Notes from the ESRS conference (1)

Today we had the last session of our working group ” Comparative perspective; governing semi-subsistance food and farming strategies in the countryside and city” . In this group we deliberately were seeking to contrast  cases of food and farming in urban and rural contexts. Can urban agriculture be compared with small-scale farming in rural areas? What has peasant farming literature to offer in how we can look at what is going on with food growing in cities?

We discovered useful and potentially bridging concepts and concepts which may confuse more than they reveal. To start with the latter, “semi-subsistance farming” may not be a useful concept. One reason is the many definitions as Imre Kovach showed us. But another is the meaning of the separate terms in the different rural and urban contexts. Is the ” semi”  in subsistance referring to selling surplus or buying the remaining part of the food supply if you only produce some of your vegetables? And is ‘ farming’  the appropriate term for growing food in allotments or community gardens?  From a rural perspective food production as a side, or part time activity is easily seen as farming and the person foremost as a producer and only in second instance as consumer. In city initiatives it is the reverse. Consumers usually do not ‘ farm’  but ‘ grow food’  or ‘ garden’  and hence are only a ‘ producer’  after their identity as a consumer. This while a rural hobby farm may be as intense in land use as an allotment at the city fringe. The focus on food provisioning strategies  seems therefore better since it refers to the activities one undertakes to eat, which may include growing activities too.