Broadly, my research explores food systems, cities, and the environment at multiple scales through a lens of urban political ecology. More specifically, my current research agenda examines the intersection between urban agriculture (UA) movements in the US and Canada, food systems policy and planning, and the specific urban political economies and historical geographies in which they arise. I conduct both applied and theoretically engaged research. By doing so, I hope to bring agri-food and urban environmental research into conversation with critical scholarship that draws attention to how UA policy and practice articulate with power, political economy, race, class, and gender. At the same time, I hope to contribute to critical geography via my commitment to community engaged research.
Current and past projects include:
Urban agriculture, eco-gentrification, and equity in the Sustainable City (2012 - present)
My main focus right now is on the relationship between UA policy, practice, and political economy, with particular attention to the ways in which UA is entangled in processes of gentrification and investment in the “sustainable city”. Funded by the National Science Foundation, I'm working with Eugene McCann and Christiana Miewald at Simon Fraser University to conduct a comparative study of these processes in Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC. We are also interested in the way that UA advocacy networks and policy mobility between the two cities has led to the rise of equity framing within UA and food policy-making forums. The 3-year NSF project incorporates geospatial and survey data, as well as interviews and focus groups with various UA practitioners and policymakers, and analysis of policy and discourse surrounding urban sustainability to critically assess the spatially uneven impacts of the city’s sustainability efforts. This project runs through early 2019.
A new project, funded by the climatology NGO Ouranos and the Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec, complements my work in Portland and Vancouver. My colleagues Éric Duchemin and Hiên Pham at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) and I will investigate UA's potential contributions to climate change adaptation in five municipalities in Metropolitan Montreal. Building on my approach with the NSF project, the 3-year project, entitled "Évaluation de l'agriculture urbaine comme infrastructure verte de résilience individuelle et collective face aux changements environnementaux et sociaux", integrates mapping, surveys, interviews, and field sampling in the garden, to assess UA's socio-spatial variability across the region. Understanding how UA both arises from and resist processes of urbanization (and eco-gentrification, in particular) are central to the study.
My current work on UA in this context builds on a historical paper that I co-authored with PhD students Erin Goodling and Jamaal Green entitled, “Uneven development of the sustainable city: Shifting capital in Portland, Oregon,” (published in Urban Geography), and builds on a GIS-based assessment of residential gardens in Portland that I conducted with Dr. Jacinto Santos (Universidade Federal de Tocantins, Brazil) and PhD student Dillon Mahmoudi, in which we assessed the spatial patterns, clusters of production, and correlations between UA and demographic data such as income, race/ethnicity, education, home ownership, and land value. With funding from PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions, former Master's student Mike Simpson (now a PhD student in Geography at UBC) and I validated this GIS work with a survey of residents in Portland and Vancouver, to determine consumption patterns, food access, and participation in food production (gardens and urban livestock raising). Results are being published in Landscape and Urban Planning.
Agriculture MTL-PDX: Comparing UA policy, practice, and participation in Montréal and Portland (2014 - 2016)
This project, funded by a grant from the Government of Québec, incorporates a research project and a field course/exchange conducted in Aug/Sep 2015 in partnership with Éric Duchemin at UQAM’s AU/Lab and students from PSU, UQAM, and UdeM. Situating our research within theoretical debates over collaborative planning and “post-politics” of sustainability, our PSU team is evaluating recent participatory planning initiatives related to UA in both cities, as well as exploring the role of UA in gentrification in both cities and how the spectacle (as conceived by Guy Dubord) of UA also contributes to process of capitalist urbanization. The project also funded MUS student Claire Bach's thesis work on the spatial politics of UA in Montreal. Stay tuned for publications!
Survey of UA organizations and businesses in the US and Canada (2013 - 2014)
Mike Simpson and I conducted a survey of urban agriculture initiatives to better understand the practices, motivations, networks, labor and funding sources, and on-the-ground needs or UA organizations and businesses. We released our preliminary results in 2014 and have submitted a manuscript focusing on organizational motivations. Another manuscript focusing on UA’s contradictory roles in the neoliberal shadow state is still in the pipeline.
Who is at the table? Fostering anti-oppression practice through food justice dialogues (2013)
Developed together with master’s students Jen Turner, Alex Novie, and Monica Cuneo, and Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies faculty Sally Eck, this participatory workshop series held in early 2013 provided Portland’s social justice and food systems activists the opportunity to collaborate, learn, network, and co-produce anti-oppression strategies with the goal of fostering the multi-racial, multi-ethnic, cross-class alliances necessary to transform the food movement into an integrated effort that emphasizes both food systems and social justice. It was funded by a grant from PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions. You can read about the project in a chapter in a forthcoming edited volume.
