Questions About Urban Agriculture

The University of Washington’s magazine, Conservation, has a set of provocative new articles in the food-focused current issue, including this one:

The cultural—and agricultural—quest to reclaim and reform the food system appeals primarily to relatively privileged, mostly white urbanites. Committed to the pulse of city life, these advocates generally view the countryside as a place for weekend getaways. Still, they want to be close to the point of food production and in turn are bringing agriculture into the city, one vacant lot at a time, to close the gap between farm and fork.

In the Bay Area, the veritable epicenter of food activism, the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance (SFUAA) declares its agrarian ideology thus: “We want more people to successfully grow food on more of our tiny 49-square-mile city.” It’s an empowering sentiment, as is the entire effort to reclaim an industrial food system run amok. However, for all the appeal and inspiration involved, critics (including SFUAA itself) are beginning to wonder whether urban agriculture might not have the unintended consequence of either displacing marginalized communities from established neighborhoods or excluding them from future ones. In a word: gentrification.

The tension between urban farming and socioeconomic access to urban space recently came to a head in Austin, Texas. Hispanic neighbors became increasingly annoyed with the smell emanating from HausBar Farm, a small East Austin operation that grew vegetables amid free-ranging chickens, geese, donkeys, and “meat” rabbits. Although many patrons considered the farm a model of sustainable agriculture, its location in a moderately poor and mostly nonwhite neighborhood, not to mention its mostly white patronage, placed the white owners on the defensive against charges of environmental racism. The farm, under such unexpected (and possibly unfair) fire—and as the target of a flurry of subsequently alleged code questions—decided to close.

Supporters of urban agriculture are by no means unaware of the specter of gentrification. In perhaps the most thorough rumination on the problem to date, urban farmer Patrick Crouch, in a superb 2012 Grist essay, admits that he’s “still left wondering about my role in gentrification” despite his remarkable accomplishments in bringing farming into Detroit’s city limits. David Roach, a noted advocate of urban farming in Oakland, California, told Edible East Bay that many blighted urban areas offer opportunities for newcomers to arrive and receive external support for their innovative agrarian ideas. Nonetheless, he notes, less privileged residents “have had good ideas for a long time and haven’t gotten anything.” A National Geographic article celebrating urban farming recognized that “land in cities is often expensive, especially since gardens tend to contribute to gentrification and rising rents.”

Even if supporters of urban agriculture actively acknowledge the problem, they’re not offering much in the way of hard solutions. They generally tend to counter the claim of gentrification with claims of the numerous benefits that urban farming can bring to local communities…

Read the whole article here.

One thought on “Questions About Urban Agriculture

  1. Pingback: Unexpected Benefits Of Urban Farming | Raxa Collective

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