Cities of Farmers: Urban Agricultural Practices and Processes

Cities of Farmers: Urban Agricultural Practices and Processes

Cities of Farmers: Urban Agricultural Practices and Processes

Cities of Farmers: Urban Agricultural Practices and Processes


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Full-scale food production in cities: is it an impossibility? Or is it a panacea for all that ails urban communities? Today, it’s a reality, but many people still don’t know how much of an impact this emerging food system is having on cities and their residents. This book showcases the work of the farmers, activists, urban planners, and city officials in the United States and Canada who are advancing food production. They have realized that, when it’s done right, farming in cities can enhance the local ecology, foster cohesive communities, and improve the quality of life for urban residents.

Implementing urban agriculture often requires change in the physical, political, and social-organizational landscape. Beginning with a look at how and why city people grew their own food in the early twentieth century, the contributors to Cities of Farmers examine the role of local and regional regulations and politics, especially the creation of food policy councils, in making cities into fertile ground for farming. The authors describe how food is produced and distributed in cities via institutions as diverse as commercial farms, community gardens, farmers’ markets, and regional food hubs. Growing food in vacant lots and on rooftops affects labor, capital investment, and human capital formation, and as a result urban agriculture intersects with land values and efforts to build affordable housing. It also can contribute to cultural renewal and improved health.

This book enables readers to understand and contribute to their local food system, whether they are raising vegetables in a community garden, setting up a farmers’ market, or formulating regulations for farming and composting within city limits.

Catherine Brinkley, Benjamin W. Chrisinger, Nevin Cohen, Michèle Companion, Lindsey Day-Farnsworth, Janine de la Salle, Luke Drake, Sheila Golden, Randel D. Hanson, Megan Horst, Nurgul Fitzgerald, Becca B. R. Jablonski, Laura Lawson, Kara Martin, Nathan McClintock, Alfonso Morales, Jayson Otto, Anne Pfeiffer, Anne Roubal, Todd M. Schmit, Erin Silva, Michael Simpson, Lauren Suerth, Dory Thrasher, Katinka Wijsman

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609384388
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 11/15/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 328
File size: 13 MB
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About the Author

Julie C. Dawson is an assistant professor in the department of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the state extension specialist for urban and regional food systems. Her research and extension focuses on diversified vegetable production for local markets in and around cities. More information on her program is at She lives in Madison, Wisconsin. 

Alfonso Morales is a professor in the departments of urban and regional planning and civil society and community studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The founder of the Foodglossary website, he also cofounded and currently cohosts, a website on street vendors and public markets. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Read an Excerpt

Cities of Farmers

Urban Agricultural Practices and Processes

By Julie C. Dawson, Alfonso Morales

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2016 University of Iowa Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60938-438-8


Cities of Farmers

Problems, Possibilities, and Processes of Producing Food in Cities


Growing food in our cities affects every aspect of urban life. Urban agriculture can enhance local ecology, foster cohesive communities, and improve the quality of life for urban residents. However, these benefits can be hindered by tensions inherent in this emergent practice, requiring the reconstruction of personal habits and expectations for urban landscapes, as well as the reshaping of regulations to provide for such activities. Urban agriculture has the potential to improve the health and vitality of our communities, but realizing that potential often requires change to both the physical and political landscapes. In short, urban agriculture is one component of a larger urban food system, and to understand urban agriculture, it is necessary to understand the linkages between production, distribution, policies, and regulations. It is also important to bring out the relationship between peri-urban or rural agriculture and urban agriculture. While usually treated separately, these production systems are often interlinked in urban food systems, and opportunities exist to strengthen these linkages rather than hold rural and urban production in opposition.

In this book we advance the idea that urban agriculture is a unique production system, worthy of study on its own while at the same time sharing connections to other food system activities. We will also show how the practices of urban agriculture rest in a larger scaffolding of social and political organization. The authors of these chapters show that urban-agriculture systems are made up of interrelated activities that — as with all systems — involve interrelated parts, each with its own historical context and internal dynamics. The formula for success for any particular system varies with the context and the particular goals of those involved. The book also provides concepts and examples of activities related to how larger historical circumstances, social expectations and pressures, and other institutional spheres, like the law, influence people doing urban food system activities.


