Past, present, and future of agriculture in Philadelphia: from Lenape disposession to the contemporary fight for urban food justice and land sovereignty

Authors: Rebecca Croog*, Temple University
Topics: Agricultural Geography, Urban Geography, Human-Environment Geography
Keywords: urban agriculture, historical geography, urban history
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Virginia B, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban farmers in contemporary Philadelphia are increasingly using their urban farming work as a means through which to envision and demand broader social change. In this presentation, I explore how historical-geographic inquiry might help us better understand these urban farmers’ turn toward activism, and namely their desire to enact things like “food justice” and “land sovereignty.” In so doing, I also respond to two papers calling for deeper engagement with historical analysis in urban agriculture research (Tornaghi, 2014; Glasser, 2018). I focus on Philadelphia’s settler-colonial period because European seizure of Lenape territory marks the beginning of a drastic shift in who held power over the land and, subsequently, in the agricultural visions and practices that predominated. It is well known and oft-cited that William Penn envisioned Philadelphia as a “green country towne” and that he worked with his surveyor Thomas Holmes to develop a plan that would prioritize agriculture and orchards for the long term development of the settlement. What has not been studied, and what my research uncovers, are the specific social and environmental justice implications of how these urban-agrarian plans and visions were enacted and how this particular history connects to urban agriculture activists’ struggles for food and land justice in today’s Philadelphia.

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