Thinking and doing justice: urban agriculture in San Diego County

Authors: Blaire O'Neal*, San Diego State University
Topics: Food Systems
Keywords: social justice, urban agriculture, technology, innovation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Plaza Court 8, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Urban agriculture is an increasingly diverse and commoditized strategy for producing food in cities. Once primarily soil-based community gardens and urban farms, today urban agriculture includes innovative, soilless farms that use hydroponic, aquaponic, and aeroponic technologies. Disapproval of the latter can be found in academic literature on the grounds of social justice, adding fuel to the prevalent discourse that sees advanced technology as a negative addition to urban agriculture, building on a long intellectual tradition of criticizing so-called “technological fixes” to social problems. These tensions are often rooted in competing understandings of social justice grounded in assumptions regarding the role of land, labor, and capital (all of which are used in urban agriculture in various degrees and forms). Arguably, all forms of urban agriculture, regardless of their relationship to the soil, have the potential to promote or prevent social justice. Therefore, it is necessary to examine how urban agriculture initiatives, with various degrees of technological intensity, define and do justice. This paper seeks to evaluate the justice narratives and practices that shape three urban agriculture spaces with social missions in San Diego County. I compare these spaces by focusing on land, labor, and capital and their relationship to distribution, participation, and recognition – three key aspects of justice. I assess the outcomes and opportunities generated at each site that produce benefits for marginalized groups and the socio- spatial contexts– geography, regional economies, demographics, and institutional environments – that contribute to (or limit) sites’ ability to produce benefits for marginalized communities.

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