Monday, May 6, 2019

Wellness and Urban Agriculture

CGEE Student Voice
Urban agriculture
Food and Society
Maren Grunnet

              ‘Wellness’ is often cited as a benefit and justification for urban agriculture projects. Gardening brings many mental and physical health benefits, leading to wellness throughout the community. But what about those who will never be well, how can urban agriculture better their lives? Wellness is oppressive. Wellness is a social construct, but can be applied to the land and ecosystems. Wellness can never be the whole picture of why we do urban agriculture. Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory provides a general description of how the concept of wellness is used to keep people in ‘sickness,’ and there are many applications of this theory to urban agriculture. Through anti-capitalism, care, and community building, urban agriculture can be a force against, not for, ‘wellness.’
              ‘Sickness’ is the state many of us live in, as outlined in Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory. In this theory, Hedva lays out a world in which the sick (those with disabilities, chronic mental or physical illnesses, or those experiencing oppression) are exploited and kept sick by capitalist social structures. Capitalism places profit as the motive in everything, leaving those who are sick and unable to create profit for themselves as something to be profited off of.
In urban agriculture we can see this profit motive working with the concept of wellness. Many metrics used to measure urban agriculture focus on pounds of food produced or number of people reached, numbers that incentivize the capitalist push for endless economic growth. Endless growth inherently involves exploitation of people and ecosystems, making and maintaining their sickness. When urban agriculture, as is often necessary to receive funding, utilizes these ideas it is maintaining power structures. The possibilities for funding to maintain urban agriculture without the assumptions of growth and profit, whether it is defined as pounds of food or number of volunteers, are limited. Funders of all sorts are therefore oppressive and damaging to urban agriculture communities through their power and expectations. Our society values profit, often off the backs of Sick Women, even from community organizations.
              Urban agriculture, however, can be an incredibly strong force to fight back against these structures. By creating more equitable economies and social structures, community gardening provides opportunities to support Sick Women in many ways. Growing food for someone is one of the greatest acts of care we as humans can participate in. It is also a great act of resistance against our current industrial food systems that disconnect us not only from the land and agricultural process, but the care. Sick Women can participate in this act of resistance by enjoying a meal made from the soil up, or by gardening. Valuing the whole cycle is an important step in fighting ‘wellness.’ It’s not just the production and consumption of healthy food that will improve our communities, but the sharing and nourishing we can do with food. Ideally, the food producers and consumers will be connected intimately and equally. The power dynamics inherent in profit-driven food systems would be replaced with dynamics of reciprocal respect and care.

              An organization in Saint Paul that is exemplifying these ideas is the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance. The Urban Farm and Garden Alliance is a coalition of 8 community gardens in Saint Paul working together for restorative justice through food. Their gardens are located primarily in the Aurora/Saint Anthony and Frogtown neighborhoods, communities with a history of violence by the government and oppression. Through these community gardens and programs to include many people in the gardens in many different ways, they create a more caring environment. They accomplish this “by offering free education on sustainable gardening practices, healthy eating, reconciliation workshops, training in conflict resolution and by promoting social and environmental justice through cultivating and sharing of food.”
              Another big step the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance is taking to encourage sustainable relationships with Sick Women is to change the way community garden impacts are measured. In 2015, in collaboration with the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, the UFGA participated in a summer research study on how to better measure the yields of community gardening. Through both quantitative and qualitative means,  they sought to “redefine yield to include the social benefits of community gardening.” By taking into account input from many different community members, they were able to begin developing a more holistic process to understand the impacts of community gardening.
              Urban agriculture is a strong tool for positive change. By building relationships of care and respect through the production and preparation of food for each other, it can be a powerful way of supporting Sick Women in our communities. Organizations like the Urban Farm and Garden Alliance are finding ways to reach out and care for everyone.

Caption: Good Earth.  Good Food.  Good Neighbors.
Caption: Our gardens.

Grewell, Rachel. “Urban Farm & Garden Alliance Nelson Report,” 2015.
Hedva, Johanna. “Sick Woman Theory.” Mask Magazine. Accessed January 15, 2019.
hubba177. “Urban Farm and Garden Alliance.” Text. University of Minnesota Farm Families of the Year, December 28, 2016.
Lazard, Carolyn. “How to Be a Person in the Age of Autoimmunity,” n.d., 11.

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