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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Alinsky, S. 1971. Rules for radicals. New York: Vintage.
Alkon, A., and T. Mares. 2012. Food sovereignty in US food movements: Radical visions and neoliberal constraints. Agriculture and Human Values 29(3): 347–359.
Allen, P. 2010. Realizing justice in local food systems. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 3(2): 295–308.
Armstrong, D. 2000. A survey of community gardens in upstate New York: Implications for health promotion and community development. Health and Place 6: 319–327.
Barber, B. 1984. Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Boyte, H. 2005. Everyday politics: Reconnecting citizens and public life. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Boyte, H., and N. Kari. 1996. Building America: The democratic promise of public work. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.
Brown, S., and C. Getz. 2008. Privatizing farm worker justice: Regulating labor through voluntary certification and labeling. Geoforum 39(3): 1184–1196.
Carolan, M. 2011. Embodied food politics. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.
Carolan, M. 2013. The wild side of agro-food studies: On co-experimentation, politics, change, and hope. Sociologia Ruralis 53(4): 413–431.
Coles, R. 2004. Moving democracy: Industrial areas foundation social movements and the political arts of listening, traveling, and tabling. Political Theory 32(3): 678–705.
DeLind, L. 2002. Place, work, and civic agriculture: Common fields for cultivation. Agriculture and Human Values 19: 217–224.
Delind, L. 2006. Of bodies, place, and culture: Re-situating local food. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 19(2): 121–146.
Delind, L. 2014. Coming to terms with urban agriculture: A self-critique. In Food between the country and the city: Ethnographies of a changing global foodscape (Chapter 5), ed. N. Domingos, J.M. Sobral, and H.G. West. London: Bloomsbury.
Donahue, B. 2000. Reclaiming the commons: Community farms and forest in a New England Town. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
DuPuis, M.E., and D. Goodman. 2005. Should we go “home” to eat? Toward a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies 21: 359–371.
Eligon, J. 2014. Testing ground for a new Detroit. The New York Times July 7, Page A1.
Emery, M., and C. Flora. 2006. Spiraling-up: Mapping community transformations with community capitals framework. Community Development 37(1): 19–35.
Feagan, R. 2007. The place of food: Mapping out the ‘local’ in local food systems. Progress in Human Geography 31: 23–42.
Ferguson, M. 2012. Sharing democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fung, A., and E. Olin Wright. 2010. Deepening democracy: Institutional innovations in empowered participatory governance. New York: Verso.
Gaventa, J. 2004. Strengthening participatory and deliberative approaches to local governance: Learning the lessons from abroad. National Civic Review 93: 16–27.
Gaventa, J. 2006. Triumph, deficit or contestation: Deepening the ‘Deepening Democracy’ Debate. Institute for Development Studies working paper. Brighton: University of Sussex.
Guthman, J. 2008a. Neoliberalism and the making of food politics in California. Geoforum 39(3): 1171–1183.
Guthman, J. 2008b. Bringing good food to others: Investigating the subjects of alternative food practice. Cultural Geography 15: 415–437.
Guthman, J., and P. Allen. 2006. From ‘old school’ to ‘farm-to-school’: Neoliberalization from the ground up. Agriculture and Human Values 23(4): 401–415.
Hale, J., C. Knapp, L. Bardwell, M. Buchenau, J. Marshall, F. Sancar, and J.S. Litt. 2011. Connecting food environments and health through the relational nature of aesthetics: Gaining insight through the community gardening experience. Social Science and Medicine 72(11): 1853–1863.
Harris, K. 2014. Dahlia square could become a garden spot: But right now plans are sowing dissension. http://blogs.westword.com/showandtell/2014/07/park_hill_dahlia_square_eastside_growers_collective_holly.php. Accessed 16 Sep 2014.
Hassanein, N. 2003. Practicing food democracy: A pragmatic politics of transformation. Journal of Rural Studies 19(1): 77–86.
Hassanein, N. 2008. Locating food democracy: Theoretical and practical ingredients. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition 3(2–3): 286–308.
Hendrickson, M.K. 2012. Urban agriculture: Best practices and possibilities. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Extension Program.
Holt-Gimenez, E. 2011. Food security, food justice, or food sovereignty? In Cultivating food justice, ed. A. Alkon, and J. Agyeman, 309–330. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Honneth, A. 2014. Freedom’s right: The social foundations of democratic life. New York: Columbia University Press.
