University of Vermont

Sporks

Growing Cities

by Frederick Hall '15, Sustainability Outreach Intern

The Earth Week film “Growing Cities” takes you on a trans-American road trip with two, post college friends who begin their journey in Omaha, Nebraska. With joint interests in   sustainability and agriculture, the trip develops with a realization: the American food system is screwed up.

Growing_Cities_documentary_film.png.662x0_q100_crop-scale.pngThe two Omaha natives, Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette, noticed this as they returned from their respective East Coast colleges. Their beloved city no longer engaged in a healthy relationship with agriculture. In fact, the only thing these surrounding farms produce is genetically modified corn. This is processed into synthetic products and fed to animals. Quite ironically, the food capital of America must import food to supply their city with fresh produce. All the while, the possibility for urban agriculture idles as unused potential.

In their search for answers, Dan and Andrew set off to talk with the men and women who actively challenge the conventional food system and to discover a remedy for this global food system. Visiting Los Angeles, Oregon, Seattle, Milwaukee, Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Boston, New York City, Atlanta, and Alabama, these two interact with micro-farmers of all backgrounds and from all walks of life, but united around one commonality, the importance of food. These farmers, spanning from deadheads to ex-juvenile delinquents, acknowledge the inextricable value that comes with understanding the cycle of food. The reason is the ability farming has to ground an individual, binding him/her to the symbiotic relationship humankind and plants share. In essence, they equate the lesson of working the earth as the ultimate lesson of life.

This year’s Earth Week, a week filled with mind-opening events aimed at promoting earthy respect, has done it again. Growing Cities was moving in its ability to engage a diverse group of individuals and demolish the misconceptions of farming. There is such potential for implementing these farms in unused urban space, and the benefits are amazing. Not only does it offer societal wellbeing by providing nutritious vegetables, urban farming stands to serve as a multiplier for the local economy. Encouraging job growth and keeping money local allows for the domestic economy to flourish.

As for the environmental aspects, cutting back on vehicle miles traveled plays a large role. Overtime, this reduction becomes quite significant as a large portion of food consumed in the United States is imported from overseas (approx. $2.2 billion in 2013). Constructing outdoor facilities in empty parking lots, or on rooftops significantly cuts down on harmful runoff. Thus, reducing energy usage for water-treatment and preventing contamination. This is all in addition to the physical and mental stimulus that farming provides.

The 90 minutes I spent watching Dan and Andrew's story was enjoyable and fascinating as it instilled a greater take away message. The current systems, from agriculture to energy and education to society, are by no means perfected, nor are they set in stone. Those individuals, who cut against the grain of convention to produce something worthwhile are visionaries and should be supported by us, the consumers.

Seeing this film has prompted me to put the food I eat under greater scrutiny. Instead of simply reading the expiration date, I value food that contains organic minerals and nutrients and is sourced locally. Through further research, I have discovered that the problem with Omaha is not unique. Of the Midwest’s corn production, 40 percent goes into feedlots to fatten livestock while a third of the crop is exported for use as ethanol. It is troubling to see the reality of the food system. Taking back the farms and growing locally can alleviate this problem, as it allows for greater social welfare, environmental health, and economic prosperity to be achieved.