By Milène Ortenberg
Welcome to Edible City, where lush gardens are adjacent to bustling freeways, goats casually roam the street, and the nutritional value of strawberries is a classroom discussion. Filmed in the San Francisco Bay Area, this documentary explores the renaissance of urban farming and takes a look into the lives of the people who pioneered the local good food movement.
Over the past few years, dismal abandoned lots have been turned into thriving organic gardens, not only as an alternative to commercial agriculture, but to also to solve the inter-city problems of food scarcity and obesity. In West Oakland, “liquor stores” litter the neighbourhood where supermarkets with fresh produce are rare if not inexistent. With a 20-40 minute trek to the nearest source of fresh food, the neighbourhood sought out to create a series of urban agriculture projects which served the double purpose of feeding, educating, and getting residents involved in the project who in turn share profits of the farm. Other initiatives also include an all-organic food bank, a wholesome grocery store with products made on site, and a educational farming program aimed at disadvantaged youths.
Industrial agriculture and it’s troubling widespread consequences have long been depicted in films such as Food Inc., The Omnivore’s Dilemma or Killer at Large, but Edible City is different. Although the film restates some similar points throughout, it links the Bay area’s city problems with the lack of community-run urban agriculture as one symbiotic issue, a fresh and new take on an old subject. Right from the get-go, Edible City manages to maintain a positive outlook based on solutions rather than repeating already established problems with the system. Instead of a show reel of archival footage and interviews with specialists gone rogue, the film concentrates on ongoing tangible and successful efforts key to the resolution of today’s food crisis.
What is also interesting about Edible City is that the filming started in 2008, before such initiatives became fashionable. The whole hipster phenomenon hadn’t reached the mainstream status that is has now, and it shows in the film’s documentation of urban farming. People aren’t doing it to be popular or to be trendy, but to restore their community back to health without waiting for the snail-slow change of legislature concerning food laws.
Edible City illustrates first hand that these green projects are ultimately run by everyday people and not only by the stereotypical vegan, dreadlocked, hippie activist. The incredibly broad spectrum of those featured in the film offers authentic personal experiences, which chronicle the development of the movement and it’s progress of the years. The stories are inspiring: from a ginger-haired math teacher without hands who brings live bunny rabbits into the classroom to put smiles on his students’ faces, to a woman who gave everything up to become an organic farmer after realizing her young daughter’s seizures were caused by chemicals in processed foods. With over a dozen speakers throughout the film, Edible City manages to stay cohesive, harnessing the viewer’s attention without them getting lost or confused with so many different facts and perspectives.
As the ending credits rolled and the diverse audience at Concordia’s Cinema Politica erupted in applause, it became clear that not only is food a common denominator for all, but that these initiatives are no longer idealistic dreams. With these rapidly growing cooperatives producing palpable results that don’t show any signs of slowing down, being green is no longer fringe, it’s cutting edge.
This short, and quirky documentary tells the story of Torontonian chicken owners who are forced to go rogue after the City passed a ban on raising these animals in city backyards. These urban chicken-keepers have become outlaws just for having access to fresh eggs at their disposal, as authorities consider these animals as “disease” carriers.
Director Jan Keck says he got the idea for the film after some of his friends ranted about the absurd reasons preventing them from keeping their chickens in the city. The film points out how the media lacked to take this story seriously, constantly making puns and treating the issue as a joke.
Within minutes, the audience was bursting with laughter, as the film clearly points out the absurd reasoning behind lawmakers decision to ban these animals, which if kept properly cause no threat, danger or annoyance to neighbors. Some interviewees who wished to have their identity hidden, for fear of fines or tattle-tale prone neighbours, had funny play-on word names instead. Better yet, the film also features a “chicken squad”, whose mission is to rid the city of backyard chickens. More satirical comedy than documentary, Crackdown exposes a community of chicken owners to go underground, and that these “pets with benefits” are part of the solution to our flawed food system.
Head on to http://www.ediblecitythemovie.com to view the film for free.
Also check out Crackdown!, where you can sign a petition to legalize backyard chickens: http://www.crackdown.ca.
Bite Me!, a series of workshops and special events on food politics organized by the Concordia Food Coalition are still taking place until September 20th, their schedule can be found here: http://concordiafoodcoalition.blogspot.ca/