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Commercial Urban Agriculture in the Global City: Perspectives from New York City and Métropole du Grand Paris

Commercial Urban Agriculture in the Global City:

Perspectives from New York City and Métropole du Grand Paris


Kristin Reynolds1 and Ségolène Darly2*

*Equal authorship

1Independent Scholar, New York, New York; 2Université Paris 8, LADYSS, Saint-Denis, France

Shifting Urban Agriculture Landscapes


The landscape of urban agriculture – the growing of food and non-food products and the raising of livestock in and around cities— is ever-growing throughout cities of the Global North. This, despite the fact that it has often been disregarded as legitimate use of urban space, or as legitimate agriculture (Smit et al. 1996). In the last two decades, longstanding practices of urban gardening (including home-, allotment-, community-gardens, as well as gardens at schools, hospitals, and other institutions) have been joined by not-for-profit initiatives such as community farms, in the U.S. context, or jardins d’insertion that provide opportunities for social and workforce inclusion in the French context. These relatively recent iterations of urban agriculture in Global North cities, including New York and Paris, where we respectively live and work, often are focused on increasing food access and/or providing job training in low income communities (cf., Cohen et al. 2012, Simon-Rojo et al. 2016). 


Even more recently, within the last decade, income-generating activities and entrepreneurship in urban agriculture have gained prominence. Increasing numbers of soil-based and ‘low-tech’ urban gardens, such as community gardens or community farms, are selling their products at market prices or at a sliding-scale in cities where policies allow. These practices have been used to support farming and gardening activities (such as purchase of seeds or garden equipment) and/or to create jobs or opportunities for self-determination in economically marginalized communities (Kaufman and Bailkey 2000; McClintock 2014; Reynolds and Cohen 2016). These longer-standing types of entrepreneurial urban agriculture are now joined by open-air commercial rooftop farms and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) such as rooftop greenhouses and hydroponic vertical farms inside warehouses and shipping containers (Daniel 2015; Lelièvre et al. 2018; Cornell Controlled Environment Agriculture, n.d.).  


Some global cities have supported the scaling-up of urban agriculture because of its potential environmental benefits, in the interest of sustainability (Grandchamp-Florentino, 2012); Others support it for its potential contribution to urban food security. However, we emphasize that there are few research-based claims that urban food production alone will ‘feed the city’ due to the types of products - fruits and vegetables, not grains - grown in urban settings in the Global North; Most contemporary research focuses on the complimentarity of urban, regional, and rural agriculture. New York City and Métropole du Grand Paris,[1] two such global cities, which are similar in size and density, have welcomed new types of urban agriculture businesses in the last few years. In New York City, Brooklyn Grange, established in 2010, was one of the first soil rooftop farms in the city, now with two sites on which it grows vegetables and raises bees, selling its products to restaurants and through a community supported agriculture and farm stand. The company Square Roots, since 2017, grows culinary herbs in shipping containers for sale at retail stores in the city, and runs a year-long farmer training program. In Paris, the group Topager launched its activities in 2016, creating new systems of soil-based intensive rooftop farming, and produces and sells high value products including leafy greens and edible flowers. It now has sites around the city. And, since 2018, the startup Cycloponics has been growing vegetables and certified organic mushrooms underground in central Paris (having previously established a site in Strasbourg in eastern France) using hydroponics and LED lights.


Relatively new to the urban agriculture scene, these for-profit groups are developing new, and at-times ‘high tech’ innovations for growing, and marketing urban agriculture products (Daniel 2015). As agrarian activity is redefined to include such urban ventures, this may also be changing the way urban agriculture, and perhaps agriculture writ large, is perceived. At the same time, policy changes pertaining to urban food production in the U.S. and France are taking place at multiple scales. One important question, as this field evolves, is whether and to what extent cities will nurture urban agriculture systems that allow for innovation in its many forms while supporting social- and economic equity among cities’ diverse residents. Understanding these changes is one objective of our collaborative research, as we discuss briefly here.