The essays in this book explore the significant benefits and challenges of urban agriculture, mapping the complex economic, social, political, and ecological systems that make up a food biome in an urban environment. They show how growing food in vacant lots and on rooftops affects labor, capital investment, and human capital formation, and how urban agriculture intersects with land values and efforts to build affordable housing. Furthermore, they exemplify how municipal regulation of economic and urban-agriculture activities plays a key role in whether urban agriculture can flourish, while research has demonstrated that community gardens and fresh produce offer significant improvements in community and individual health.

Our purpose in providing this collection is to expose students, practitioners, scholars, and urban policy makers to common examples, ideas, and language for discussing, implementing, and evaluating urban-agriculture production practices in their local contexts. The book is a comprehensive examination of urban-agriculture systems, exploring the history, regulation, production, distribution, and health benefits of urban food production. This collection seeks to do more than describe aspects of our contemporary urban-agriculture practices. Our hope is that the content and discussion questions in each chapter will help make the lessons of the research accessible to a variety of different audiences and, perhaps most important, provide concepts and examples that render these lessons actionable.

The most meaningful and significant feature of urban or metropolitan agricultural production is its relative integration with other elements of the urban system. Urban food systems influence every human institution and practice. They influence the economy in terms of labor, capital investment, and productive activities, with implications for the value of surrounding housing and other land uses; policy in terms of ordinances and codes regulating different uses and activities, with implications for various uses of public space as in marketplaces; and society, in terms of the variety of health-related outcomes associated with producing, processing, distributing, and consuming food. Different people have different points of entry in their awareness of and interaction with urban-agriculture production. This has implications for both community organizations promoting urban agriculture and policy makers seeking to encourage particular outcomes in their food systems.

Likewise, urban-agriculture systems and food systems more generally are influenced by other social institutions, both historical and contemporary. Food system practices have been shaped by a combination of descriptive and normative concerns, with differing perspectives on both how to define urban agriculture and what purposes it should serve. Here our goal is to describe some of these connections, showing how producing food implicates culture, health, and law, while at the same time demonstrating that food production is determined by the producers in interaction with participants from other institutions. All these activities are practiced in context, with constraint and freedom being experienced in turn, and we urge readers to look beyond the specifics of the examples in order to understand the interconnections between various practices, to see different interpretations of similar words, and to recognize the profound influence of interaction and relationship, and of goals and hopes people have for their activities.

Many previous works have discussed urban food practices in the industrialized world, and there is a growing body of peer-reviewed journal articles (and new journals) on this subject, as well as a vast literature in the popular press. This volume focuses on the United States and provides historical examples of urban-agriculture production, as well as contemporary examples of urban agriculture in practice. Authors in this volume celebrate the successes but also advance examples that should give us pause to consider the intricacy of production agriculture in built environments of great social complexity. This volume makes a unique contribution to the literature by elaborating on key features of urban agriculture while at the same time providing a synthetic view across important subsystems.

Urban agriculture is only one aspect of the larger urban food system, and that food system shares connections with larger rural and global food systems. Thus, a food systems framework (fig. 1) is useful for visualizing the inherent complexity of urban-agriculture systems. It exposes the many tensions within and between systems and reveals the many possible purposes and benefits.

This version of the community and regional food systems framework has two sets of nested circles, the left side being normative and categorizing some of the values with which people imbue their food-related activities and attitudes and the right side being descriptive and categorizing the activities associated with the food system. The framework illustrates how food system activities (the inner circle on the right) are related to components of the food system environment (the outer circle on the right). The framework circles are nested "dials" whose rotation produces new relationships with different components of the food system environment. Each "wedge" in the dial on the left can be analyzed in the context of the whole food system environment or in relationship with one component of the food system environment. The chapters in this book can be considered as a series of successive "wedges" that describe distinct combinations of urban food system production as they relate to activities in the environment. Likewise, the circles on the left represent the normative dimension, or the values prevailing in society and its subgroups. The two sets of circles drive each other, as you will read in many of the chapters that follow and discuss how activities and values inform each other. Our focus is on issues in urban-agriculture production and how these relate to different aspects of the food system environment, as well as the values driving or reflected in the activities the chapter authors describe.