Johnston, J., A. Biro, and N. MacKendrick. 2009. Lost in the supermarket: The corporate-organic foodscape and the struggle for food democracy. Antipode 41(3): 509–532.
Jones, L. 2012. Improving health, building community: Exploring the asset building potential of community gardens. Evans School Review 2(1): 66–84.
Kaufman, J., and M. Bailkey. 2000. Farming inside cities: Entrepreneurial urban agriculture in the United States. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy working paper. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Levkoe, C.Z. 2006. Learning democracy through food justice movements. Agriculture and Human Values 23(1): 89–98.
Levkoe, C.Z. 2011. Towards a transformative food politics. Local Environment 16(7): 687–705.
Light, A. 2001. Elegy for a garden. Thoughts on an urban environmental ethic. Philosophical Writings 14.
Louv, R. 2008. Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.
Lyson, H.C. 2014. Social structural location and vocabularies of participation: Fostering a collective identity in urban agriculture activism. Rural Sociology 79(3): 310–335.
Lyson, T.A. 2004. Civic agriculture: Reconnecting farm, food, and community. Medford, MA: Tufts University Press.
Marshall, C., and G.B. Rossman. 2006. Designing qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Mathews, D. 1990. Politics for people: Finding a responsible public voice. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.
McClintock, N. 2010. Why farm the city? Theorizing urban agriculture through a lens of metabolic rift. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 3(2): 191–207.
McClintock, N. 2013. Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: Coming to terms with urban agriculture’s contradictions. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability 18(1): 1–25.
McIvor, D.W. 2011. The politics of speed: Wolin, Connolly, and the prospects for democratic citizenship in an accelerated polity. Polity 43(1): 58–83.
Ober, J. 2008. The original meaning of ‘democracy’: Capacity to do things, not majority rule. Constellations 15(1): 3–9.
Ostrom, E. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Passidomo, C. 2013. Going ‘beyond food’: Confronting structures of injustice in food systems research and praxis. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development 3(4): 89–93.
Passidomo, C. 2014. Whose right to (farm) the city? Race and food justice in post Katrina New Orleans. Agriculture and Human Values 31(3): 385–396.
Rubin, H.J., and I. Rubin. 2005. Qualitative interviewing: The art of hearing data. London: Sage Publications.
Sbicca, J. 2012. Growing food justice by planting an anti-oppression foundation: Opportunities and obstacles for a budding social movement. Agriculture and Human Values 29: 455–466.
Schugerensky, D. 2003. Three theses on citizenship learning and participatory democracy. http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~daniel_schugerensky/. Accessed Dec 2013.
Slocum, R., and A. Saldanha. 2013. Geographies of race and food: Fields, bodies, markets. Farnham: Ashgate.
Smit, J., and M. Bailkey. 2006. Urban Agriculture and the Building of Communities. In Cities farming for the future: Urban agriculture for green and productive cities, ed. R. van Veenhuizen, 145–170. Leusde: RUAF Foundation, IIRR and IDRC.
Stout, J. 2010. Blessed are the organized: Grassroots democracy in America. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Travaline, K., and C. Hunold. 2010. Urban agriculture and ecological citizenship in Philadelphia. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability 15(6): 581–590.
Tieg, E., J. Amulya, L. Bardwell, M. Buchenau, J.A. Marshall, and J.S. Litt. 2009. Collective efficacy in Denver, Colorado: Strengthening neighborhoods and health through community gardens. Health and Place 15(4): 1115–1122.
Warren, M. 2001. Dry bones rattling: Community building to revitalize American democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
White, M. 2011. D-Town farm: African American resistance to food insecurity and the transformation of Detroit. Environmental Practice 13: 406–417.
Wolin, S. 1989. The presence of the past. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Wolin, S. 2008. Democracy incorporated: Managed democracy and the specter of inverted totalitarianism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Young, I.M. 2008. Responsibility for justice. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
McIvor, D.W., Hale, J. Urban agriculture and the prospects for deep democracy. Agric Hum Values 32, 727–741 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-015-9588-9
- Urban agriculture
- Civic agriculture
- Democratic theory
- Power analysis
- Social capital
- Food democracy