Urban farming is an oxymoron. According to popular and scholarly understandings of urban history, cities increasingly become more urbanized, separated from the environmental resources and raw materials that support them. Cities as spaces for agricultural self-provisioning stand out as an ambiguous spike in urban history, despite the fact they are so common. City dwellers out of work or out of money grow their own food, scavenge materials to build structures on small patches of land. Most often, these municipalities—Detroit, Leningrad, Dar es Salaam, Havana—are taken as failed cities in failed polities; residents seen as not sufficiently urban, an object of pity. Unless, that is, urbanites choose to self-provision as a hobby, out of a political commitment or as charity, then they are exemplary citizens. Real estate values rise in a radiating circle around their gardens. Bi-polar views of urban self-provisioning point to the major challenge hardy root vegetables growing from cracked cement present to ideological systems. Whether capitalist or socialist, economic systems work toward disarming people from their means of existence. The longer the supply chains, the more successful the system.
Kate Brown, Professor of Science, Technology, and Society at Massachusetts Institute of Technology