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Out of the film studio and back to the land

In the 2004 documentary The End of Suburbia, by Toronto filmmaker Gregory Greene, a number of experts illustrate how the depletion of oil cannot sustain our current infrastructures and lifestyles. Though the topic is gloomy, the experts mostly end on the optimistic note about how learning to live locally will be the best possible outcome. This will mean backyard or community energy sources, less gas consumption and local food production.
Arlene Hazzan Green, an Emmy- and Genie-award-winning writer, producer and director, and her husband Marc Green, a film location scout and manager, paid close attention to the documentary, and not just because they've each been working in the film industry for more than 20 years. The End of Suburbia made such an impact on them that they began to wonder what they could do to help reverse the damage, or at least learn to live more sustainably themselves.
"After the film, we sat on our porch trying to imagine what it would be like to be self-sufficient," says Arlene. Long-time home gardeners, they decided to combine their green thumbs with their freelance film business savvy to create the Backyard Urban Farm Company (BUFCO), a sustainable food production business where they design, install and maintain organic vegetable gardens for homes, schools, corporate spaces, daycare centres and retirement homes.
The lab for the Backyard Urban Farm Company is literally in their own backyard. This is where they grow their own seedlings, and experiment with varieties of vegetables to discover what, and exactly how much, they can grow. During their early efforts, they solved the problem of their poor soil—an issue that dissuades many people from growing locally—and created their own unique version of gardening containers.
"On a drive home from the country, we happened across a bunch of fence posts and thought they would make nice raised bed," says Marc. "So I built a crude, first version of what became the BUFCO Signature Series beds."
That first experimental crop in the BUFCO lab was so successful that they knew joining the local food movement could address their concerns for the environment. Both Arlene and Marc invested money in the new business; they came up with a five-year plan and in 2009, began offering services to individual clients. Their modest goal that first year was to obtain 10 clients, which they easily exceeded. For security, they kept their fulltime jobs (and still do take contracts once in a while) and hired a few part-time people for the gardening season between April and August. Arlene then put herself on a growing and harvesting internship where she spent time on farms and at farmers markets to get to know her trade, and the farming community, inside and out. That meant working part-time at the Trinity Bellwoods Farmers' Market, as well as interning with organizations like Matchbook Garden and Seed Company and McVean Farm.
The next step was to tackle marketing. After attracting more than 900 Facebook fans, they got more immediate feedback than they ever did in the film world. With Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, as well as regular appearances at farmers' markets and trade shows like Canada Blooms, Arlene and Marc have been able to share their enthusiasm and new gardening processes with the public. Their efforts have won them new clients and contracts for like the Howard Park Public School Footprint Garden, created as a learning garden for students, and the Humewood House Garden, teaching young, expectant mothers how to grow their own food.
Now that they have two full and successful years under their belts, Arlene and Marc are working to build their brand and transition from custom-built containers to modular so they can produce them in bulk. They'd like to extend the growing season of organic produce by building a nursery and are thinking about opening a storefront location. Meanwhile, Arlene writes a gardening column at Myfriendinfood.com where she shares her expertise with like-minded and learning gardeners. The couple has also managed to weave their film work into their food business with such projects as promotional video production for the local charity, Cuppa Change, which raises money through fair trade coffee and tea for international development projects.
After two years in business that is several steps removed from their film world careers, Marc is reinvigorated rather than exhausted.
"I see what joy and pleasure our work is bringing to people. We get the most exciting and excited feedback from people at trade shows, from our clients and from people visiting our website and Facebook page. Last year we watched a client take in her first-ever harvest and she was so proud, it was like she had just given birth," says Marc. "I started to realize that so much of my stress and anxiety about the world had dissipated. That's not to say that I now believe that everything is a-okay with the world, far from it. But, even though I have more personally invested and at risk in running BUFCO, more than I ever had as a location scout, I was—and am—way less stressed."
As BUFCO mixes with people in the gardening, farming and food communities, as well as with advocates working toward a healthy environment and better access to food, Marc says he feels like he's putting something back into a system he'd previous only taken out of.
"And I get the added bonuses of feeling passionate about what I'm doing, and the pleasure of working alongside my wife," he says.

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto-based writer, TV producer and essayist for TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. She keeps a blog at www.herkind.com.
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