Connecting the Rural and Urban Experience

Hello. I’m excited to join the Cultivating Justice blog.  My perspective grows out of 25 years as a researcher and landscape architect studying historical and contemporary community open space, with particular focus on community gardens, urban agriculture, and the changing role of parks in low-income communities.  As passionate as I am that cities should provide places for people to grow food, I also appreciate that growing food is hard work and that the labor involved should be acknowledged through secure land tenure, educational opportunities, and community control.

I frequently speak with gardeners about why they want to garden, be it on their own land or in a shared space. While there are many reasons – food access, environmental restoration, community activism, education, etc. – quite often the underlying depth of commitment emerges from cultural ties to agriculture, ancestral stories, and childhoods spent visiting family farms. Over the years, I have heard many African American community gardeners talk about their family ties to farming as simultaneously positive and negative: the pride in self-sufficiency and skill mixed with anger over injustice and discrimination. Although I have focused most of my work in urban areas, the rural experience of farming is very present and continues to shape how we frame urban agriculture. 

Cultivating Justice is an important means to broaden the conversation so that it engages rural and urban, past and present, scholarship and practice. I look forward to the ongoing discussions.  

Published by laurajlawson

Laura Lawson is a Professor of Landscape Architecture at Rutgers University. She is author of City Bountiful: A Century of Community Gardening in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005) and co-author of Design as Democracy: Techniques for Collective Creativity (Washington DC: Island Press, 2017), Greening Cities, Growing Communities: Urban Community Gardens in Seattle (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2009), as well as of numerous publications in academic journals, edited books, and popular media. She is co-founder of the Urban Ag Lab, which supports academic and outreach efforts that connect urban and suburban communities with agriculture and open space in order to enhance the economy, landscape, and culture of New Jersey.

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