Defining Commercial Urban Agriculture?


The sale of products from urban-area farms and gardens is not new per se. This has long been practiced in Global South cities throughout the world (Smit et al. 1996; Hovorka 2005). There has also long been a discussion in development studies about the line between subsistence to market-oriented production, as farmers transition to, or oscillate, between the two (Dixon et al., 2001). In Global North cities, peri-urban commercial farms (i.e., those located at the edges of cities) that have managed to remain in business, even as they become surrounded by cities through processes of urban expansion, have often done so by specializing in high-value production, engaging in direct marketing, and/or diversifying their economic activities to include education or agritourism (Bryant and Johnston, 1991). Insofar as farms around cities are considered urban agriculture, this, again, is not new. However, the expansion of commercial activities attached to intramuros urban agriculture—agriculture that is situated in the political and geographic core of cities—is a relatively recent phenomenon in the contemporary Global North, and is accompanied by evolving perceptions of agriculture and attendant policy changes. These points have led us to first explore how commercial urban agriculture is defined for purposes of policy making, city planning, agricultural and economic development.


In the U.S. context, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a farm as “as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.” (USDA ERS n.d.; Hoppe and McDonald 2013). This effectively defines farms as commercial businesses, though the word ‘commercial’ has been used sparingly in USDA definitions to refer to high revenue and/or non-family farms (ibid). The USDA does not specify geographic location (i.e., rural or urban) in its definition of a farm, though the emphasis of USDA programs has historically been on the rural farm sector. Recently, though, USDA agencies, have begun to pay more attention to urban agriculture beyond home horticulture and community gardens (cf. Reynolds 2010; 2011; 2017a). In 2015, for example, the USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service conducted a pilot census of urban agriculture in Baltimore, MD, the purpose of which was to potentially inform future Censes of Agriculture (USDA NASS, n.d.). The USDA’s 93rd annual Agricultural Outlook Forum in 2016 included a session entitled “Commercial Production in Urban Settings” with panel speakers from some of the leading rooftop and high-tech urban farms (USDA 2016). The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service currently includes urban agriculture on its webpage about local and regional food (USDA AMS, n.d.).


At the state level, in California, the statewide Cooperative Extension (the system of state-level partnerships between Land Grant universities and the USDA that conduct applied research, education, and training) has increasingly embraced urban agriculture (Reynolds 2010; 2011; Surls et al., 2015). And, in New York, after a hiatus of several years following the retirement of the city’s longtime urban agriculture extension agent in 2010, in 2016 the USDA FSA, which provides loans to farmers, created a new urban agriculture outreach coordinator position. Additionally, U.S. states have developed legislation to support commercial urban agriculture, necessitating a clear definition of what is considered ‘commercial’ for legislative purposes. Notably, in 2013, the State of California passed the Urban Agricultural Incentives Zones Act (AB551 of 2013) that allows cities in California to create agricultural incentive zones in which private landowners can benefit from tax incentives to allow their land to be used for “sustainable urban farm enterprise sectors” (California Assembly Bill AB551 of 2013,  Chapter 406, Section 6.3). The Act takes a broad definition, defining “[a]gricultural use” of urban land as “farming in all its branches including, but not limited to, the cultivation and tillage of the soil, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural products, the raising of livestock, bees, fur-bearing animals, dairy-producing animals, and poultry, agricultural education, the sale of produce through field retail stands or farms stands” (ibid). Several cities have made use of this legislation since its enactment (UCANR, n.d.).  These government agency and policy changes suggest a shift to recognizing urban food production as legitimate agriculture, especially as for-profit urban agriculture gains momentum.


