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.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
National list serves included COMFOOD, Food Planning, CFSC Urban Agriculture, as well as those belonging to the AAG Geographies of Food and Agriculture Specialty Group, the Canadian Association of Geographers, and Le collectif de recherche en l’aménagement paysager et en agriculture urbaine durable (CRAPAUD).
For data related to the survey’s other questions, see McClintock and Simpson (2014).
A rank-sum test used for non-parametric, categorical data, the Kruskal–Wallis test determines if the mean ranks are the same in all analytical groups. The result is a Chi square approximation that can be used as a measure of probability of difference between analytical groups.
The procedure transforms the variation in the original variables into a smaller set of uncorrelated linear combinations of these variables, or principal components, which are eigenvectors of the covariance matrix of the variables. The first principal component accounts for as much of the variance in the data as possible, with each subsequent component accounting for as much of the remaining variance as possible (Kroonenberg 2004). Subsequent factor analysis then reduces these principal components into a smaller subset of factors. Rotating these factors in turn makes it easier to interpret how each observed variable correlates with each of the factors; for our analysis we used the default varimax rotation on the six factors extracted from the PCA.
In cases where members of a single organization submitted more than one response, we compared the duplicate responses to confirm that that they were not substantively different, then retained the response that was filled out more completely and/or filled out by someone with more management responsibility in the organization.
The international agri-food corporation Monsanto, for example, states that its mission is to “make agriculture more productive and sustainable” (Monsanto 2015).
The DIY Secessionist frame appears to be distinct from a more survivalist approach—but the boundary does seem blurry—where “preppers” are motivated to grow and store food in order to insulate themselves from imminent and apocalyptic societal collapse. Whereas DIY Secessionists believe that they are modeling new forms of social relations that will ultimately nourish and support transformative structural change, preppers tend to be more interested in their individual self-preservation after the looming chaos ensues. Very few of the businesses or organizations that we surveyed espoused this catastrophist worldview, and we suspect that such an outlook is more common among individual practitioners of UA more than among collaborative groups. Future scholarship might try to better tease out the oft-politicized values (e.g., libertarian, communitarian) that may be conflated in this frame.
Responses from BC comprise a large portion of our “Other Canada” analytical category (see Table 1).
All quotes from Quebec respondents are the authors’ translation from the original response in French.
Participant observation and informal and semi-structured interviews conducted in Montreal in 2012, 2013 and 2015 by the first author substantiate these results.
Non-profit non-governmental organization
Principal components analysis
Alkon, A. H. 2012. Black, white, and green: Farmers markets, race, and the green economy. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Alkon, A. H., and J. Agyeman, eds. 2011. Cultivating food justice: Race, class, and sustainability. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Alkon, A. H., and Mares, T. 2012. Food sovereignty in US food movements: Radical visions and neoliberal constraints. Agriculture and Human Values 29(3): 347–359.
Altieri, M. A. 1995. Agroecology: The science of sustainable agriculture. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Andersson, E., S. Barthel, and K. Ahrné. 2007. Measuring social–ecological dynamics behind the generation of ecosystem services. Ecological Applications 17(5): 1267–1278.
Baker, L. E. 2005. Tending cultural landscapes and food citizenship in Toronto’s community gardens. Geographical Review 94(3): 305–325.
Barthel, S., C. Folke, and J. Colding. 2010. Social–ecological memory in urban gardens: Retaining the capacity for management of ecosystems services. Global Environmental Change 20(2): 255–265.
Bassett, T. J. 1981. Reaping on the margins: A century of community gardening in America. Landscape 25 (2): 1–8.
Bettencourt-McCarthy, W. 2013. Protesters want Queen’s Park to rethink food policy. Torontoist, 2 May. http://torontoist.com/2013/05/protesters-want-queens-park-to-rethink-food-policy/. Accessed 16 Jan 2017.
Blecha, J., and Leitner, H. 2013. Reimagining the food system, the economy, and urban life: New urban chicken-keepers in US cities. Urban Geography 35(1): 86–108.
Block, D., Chávez, N., Allen, E., and Ramirez, D. 2012. Food sovereignty, urban food access, and food activism: Contemplating the connections through examples from Chicago. Agriculture and Human Values 29(2): 203–215.
