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Urban Agriculture and the 21st Century Agrarian Transformation?: Agtech, Ag Policy, and the Agrarian Question

Authors: Kristin Reynolds*, Independent Scholar, New York, NY; Lecturer, The New School; Lecturer, Yale F&ES
Topics: Food Systems, Agricultural Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: urban agriculture, agtech, food justice, agrarian theory
Session Type: Paper
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Despite ephemeral governmental support for UA in capitalist societies, agricultural policy has tended to deny legitimacy to urban food production. This has potentially negative ramifications -- such as ineligibility for government supports -- for farmers producing food in cities, often with a goal of feeding themselves or their communities.

Recent developments suggest that this is beginning to change as: commercial UA is taking off; and agricultural policies in the US and elsewhere are newly giving UA formal attention. That these developments are occurring simultaneously is of little surprise in contexts (such as the US) in which national policy defines agriculture as commercial activity. However, certain forms of commercial UA may be more closely aligned with the tech sector than even urban agrarianism. These patterns compel inquiry surrounding contemporary (and future) agrarian transformation.

This paper draws from policy analysis and participant observation of policy advocacy and ag-tech convenings in NYC between 2016-2019 to examine the meanings such transformations may hold for social justice in the food system, as considered through the agrarian question (Kautsky 1899; cf. Akhram-Lodi 2016). It argues that without attention to these dynamics, growing policy legitimization of UA could inadvertently hasten the transformation of agriculture from smaller, independent groups, to highly financialized, global enterprises in and beyond cities.

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