Beyond for-profit businesses, such as those discussed above, there are many non-profit, not-for-profit, and grassroots groups that sell their products, thereby engaging in urban agriculture sales activity. Reasons for doing so include self-provisioning, contributing to community food security, job training, or creating alternative economies, as well as, in some cases, generating revenue to support their activities (Reynolds 2010; 2011; Dmitri et al. 2016; McClintock and Simpson 2018). Additionally, some restaurants operate small gardens on-site to provide fresh products for their commercial kitchens. As sales of products from urban agriculture, with its many forms and motivations, become increasingly prevalent in the U.S. context, and, as policymakers and government agencies begin to pay closer attention to such activities in the context of the agricultural sector, defining commercial urban agriculture gains importance.


In the French context, agricultural production and farms are supported by the Ministère de l’Agriculture et l’Alimentation (MAA, the national Agriculture and Food Ministry) within the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) framework. The MAA statistical department, Agreste, defines an agricultural business (exploitation agricole) as an operation whose size (measured in farmland area or production volume) is sufficient “to allow commercial transactions” (Agreste 2010: 5). The required surface area depends on the type of production. Farms must either be more than 2.47 acres (1 hectare), or, if under this size, have at least 0.49 acres of specialty crops (Décret n° 2009-529, 11 may 2009). As in the U.S., this definition strongly associates farms with commercial businesses, emphasizing their economic role, and makes no distinction between rural or urban location. At the national level, the MAA does not have policies pertaining specifically to urban farms or urban agriculture.


At the municipal level, the Agreste definition is also mainly used, since the 2000s, by members of the Terres en Villes network of cities. The network adopts, in association with the regional Chambers of Agriculture, farmland protection plans (which prohibit anything other than commercial agriculture from taking place on land zoned for farming) as well as policies that focus on strengthening local farms and regional food systems. 


While agriculture is considered de facto commercial, non-profit farms that sell their products have been developing in France since the 1990s with the aim of promoting social integration, economic solidarity, organic farming, and healthy food access through collective gardening, as well as providing workforce development training. These ‘social’ farms are not urban per se, but are clearly part of the currently-evolving urban agriculture landscape insofar as they are often located near cities and/or directly market their products in urban regions (De Biasi, 2018). The larger of these types of operations, when they can afford to pay the salary of a qualified market gardener in charge of managing the production activities (as they do, for example, in the Jardins de Cocagne network (a national group of social farms created in 1999 through which organic certified products are grown by government-sponsored workers under the supervision of a qualified farmer and sold locally to the garden association members) are able to register as farms with the MAA. This calls into question Agreste definition of an agricultural business as a for-profit commercial operation. Despite the shift, however, many, smaller urban collective gardens that have aims and activities similar to their larger counterparts remain outside the scope of the national agricultural policy. This situation is likely to evolve in the future as an increasing number of very small for-profit commercial farms are now sprouting-up in urban contexts, generating income from agricultural activities even though they don’t reach the surface area thresholds necessary to be considered agricultural businesses. This opens up debate over whether (and how) urban farms should be considered in future MAA policies.


As the points above suggest, while definitions of farming as a commercial activity are fundamental to existing agricultural policies and government programs, there is fluidity in this concept, and shifts currently are taking place. Reflecting the evolving landscape of urban agriculture in France, the higher education and research institute AgroParisTech has proposed the alternative category, ‘professional urban agriculture’ defining it as “urban agriculture operations that aim to generate revenue from the selling of their products or provision of related services to earn a profit or afford at least one paid employee” (Daniel, 2017). Our collaborative research delves more deeply into how these practices are defined, and the significance of such definitions – which themselves may be changing – for policy making and understanding the geographies of agrarian change. For purposes of this article, however, we draw from Daniel’s conceptualization to briefly discuss the evolving commercial urban agriculture (CUA) landscape in New York City (NYC) and Métropole du Grand Paris (MGP).


State of the ‘Fields’


Conducting an inventory of commercial urban farms in the U.S. or France is not straightforward precisely because there is no singular census of urban agriculture in either context. In this section we estimate, as of this writing, the number of commercial urban agriculture operations in NYC and MGP, and provide a brief discussion of CUA and recent policy evolutions in each city.