Boily, M.-E. 2012. L’agriculture urbaine et periurbaine au Québec. Quebec City: Gouvernement du Québec, Ministère de l’Agriculture, des Pêcheries et de l’Alimentation. http://www.mapaq.gouv.qc.ca/fr/Publications/Agricultureurbaineetperiurbaine.pdf. Accessed 10 March 2017.
Bradley, K., and Galt, R. E. 2014. Practicing food justice at Dig Deep Farms & Produce, East Bay Area, California: Self-determination as a guiding value and intersections with foodie logics. Local Environment 19(2): 172–186.
Brinkley, C., and Vitiello, D. 2014. From farm to nuisance animal agriculture and the rise of planning regulation. Journal of Planning History 13(2): 113–135.
Buehler, D., and Junge, R. 2016. Global trends and current status of commercial urban rooftop farming. Sustainability 8(11): 1108–1126.
Burns, G. 2016. Documentary explores Hantz Farms “land grab” in Detroit. MLive.com, 24 July. http://www.mlive.com/news/detroit/index.ssf/2016/07/land_grab_documentary_looks_at.html. Accessed 16 Jan 2017.
Campbell, S. 1996. Green cities, growing cities, just cities? urban planning and the contradictions of sustainable development. Journal of the American Planning Association 62(3): 296–312.
Carfagna, L. B., Dubois, E. A., Fitzmaurice, C., Ouimette, M. Y., Schor, J. B., Willis, M., and Laidley, T. 2014. An emerging eco-habitus: The reconfiguration of high cultural capital practices among ethical consumers. Journal of Consumer Culture 14(2): 158–178.
Carlisle, L. 2014. Critical agrarianism. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 29(2): 135–145.
Carolan, M., and Hale, J. 2016. “Growing” communities with urban agriculture: Generating value above and below ground. Community Development 47(4): 530–545.
Carpenter, S., Walker, B., Anderies, J. M., and Abel, N. 2001. From metaphor to measurement: Resilience of what to what? Ecosystems 4(8): 765–781.
Christensen, R. 2007. SPIN farming: Improving revenues on sub-acre plots. Urban Agriculture Magazine 19: 25–26.
Colasanti, K., and Hamm, M. 2010. Assessing the local food supply capacity of Detroit, Michigan. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 1(2): 41–58.
Colding, J., and Barthel, S. 2013. The potential of “urban green commons” in the resilience building of cities. Ecological Economics 86: 156–166.
Coley, D., Winter, M., and Howard, M. 2013. National and international food distribution: Do food miles really matter? In Sustainable food processing, eds. B. K. Tiwari, T. Norton, and N. M. Holden, 497–520. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Cretney, R. 2014. Resilience for whom? emerging critical geographies of socio-ecological resilience. Geography Compass 8(9): 627–640.
Davidson, M. 2010. Sustainability as ideological praxis: The acting out of planning’s master-signifier. City 14(4): 390–405.
Desmarais, A. A., and Wittman, H. 2014. Farmers, foodies and First Nations: Getting to food sovereignty in Canada. Journal of Peasant Studies 41(6): 1153–1173.
Dixon, J. M., K. J. Donati, L. L. Pike, and L. Hattersley. 2009. Functional foods and urban agriculture: Two responses to climate change-related food insecurity. New South Wales Public Health Bulletin 20(2): 14–18.
Drake, L., and Lawson, L. J. 2014a. Results of a US and Canada community garden survey: Shared challenges in garden management amid diverse geographical and organizational contexts. Agriculture and Human Values 32(2): 241–254.
Drake, L., and Lawson, L. J. 2014b. Validating verdancy or vacancy? The relationship of community gardens and vacant lands in the U.S. Cities 40(B): 133–142.
Draper, C., and Freedman, D. 2010. Review and analysis of the benefits, purposes, and motivations associated with community gardening in the United States. Journal of Community Practice 18(4): 458–492.
Drengson, A., and Y. Inoue, eds. 1995. The deep ecology movement: An introductory anthology. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
DuPuis, E. M., and Goodman, D. 2005. Should we go “home” to eat? Toward a reflexive politics of localism. Journal of Rural Studies 21(3): 359–371.
Eizenberg, E. 2012. Actually existing commons: Three moments of space of community gardens in New York City. Antipode 44(3): 764–782.
Fairfax, S. K., Dyble, L. N., Guthey, G. T., Gwin, L., Moore, M., and Sokolove, J. 2012. California cuisine and just food. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Ferguson, R. S., and Lovell, S. T. 2013. Permaculture for agroecology: Design, movement, practice, and worldview: A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 34(2): 251–274.
