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Dan Susman
Growing Cities
July 01, 2014

Much as we love being outside, with our hands and/or toes in the dirt, we must admit: we love a good flick. Curling up on the couch with popcorn or a pint of ice cream is one of life's great pleasures, and we are continually inspired by the many food-related films made by people like Dan, and his partner in crime, Andrew. You can help them spread Growing Cities, their documentary that shares the stories of urban farmers, to millions of people via PBS! Donate on their Kickstarter page.

When did you know that you wanted to work in food?

I grew up planting pumpkins in my backyard with my parents. With varieties like 'Big Max' and 'Atlantic Giant' I always hoped I might end up like James and the Giant Peach.  Each spring I would eagerly plant my seeds and nurse them through the sweltering Nebraska summers. Evil squash bugs and ever-looming drought aside, I usually ended up with at least one pumpkin bigger than I was. Whether it was the magic of a tiny seed growing into something so huge or the responsibility I felt for caring for another living being, I understood this was something essential.

How did you get your current good food job?

I've been working as an independent filmmaker and good food advocate for nearly four years. My friend Andrew Monbouquette and I started our own production company right out of college, so luckily we didn't have to do any interviews for our positions. I love being my own boss (and being able to wear pajamas to the studio!) - that said, we've also found some highly capable help via Good Food Jobs, which is awesome!

How did your previous work or life experience prepare you for a good food job?

I studied ecology and environmental studies at Dartmouth College, but the most important experiences I had were probably outside the classroom. I lived and worked at Dartmouth's Organic Farm and also at an urban farm in Portland, OR called Zenger Farm. These experiences inspired me to travel the country to learn from the nation's leaders in the good food movement. Growing Cities, our new film about urban farming in America, is the result of those travels.

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in pursuing your Good Food Job dream?

Hmmm. There's been quite a few, so it's hard to choose. As a young documentary filmmaker, money is always tough - you not only have to sell your project, but you really have to sell yourself. Andrew and I spent a lot of time eating PB & J's out of the back of his mom's mini-van, working for nothing more than the veggies farmers gave us, and the promise of inspiring others with the good food stories we uncovered. I wouldn't trade these experiences for anything. Our latest challenge is to raise $30k by July 9th so we can share Growing Cities for free on PBS to millions of people across the country!

What can you identify as the greatest opportunities in food right now?

To me, it's really simple: Grow Where You Are. Though many people are still flocking to urban centers like New York or San Francisco, more and more are putting down roots in their smaller hometowns, like Youngstown, Ohio or Des Moines, Iowa. It's these farmers who are on the leading edge of this movement, taking it to places it's never been before. To me this is our blueprint for changing the food system - working in the places that need it most, often in our own backyards.

If you could be compensated for your work with something other than money, what would it be?

No question, I'd get paid in the feeling you get after hearing people say how inspired they are after watching your film and how they are going to work to strengthen the good food movement where they live.

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