New York City has a long and diverse urban agriculture history dating to at least to the 19th century. (See Lawson 2005; Reynolds and Cohen 2016.) While early forms of urban agriculture were indeed commercial, including insalubrious urban dairies (Tremante 2000), the majority of today’s urban agriculture is not-for-profit. As has been documented elsewhere, the city’s urban agriculture system currently includes at least 1,200 community gardens (900 of which produce food); 490 school gardens; and 20 community farms (Reynolds and Cohen 2016; Altman et al. 2014; Cohen et al. 2012).  Many of the non-for-profit urban agriculture groups (community gardens and community farms) sell their products to provide food access or financial support for their organizations. By 2015, there were a handful commercial farms in the city (Reynolds and Cohen 2016), and this number has increased swiftly in the past three years.


Drawing from Internet research and participant observation at recent public events, we estimate that there are currently approximately 20 CUA businesses in New York City, including commercial rooftop farms and controlled environment agriculture (CEA) as well as businesses that sell equipment for producing food at one’s home or non-agricultural business. The first of these CUA operations were: Eagle Street Rooftop Farm (founded in 2009); Brooklyn Grange (noted above, now operating two commercial rooftop farms); and Gotham Greens (which, since 2009, operates three rooftop greenhouses in New York City, and an additional site in Chicago). These groups have been joined recently by new forms of CUA, many of which are using new, or newly-adapted, technologies such as hydroponics and LED lighting to produce food. As noted above, for example, the Brooklyn-based group Square Roots grows culinary herbs using vertical hydroponics systems inside large shipping containers. The start-up Smallhold, also based in Brooklyn, manufactures climate-controlled “minifarms” for production of organic culinary mushrooms. The units are part of what the group calls a “distributed” agriculture system in which restaurant and retail clients grow food in the units, which are controlled remotely by Smallhold. These businesses are part of a growing number of high-tech agriculture (or, ‘ag tech’) groups in New York and other cities that are using digital technologies to grow food in mostly indoor, controlled environments.


Beyond production, there is a growing number of groups in New York City that consult on, or train hopeful urban agriculture entrepreneurs. These include the aforementioned Square Roots, and the consulting group Agritechture, which runs educational programs and offers consulting services targeted at ‘high-tech’ urban agriculture entrepreneurs. Non-profit groups also provide urban agricultural entrepreneurship training, including the organization Just Food through its program Farm School NYC, which emphasizes racial and economic equity (cf. Reynolds 2017b). While small in number, compared to the number of community- and school-gardens and farms, commercial urban agriculture operations and related businesses are figuratively, if not literally, gaining ground.


NYC Urban Agriculture Policy

There have been various degrees of city agency support for, and challenges to urban agriculture in New York City over last 40 years. Notable moments in this history include the late 1970s, when the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Operation Green Thumb (which exists today, now renamed GreenThumb) was created to provide access to city land and technical assistance for community gardening.  In the late 1990s, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attempted to sell city-owned parcels of land, including those that were host to community gardens, eventually resulting in the purchase of the parcels by two non-profits, keeping the land available for gardening (Reynolds and Cohen 2016). More recently, the City’s current sustainability plan OneNYC, discusses the importance of food and urban agriculture more than did its predecessor, PlaNYC. However, in 2015, New York City’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the De Blasio administration, put 180 parcels of land up for bid to developers, including 20 of which were sites of existing community gardens (Cohen 2016). Ultimately, most of those parcels were preserved. Still, this instance served as a reminder that land access remains a continually contentious issue in New York City urban agriculture.


Land access per se may not be as salient an issue for controlled environment agriculture practiced in shipping containers or rooftop farms, but zoning for commercial activity certainly is. The City has already made changes to zoning codes to facilitate rooftop agriculture (Cohen and Reynolds 2014). And, zoning is one of the issues that has been addressed in an even more recent initiative of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and City Council Member Rafael Espinal to create a citywide comprehensive urban agriculture plan. Urban agriculture supporters have advocated for such a plan for several years, as it would: signal the importance of urban agriculture as a land use in the city; codify processes for allocating resources to, and regulating urban agriculture activities; and, potentially, make policymaking more equitable by avoiding agency decision-making based on interpersonal connections. (See, e.g.,  Cohen et al. 2012; Cohen and Reynolds 2014; Reynolds and Cohen 2016; Cohen 2016; Rajagopal 2018) However, exactly what such a plan should address, and how it should be developed, is an on-going debate.


