Civic agriculture

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Civic Agriculture is the trend towards locally based agriculture and food production that is tightly linked to a community's social and economic development. It is also connected to the citizenship and environmentalism within a community. [1] Civic agriculture is geared towards meeting consumer demands in addition to boosting the local economy in the process through jobs, farm to food production efforts, and community sustainability. [1] [2] The term was first coined by Thomas Lyson, professor of Sociology at Cornell, to represent an alternative means of sustainability for rural agricultural communities in the era of industrialized agriculture. [2] [3] Civic agriculture is geared towards fostering a self sustainable local economy through an integral community structure in which the entire community is in some part responsible for their food production. [3] Civic agriculture can provide a variety of benefits to a community such as cleaner water, fresher foods, and a better connection between farmers and the community. [4] However, there are also critiques that are concerned with the way in which civic agriculture promotes community responsibility and possibly creates a false sense of citizenship. [1] The intent of civic agricultural practices is to move away from the industrialized sector and into a localized community effort.



Civic agriculture is a means by which rural agricultural communities can remain subsistent in a largely industrialized agriculture sector. The term was coined by the late Thomas A. Lyson, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University, at the 1999 Rural Sociology Society Annual Meeting. [2] In his 2004 book, Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food and Community Lyson argues that in containing food production for a specific community to that community, one is further connecting the community so that it may be economically independent and socially unified. Lyson expounds on his ideas, arguing that because of the interlocked relationship between the food economy and consumers, people have a civic duty to support important agricultural engagements. Lyson claims that communities that show an active involvement in civic agriculture aid economic development by supporting their local food production. [2] In committing to civic agriculture, local communities contribute to an economic growth in the local agricultural sector.

Manifestations of movement towards Civic Agriculture:

Local Economy

The basis of civic agriculture is rooted in pre-industrialization farming practices. Farmers today are turning to civic agriculture in order to remain economically viable within an industrialized society and corporate agriculture practices. Civic agriculture promotes the sustainability of the local economy by containing the source and production of food to a particular region. [2] One of the primary objectives of localization is to improve farmer income. [1] Dependent upon the advanced nature of the civic agriculture production, that region is then reliant upon a small subset of farmers for the majority of their food goods. That subset of farmers must farm a variety of commodities in order to provide for the region. [5] This practice fosters entrepreneurship within the community by treating farming as an economically viable practice, creates jobs through employment of the local community, and keeps the production and consumption of agriculture in one region making that region economically sustainable within itself.

Community Support

Civic agriculture connects the community by eliminating the fragmented nature of agriculture production. It reconnects farmers to the community and creates a social connection between the farmers and the community that is dependent upon them. The community is linked together by the prospect of its success being dependent upon the success of the collective. Civic agriculture ensures locally oriented practices that serve as a driving force for the way in which the community operates socially and politically. Socially, the general well being of the community becomes a primary concern when civic agriculture is being practiced. [2] Additionally, in rooting a community to its own food production, the practice fosters a sense of belonging and responsibility within the community. [1] There is a concern however, that in creating this sense of community support, civic agriculture does not encourage the community to do more than simply produce food in order to be considered a good citizen. In other words, those that produce for or on behalf of the community, can see that action as being the only necessary contributing factor that they offer to the community. [1]


There is a wide range of criticism that those opposed to civic agriculture provide as reasons for a community to not participate in the practice. One critique is that although civic agriculture is focused on localization and a modern means of economic sustainability, it still relies upon traditional economic practices of supply and demand. Without the participation of an industrial sector as the connector between the farmer and the consumer, the farmers of a particular region are directly constrained to demand oriented economics. [1] Another critique of civic agriculture is that in fostering a sense of entrepreneurship, farming practices become individualized as a marketing technique for differentiation. In attempting to differentiate their product, farmers limit the spread of information regarding their particular farming practices in order to compete within the respective market. [1] While one of the goals of civic agriculture includes connecting the farmer to the community, some argue that it indeed does not and furthers the separation between the two as farmers are still isolated socially and geographically. [4] There also exist the concern with regards to power within the community, as the power is not necessarily equally divided. Wealthier individuals hold a higher power of the dollar and have the ability to control both the farmer and the poorer consumers in terms of what is produced and what is available for consumption respectively. [4]

