Respect for Place

In intervening in that landscape, urban growers and their allies must understand that when land is cheap, it is cheap for a reason. A vacant lot that might be an affordable site for an urban farm almost invariably has a complicated social and environmental history that is inscribed both in the soil itself and the neighborhood in which it is located. When urban land is made available for free or at very low cost, that may be precisely because it is located in disinvested neighborhoods that are home to residents who have historically been excluded from resources and opportunities due to their race. These neighborhoods are more likely to have been subjected to air, soil and/or water pollution. Growers and their allies who seek out affordable land for urban farms thus need to understand and respect the social and environmental histories of their city.

The history of social reformers and their strategies is part of this history. Urban growers are not the first people to come to low-income neighborhoods with exciting turn-around projects and the best of intentions. (This is not to say that all growers come from outside of the neighborhood; indeed, there may be aspiring growers within the neighborhood with less access to land and capital than groups coming from outside.) Anyone hoping to use urban farming to remake a neighborhood must be aware of how their practice may reproduce a pattern of businesses and nonprofits seeking to extract resources from a neighborhood.

For persons and organizations seeking affordable urban farmland, it is of paramount importance to understand that many of these properties are located in neighborhoods with deep histories of racial exploitation. In turn, this is related to the issue of community control, and the importance of nonprofit organizations from outside of the local neighborhood to be prepared for and constructively address the legitimate skepticism and resistance they encounter when they propose land tenure solutions for non-white and historically disadvantaged/oppressed communities.