In fall 2017 Council Member Espinal and additional members of the New York City Council introduced to the Council’s Committee on Land Use a proposed bill that would require the Department of City Planning and “other relevant agencies and stakeholders”  to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan (Int. 1661-2017). After a lengthy public hearing, the Committee failed to pass the legislation, though the city ultimately created an urban agriculture website. In August 2018, Espinal, who has recently announced his candidacy for New York City Public Advocate, introduced three new proposals pertaining to urban agriculture, including a second proposed bill (following that of 2017) that would require the city to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan. Decisions about these bills have not yet been announced as of this writing.



As it does in New York, urban agriculture has a long history in Paris. In the middle of the 19th century, market gardening (specializing in fruits, vegetables, flowers, or culinary mushrooms produced underground) and dairies flourished. Data on intramuros production from this period enumerate 1,800 market gardens grown by more than 9,000 workers (Gaulin, 1987). As the 20th century began, these for-profit market gardens slowly disappeared from inner Paris. Urban production dwindled to a few remaining farmers on the outskirts of the city, but mostly not-for-profit allotment gardens, in the form of worker gardens (jardins ouvriers), before and during WWII, and family allotment gardens (jardins familiaux) after that (Weber 1998). During the 1970s and 80s, allotment gardens were affected by intense urban development and almost disappeared from inner Paris. As an asset of the working class, they stayed numerous in the surrounding leftist municipalities and became a symbol of the red suburbs (les banlieues rouges, in reference to the color of the Communist Party, which is active and politically-accepted in France’s multi-party system). In parallel, new forms of urban gardens appeared in the 1990s with the development of social farming and community gardening (see below). Since 2015, they have been joined by urban agriculture entrepreneurs who aim at developing commercial for-profit operations within inner Paris and adjacent suburbs.      


With a long history and diverse contemporary forms of urban agriculture in Paris, it was necessary to draw from several existing sources to preliminarily assess the extent of CUA in MGP. In 2018, The Institut d’Aménagement et d’Urbanisme (IAU, a public, urban planning institute with focus areas that include urban agriculture) proposed for the first time a comprehensive conceptualization of the urban agriculture system in the Ile-de-France region (a larger jurisdiction that includes the Métropole du Grand Paris and its peri-urban surroundings). The purpose of the IAU analysis was to highlight the diversity of urban agriculture groups, using a loose definition of urban agriculture including both non-profit/non-commercial gardens and agricultural businesses (De Biasi et al., 2018). The report reveals the proliferation of non-profit gardens (such as community gardens) within the city, finding hundreds, mainly within the MGP boundaries. The recent increase is due largely to increased public interest in preserving and developing new allotment gardens across the MGP municipalities, as well as to grassroots initiatives beginning in the 2000s  that have called for the City of Paris to create “shared gardens” (jardins partagés) similar to the U.S. community garden model These have been established mainly in the City of Paris and the adjacent City of Montreuil, located immediately across the Boulevard Périphérique, which divides Paris from its outer suburbs. While the regional allotment garden network counts 70 sites on its website (Réseau des jardins familiaux : http://www.jardins-familiaux.asso.fr/jardins-franciliens.html Accessed 12/9/18), the jardins partagés network in Ile-de-France counts more than 110 sites created over the last 15 years (http://jardinons-ensemble.org/spip.php?article7 Accessed 12/9/18).


