This article advances the concept of the agroecological “lighthouse” as a civic space for learning and participating in the principles and practices of urban food production. As urbanization threatens to encourage the increased industrialization of agriculture, growing food in cities promises to alleviate this pressure while creating new opportunities for community empowerment and greater access to sustainable, healthy, and affordable food. This kind of transition, I argue, will demand social relations that bridge science, practice, and movement—and that cut in surprising ways across traditional boundaries between university and community. Drawing from a recent experience in an Urban Agroecology shortcourse in Berkeley, California, I illustrate what such relationships might look like, profiling the caretaker of one backyard garden in the Bay Area. This urban grower effuses what James Scott calls metis, moving fluidly across institutional boundaries, experimenting with agroecological innovations, and offering his space as a lighthouse commons for participatory learning. Interestingly, he is not a PhD, but a retired postal worker. With the stakes mounting for progress in food security across the urban-rural divide, the agroecological lighthouse opens up potential for new researcher-farmer partnerships as well as a means for expanding what we consider legitimate knowledge-making communities. Advancing the notion of a “lighthouse extension model,” I challenge the discourse of mainstream cooperative extension, arguing that a more egalitarian food system will likely emerge from participation by those traditionally excluded from shaping it.
A Lighthouse for Urban Agriculture: University, Community, and Redefining Expertise in the Food System
Maywa Montenegro de Wit is the hybrid offspring of a Peruvian father and Dutch mother who grew up in rural Appalachia before migrating North to earn degrees in molecular biology and science journalism. She worked for six years as an editor and writer at Seed Magazine and is now a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley, researching seeds and seed politics. She recently co-authored a paper in Ecology & Society on the human dimensions of diversified food systems and contributed to Vandana Shiva’s anthology, Seed Freedom.
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Maywa Montenegro de Wit; A Lighthouse for Urban Agriculture: University, Community, and Redefining Expertise in the Food System. Gastronomica 1 February 2014; 14 (1): 9–22. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2014.14.1.9
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