Urban agriculture, race, and real estate: the Minneapolis Garden Club 1910-1925

Authors: Hannah Ramer*,
Topics: Urban Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: urban agriculture, urban environmental history, race
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 6, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

At their core, debates over urban agriculture are about who has the right to control land, for what purposes, and who has the power to decide. While often framed as new, urban agriculture has long been a way to inscribe and contest social hierarchies on the physical landscape. Taking Minneapolis as an example, I use historical newspapers, maps, and government archives to examine a period when civic elites and government institutions championed urban agriculture in the city. The Minneapolis Garden Club began with a single garden in 1910 and then expanded rapidly. Within a few short years, it boasted thousands of members who tended 400 acres of gardens. Among its supporters, the Garden Club counted the city’s leading newspaper, university faculty, and leaders in politics, business, and real estate. The Garden Club was touted as a way to beautify the city, save money for working families, promote exercise and healthy eating, and bridge ethnic divides. However, while the club’s leaders espoused many laudable values, they also worked quietly to institutionalize racial segregation, block labor organizing, and boost profits for real estate developers. The Minneapolis Garden Club highlights the ways that urban agriculture is entangled with nature, race, power, and the state. Excavating this past can illuminate the ways these forces are still at play in the present, and help advocates and policymakers envision new ways of building a more equitable and just urban food system in the future.

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