Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 19–39 | Cite as

Stacking functions: identifying motivational frames guiding urban agriculture organizations and businesses in the United States and Canada

  • Nathan McClintockEmail author
  • Michael Simpson


While a growing body of scholarship identifies urban agriculture’s broad suite of benefits and drivers, it remains unclear how motivations to engage in urban agriculture (UA) interrelate or how they differ across cities and types of organizations. In this paper, we draw on survey responses collected from more than 250 UA organizations and businesses from 84 cities across the United States and Canada. Synthesizing the results of our quantitative analysis of responses (including principal components analysis), qualitative analysis of textual data excerpted from open-ended responses, and a review of existing literature, we describe six motivational frames that appear to guide organizations and businesses in their UA practice: Entrepreneurial, Sustainable Development, Educational, Eco-Centric, DIY Secessionist, and Radical. Identifying how practitioners stack functions and frame their work is a first step in helping to differentiate the diverse and often contradictory efforts transforming urban food environments. We demonstrate that a wide range of objectives drive UA and that political orientations and discourses differ by geography, organizational type and size, and funding regime. These six paradigms provide a basic framework for understanding UA that can guide more in-depth studies of the gap between intentions and outcomes, while helping link historically and geographically specific insights to wider social and political economic processes.


Food justice Framing Motivations Non-profit organizations Survey Urban gardens 



Community-based organization




Non-profit non-governmental organization


Principal components analysis


Small-plot, intensive


Urban agriculture



The authors are extremely grateful to all of the respondents for taking the time to complete the survey. They also wish to thank Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier for proofreading the French survey, Taren Evans for her assistance in identifying potential survey respondents, and Anthony Levenda for assistance with coding responses. The comments of three anonymous reviewers were particularly useful. This research was funded in part by a PSU Faculty Enhancement Grant.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Toulan School of Urban Studies and PlanningPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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