Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 32, Issue 3, pp 419–430 | Cite as

From commodity surplus to food justice: food banks and local agriculture in the United States

  • Domenic VitielloEmail author
  • Jeane Ann Grisso
  • K. Leah Whiteside
  • Rebecca Fischman


Amidst expanding interest in local food and agriculture, food banks and allied organizations across the United States have increasingly engaged in diverse gleaning, gardening, and farming activities. Some of these programs reinforce food banks’ traditional role in distributing surplus commodities, and most extend food banks’ reliance on middle class volunteers and charitable donations. But some gleaning and especially gardening and farming programs seek to build poor people’s and communities’ capacity to meet more of their own food needs, signaling new roles for some food banks in promoting community food security and food justice. This article reports the results of a national survey and in-depth case studies of the ways in which food banks are engaging in and with local agriculture and how this influences food banks’ roles in community and regional food systems. The patterns it reveals reflect broader tensions in debates about hunger relief and food security.


Community food security Food banks Gleaning Gardening Farming 



Community-supported agriculture


Women, infants, and children



The research for this paper was funded by a pilot grant from the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Public Health Initiatives (CPHI) and conducted in collaboration with the SHARE Food Program of Philadelphia. We wish to thank Steveanna Wynn at SHARE, Sheila Christopher at Hunger Free PA, Holly Beddome from the University of Manitoba, our colleagues in the CPHI, and especially the staff of food banks and partner organizations who hosted our site visits and interviews.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Domenic Vitiello
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeane Ann Grisso
    • 2
  • K. Leah Whiteside
    • 3
  • Rebecca Fischman
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of City and Regional PlanningUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA
  2. 2.University of Pennsylvania School of NursingPhiladelphiaUSA
  3. 3.Dorchester Bay Economic Development CorporationDorchesterUSA
  4. 4.Fifth Avenue CommitteeBrooklynUSA

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