Gardens of justice: food-based social movements in underserved, minority communities

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Residents of the United States increasingly support organic and local food systems. New Social Movement theorists have described alternative agriculture as a social movement that transcends social class. Other scholars

Residents of the United States increasingly support organic and local food systems. New Social Movement theorists have described alternative agriculture as a social movement that transcends social class. Other scholars have critiqued alternative agriculture for catering to a middle-class, white public. Simultaneously, geographers have identified communities across the United States that struggle with reduced access to healthy fruits and vegetables. In some of these neighborhoods, known as “food deserts,” local groups are redefining an inequitable distribution of healthy food as a social injustice, and they have begun initiatives to practice “food justice.” The overarching research questions of this study are: 1) How do communities become food deserts? 2) How do food justice movements crystallize and communities practice food justice? 3) What are the social outcomes of food justice movements? Using an Ecology of Actors framework, this study analyzes the actors and operational scales of three food justice movements in Phoenix, Arizona. A narrative analysis of historical scholarly materials and other artifacts reveals that, for more than a century, some communities have tried to create minority-operated local food systems. However, they were thwarted by racist policies and market penetration of the conventional US food system. Interviews with residents, garden organizers and food justice advocates living and working in the city create a narrative of the present day struggle for food justice. Results of this work show that contemporary residents describe their foodscape as one of struggle, and carless residents rely upon social networks to access healthy food. Garden organizers and gardeners are creating networks of community gardens, market gardens, and informal farmers’ markets. They are actively transforming their communities’ landscapes with sophisticated garden ecology in an intense urban heat island. However, the movement’s continued success may be threatened. Many new Phoenix-based local food coalitions and national alternative agriculture social movements are now working to alter Phoenix’s foodscape. Composed of well-educated professionals, who have adopted a justice-based language around food, these organizations may unintentionally co-opt the local food justice movements.