Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-8tfrx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-29T14:13:38.860Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Resource needs for a socially just and sustainable urban agriculture system: Lessons from New York City

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 July 2014

Nevin Cohen*
The New School, New York, NY, USA.
Kristin Reynolds
The New School, New York, NY, USA.
*Corresponding author:


Many urban agriculture programs, and the organizations that run them, require substantial resources to remain viable and provide the multifunctional benefits that practitioners and supporters hope to achieve. As urban agriculture activity expands, practitioners and supporters face significant challenges, including how to match resources to the needs of practitioners and expectations of municipalities, and how to distribute those resources effectively and equitably so that communities, and the city as a whole, capture the benefits of these projects. This is particularly important as cities face increasing pressure to reduce costs and maximize the return on public expenditures. A 2-year study called Five Borough Farm documented the goals and objectives of urban agriculture projects in New York City and the resources for their success. The data showed that resource needs go beyond the material and financial needs discussed in the urban agriculture literature (e.g., land, soil, money). Interviews documented that urban agriculture projects have broader goals than merely producing food, and that attaining these goals (e.g., environmental improvements, community development, social justice) requires the support of government and networks of practitioners, non-profit organizations and philanthropies. Moreover, interviewee comments suggested that significant disparities in access to resources make the urban agriculture system in New York unequal and constrain the efforts of some farms and gardens. This paper, based on the Five Borough Farm research, examines the resource needs of urban agriculture operations in terms of farm and garden viability and equity among practitioners. It describes the goals, expectations and resource needs of New York City urban agriculture from the perspectives of farmers and gardeners, and from the views of city officials, funders and supporting non-profits. It discusses the need for attention to the political and social structures that create disparity and precariousness to ensure a sustainable and just urban agricultural system, in addition to the financial and technical assistance resources that enable farmers and gardeners to produce food. The paper concludes with recommended strategies to align resource needs and urban agriculture goals and expectations in New York and other cities.

Research Papers
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


1 Hodgson, K., Campbell, M.C., and Bailkey, M. 2011. Urban Agriculture: Growing Healthy, Sustainable Places. American Planning Association Planning Advisory Service, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
2 Mukherji, N. and Morales, A. 2010. Zoning for urban agriculture. Zoning Practice 10(3):18.Google Scholar
3 Thibert, J. 2012. Making local planning work for urban agriculture in the North American context: A view from the ground. Journal of Planning Education and Research 32(3):349357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
4 Cohen, N. 2012. Planning for urban agriculture: Problem recognition, policy formation, and politics. In Viljoen, A.M. and Wiskerke, J.S.C. (eds). Sustainable Food Planning: Evolving Theory and Practice. Wageningen University Press, Wageningen. p. 103114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
5 McClintock, N. 2013. Radical, reformist, and garden-variety neoliberal: Coming to terms with urban agriculture's contradictions. Local Environment January:125.Google Scholar
6 Cohen, N., Reynolds, K., and Sanghvi, R. 2012. Five Borough Farm: Seeding the future of urban agriculture in New York City. Design Trust for Public Space. p. 56.Google Scholar
7 Nairn, M. and Vitiello, D. 2009. Lush lots: Everyday urban agriculture. Harvard Design Magazine 31:18.Google Scholar
8 McClintock, N. 2012. Assessing soil lead contamination at multiple scales in Oakland, California: Implications for urban agriculture and environmental justice. Applied Geography 35(1–2):460473.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
9 Reynolds, K. 2011. Expanding technical assistance for urban agriculture: Best practices for extension services in California and beyond. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 1(3):197216.Google Scholar
10 Gorgolewski, M., June, K., and Joe, N. 2011. Carrot City. Monacelli Press, New York.Google Scholar
11 Colasanti, K. and Hamm, M. 2012. The city as an ‘agricultural powerhouse’? Perspectives on expanding urban agriculture from Detroit, Michigan. Urban Geography 33(3):348369.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
12 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):458492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
13 Nasr, J., Macrae, R., Kuhns, J., Danyluk, M., Kaill-vinish, P., Michalak, M., and Snider, A. 2010. Scaling up urban agriculture in Toronto: Building the infrastructure. Agriculture Toronto: Metcalf Foundation. p. 166.Google Scholar
14 Castillo, S.R., Winkle, C.R., Krauss, S., Turkewitz, A., and Silva, C. 2013. Regulatory and other barriers to urban and peri-urban agriculture: A case study of urban planners and urban farmers from the greater Chicago metropolitan area. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development 3(3):155166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
15 Lovell, S.T. 2010. Multifunctional urban agriculture for sustainable land use planning in the United States. Sustainability 2(8):24992522.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
16 Duchemin, E., Wegmuller, F., and Legault, A.M. 2009. Urban agriculture: Multi-dimensional tools for social development in poor neighbourhoods. Field Actions Science Reports. Journal of Field Actions 1:18.Google Scholar
17 Svendsen, E.S. and Campbell, L.K. 2008. Urban ecological stewardship: Understanding the structure, function and network of community-based urban land management. Cities and the Environment 1(1):131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
18 Feenstra, G., McGrew, S., and Campbell, D. 1999. Entrepreneurial Community Gardens: Growing Food, Skills, Jobs and Community. University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Oakland, CA.Google Scholar
19 Kaufman, J.L. and Bailkey, M. 2000. Farming Inside Cities: Entrepreneurial Urban Agriculture in the United States. Policy. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
20 Saldivar-Tanaka, L. 2004. Culturing community development, neighborhood open space, and civic agriculture: The case of Latino community gardens in New York City. Agriculture and Human Values 7(1):17412.Google Scholar
21 Meenar, M. and Hoover, B. 2012. Community food security via urban agriculture: Understanding people, place, economy, and accessibility from a food justice perspective. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 3(1):118.Google Scholar
22 Brown, K.H. and Carter, A. 2002. Urban agriculture and community food security in the United States: Farming from the city center to the urban fringe. Urban Agriculture Committee of the Community Food Security Coalition, October.Google Scholar
23 Kameshwari, P and Kaufman, J.L. 1999. Placing the food system on the urban agenda: The role of municipal institutions in food systems planning. Agriculture and Human Values 16(2):213224.Google Scholar
24 Reynolds, K. 2009. Urban Agriculture in Alameda County, CA: Characteristics Challenges and Opportunities for Assistance. University of California, Davis, CA. p. 1–12.Google Scholar
25 Rules of the City of NY Dept. of Parks & Recreation (56 RCNY). § 6–03.Google Scholar
26NYCHA Launches First-Ever Large-Scale Urban Farm on NYCHA Property. Press release June 18, 2013, NYCHA, New York City.Google Scholar
27 Healey, P. 2003. Collaborative planning in perspective. Planning Theory 2(2):101123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
28 Fung, A. 2006. Varieties of participation in complex governance. Public Administration Review 66:6675.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
29 Community Food Funder. 2013. Available at (verified December 18, 2013).Google Scholar
30 HOPE Collaborative. 2011. HOPE Collaborative: Health for Oakland's People and Environment. Available at (verified March 7, 2012).Google Scholar
31 City of Seattle. 2013. Race and Social Justice Initiative. Available at (verified August 12, 2013).Google Scholar
32 Governing for Racial Equality. 2014. Governing for Racial Equality Network. Available at (verified January 2, 2014)Google Scholar
33 Reynolds, K. and Cohen, N. (forthcoming). Beyond the Kale: Urban Agriculture and Social Justice Activism in New York City. University of Georgia Press, Athens, GA.Google Scholar