International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Is Urban Agriculture a Game Changer or Window Dressing? A Critical Analysis of Its Potential to Disrupt Conventional Agri-food Systems

International Journal of Sociology of Agriculture and Food

Volume 23, issue 2 (2017), pages 63–76

Authors: Debra J. Davidson
Affiliation: Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

ISSN: 0798-1759


Is urban agriculture capable of becoming a ‘game changer’, contributing to the sustainable transition of our conventional agri-food systems? Or is it more likely to be ‘window dressing’, characterized by limited participation and influence? The answer depends upon how we measure system change. The value of urban agriculture is often measured in physical – caloric – terms. By assessing the multiple emergent effects of urban agriculture activities through an extensive, in-terdisciplinary literature review, this article provides a more informed context to a discussion of the disruptive potential of urban agriculture. Several features of urban agriculture suggest its potential to be an important contributor to agri-food system transition; however, a number of key challenges must be acknowledged and addressed. Ultimately, producing food in cities is not inherently transformative in and of itself, but the potential and observed new forms of social en-gagement emerging in many contexts create institutional conditions that can disrupt conventional agri-food systems by building social capital as much as physical capital.

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