Growing Cities Blog
The end of 2011 marks a year of production on Growing Cities for Dan and I (Andrew)! We feel so fortunate and pleased to be working on this film and can’t wait to have a final product to show everyone. Although there is a long road ahead to reach that point we’ve really come a long way in twelve months. From dreaming of the open road and planning the itinerary last winter, to the road trip this summer, to a three-month stay in San Francisco transcribing the film – we have experienced and learned so much and are eager to share.
The beginning of 2011 saw Dan and I reunited in our hometown of Omaha, NE for the first time since 2006. While both working part time jobs we worked non-stop in our free time to discuss the wide variety of tasks we had to complete before we hit the road. We needed to do research on the farms and farmers, learn filming and lighting techniques, raise money, start a production company and so much more. The list was seemingly endless. We needed to pinpoint what cities we should visit, how long to spend in each place, who to talk to while we’re there, and figure out how each city fit in the bigger picture of urban farming. As two young filmmakers we also needed to learn some tricks of the trade such as the three point lighting system, how to get the best possible sound and video in various tough situations and how to overcome the many other challenges of shooting professionally on a limited budget and time. But day by day we prepared for the road trip of our lives, recruited our friend Brent Lubbert as production manager, and were ready to go by May 1st.
The days of May, June, and July were filled with countless hot hours in the van traversing 13,000 miles across the country, visiting and filming over 80 urban farms, meeting and speaking with hundreds of farmers and activists, learning about local economies, farm subsidies, organic fertilizers, healthy cooking practices, how to humanely transport bee hives, job creation strategies, how to milk goats, social justice, education, land use and development and so much more. That is to say we traveled the country with our eyes and ears wide open learning and tasting as much as we could.
We met the locals and tried the local delicacies. We can’t deny that we enjoyed a lunch of squirrel tacos in Austin, TX. We felt the rush of filming in Times Square when we probably weren’t allowed to be shooting. In New York City we also took an elevator up to a farm for the first time and sampled produce grown several stories up. We learned how amazing fresh honey can be in Los Angeles while relocating a wild hive of honey bees. We planted seeds in just about every city we stopped in. We saw farms in window sills, in the back of trucks, and floating on barges in the Hudson River. Also in backyards, alleys, on top of basketball courts as well as in countless vacant lots. It was fascinating to see how creative people can be when the situation called for it.
We went to the parts of town in LA, Oakland, Detroit, Philadelphia, and New Orleans that most people are told to avoid and met folks in each of these places doing amazing work for their communities through farming. We saw the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Great lakes and mighty rivers, as well as the Gulf Coast. Only a trip like that helps you realize just how massive and diverse our country is. We saw people transforming the space around them and challenging the notion that city dwellers should only be consumers of their food. We saw people taking charge of changing the way they eat and it was incredibly inspiring – something we can’t wait to bring to the movie screen. It was a journey that tested us physically, mentally, and emotionally every day. It challenged our assumptions (both negative and positive) about America and dared to paint an encouraging picture of our future. As an activity or hobby urban farming is something anyone can get into. As a burgeoning nationwide grass-roots movement is it something we all need to get behind.
We can’t tell you how excited we are to bring the stories from our road trip to life in our film. With one year down we have at least another year to go before we’re finished. We thank you for all the support you’ve shown us so far and we pledge to work hard to finish the film in the upcoming year. The efforts of the men and women farming in our cities (and in rural areas) deserve widespread recognition and praise. These farmers should be elevated to the status of doctors, lawyers, and politicians. It’s time we give them their due – after all, without farmers, how would we sustain ourselves? In particular, urban farmers are creating their own realities by making cities more economically, socially, and environmentally just through their actions every single day. It’s our mission to help foster this movement, to tell these farmers’ amazing stories, and inspire people across the country to create GROWING CITIES of their own.
Well dear friends it was a long and wild roadtrip around America but we made it safely back to Omaha over a week ago. While trying to gather our thoughts about the now completed adventure, catch up on sleep, and become respectable smelling human beings again we’ve been meeting urban gardeners, beekeepers, and a woman with goats in her backyard – all around Omaha!
We slaughtered a chicken and picked veggies at City Sprouts in North Midtown, Omaha’s oldest urban farming organization. We met Diodone and Jeanie there to harvest the bird and veggies in the morning and ate the chicken at a rowdy potluck later that evening. It was very humbling to witness the process it takes to get an animal ready to eat on your plate – an experience more Americans should have. Over the years City Sprouts has quietly built a great urban food production model that creates jobs for young adults and brings the community together in a variety of ways. In a few days we’ll go around with Tyler and Matt from City Sprouts on their bike routes around Omaha as they sell organic produce. Can’t wait to see that in action!
