Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 32, Issue 4, pp 727–741 | Cite as

Urban agriculture and the prospects for deep democracy

  • David W. McIvorEmail author
  • James Hale


The interest in and enthusiasm for urban agriculture (UA) in urban communities, the non-profit sector, and governmental institutions has grown exponentially over the past decade. Part of the appeal of UA is its potential to improve the civic health of a community, advancing what some call food democracy. Yet despite the increasing presence of the language of civic agriculture or food democracy, UA organizations and practitioners often still focus on practical, shorter-term projects in an effort both to increase local involvement and to attract funding from groups focused on quantifiable deliverables. As such, it seems difficult to move beyond the rhetoric of food democracy towards significant forms of popular participation and deliberation within particular communities. In this paper we provide a theoretical framework—deep democracy—that helps to contextualize nascent attempts at civic agriculture or food democracy within a broader struggle for democratic practices and relationships. We argue that urban agriculture efforts are well positioned to help citizens cultivate lasting relationships across lines of difference and amidst significant power differentials—relationships that could form the basis of a community’s collective capacity to shape its future. We analyze the theory of deep democracy through recent experiences with UA in Denver, Colorado, and we identify ways in which UA can extend its reach and impact by focusing more consciously on its political or civic potential.


Urban agriculture Civic agriculture Democratic theory Power analysis Social capital Food democracy 



Urban agriculture



The authors acknowledge the following people for their thoughtful feedback on earlier drafts of this paper: Josh Sbicca, Kristen McIvor, Joel Alden Schlosser, and Ali Aslam. The authors also would like to thank everyone who participated in this research as well as the Center for Collaborative Conservation at Colorado State University for supporting this project through their fellowship program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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