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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    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).

  2. 2.

    For data related to the survey’s other questions, see McClintock and Simpson (2014).

  3. 3.

    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.

  4. 4.

    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.

  5. 5.

    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.

  6. 6.

    The international agri-food corporation Monsanto, for example, states that its mission is to “make agriculture more productive and sustainable” (Monsanto 2015).

  7. 7.

    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.

  8. 8.

    Responses from BC comprise a large portion of our “Other Canada” analytical category (see Table 1).

  9. 9.

    All quotes from Quebec respondents are the authors’ translation from the original response in French.

  10. 10.

    Participant observation and informal and semi-structured interviews conducted in Montreal in 2012, 2013 and 2015 by the first author substantiate these results.

Abbreviations

CBO:

Community-based organization

DIY:

Do-it-yourself

NGO:

Non-profit non-governmental organization

PCA:

Principal components analysis

SPIN:

Small-plot, intensive

UA:

Urban agriculture

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Acknowledgements

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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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

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Keywords

  • Food justice
  • Framing
  • Motivations
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Survey
  • Urban gardens