Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community

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UPNE, 2004 - Business & Economics - 136 pages
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While the American agricultural and food systems follow a decades-old path of industrialization and globalization, a counter trend has appeared toward localizing some agricultural and food production. Thomas A. Lyson, a scholar-practitioner in the field of community-based food systems, calls this rebirth of locally based agriculture and food production civic agriculture because these activities are tightly linked to a community’s social and economic development. Civic agriculture embraces innovative ways to produce, process, and distribute food, and it represents a sustainable alternative to the socially, economically, and environmentally destructive practices associated with conventional large-scale agriculture. Farmers’ markets, community gardens, and community-supported agriculture are all forms of civic agriculture.

Lyson describes how, in the course of a hundred years, a small-scale, diversified system of farming became an industrialized system of production and also how this industrialized system has gone global. He argues that farming in the United States was modernized by employing the same techniques and strategies that transformed the manufacturing sector from a system of craft production to one of mass production. Viewing agriculture as just another industrial sector led to transformations in both the production and the processing of food. As small farmers and food processors were forced to expand, merge with larger operations, or go out of business, they became increasingly disconnected from the surrounding communities. Lyson enumerates the shortcomings of the current agriculture and food systems as they relate to social, economic, and environmental sustainability. He then introduces the concept of community problem solving and offers empirical evidence and concrete examples to show that a re-localization of the food production system is underway.

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I enjoyed this brief book. Its basic argument is that industrial commodity agriculture erodes community, local and regional economies of scale, and our shared natural environment. That agriculture is also propped up by massive subsidization and artificial inputs. Civic agriculture is a preferable model that is sensitive to and responsive to local and regional communities, economies, and their environments. It is "civic" because of the level of community involvement and their investments in their place and their bonds versus a modern neo-classical or neoliberal market profit orientation.
While some may find it's slim 107 pages repetitive in spots it ails makes it very easy to jump from section to section. If you want an exhaustive account of civic ag or a tour de force like The Omnivore's Dilemma, don't buy or read this book. It is a concise introduction with dome depth. The book is compact and provides data and very ample citations for more reading. It could be revised, condensed, and updated with information on the civic ag movement in the 7 years since publication.

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About the author (2004)

THOMAS A. LYSON (d. 2007) was Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor, Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University. His most recent book, co-edited with Richard K. Olsen, was Under the Blade: The Conversion of Agricultural Landscapes (1998). A past editor of the journal Rural Sociology, Lyson was an Associate Editor of the Journal of Sustainable Agriculture.

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