Gliessman, S. R. 2000. Agroecology: Ecological processes in sustainable agriculture. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.
Goffman, E. 1974. Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Gottlieb, R. 1993. Forcing the spring: The transformation of the American environmental movement. Washington: Island Press.
Gottlieb, R., and Joshi, A. 2010. Food justice. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Grewal, S. S., and Grewal, P. S. 2012. Can cities become self-reliant in food? Cities 29(1): 1–11.
Guitart, D., Pickering, C., and Byrne, J. 2012. Past results and future directions in urban community gardens research. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 11(4): 364–373.
Gunder, M. 2006. Sustainability: Planning’s saving grace or road to perdition? Journal of Planning Education and Research 26(2): 208–221.
Guthman, J. 2008. “If they only knew”: Color blindness and universalism in California alternative food institutions. The Professional Geographer 60(3): 387–397.
Harvey, D. 2000. Spaces of hope. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Harvey, D. 2003. The right to the city. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 27(4): 939–941.
Hathaway, M. D. 2015. Agroecology and permaculture: Addressing key ecological problems by rethinking and redesigning agricultural systems. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 6: 1–12.
Heynen, N. 2010. Cooking up non-violent civil-disobedient direct action for the hungry: “Food Not Bombs” and the resurgence of radical democracy in the US. Urban Studies 47(6): 1225–1240.
Higgs, E. 2003. Nature by design: People, natural process, and ecological restoration. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Holt-Giménez, E., and A. Shattuck. 2011. Food crises, food regimes and food movements: Rumblings of reform or tides of transformation? Journal of Peasant Studies 38(1): 109–144.
Jarosz, L. 2014. Comparing food security and food sovereignty discourses. Dialogues in Human Geography 4(2): 168–181.
Kaufman, J. L., and M. Bailkey. 2000. Farming inside cities: Entrepreneurial urban agriculture in the United States. Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.
Kloppenberg, J., Henrickson, J., and Stevenson, G. W. 1996. Coming into the foodshed. Agriculture and Human Values 13(3): 33–42.
KLRU. 2015. Warrior and family support center healing gardens. Central Texas Gardener, 7 Nov. http://www.klru.org/ctg/episode/taking-care-of-trees/. Accessed 31 Jan 2017.
Kortright, R., and Wakefield, S. 2011. Edible backyards: A qualitative study of household food growing and its contributions to food security. Agriculture and Human Values 28(1): 39–53.
Kroonenberg, P. M. 2004. Principal components analysis. In The SAGE encyclopedia of social science research methods, eds. M. S. Lewis-Beck, A. Bryman, and T. F. Liao. London: SAGE Publications. http://srmo.sagepub.com/view/the-sage-encyclopedia-of-social-science-research-methods/n748.xml. Accessed 2 Nov 2015.
Kropotkin, P. 1902. Mutual aid: A factor of evolution. London: William Heinemann.
Kulak, M., Graves, A., and Chatterton, J. 2013. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions with urban agriculture: A life cycle assessment perspective. Landscape and Urban Planning 111: 68–78.
Kurtz, H. E. 2003. Scale frames and counter-scale frames: Constructing the problem of environmental injustice. Political Geography 22(8): 887–916.
Lawson, L. J. 2005. City bountiful: A century of community gardening. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Light, A. 2003. Urban ecological citizenship. Journal of Social Philosophy 34(1): 44–63.
Lin, B. B., Philpott, S. M., and Jha, S. 2015. The future of urban agriculture and biodiversity-ecosystem services: Challenges and next steps. Basic and Applied Ecology 16(3): 189–201.
Lovell, S. T. 2010. Multifunctional urban agriculture for sustainable land use planning in the United States. Sustainability 2(8): 2499–2522.
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.
MacKinnon, D., and Derickson, K. D. 2013. From resilience to resourcefulness: A critique of resilience policy and activism. Progress in Human Geography 37(2): 253–270.
MacRae, R., Gallant, E., Patel, S., Michalak, M., Bunch, M., and Schaffner, S. 2010. Could Toronto provide 10% of its fresh vegetable requirements from within its own boundaries? Matching consumption requirements with growing spaces. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 1(2): 105–127.
Marcuse, P. 2009. From critical urban theory to the right to the city. City 13(2): 185–197.
