Why farm the city? Theorizing urban agriculture through a lens of metabolic rift

N. McClintock

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McClintock, N. (1). Why farm the city? Theorizing urban agriculture through a lens of metabolic rift. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 3(2), 191–207. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cjres/rsq005

Alienation , commodification , metabolism , scale , the commons , urban farming

Urban agriculture (UA) is spreading across vacant and marginal land worldwide, embraced by government and civil society as source of food, ecosystems services and jobs, particularly in times of economic crisis. ‘Metabolic rift' is an effective framework for differentiating UA's multiple origins and functions across the Global North and South. I examine how UA arises from three interrelated dimensions of metabolic rift—ecological, social and individual. By rescaling production, reclaiming vacant land and ‘de-alienating’ urban dwellers from their food, UA also attempts to overcome these forms of rift. Considering all three dimensions is valuable both for theory and practice.

Main finding
This article argues that urban agriculture (UA) serves as a tool that mends metabolic rift, or the ecological crisis created by urbanization and capitalist means of production. The economic crisis of capitalism is manifested not just through an ecological rift but also a social metabolism rift and an individual rift. UA attempts to mend the ecological rift by closing nutrient cycles, composting and recycling urban waste, and by reducing dependency on petroleum-based foods. UA attempts to mitigate the social rift by decommodifying labor and land, returning production to its urban population, reconnecting farmers to their agricultural production, and creating new commons from interstitial spaces in the city skipped over by capitalism. Finally, UA tries to mitigate the individual rift by re-engaging individuals with metabolism, reconnecting the individuals to the process of production, and by allowing people to metabolize the surrounding landscape and transform it into a product they can consume.

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Theoretically interesting

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