Introduction and historical antecedents

This introductory section includes this overview as well as two chapters about the history of urban food systems. It should be no surprise that today we are rediscovering what was once useful. The lessons of the past speak clearly to us. Both chapters discuss urban food production in terms of community and cultural relations as well as health and nutrition. But perhaps more significantly, the authors recognize and reveal to us the economic, political, and social ideas that people associated with food production in the early twentieth century. The notion of a "prosperous" person, city, or society is related to connections with the soil in ways we find familiar but embrace today in different ways.

In chapter 2, Hanson shows urban food production and nutrition in the context of larger food system interests, policies, and quandaries, reminding us that historical urban food systems were not necessarily local by default, and that providing high-quality food to city residents has always required many organizations and subsequent collaboration between policy makers, planners, and citizens. The current discussion around relocalizing food production in urban areas is not new, but the context has changed. Our dominant food system now brings fresh produce to cities year-round, often at both an ecological and economic cost, and this system perpetuates many of the societal and economic inequalities seen in other domains.

In chapter 3, Otto points up the importance of the larger social context and how gardening was once seen as a tool of elites to improve the prospects of marginalized populations. His work shows how women and community organizations mobilized urban food production on behalf of disadvantaged community members. They did so in ways that made organizations more inclusive but did not always help transform gender roles or race relations. This chapter shows the degree of economic and racial paternalism seen in early urban-agriculture efforts, which existed alongside strong goodwill and desire for change on the part of organizers, and makes us aware that the same tendencies may be present in current efforts to promote urban agriculture as a solution to food insecurity. While urban-agriculture systems might be seen as an easily implementable solution to social problems, such an attitude betrays an ignorance of our organizational environment and the skeins of habits, practices, and relationships in which we all act. These historical chapters have lessons for us even as they foreshadow our contemporary concerns.


One view of law is how it constrains our practices, but another is how law and regulation can enable activities that help achieve our common purposes. This section provides a vocabulary of law and policy and shows how people have used those ideas to advance urban-agriculture systems. The tensions that surrounded and continue to surround class and race initially led cities to discourage and regulate agriculture out of urban areas. Current students of urban food systems should prioritize learning this history so that we do not idealize the past or repeat past mistakes.

Regulations concerning urban food production are often invisible, spread over many divisions of government, or written in relation to other activities and then applied to food production. They often have not had dedicated attention to their development. Despite this disorganization, regulations and policies are central to urban food production and its related practices (e.g., composting), and they are some of the factors that most differentiate urban production from nonurban production. Chapters in this section reveal the connections between policy, waste recovery, and production.


Urban food production practices take many forms. Land access is a critical component for urban agriculture, but the lack of secure land tenure has not prevented a significant amount of food production in cities. Through the examples in this section, we recognize that land, in many cities, has high value and is often available for only temporary use, making investments in soil improvement or infrastructure development difficult. The work in this section provides a rich vocabulary for thinking about urban food production.

Additionally, and importantly, these chapters examine production and organizational structures as well as the myriad relationships that form between production, management, and community, ultimately suggesting that some production practices are producing more than food — they are producing a network of civic agriculture. The lessons from this section exemplify the potential of urban-agriculture production and may be particularly useful to planners and advocates of urban agriculture seeking to improve distribution in areas of low food access.


The chapters in this section relate production practices to consumers through showing how food system activities integrate production, distribution, and, in particular, logistics. At a time when many communities are considering food hubs and farmers markets, this section provides examples of the benefits that result from successful regional food distribution networks. The chapters in this section provide examples of distribution systems expanding the availability of local food and providing some of the efficiencies of larger-scale distribution without losing the connection between consumers and producers, thus demonstrating a successful alternative to the dominant large-scale system of food distribution.