Martin, D. G. 2003. “Place-framing” as place-making: Constituting a neighborhood for organizing and activism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 93(3): 730–750.
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. 2014. Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: Coming to terms with urban agriculture’s contradictions. Local Environment 19(2): 147–171.
McClintock, N., and M. Simpson. 2014. A survey of urban agriculture organizations and businesses in the US & Canada: Preliminary results. Portland State University, Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning. http://archives.pdx.edu/ds/psu/12615. Accessed 10 Mar 2017.
McClintock, N., and Simpson, M. 2016. Cultivating in Cascadia: Urban agriculture policy and practice in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver. In Cities of farmers: Problems, possibilities and processes of producing food in cities, eds. J. Dawson, and A. Morales, 59–82, Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.
McClintock, N., Cooper, J., and Khandeshi, S. 2013. Assessing the potential contribution of vacant land to urban vegetable production and consumption in Oakland, California. Landscape and Urban Planning 111: 46–58.
McClintock, N., Mahmoudi, D., Simpson, M., and Santos, J. P. 2016. Socio-spatial differentiation in the Sustainable City: A mixed-methods assessment of residential gardens in metropolitan Portland, Oregon, USA. Landscape and Urban Planning 148: 1–16.
McMichael, P. 2009. A food regime geneaology. Journal of Peasant Studies 36 (1): 139–169.
Miller, J. R. 1996. Shingwauk’s vision: A history of native residential schools. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Mills, S. 2010. The empire within: Postcolonial thought and political activism in sixties Montreal. Montreal, QC: McGill-Queens University Press.
Monsanto. 2015. Our commitment to sustainable agriculture. http://www.monsanto.com/whoweare/pages/our-commitment-to-sustainable-agriculture.aspx. Accessed 27 Oct 2015.
Moore, S. 2006. Forgotten roots of the Green City: Subsistence gardening in Columbus, Ohio, 1900–1940. Urban Geography 27(2): 174–192.
Mougeot, L. J. A. 2005. Agropolis: The social, political and environmental dimensions of urban agriculture. Ottawa: IDRC.
Norberg-Hodge, H., T. Merrifield, and S. Gorelick. 2002. Bringing the food economy home: Local alternatives to global agribusiness. London: Zed Books.
Nordh, H., Wiklund, K. T., and Koppang, K. E. 2016. Norwegian allotment gardens—a study of motives and benefits. Landscape Research 41(8): 853–868.
Orsini, F., Gasperi, D., Marchetti, L., Piovene, C., Draghetti, S., Ramazzotti, S., Bazzocchi, G., and Gianquinto, G. 2014. Exploring the production capacity of rooftop gardens (RTGs) in urban agriculture: The potential impact on food and nutrition security, biodiversity and other ecosystem services in the city of Bologna. Food Security 6(6): 781–792.
Passidomo, C. 2014. Whose right to (farm) the city? race and food justice activism in post-Katrina New Orleans. Agriculture and Human Values 31(3): 385–396.
Pinder, D. 2005. Visions of the city: Utopianism, power and politics in twentieth-century urbanism. New York: Routledge.
Portland City Council. 2009. Resolution No. 36699: Establish a Better Together Organic Garden at Portland City Hall to encourage the production of community-grown food and urge Portland and Multnomah County residents to assist hunger relief efforts by supporting the Plant a Row for the Hungry campaign. http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=275676. Accessed 10 March 2017.
Pourias, J., Aubry, C., and Duchemin, E. 2016. Is food a motivation for urban gardeners? Multifunctionality and the relative importance of the food function in urban collective gardens of Paris and Montreal. Agriculture and Human Values 33(2): 257–273.
Pudup, M. 2008. It takes a garden: Cultivating citizen-subjects in organized garden projects. Geoforum 39(3): 1228–1240.
Purcell, M., and Tyman, S. K. 2014. Cultivating food as a right to the city. Local Environment 20(10): 1132–1147.
Ramírez, M. M. 2015. The elusive inclusive: Black food geographies and racialized food spaces. Antipode 47(3): 748–769.
Reynolds, K. 2015. Disparity despite diversity: Social injustice in New York City’s urban agriculture system. Antipode 47(1): 240–259.
Reynolds, K., and Cohen, N. 2016. Beyond the kale: Urban agriculture and social justice activism in New York City. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
Roman-Alcalá, A. 2015. Broadening the land question in food sovereignty to northern settings: A case study of Occupy the Farm. Globalizations 12(4): 545–558.