Assessment and toolkit for the Urban Farm Collective (2012 - 2014)
My Senior Capstone class and I worked in collaboration with Portland’s Urban Farm Collective to analyze the impact of the organization’s work and to make recommendations for how to better engage a more diverse community in light of gentrification in Inner NE Portland. In 2014, we developed a food justice framework and outreach plan for the Collective.
Cultivating the Commons: Scaling up urban agriculture in Oakland, California (2008 - 2011)
Working with an advisory committee comprised of representatives from city agencies, community members, and non-profits, we inventoried vacant and underutilized public land in Oakland in order to assess its possible contribution to urban food production. Research was funded in part by a mini-grant from the HOPE Collaborative and sponsored by City Slicker Farms. Publicly owned land with productive potential totaled 1,201 acres while private vacant land totaled 848 acres. Food production at these sites could potentially produce as much as 15 to 20 percent of Oakland’s fruit and vegetable needs. The resulting report, Cultivating the Commons (released in November 2009, revised in 2010) and has been used by the Oakland Food Policy Council to inform municipal food policy in its report, Transforming Oakland's Food System: A Plan for Action, and by the Oakland Climate Coalition for the Energy and Climate Action Plan. Even if vacant and underutilized land in Oakland is abundant, however, soil contamination may be an obstacle to the expansion of urban agriculture at some sites. Using new data collected in the field and existing data from the City Slicker Farms Backyard Gardening Program, we used GIS to map and analyze concentrations of lead (Pb) in Oakland's soils. Preliminary assessment of 20 sites in July 2009 was funded by a pilot research grant from the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Analytical Lab in Davis, CA. Funding from the National Science Foundation allowed us to expand our sampling to 100 additional sites throughout Oakland in 2010. We also conducted an experiment at UC Berkeley's Oxford Tract Greenhouses and collected plant tissue samples at selected urban gardens to assess the bioavailability of Pb in urban soils. At the site-scale, we located potential "hot spots" where metals levels are high enough to be of concern; similarly, at the neighborhood- and municipal-scales, we identified areas in need of further assessment before food production proceeds. See pictures of our work in the field and lab, maps, and the resulting articles in Applied Geography, Landscape & Urban Planning, and the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems & Community Development, or my complete dissertation.
Baseline agroecological assessment and farmer needs survey in Haiti's Central Plateau (2004, 2005)
I worked with the French non-governmental organization Zanmi Lasante Paris, which operates in coordination with Partners in Health, to conduct a farmer needs assessment in the Plateau Central. We interviewed 200 farmers in more than a dozen villages, as well as conducted a baseline survey of agroecological characteristics and farming practices. The report (also published in French) was quoted in the opening lines in a National Geographic article on soil in Haiti. More importantly, the research laid the groundwork for a "training of trainers" workshop in June 2005 for extensionists working with two peasant organizations, ASEDECC and SOPABO. I developed the training materials (in Kreyol) with fellow NCSU alum Arthur "Gill" Green, now faculty at Okanagan College.
Sustainable soil management and regenerative agriculture in Senegal's Peanut Basin (2003, 2004)
I took a semester off from my thesis research in North Carolina to work with The Rodale Institute, which at the time, had an office in Thiès, Senegal.
The Joor soils of Senegal's Peanut Basin are inherently low in organic matter, limiting yields of millet and other crops and threatening the food security of smallholders. We conducted a series of focus groups and interviews in eight villages to characterize site-specific fertility management practiced by farmers in the Peanut Basin. On-site measurements revealed little significant difference between the effects of compost and manure on peanut and millet growth, but significant increases over unamended areas. Similarly, chemical analysis revealed increased cation exchange capacity and nutrient concentrations in soils amended with compost or manure. Similarities in the chemical characteristics of compost and traditional pile manure (sentaare) suggest that development workers could emphasize improved pile management rather than promoting more labor-intensive composting. See the resulting article in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability. The Rodale Institute hired me the next year to identify and interview innovative farmers across Senegal for a series of thirteen stories, Sustainable in Senegal, for their NewFarm online magazine.
Compost and vermicompost production and utilization in sustainable farming systems (2002 - 2004)
My MS research focused on compost production and use in sustainable farming systems. My MS thesis research at North Carolina State University's Department of Crop Science focused on compost production and utilization in an organic farming system in North Carolina and in a smallholder subsistence farming system in semi-arid West Africa. Working under Dr. Noah Ranells and Dr. Nancy Creamer, I conducted an experiment was conducted at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) in Goldsboro, NC, to compare methods of composting separated solid swine waste and various rates of wheat straw, and another experiment was conducted at CEFS and Central Carolina Community College's Sustainable Farming Program's Land Lab in Pittsboro, NC, to evaluate the integration of compost with cover crops, both common sources of fertility in organic farming systems. I synthesized some of this research in a Cooperative Extension bulletin. My work in Senegal (see above) also made it into my master's thesis.