"They got corn out here in the heart of the ghetto?" Community perceptions of urban farming in Baltimore, Maryland
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Urban farming—a type of urban agriculture that emphasizes income generation—is promoted in cities across the U.S. as a strategy to revitalize vacant land and increase access to fresh produce. Yet its viability depends on local community support. This dissertation research explores the dynamics between urban farms and local community members in Baltimore, Maryland, employing a qualitative collective case study design to gain an in-depth understanding of community perceptions of urban farming as a use of vacant land, influences on these perceptions, and processes for gaining local support for urban farming. Cases included: 1) active urban farms and the surrounding neighborhood (two sites); 2) vacant lots where new urban farms were planned and the surrounding neighborhood (two sites); and 3) neighborhoods where a proposal to start an urban farm was withdrawn based on objections by residents (one site). Data collection involved semi-structured in-depth interviews with urban farmers (n=8), neighborhood leaders (n=12), city residents (n=21), and key stakeholders (n=8); 25 hours of unstructured participant observation at farm sites; and document review. Study findings reveal that although community members perceive urban farms as contributing to neighborhood improvement in multifaceted ways, the importance of community buy-in processes for building positive relationships between farms and communities cannot be overstated. One barrier to buy-in is the perception of urban farmers as neighborhood “outsiders,” which farmers overcome by engaging local residents. Furthermore, the dichotomy between community and commercial farms plays a role in defining the farm-community relationship, with community farms prioritizing community engagement over economic exchange while commercial farms build community support using strategies that fit within a market-based framework. Finally, although interviewees extolled having a source of fresh food within neighborhoods, this benefit played a lesser role in residents’ acceptance of urban farming than others, particularly improvement of physically degraded space. These findings highlight the importance of assessing urban farming holistically in terms of the full range of benefits it can provide. Ultimately, this research contributes to the food systems literature and on-the-ground efforts to scale-up urban farming by providing insight into the influences that result in community support for urban farms.