Rosol, M. 2012. Community volunteering as neoliberal strategy? green space production in Berlin. Antipode 44(1): 239–257.
Rudolph, K. R., and McLachlan, S. M. 2013. Seeking Indigenous food sovereignty: Origins of and responses to the food crisis in northern Manitoba, Canada. Local Environment 18(9): 1079–1098.
Sayer, D. 1989. The Violence of abstraction: The analytic foundations of historical materialism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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(4): 455–466.
Sbicca, J. 2016. These bars can’t hold us back: Plowing incarcerated geographies with restorative food justice. Antipode 48(5): 1359–1379.
Scheromm, P. 2015. Motivations and practices of gardeners in urban collective gardens: The case of Montpellier. Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 14(3): 735–742.
Schmelzkopf, K. 2002. Incommensurability, land use, and the right to space: Community gardens in New York City. Urban Geography 23(4): 323–343.
Schupp, J., and Sharp, J. 2012. Exploring the social bases of home gardening. Agriculture and Human Values 29(1): 93–105.
Smit, J., Ratta, A., and Nasr, J. 1996. Urban agriculture: Food, jobs and sustainable cities. New York: United Nations Development Programme.
Smith, C. M., and Kurtz, H. E. 2003. Community gardens and politics of scale in New York City. Geographical Review 93(2): 193–212.
Snow, D. A. 2008. Framing processes, ideology, and discursive fields. In The Blackwell companion to social movements, eds. D. A. Snow, S. A. Soule, and H. Kriesi, 380–412. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Staeheli, L. A., Mitchell, D., and Gibson, K. 2002. Conflicting rights to the city in New York’s community gardens. GeoJournal 58(2/3): 197–205.
Tavernise, S. 2011. Vegetable gardens are booming in a fallow economy. The New York Times, 8 Sep. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/09/us/09gardening.html. Accessed 30 Jan 2012.
Taylor, J. R., and S. T. Lovell. 2015. Urban home gardens in the Global North: A mixed methods study of ethnic and migrant home gardens in Chicago, IL. Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems 30(1): 22–32.
Taylor, J. R., and Lovell, S. T. 2014. Urban home food gardens in the Global North: Research traditions and future directions. Agriculture and Human Values 31(2): 285–305.
Tornaghi, C. 2014. Critical geography of urban agriculture. Progress in Human Geography 38(4): 551–567.
Travaline, K., and Hunold, C. 2010. Urban agriculture and ecological citizenship in Philadelphia. Local Environment 15(6): 581–590.
van Veenhuizen, R. 2006. Cities farming for the future: Urban agriculture for green and productive cities. Ottawa: IDRC/RUAF.
Viljoen, A. 2005. Continuous productive urban landscapes: Designing urban agriculture for sustainable cities. Oxford: Elsevier.
Ville de Montréal. 2012. Etat de l’agriculture urbaine à Montréal. Rapport de consultation publique. Montreal: Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal. http://ocpm.qc.ca/sites/ocpm.qc.ca/files/pdf/P58/rapport_au.pdf. Accessed 10 March 2017.
Vitiello, D., and Wolf-Powers, L. 2014. Growing food to grow cities? the potential of agriculture for economic and community development in the urban United States. Community Development Journal 49(4): 508–523.
Waterman, S. D. 1918. History of the Berkeley schools. Berkeley: The Professional Press.
Weber, C. L., and Matthews, H. S. 2008. Food-miles and the relative climate change impacts of food choices in the United States. Environmental Science & Technology 42(10): 3508–3513.
Weissman, E. 2015. Entrepreneurial endeavors: (re)producing neoliberalization through urban agriculture youth programming in Brooklyn, New York. Environmental Education Research 21(3): 351–364.
White, M. M. 2011. D-Town Farm: African American resistance to food insecurity and the transformation of Detroit. Environmental Practice 13(4): 406–417.
Wittman, H., A. A. Desmarais, and N. Wiebe, eds. 2012. Food sovereignty in Canada: Creating just and sustainable food systems. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing Co., Ltd.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
McClintock, N., Simpson, M. Stacking functions: identifying motivational frames guiding urban agriculture organizations and businesses in the United States and Canada. Agric Hum Values 35, 19–39 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-017-9784-x
- Food justice
- Non-profit organizations
- Urban gardens