B. Contemporary Urban Agriculture

Today, community gardens represent a vital source of food for low-income African-American communities and other communities of color. The typical urban garden produces approximately 540 pounds of food a year. These gardens, such as the Morning Glory in the South Bronx, also create an avenue for people to work together, generate income, educate youth about healthy eating, and build community, and are one of the most promising sources of urban revival. Some food justice advocates call this garden-driven revival “civic agriculture,” noting that “[w]hile the American food and agriculture system follows a decades-old path of industrialization and globalization, a counter trend toward localizing some agriculture and food production has appeared,” which is “tightly linked to a community's social and economic development.” While civic agriculture, does not currently represent an economic challenge to the conventional agriculture and food industry. . .it does include some innovative ways to produce, process, and distribute food. And it represents a sustainable alternative to the socially, economically, and environmentally destructive practices that have come to be associated with conventional agriculture . . . . [It] brings together production and consumption activities within communities and offers consumers real alternatives to the commodities produced, processed, and marketed by large agribusiness firms.

However, so long as vacant land used for community gardens is under a city's control, and zoning regulations are used to keep empty lots from being farmed, “urban agriculture efforts. . .will continue to be ephemeral.” For now, community gardens only stand a chance of achieving longevity through long-term leases or community land ownership. Policy proposals include creating zoning regulations that encourage urban gardening, and offering incentives and assistance to improve corner stores to stock local, sustainably grown produce.

1. Critiques of Urban Agriculture

While food justice has a great deal of support as a concept, the movement has been the target of some practical and theoretical challenges. Some critics have asserted that food justice projects, such as urban gardens are “neoliberal in nature, emphasizing entrepreneurialism and self-betterment while filling gaps left by the rolling back of the state.” They argue that individuals are taking up the slack left by “neoliberal roll-back of state services” and transferring the responsibilities of the state to individuals, “creating self-disciplining ‘neoliberal citizen subjects.”’ Some also claim that “well-intentioned but overzealous” advocates of urban gardening might see it as a cure-all solution to all urban struggles. Perhaps most threatening to urban communities is the potential for urban agriculture to “manifest as a colonial relationship where [W]hite organizations end up telling communities of color what to do” as they impose their “external values or visions onto participating communities.” Others have worried that urban pollution is likely to make vegetables grown in our city's gardens unfit for consumption, or that the urban gardens simply are not capable of producing sufficient amounts or varieties of food. Although many well-intended suggestions offered from outside of urban communities of color involve a goal of self-sufficiency, these solutions require access to the means, via business ownership or employment, to overcome the systemic blockades to full economic participation in society. Despite these important critiques of urban agriculture, “applying this type of fine-grained post-structural analysis wholesale to UA [urban agriculture] programs may overlook their potentially revolutionary power.”