Two thirds of urban farmers have a social mission that goes beyond food production and profits, finds new research led by NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.
The study, published in the British Food Journal, shows that three of the four top reasons farmers grow in urban areas - food security, education, community building, and producing food for the market - have social motivations.
As urban populations grow in the United States, farming in cities is becoming more common. While food entrepreneurs seek to make money through urban farming, many urban farms are concerned with factors beyond food production, and have incorporated social goals into their missions. These missions align with a larger social movement in food - the "good food movement" - that focuses on where food comes from, who grows it, and how it's grown.
"Given the limited ability of urban farms in terms of food production, the social mission of urban farms arises as a possible explanation for the recent growth," said study author Carolyn Dimitri, associate professor of food studies at NYU Steinhardt.
In their study, Dimitri and her colleagues identified and analyzed the social missions of urban farms in the United States, and explored differences and similarities among farms with varying missions.
They analyzed data collected from a national survey of 370 urban farmers. Thirty-five questions, covering the 2012 farm year, addressed food production and marketing practices, risks and challenges, information and technical assistance needs, farm size and location, age of primary farmer, and farm characteristics.
The researchers found that food production is an essential part of the mission for all urban farms, but approximately two thirds of farmers surveyed also expressed a social mission. These social missions are primarily related to food security, education, and community building.