Urban farming is grabbing headlines from Los Angeles to New York and everywhere in between. Everyone from retiring baby boomers to twentysomething hipsters are getting excited about growing their own food. What fewer people realize is that urban agriculture has a history that stretches back thousands of years, and that in many places in the developing world, people are producing a significant portion of their fruits and vegetables inside cities. In some cases they are producing a lot of their milk and even their meat. Perhaps most importantly, urban agriculture has much more government support in other countries than it does here in the US, from China to such “Third World” countries as Cuba. Michelle Obama’s urban garden on the White House lawn is an important symbol, but we now need to back up this symbol with government-supported projects on a much larger scale. We already know this is possible because of the Victory Gardens which produced more than 40% of the nation’s produce during WWII.
Plant This Movie, then, will highlight the successes of urban farmers around the world and will also serve as a public policy film to ignite the debate around this vital topic. With the new Farm Bill and a national election both coming up in 2012, now is the perfect time for this film to come out. Although there are a number of excellent documentaries in this same general idea space, including The Garden and Food Inc., none have explored the international scene or tried to capture the big picture of the past and future of urban farming.
As someone who grew up on a farm and now lives mostly in cities, I have the perfect background to tell this story. I will bring the same passion and compelling storytelling to this film that I brought to my first film, Overdrawn!, which led Film Threat to say: “The documentary sets itself apart from most of its peers by actually offering solutions rather than just exposing problems.
Although there are a number of excellent documentaries in this same general idea space, including The Garden and Food Inc., none have explored the international scene or tried to capture the big picture of the past and future of urban farming.
The story will begin with a dreamy sequence quoting statistics about the wonders of the modern urban agriculture system, with numbers much higher than the current totals in terms of how much is being grown. The narrator will then ask the question: “Where are we? In 2050? No – 1945.” We’ll then see stock footage of Victory Gardens before transitioning to the modern world, where we’ll quickly show two examples of misguided government action here in the US: the 2010 lawsuit against an Orange County couple who removed their lawn (cutting their water usage by 80%) and several legal hurdles in Detroit which are holding up Hantz Farms’ plans to turn large abandoned areas into thriving urban farms there.
The narrator will then make the point that these people would have had better luck if they had lived in China, or even Uganda. This will jump the film overseas, as we start in Shanghai, China to show the thousands of years of history of urban agriculture there, as well as the new generation who are interested in urban farming in the same way that young New Yorkers or Los Angelinos are. The film will then move to India, where we will explore an urban agriculture and aquaculture project in Kolkata that has been turning wastewater and even sewage into vegetables and fish since at least the 1850s, as well as projects in Hyderabad and Mumbai. In Africa we will visit cities such as Kompala, Uganda, where thousands of cattle graze inside the city and Accra, Ghana, which also has a thriving urban agriculture industry, as well as Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In Latin America we will visit Lima, Peru, the second largest city in the world located in a desert, where a local municipality has still found a way to give free water to urban farmers, who also receive support from the national electric company. Last but not least we will visit Havana, Cuba, which is probably the most advanced city in the world when it comes to urban agriculture, with their legions of trained agronomists and the post-Cold War economic collapse that made urban farming a necessity there. The film will also look at the important area of peri-urban agriculture, which is food production on the periphery of cities, to make the point that it makes much more sense to eat what can be grown within an hour’s drive of a city instead of continuing to rely on the global system of food distribution that currently feeds most of us. The characters in this portion of the film will be the farmers themselves, government representatives, NGO workers – anyone I come across who is good on camera and has a compelling piece of the story to tell. Interwoven with their stories will be interviews with such experts in the field of urban agriculture as Luc Mougeot and Andre Viljoen. To get the big picture of how urban agriculture fits into the larger questions of sustainability and environmental degradation, I am pursuing interviews with well known experts such as Bill McKibben and Andy Lipkis.
The film will then return to the United States and Western Europe and ask such questions as: what would Los Angeles look like if it was producing as much of its milk inside the city limits as Kampala? Why isn’t London still producing most of its own food? In this portion of the film we will focus on a few visionary groups and individuals to show that there is definitely the ambition and the drive to make urban agriculture work – the key piece that is missing is comprehensive and broad government support in order to scale up these projects.
The film will end by showing how urban agriculture projects strengthen neighborhoods and local communities, not just by providing food security, but by strengthening bonds between community members. Urban farming thus is part of a virtuous cycle that prepares these communites to face other challenges, from global warming to natural disasters and other crises. This final section will look at New Orleans, showing how residents there have embraced urban agriculture after Hurricane Katrina.
Distribution and Marketing Strategy
I will pursue both traditional and non-traditional marketing strategies for my film. I will enter film festivals, approach broadcasters, online distributors, and distribution companies. Several festivals, such as the Altivist Film Festival, focus on works of this nature, and since the film has an international focus I will explore a number of the major international film festivals as well. Having toured with “Overdrawn!” to universities and even projected it publicly on the side of banks, I’m excited about the prospect of doing the same thing with “Plant This Movie” in the summer and early fall of 2012.
Director’s Prior Work
In my first film I managed to make a fairly dry subject entertaining and even humorous. I will bring this same sensibility to the new film, while avoiding some of the pitfalls that I fell into as a first-time filmmaker. Though I’m proud of that film, I now know how to make a much better film, even on a limited budget.
Key Creative Personnel
Karney Hatch (Director, Co-Producer): Mr. Hatch’s first documentary, “Overdrawn!” was featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, on MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles and on Thom Hartmann’s radio program, among others. “Overdrawn!” eventually found distribution (under the title “Rip Off: Banks Exploiting Consumers”) with Filmmakers Library in New York. Since 2008 he has produced and directed independent projects for Al Gore’s Current TV and a number of NGOs in Latin America.
Stephon Litwinczuk (Editor, Co-Producer) has worked for the International Documentary Association and has edited projects for the Screen Actors’ Guild and Turner Classic Movies. He is currently finishing editing his directorial debut, Falling Up!, and is co-producer on the new documentary Cobell v.
Outreach and Engagement
In the process of research and filming for a teaser and now the Kickstarter campaign I have made many connections in the urban agriculture movement, from Food Not Lawns in Claremont to the farmers of Villa Maria del Triunfo in Lima, Peru. It seems that almost every day I make a new contact, and this process is accelerating. It’s a great feeling to know that there are many people rooting for the success of this film, and the feeling that they are counting on me to produce something of quality is great pressure to have.
In case people think that Plant This Movie is hyperbolic, I am going to make it literally true for the cardboard DVD covers. I’m going to soak them in nutrient solution and ship them with vegetable seeds so that people can literally plant them and start growing their own vegetables. This should go over well at a rooftop screening in NYC full of foodies!
We have been accepted into the International Documentary Association’s Fiscal Sponsorship Program, completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, and are pursuing every type of funding: individuals, foundations, and distributors.