At the same time, in connection to the growing urban consumer demand for fresher, healthier, and locally-produced food, for-profit as well as non-profit farms including the Jardins de Cocagne referenced above are created each year at the edges of the MGP. This trend is consistent with recent assessment based on the Mutuelle Sociale Agricole (MSA, France’s social security system for professional farmers) database, which shows an increase of the number of registered farm businesses in the most urbanized core of the Grand Paris region (918 farms in 2010, or a 22 percent increase since 2002, whereas the number of farms is decreasing everywhere else in France) (Torre et al., 2013).  In addition to these urban area (mostly peri-urban) farms that engage in direct marketing, the IAU report also identifies new groups of commercial urban agriculture that are found only in the dense urban fabric of city-centers. Most of them are members of the Association Française d’Agriculture Urbaine Professionnelle-AFAUP, the national association for the promotion of professional urban agriculture, created in 2017 and whose subscribers are mainly from the MGP (40 members out of 76 are from MGP as of 2018).   Finally, the IAU report also describes what the authors call ‘micro-urban farms’ (micro-fermes urbaines), mainly non-profit associations that sell their products, but also educational and/or consulting services, from rooftop or indoor, ‘high-tech’ urban agriculture businesses.


In our preliminary research, through an exploratory search of public databases and websites focused on central Paris (rather than the whole of MGP) we have identified at least 20 CAU businesses created mostly within the last three years. Most of the existing businesses are rooftop farms oriented toward market gardening (though aquaponics is present) using both ‘low-tech’ and ‘high-tech’ equipment. The group Agricool, for example produces strawberries in a shipping container in the Parc de Bercy in central Paris. The group recently expanded its research and development offices and production sites into a 16,000 square foot factory in the Parisian suburb of La Courneuve. Agricool promotes its practices as a “new way of growing food,” 120 times more productive than conventional farming, without pesticides or GMOs, while using 90% less water and nutrients, and consuming only renewable energy (Agricool-notre-histoire). Another group, Topager, mentioned above, is farming rooftops. One of its most recent sites, the Opera Bastille project, is entirely devoted to market gardening. Topager favors traditional farming methods inspired by agroecology practices (e.g., plant associations, organic inputs, drip irrigation) and designs only soil-based (rather than soil-less such as hydroponic) farms.


Additionally, two sites, still under construction, are attracting media attention because of their scale and the level of public and private funds invested: the 1.7-acre farming site of the La Chapelle International project, operated by the group Cultivate that plans to grow food in a 12,900 square foot rooftop greenhouse using hydroponic technology, operate a permaculture garden, small community gardens and a rooftop restaurant while selling its products throughout local retailers; and La Cité Maraîchère, a project of the municipality of Romainville just north of Paris, which will include a seven-story vertical farm building accessible to the public, including residents in the  immediately surrounding low income public housing. 


MGP Urban Agriculture Policy

The kinds of projects described above, while officially supported by MGP municipalities, have yet little in common with the gardens supported by the City of Paris urban gardening policies that were brought by urban residents to municipal agendas in the early 2000s. For example, the City launched, in 2003, the Main Verte municipal program (similar to New York’s GreenThumb program) to support the jardins partagés (mentioned above) by giving access to public land and free technical assistance for new groups of gardeners (Demailly and Darly 2017). Since then, and until very recently, support and funding has been targeted mostly toward the jardins partagés, as well as allotment gardens, educational farms, school gardens, and beekeeping activities. These programs were created to support community building through stewardship of green space, paying little attention to issues such as economic opportunity or food security. (For example, the five-year Sustainable Food Plan - Plan Alimentaire Durable – adopted by the city in 2015 is mainly focused on school food procurement and does not target urban production as a sustainable food strategy.)


