens. Well, OK, most kitchen ovens are not quite as simple as an insulated cardboard box pointed at the sun, but there is quite a gamut of solar ovens available. In fact, my first solar oven was made by the Kerr-Cole Sustainable Living Center in Taylor, Arizona. Talk about basic: it was a cardboard box inside another cardboard box with insulation in between. But boy, did it work. Its internal temperatures regularly exceed 325° F. A little fancier and made from sturdier materials, my new solar oven is a Sun Oven, and can easily get up to 375° F.

Even better, solar ovens are a little like a two-for-one deal. They can serve as either a crockpot, where the temperature rises slowly, slow-cooking food throughout the day, or as a regular oven, baking, steaming or boiling all types of food. Plus the even temperatures of a solar oven help prevent overcooking. In fact, using my solar oven almost feels like cheating – no electricity, so no fear of burning my dinner and it couldn’t be more natural.

I know we’ve had some interesting weather, but don’t be fooled. Even though the sidewalks aren’t hot and it is brisk outside, the sun is bright enough to cook food. In fact, “a 40-degree, low-humidity day will allow food to cook faster than a 100-degree day with high humidity,” according to the makers of the Global Sun Oven. But remember that the days are getting shorter, so cooking hours will be somewhat limited.

If you’re considering a solar oven, here are some points to consider:

  • Sunlight is free. This goes without saying, but it’s important to consider as the economy continues to shift. The initial investment can vary from under $100 up to $300 or $400, depending on type and model, but there’s absolutely no cost beyond that.

Read more HERE!


Brand NEW Poster Art!

January 21st, 2014

Let us know what you think about our new poster artwork which will go on our DVD and promotional posters — thanks to Monet Hampson on the design!



Combining Nature and Physical Creation

December 19th, 2013


In fact, it’s been around since 3,500 BC when Mesopotamian farmers began setting aside plots in their growing cities. In a review of urban agriculture throughout modern history at a symposium at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., a diverse set of academics and designers ranging from historians to landscape architects discussed how the practice has evolved over the ages, often been highly ideological, and continues to be loaded with meaning. Organized by professor Dorothee Imbert, ASLA, chair of the master’s of landscape architecture program at Washington University in St. Louis, the conference looked at why urban agriculture is such a hot topic among the public and designers now but also hoped to put the current interest in a broader context. As Imbert said, “the inter-relationship between food and the city has a long history.”

Here are snippets of presentations that covered aspects of urban agricultural history in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the U.S.:

David Haney, Kent University School of Architecture, said London in the 1880s was the first “global, industrial city,” in part defined by its massive slums. Public parks were an early “instrument of social reform,” an effort to bring green space to the poor masses but urban agriculture soon became another tool for improving the conditions of the urban masses. As the Salvation Army got its start, one of its first programs were “farm colonies” designed to help urbanites “take care of themselves.” In fact, urban agriculture was viewed as a way for “everyone to become self-sufficient.” Haney explained the early role of anarchist thinkers like Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin, who had been imprisoned for pushing for social reforms in Tsarist Russia and eventually became an influential social reformer in the UK, informing the ideas of Ebenezer Howard, who created the “Garden City” concept. Haney explained how early London urban agriculture communities rooted in anarchist beliefs went on to influence the growth of utopian urban farming communities in Germany. One called Eden, an early vegetarian community, is actually still a “well-known brand” in Germany.

Haney thought that the idea of self-sufficiency and urban agriculture has come full-circle again, gaining traction through today’s “eco-villages.” These “intentional, small” communities may have a lineage based in ”anarchist” beliefs, but are now more widespread. However, Haney doubted whether these are actually “models for urban growth,” given they aren’t planned to be part of broader urban developments.

This is an excerpt from a post written by J Green on Global Possibilities blog.  Read more HERE!

Green Bridge Growers

December 9th, 2013

Check out this group, Green Bridge Growers! What follows is an excerpt from a blog post on their website.

We’ve been working with our  Hannah and Friends partners almost weekly in the past month – Lauren, Chris, and Jan have worked with residents and day program participants to teach some of the important features of aquaponics.  What makes a system work in harmony, how to test the water chemistry, fish biology, and the basics of plants have been the topics of the day at Hannah and Friends!

7835835The balance in an aquaponic system, where the fish and vegetables rely on each other to grow productively, is of huge importance!!!  We’ve focused on how to measure and monitor  important features of a system like pH, oxygen levels, temperature, and mineral content.  If any of these go off-kilter, we won’t be able to keep our plants healthy.  Everyone understood the importance of this monitoring, and dove right in to learning how to keep good, accurate records – and to observe everything they can about our fish and plants!

Read the remainder of the post, HERE!

Here’s more about their fundraising goal –> Indiegogo


A Thoughtful Look at Growing Your Own Food

December 2nd, 2013

What follows is an excerpt from a short blog post from Base Landscape that I found to be motivating and inspiring.  Take a look!


Two years ago I had surgery. That surgery was in many ways a wake up call, a call to action to live a different, healthier life, a life that would make me proud when I look back. Part of that process led me to leave my corporate job in a large design firm and start BASE. I wanted to have the freedom and the flexibility to focus on the work that really sparked my passion. Projects that made me excited and that I felt like my contribution was making a difference to my surroundings and hopefully the world.

Urban agriculture has been a passion of mine for a long time. As I learn more, that passion is taking me to focus on the industrial production of food, the importance of pollinators to produce the food, and the unfortunate prevalence of pesticides in our food and the negative healths effects that pesticides cause not just to humans but to the entire environment and particularly to pollinators, especially bees.

Read more HERE!

Ted Talk on Healing and Our Land

November 26th, 2013

Thanks to The Green Horns blog, for presenting this Ted talk.  Take a look!

Allan Savory

They ask that you…

Join us for this two-day conference in beautiful Chico, CA. We have an amazing line-up of speakers. Super-star Robb Wolf, New York Times best-selling author of The Paleo Solution, will be talking about eating the way humans were designed to. Our very own Allan Savory will be talking about how properly managing livestock can reverse desertification, restore grassland ecosystems and stop climate change. We’ll also have world-famous blogger and author Jenny Mcgruther who is the amazing woman behind one of the most popular food blogs in the world, Nourished Kitchen. Jenny will be talking about bringing these concepts home and how to implement them in our daily meals. We’ll have Dr. Cindy Daley, of Chico State, who has done incredible research, that’s being touted all over the globe, on the nutritional benefits of grass-fed meat and milk. We’ll also have a panel comprised of grass-fed livestock ranchers from around the north-state sharing a bit of their lifestyle and talking about how to make grass-fed meats more available to the masses.

Read more HERE!