Urban Agriculture and the 21st Century Agrarian Transformation?: Ag-tech, 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, Social Theory
Keywords: Urban agriculture, ag tech, agrarianism, agrarian question, urban food systems, social justice, food justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 38
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Despite ephemeral governmental support for urban agriculture in many capitalist societies over the past century, agricultural policy has tended to deny legitimacy to urban food production. This has potentially negative ramifications, including the ineligibility of urban farmers to receive government support for producing food in cities, even when their agrarian goal is to provide food security for themselves or their communities.

Recent developments suggest this is beginning to change as commercial and high- tech UA are on the rise, and are garnering support in the form of agricultural policies in the US and Europe. That the increase in commercial UA and policy support for it are occurring simultaneously is of little surprise in contexts in which agriculture is defined in national policy making as a commercial activity. However, certain forms of commercial UA may be more closely aligned with the tech sector than the existing agricultural economy. These patterns compel inquiry surrounding contemporary and future agrarian transformation.

This paper draws from national, state, and municipal policy analysis and participant observation of policy advocacy and ag-tech convenings in NYC between 2016-2019 to examine the meanings that recent policy changes supporting the development of the ag-tech sector hold for agrarian transformation and further entrenchment of the food system in capitalist logics. I argue that without attention to the influence of these patterns, the legitimization of UA as a commercial activity may hasten the transformation of agriculture from smaller, independent groups, to highly financialized, global enterprises in and beyond cities, risking further inequities.

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