In 2016, the aims and means of public support for urban agriculture changed with the adoption of the “Objectif 100 hectares” charter. This program aims to green Parisian buildings and develop urban agriculture in order to develop “new urban model which strengthens the role of nature” (Charte_100_Hectares). The charter was signed by both the City of Paris and 74 public- and private sector partners. Each partner commits to urban greening and to contracting lease agreements with green spaces and urban agriculture projects chosen by the city of Paris throughout its competitive program “Parisculteurs.” The first call for proposals, launched by the city of Paris in 2017 (Parisculteurs 1) selected projects for the greening of 29 sites, including for urban agriculture, as well as other urban greening projects; The second call, launched in 2018 (Parisculteurs 2) selected 30 new sites and was more specifically focused on urban agriculture. While Pariculteurs is not explicitly focused on commercial projects, the economic potential of urban agriculture may be viewed as a way to compensate for foregone development revenue for the sites. As a consequence, many commercial urban agriculture projects were considered more suitable for the program, including several members of the AFAUP.


Most recently, the regional district Ile-de-France passed a regional agricultural development program called the “Pacte agricole 2018-2030”. Written in close association with the Chamber of Agriculture (which is heavily influenced by farmers’ unions), it mainly targets traditional rural farming (by funding municipal land trusts, young farmers’ business projects, farm diversification and regional food promotion) and views urban agricultural groups as economic actors operating mainly in the green spaces sector. It specifies that the Green Plan (Plan Vert, the regional urban greening program launched in 2017 by the Ile-de-France region) can be used to fund gardens and new forms of urban farms such as kitchen gardens, orchards, market gardens, and urban beekeeping. The program will also fund municipalities to develop urban agriculture sites, but only if they call in “voluntary farmers” as consultants, referring here to the above mentioned Agreste definition (Pécresse, 2018 : 30). As grassroots initiatives and not-for-profit organizations have contributed to the revival of urban agriculture within central Paris and its suburbs for the last two decades, it seems that the recent urban agriculture programs supported by municipalities, by emphasizing the role of for-profit commercial agriculture groups, have brought urban agriculture back under the radar of the Ile-de-France regional farmers’ unions represented by the Chamber of Agriculture.

Urban Agriculture Policy 2.0


In recent decades, urban agriculture has been viewed as a means to create sustainable Global North cities, or to improve food security in urban centers (Grandchamp-Florentino 2012). Nevertheless, it has still been regarded as, at best, an underuse of high-value urban space and/or not legitimate agriculture because it doesn’t produce high volumes of food in-line with the yield- maximizing ideology that underlies mainstream agricultural paradigms. Nor, it has been assumed, does urban agriculture produce revenue or sufficient economic activity to be considered agriculture, sensu stricto, in policy contexts including the two that we discuss here (the U.S. and France). However, our observations suggest that this may be changing as commercial urban agriculture expands.


A recent assessment estimated the potential economic value of ecosystems services (including food production) of urban agriculture, globally, between $88 to 164 billion in 2010 dollars (Clinton et al. 2018).  And, if investment in ‘high-tech’ urban agriculture suggests profitability, there is at least an expectation that burgeoning CUA sector will produce strong economic returns. In policy contexts in which agriculture is defined by economic activity, these expectations may already be earning (commercial) urban agriculture a seat at the agricultural and/or urban policy making table. Much remains to be seen in terms of the economic value of CUA as it expands, but whatever this value, in dollars, euros, or other, even digital currencies, evolutions in urban agriculture and the policy changes pertaining to commercial food production at multiple scales of governance bring us to ask a number of policy questions:


What might policy changes for urban agriculture, in the context of an expanding ‘high-tech’ urban agriculture sector, mean for social justice, particularly in cities that are home to diverse urban agriculture groups with different objectives and serving different communities or clientele? What are the most effective processes for crafting new-, or revising existing urban agriculture policies to ensure economic equity? What barriers prevent such policies from being created, enacted, and implemented? And, because cities and regions “learn” from each other with respect to policy change, how might policies that recognize intramuros commercial urban agriculture in one political context inform policies in another, and how might such exchanges be used to support social justice?  Our research on the shifting landscapes of urban agriculture examines these questions in the context of New York City and Métropole du Grand Paris, and as they pertain to creating sustainable, resilient, and equitable global cities throughout the world.





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[1] A new administrative agglomeration created in 2016 and consisting of Paris and 130 surrounding cities.