If you live in an apartment in a city, could you ever imagine growing and eating your own lettuce? In your apartment? Well, apparently a growing number of Americans can.
Throughout America, there is an increasing interest in urban farming. Even in New York, with Manhattan and Brooklyn boroughs as the two most expensive areas to live in the US, the concept is gaining popularity as more and more households adopt a new lifestyle.
As people learn more about processed foods with additives and preservatives, many are beginning to seek pure food and natural ingredients. The growing organic food and beverage sector in the US is a result of this, which in 2011 accounted for $29.2 billion in sales and is forecasted to grow 9 percent or higher in 2012 and 2013, according to the Organic Trade Association. One way to ensure the integrity of your own food supply is to grow it yourself -- even if you live in the middle of the city.
New York City is fertile ground for this trend, where plenty of rooftops are now doing double duty as both roof as well as plant bed. Even on a smaller scale, you can grow many things providing you have access to some soil, sunlight, and water. A patch of land in your backyard, a rooftop, or even a windowsill will do. You may not become self-sufficient, but supplementing -- and augmenting -- your store or market bought groceries is not too far off.
This creative flexibility is perhaps one of the things that make urban farming popular. Plots are emerging on rooftops with tomato plants and carrots and cabbages and you-name-it. These are not only good for you and for the environment, but also make terrific aesthetic additions to apartments, cities, and communities as well as provide a natural place to gather. To Dan Susman, director of the upcoming film Growing Cities, "it all makes for quite a visual story, even without telling the actual story underneath."
But underneath, urban farming can tell many stories. In Growing Cities, Susman and his co-producer, Andrew Monbouquette, travel the country to unearth these stories. When asked why they undertook the project, Susman responded, "To be honest, we were really tired of hearing about all the problems our country's food system faced and wanted to showcase positive examples of how people were changing their communities by growing food." Beyond inspiring people to get involved in growing food in their own communities and to strengthen urban farming movements across the country, the film examines the history and role of urban farming in America.
So what have they found so far? Susman and Monbouquette now believe that the most valuable asset for urban farmers and gardeners are other like-minded people. Sharing and utilizing each other's knowledge and insights is the key to successful urban farming. Who knows, maybe your neighbor would be delighted to share custody of the chickens on your rooftop? (Yes, people do bring live chickens into the city, saying that they require about as much care as a pet hamster. The difference is that you get about an egg per day from a chicken and nothing of the sort from a hamster.)
According to Susman, urban farming does not just feed the body but also the mind: it allows people to re-imagine what is possible in cities. "City farms challenge us to get beyond the urban/rural divide and really think about how we can all be producers in a society that is driven by consumption. I think it's this quality that is capturing so many people's hearts and minds, especially during this tough economic time. Anything that gets people out of their routine and makes them think differently is a good thing, and I think the national media is catching up on that."
In terms of taste, health, and freshness, Susman states that there is simply no competition between locally and industrially produced food, but that hard work by all parties is required to make it work. "Food produced in the city will most certainly be more delicious and nutritious than food produced far away. It is just a matter of figuring out the right systems for government and markets to support these urban farmers."
Dan Susman and Andrew Monbouquette will be joining The Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York's Annual Green Summit, "From Farm to Fork," on October 3, 2012, to share their experience in making the upcoming film Growing Cities, and their insights on urban farming.
To learn more about Dan Susman, Andrew Monbouquette or the Green Summit, check out www.saccny.org, follow @SACCNewYork and the hashtag #Farm2Fork on Twitter, or explore our Facebook page www.facebook.com/saccny
Follow Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce in New York on Twitter: www.twitter.com/saccnewyork