Growing Cities

I can never say how much I love my city. Yea, there is still a lot of work to be done, but the minds are open and many are willing to work at making our fair city the best. It sure does help to have the our well equipped, activist minded library at hand. The are always putting on events and they recently gave us a free viewing of the documentary Growing Cities. It is a film about urban farming. You can visit them here 


I went to the auditorium at the downtown library location hoping to get inspired and focused on my urban homestead, along with helping to further the message. There were so many great ideas on how to do this. But, like many other things it starts at home.. start a garden, get a goat, or get some chickens and get your kids involved.  I thought about how I could delivery whole foods, teach healthy cooking, and plant a garden for home health patients. Perhaps the western medicine machine would not like that… they would get healthy… however, with the Affordable Care Act, the western medicine machine is going more towards health promotion/disease prevention. At least, here in Kentucky. It would behoove us to visit the farmer’s market more, learn to can and preserve food as well as learn to eat well on a small budget by growing as much of our own food as possible. This film showed many different examples of how it can be and is being done.


There are 35 million of acres of lawn. This is one of my greatest pet peeves. I see businesses every where; churches, synagogues, and mosques with massive lawns that they pay someone to burn gas to cut and tons of chemicals to grow and green up the grass. What a wasteful way to poison us rather than use it to feed people. Abraham Lincoln said over 150 years ago,  “Before long the most valuable of all arts, will be deriving subsistence from the smallest area of the soil. No community whose every member possesses this art can ever be the victim of oppression.” How true this rings for today.

In the film, two young men (the filmmaker and the photographer), Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette,  travel across country from San Francisco to Portland to Seattle eastward to Detroit to New Hampshire to New York southward to Atlanta to Alabama to New Orleans westward to Texas and back home to Nebraska and a few other stops along the way. They gleaned lessons and ideas from each place.

These lessons included a walk down memory lane to the age of the Victory Gardens of WWII and the School Garden Armies of San Francisco. The mindset there is that farming (in any scale) is a “church without walls and Earth is the only country.” Another farmer stated that the one thing in common with all people is that we must all eat. “Food is a unifyer.”

There are some people that are trying to save the bees as well. Without bees, no food. One such organization is called Backwards Beekeepers. The go to people’s homes where nests have started in the garage or attic or what-have-you and relocate them to gardens. The importance of bees can be best surmised by the fact that a cucumber alone needs to be pollinated 5-6 times so that it can grow.

In the film we learn words like “sustainability”, “food security”, “food justice” and  “food desert”. Sustainability means the concept of something that is able to be used without being completely used up or destroyed or involving methods that do not completely use up or destroy natural resources. Food security is the state of having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. This is certainly very difficult when most big farms (factory farms) are just planting corn and soy. This not only gives us nothing nutritious to eat, but depletes the soil of nutrients. Food justice is the concept that everyone has the right to access healthy, culturally appropriate food. Food desert is a neighborhood that has little to no access to healthy food. Each corner is a convenient store or liquor store, but no grocery store. 

It is reflected that many metropolitan cities try to shy away from their states agricultural history. As if it is a shameful thing to be a farmer or “redneck”. Followers of this movement are trying to be more self-sufficient, not only in food but in housing and transportation as well. The staggering statistic that in 1942, there were 15 million gardens and 7.5 billion pounds of food. If each of us grew a garden, there would be no hungry people.

I learned that some farmer’s market are more like old time outdoor markets with live music, giving it a festival feel to it and probably attracting more people to the idea of farmer’s market and growing cities. There are interesting programs that provides a plot of land to food stamp recipients. The vision statement is “share food, share culture.” A person can feed 1000 people from one small farm by using vertical space. Vertical space can easily triple your growing area.