Perhaps the most important contribution of this section is producing a research agenda that aligns research and measurement efforts with a meaningful understanding of food access specific to particular populations. Urban planners and policy makers often focus on brick-and-mortar stores for increasing food access, but this section examines other strategies that may be as effective and more sustainable over time.

Community health and policy perspectives

The final section provides an overview of the current understanding of urban agriculture and public health, and the interrelationships between policy, urban food production, the built environment, and population health. Various practitioners and audiences will find these chapters useful in how they use the language of various disciplines to show how to design health interventions, tailor evaluations, or form reasonable expectations about the effects of urban agriculture in their own communities. Included are case studies that review approaches and discuss best practices, in order to provide options for practitioners seeking to improve community health through the built environment, urban agriculture, and organizations such as food councils.

The interconnectedness of the issues involved in food systems is clear from the multiple topics that each chapter addresses. While this book is centered on urban food production, it is impossible to treat production in isolation. Throughout these chapters we see the opportunities in urban agriculture though innovations in production, policy, and community engagement. Food systems do not fit into neat categories, and they span multiple dimensions of urban planning and urban-rural connections. This is what makes them both exciting to develop and difficult to change quickly. This volume attempts to describe historical trends and document current innovations in urban agriculture with the goal of engaging multiple audiences in a discussion of the broader issues surrounding urban food systems and planning. It is with enthusiasm that we invite you to discover the many manifestations of urban agriculture and its relationship to healthy cities and citizens.


Excerpted from Cities of Farmers by Julie C. Dawson, Alfonso Morales. Copyright © 2016 University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments Foreword - Will Allen Section 1. Introduction and Historical Antecedents 1. Cities of Farmers: Problems, Possibilities, and Processes of Producing Food in Cities - Julie Dawson and Alfonso Morales 2. Food from Scratch for the Zenith of the Unsalted Seas: Creating a Local Food System in Early-Twentieth-Century Duluth, Minnesota - Randel D. Hanson 3. Municipal Housekeepers and the High Cost of Living: The Establishment of Gardening Programs and Farmers Markets by Grand Rapids Women’s Clubs in the Early Twentieth Century - Jayson Otto Section 2. Regulation 4. Urban Ag’ in the ’Burbs - Megan Horst, Catherine Brinkley, and Kara Martin 5. Cultivating in Cascadia: Urban-Agriculture Policy and Practice in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver - Nathan McClintock and Michael Simpson 6. Urban Agriculture: Composting - Lauren Suerth Section 3. Production 7. Agroecology of Urban Farming - Erin Silva and Anne Pfeiffer 8. Lessons from “The Bucket Brigade”: The Role of Urban Gardening in Native American Cultural Continuance - Michèle Companion 9. Foregrounding Community Building in Community Food Security: A Case Study of the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market and Esperanza Garden - Laura Lawson, Luke Drake, and Nurgul Fitzgerald 10. Fumbling for Community in a Brooklyn Community Garden - Dory Thrasher Section 4. Distribution 11. Food Hubs: Expanding Local Food to Urban Consumers - Becca B. R. Jablonski and Todd M. Schmit 12. Chicago Marketplaces: Advancing Access to Healthy Food - Anne Roubal and Alfonso Morales Section 5. Community Health and Policy Perspectives 13. The Coevolution of Urban-Agriculture Practice, Planning, and Policy - Nevin Cohen and Katinka Wijsman 14. Urban Agriculture and Health: What Is Known, What Is Possible? - Benjamin W. Chrisinger and Sheila Golden 15. More Than the Sum of Their Parts: An Exploration of the Connective and Facilitative Functions of Food Policy Councils - Lindsey Day Farnsworth 16. Embedding Food Systems into the Built Environment - Janine de la Salle Conclusion References Index
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