We also got a good look at a small but productive backyard farm at the Bedford Gardens in Benson. Joy & Haley grow a variety of organic veggies and herbs that they sell to restaurants and at farmer’s markets. She said the demand for her produce is always greater than the supply – proving that even in Omaha theres a market for sustainably raised local food. The two ladies were also the wine managers for The Grey Plume, a top new restaurant in Omaha that they informed us was the greenest restaurant in the country. We’d love to learn more about green restaurants and we hope to visit the Grey Plume and speak with the chef there soon.
A few days ago we met Amy in South Omaha and helped her milk her goats she keeps in her backyard. She uses the goats for fresh milk for her family and to make an assortment of cheeses. She also had chickens in her backyard as well. The city has already made her get rid of her sheep and were giving her a hard time about her other animals but she’s confident she can keep them. The other day we hung out with Gary, Tony, and Gabe in Gary’s South Omaha backyard where he keeps three stacks of honeybees. He got really interested in bees after hearing about colony collapse from a coworker and decided he’d get some as pets and honey producers. The honey he gave us was so sweet and delicious it makes you want to acquire bees of your own as soon as possible.
Last night we paid a visit to our friend Kurt at the Benson Community Garden. Before we left on our trip Kurt and the gardeners were tilling up the grass and beginning to plant the different plots so it was great to come back and see how well everything was growing after three months. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, and herbs filled up the former vacant lot and Kurt was hosting a cook-out for community members. He’s done an amazing job transforming the space in his neighborhood and we’re thrilled with the enthusiastic community response. Its been great to see projects like these happening in Omaha. Before we left we had no idea anyone was raising goats or bees or keeping chickens for eggs and meat. Now, we can see a small but growing movement in our own city – one that is dedicated to creating a sustainable and healthy future for everyone.
We arrived at the potluck Sunday night after experiencing the madness of Sixth St., hearing some live music, and getting a decent night’s sleep for a change. Kim and Steph welcomed us in even with our camera and sound gear in tow. Dorsey and Susan from Hausbar, Glen and Paula from Springdale, and Carol Ann and Larry from Boggy Creek were all there and the food looked magnificent. Steph had cooked up some pork to juicy perfection; there was an amazing salad with arugula, homemade pesto, a peach, couscous, and almond dish, as well as smoky homemade salsa from Hausbar. Margaritas and other libations were free flowing as were the conversations. There was a loving genuine bond between the farmers and it was awesome to be a part of their group for the night. We heard some great stories from everyone present and although ages varied throughout the group we all laughed together like kindred spirits. It was a brilliant end to the tour and we can’t thank our hosts enough (in Texas and all across the country). Hopefully see y’all soon!
Mid-Saturday morning we met Glenn and Paula at Springdale Farm and had a blast touring their land and chatting with them. We three Cornhuskers instantly bonded with the two Texas A&M football fans over our love for college football and Glenn proudly displayed a large A&M logo painted on his barn. They had been in the landscape business for over a decade before deciding to move onto their five acre property near Boggy Creek and start a sustainable farm in 2009. They have over 100 ducks and chickens and grow a variety of basil and other herbs, onions, eggplant, peppers, and much more. They sell to restaurants and at a farmstand they host twice a week. Initially not wanting to disrupt their established neighbors’ business, the two farms eventually decided to host markets on the same days to create a food hub in East Austin – to wonderful effect. Glenn and Paula talked about their great relationships with the surrounding farms and how they all share tips and information. Neither of them ever thought they’d be doing what they are today – living off the land in a beautiful house only a few miles from downtown Austin. Regardless, they’ve made a great start to their farming lives and they’re the kind of folks who make you think “Hey, maybe I could do this too someday.” Just need some land and a lot of hard work!
(Drumroll please) After hanging out with Glenn and Paula at Springdale we went around the corner to Rain Lily Farm, the last farm of our national tour. The owners Steph and Kim invited us in for some ice water and a quick respite of AC before touring the farm. The heat was sweltering at around 106 but the crops still looked good. Steph told us a few years ago temperatures wouldn’t reach the 100s for more than six days a summer but they surpassed that tally way back in May. Rain Lily had rows of basil, peppers, and eggplant, bees, a pair of shy goats way in the back, as well as a turkey in the midst of a flock of chickens. They supplement what they grow with produce from nearby farms to create excellent CSA boxes that they deliver each week. Along with two of the other East Austin farms, and many others we visited nationwide, Steph and Kim grew their produce organically, but chose not to pay the extravagant sums to gain the USDA certification. They also spoke of their admiration for the other neighborhood farms and the inspiration they drew from Carol Ann and Larry at Boggy Creek. East Austin was once considered to be the wrong side of town but the four farms played an integral role in reversing the neighborhood’s fortunes. After we finished we promptly headed back inside for more ice water but Steph surprised us with some delicious and potent margaritas to mark the occasion. As we enjoyed them they invited us to a monthly potluck dinner with the other East Austin farmers they were hosting the following evening. We were originally going to drive hOmaha on Sunday but couldn’t pass up an opportunity to spend some time with our amazing Texan friends and witness the community they’ve built up around growing food so we decided to stick around Austin.