In Europe, farmers are above doctors in the social class system because they are the ones that keep us alive. Makes me want to move to Europe. There are unique ways to obtain growing space. One is to make a deal with the owners of a plot of land in the city.. let them know you will improve the value of the property and aid the community and that with 30 days notice you will vacate and give them the land back. Another and far more interesting way is look to old abandoned warehouses; they are perfect for aquaponics; with some grow lights and you will be raising fish and food. The farmers highlighted that we are wasting human potential by not growing our cities. We are feeding kids to death and then not giving them means to learn to work, job skills, confidence, and purpose in life. While growing our cities, we can provide these services and teach them nutrition and health.

In Detroit, we learn that 550,000 are living in a food desert. In some neighborhoods, unemployment is 50%. The place depopulated so quickly leaving gutted homes and 500,000 vacant lots. Recently I read an article of one of the high schools closed in Detroit will become a 26.9 acre urban farm and becoming an agricultural campus. You can read more here. The people have proven that urban farming is economically viable.

Scott Stokey, the mentor of the filmmaker, says we have to do away with the old idea of country vs. city and understand that urban farming is a better way to think. In 1793, time of the Boston Tea Party, 90% of Americans were farmers and now only 2% of Americans are; yet we have a larger population… all needing to eat and eat healthfully. Another impetus is to save the planet from our over consumption.  The chemicals we once used to make bombs are now used as fertilizer… with oil, we left the gardens and now we must return to the garden and get a hold of the process before oil is depleted and we have a shock to the system; the earth system.

Other ideas presented were window gardens using hydroponics and pumps. In many cities, the rooftops are becoming acre farms. These farms absorbs storm water and keep billions of gallons of water from entering the sewer system. Many churches are making use of their lawns to grow food; parishioners work the land and feed themselves as well as the poor.

There are 596 acres in Brooklyn of what the city calls “unusable” land. This is a trend in many cities. There is a movement to take back the public vacant land and grow food. Even here in Louisville, one lady purchased three lots in an unsavory neighborhood for $10 a plot to cultivate food. We must be resourceful and loudly advocate for the empty land in our city’s possession. Here in Louisville, we even have guerrilla grafters; they graft fruit trees to the innumerous and fairly useless ornamentals planted around the city to provide food for people and animals.

In this country, we waste 30% of food which equals 39 million tons of food. One guy has an innovative solution, Compost Cab Co. He delivers a bin, you fill it, he picks it up weekly and gives you a clean bin, then delivers the compost to urban farms. It is ingenious because every one gets to contribute to the cycle of life and the growth of their food.

Many urban farms have kids programs or are completely centered around teaching children. In one county in Alabama, they are ranked #2 for childhood obesity. They are working to counter this by having the kids on the farm learning to grow healthy food, cook healthy food and undo traditional “southern” cooking methods of added fat, sugar and salt. One reason for this obesity epidemic is the fact that Home Ec classes have been taken out of schools and now our children do not learn nutrition, cooking from scratch, sewing, budgets, etc.

My heart broke when I heard the teacher (and the creator) of Our School at Blair Grocery, state that a government official of New Orleans did not want them to “encourage kids to go to college, [as] we need a low pay workforce.” The teacher said that growing cities is an “economic engine”; growing is caring. Ron Finley, guerilla gardener of Los Angeles, said it best when he said, “growing your own food is like printing your own money.” It is empowering.

The filmmaker himself decided to have his own teaching farm… in the back of a pick up. He decided to create a mobile farm so that he can take it to the local schools and teach children about how to grow their own food and eat healthy.

The theme for the library in May is gardening and there will be more activities on this topic. The editor of Green Living and director of Yert (a documentary of “your environmental road trip”), Ben Evans , was the host of this event and he brought in a few influencers of different organizations to answer questions we locals may have on how to grow our cities. It was great to hear from them. Present were Food and Neighbors Coalition, 15 Thousand Farmers, Slow Food Bluegrass, Lots of Food, Kentuckiana Beekeepers, Feed The Dirt, and Louisville Grows. They provided a lot of information of how we could grow our city and what is already being done and how to get involved. I did learn that there was one area not being addressed enough… canning and preserving food. However, I did learn that there is aquaculture being done in the old Naval Ordinance building. This is a great movement and I hope to me more a part of it. It is imperative to our human (and animal) survival.


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