The creation of urban green space and community gardening plots, in particular, are often seen as an unequivocal good—by troubling this narrative and interrogating the different ways garden sites are employed by different actors, we gain a better understanding of how urban agriculture is actually functioning in today’s US cities.
By Chhaya Kolavalli
Oct 27, 2016
(Savage Minds is a group blog that has been writing about sociocultural anthropology since 2005.)
A dominant trend among these “new” Christians has been to utilize urban agriculture and community gardening as a means of feeding and creating community with the poor (Carnes 2011; Clayborn 2006; Roberts 2009). The garden, however, is also emblematic of new methods of domestic evangelism (Elisha 2008)—as outlined by Carly, above. For the evangelical urban gardeners involved in this study, the garden served as a site to recruit new church members and to ‘model’ several aspects of their conservative religious ideology—most notably, as I’ll argue, a heteronormative patriarchal family structure and gendered division of labor.
Here I draw on ethnographic research conducted over the course of 2013-2014 in a large Midwestern city in the US. In addition to living with a FBO (Faith-Based Organization) for 5 weeks—the Urban Pioneers, a 501c3 nonprofit—I conducted 20 in-depth semi-structured interviews with FBO staff and volunteers, who collectively represent 10 FBOs. The Urban Pioneers is headed by a husband and wife team, Carly and Mark Smith, and draws on volunteer labor from a 35-family Christian intentional community located nearby. The Urban Pioneers purchased 10 large abandoned lots in what they identify as a “blighted” area of the city, and at the time of this research were placing raised garden beds—to be used by community members—on each lot. The organization also offers training courses in small-scale aquaponic tilapia farming and chicken and rabbit husbandry. This research was conducted collaboratively with the Urban Pioneers and other local FBOs—staff and volunteers spoke to me about their work in exchange for my labor in their gardens, and feedback on how their efforts were being perceived by community members.