Thomas Lyson

Thomas Lyson was a notable sociologist who spent much of his professional career analyzing the possible impacts and outcomes of civic agriculture. After coining the phrase in 1999, Lyson used his time as a professor at Cornell University to propose ways that rural communities could support themselves not only by providing food to the community, but also by providing jobs and thus supporting the local, rural economy. [6] Lyson's interest in rural community subsistence stemmed from his time spent traveling the globe, specifically in the back roads of Appalachia. [6] In his novel Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community, Lyson warns against the increasingly industrial approach being developed in the world of agriculture today as being detrimental to the independent family farm which serves as the backbone of the rural community. [3] Lyson spent a considerable portion of his career exploring the economic opportunities presented before rural communities and the ways in which those opportunities should be utilized in order to ensure the prosperity of the community. [6] In 2013, Lyson created The Lyson Center for Civic Agriculture and Food Systems, a food systems development program in Ithaca, New York. Since 2013, it has been a project within the Center for Transformative Action, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Cornell University. [7] The aim of the center is to provide research oriented solutions to the current problems that exist within our various food systems. [5] The center publishes the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, an open access journal on food systems and food systems research [8] and facilitates the North American Food Systems Network. The Lyson Center also publishes the Sustainable Food Systems Sourcebook. [8]

Related Research Articles

Rural sociology branch of sociology

Rural sociology is a field of sociology traditionally associated with the study of social structure and conflict in rural areas although topical areas such as food and agriculture or natural resource access transcend traditional rural spatial boundaries. It is an active academic field in much of the world, originating in the United States in the 1910s with close ties to the national Department of Agriculture and land-grant university colleges of agriculture.

Family farm farm owned or operated by a family

A family farm is generally understood to be a farm owned and/or operated by a family; it is sometimes considered to be an estate passed down by inheritance. Family farm businesses can take many forms, as most farm families have structured their farm businesses as corporations, limited liability corporations, and trusts, for liability, tax, and business purposes. It is a common misconception that all farms with these business structures are not family farms, when in actuality that is not true. In the United States for example, a 2014 USDA report shows that family farms operate 90 percent of the nation’s farmland, and account for 85 percent of the country’s agricultural production value.

Local food movement of people who prefer to eat foods which are grown or farmed relatively close to the places of sale and preparation

Local food is food that is produced within a short distance of where it is consumed, often accompanied by a social structure and supply chain different from the large-scale supermarket system.

Community-supported agriculture socioeconomic model of agriculture and food distribution

Community-supported agriculture is a system that connects the producer and consumers within the food system more closely by allowing the consumer to subscribe to the harvest of a certain farm or group of farms. It is an alternative socioeconomic model of agriculture and food distribution that allows the producer and consumer to share the risks of farming. The model is a subcategory of civic agriculture that has an overarching goal of strengthening a sense of community through local markets.

"Food sovereignty", a term coined by members of Via Campesina in 1996, asserts that the people who produce, distribute, and consume food should control the mechanisms and policies of food production and distribution, rather than the corporations and market institutions they believe have come to dominate the global food system. It also encompasses the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. The phrase "culturally appropriate" signifies that the food that is available and accessible for the population should fit with the cultural background of the people consuming it.

Urban agriculture The practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around urban areas

Urban agriculture,urban farming, or urban gardening is the practice of cultivating, processing and distributing food in or around urban areas. Urban agriculture can also involve animal husbandry, aquaculture, agroforestry, urban beekeeping, and horticulture. These activities occur in peri-urban areas as well, and peri-urban agriculture may have different characteristics.

Market garden relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and flowers as cash crops

A market garden is the relatively small-scale production of fruits, vegetables and flowers as cash crops, frequently sold directly to consumers and restaurants. The diversity of crops grown on a small area of land, typically from under one acre to a few acres, or sometimes in greenhouses distinguishes it from other types of farming. Such a farm on a larger scale is sometimes called a truck farm.

Small-scale agriculture

Small-scale agriculture has been practiced ever since the Neolithic Revolution. More recently it is an alternative to factory farming or more broadly, intensive agriculture or unsustainable farming methods that are prevalent in primarily first world countries. Environmental Health Perspectives has noted that "Sustainable agriculture is not merely a package of prescribed methods. More important, it is a change in mind set whereby agriculture acknowledges its dependence on a finite natural resource base--including the finite quality of fossil fuel energy that is now a critical component of conventional farming systems."

A food cooperative or food co-op is a food distribution outlet organized as a cooperative, rather than a private or public company. Food cooperatives are usually consumer cooperatives, where the decisions regarding the production and distribution of its food are chosen by its members. Like all cooperatives, food cooperatives are often based on the 7 Rochdale Principles, and they typically offer natural foods. Since decisions about how to run a cooperative are not made by outside shareholders, cooperatives often exhibit a higher degree of social responsibility than their corporate analogues.

Équiterre is a Canadian non-profit and non-governmental organization, operating in Quebec. It manages a community-supported agriculture system of farms and consumers, including households and institutions.

A sustainable food system (SFS) is a type of food system that provides healthy food to people while also providing sustainable impacts on both environmental, economic and social systems that surround food. Sustainable food systems start with the development of sustainable agricultural practices, development of more sustainable food distribution systems, creation of sustainable diets and reduction of food waste throughout the system. Sustainable food systems are central to all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is a non-profit research and advocacy organization that promotes sustainable food, farm, and trade systems. IATP has offices in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Geneva, Switzerland, and operates both locally and internationally.

The term food system is used frequently in discussions about nutrition, food, health, community economic development and agriculture. A food system includes all processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population: growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. It also includes the inputs needed and outputs generated at each of these steps. A food system operates within and is influenced by social, political, economic and environmental contexts. It also requires human resources that provide labor, research and education. Food systems are either conventional or alternative according to their model of food lifespan from origin to plate.

Agroecology in Latin America

Agroecology is an applied science that involves the adaptation of ecological concepts to the structure, performance, and management of sustainable agroecosystems. In Latin America, agroecological practices have a long history and vary between regions but share three main approaches or levels: plot scale, farm scale, and food system scale. Agroecology in Latin American countries can be used as a tool for providing both ecological, economic, and social benefits to the communities that practice it, as well as maintaining high biodiversity and providing refuges for flora and fauna in these countries. Due to its broad scope and versatility, it is often referred to as "a science, a movement, a practice."

Norman Uphoff is an American social scientist now involved with agroecology serving as a Professor of Government and International Agriculture at Cornell University. He is the acting director of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs and former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture, and Development (CIIFAD) 1990-2005.

Overurbanization is a thesis originally developed by scholars of demography, geography, ecology, economics, political science, and sociology in the 20th century to describe cities whose rate of urbanization outpaces their industrial growth and economic development. A city is considered to be overurbanized when any additional population will lead to a decline in per capita income of the city. Overurbanized countries are characterized by an inability to provide for their populations in terms of employment and resources. The term is intentionally comparative and has been used to differentiate between developed and developing countries. Several causes have been suggested, but the most common is rural-push and urban-pull factors in addition to population growth.

Short food supply chain (SFSCs) is a broad range of food production-distribution-consumption configurations, such as farmers' markets, farm shops, collective farmers' shops, community-supported agriculture, solidarity purchase groups. More in general, a food supply chain can be defined as "short" when it is characterized by short distance or few intermediaries between producers and consumers.

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was an economic policy of the Soviet Union proposed by Vladimir Lenin in 1921 as a temporary expedient. Lenin characterized the NEP in 1922 as an economic system that would include "a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control,", while socialized state enterprises would operate on "a profit basis".

Peri-urban agriculture is generally defined as agriculture undertaken in places on the fringes of urban areas. There is no universally agreed definition, and usage of the term generally depends on context and operational variables. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines peri-urban agriculture as "agriculture practices within and around cities which compete for resources that could also serve other purposes to satisfy the requirements of the urban population."

Digital agriculture refers to tools that digitally collect, store, analyze, and share electronic data and/or information along the agricultural value chain. Other definitions, such as those from the United Nations Project Breakthrough, Cornell University, and Purdue University, also emphasize the role of digital technology in the optimization of food systems.     


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