EAUH Conference 2018


Session M20. Feeding the City: Comparative Histories of Urban Agriculture

Coordinators: Clare Griffiths (, Tim Soens (

Agriculture usually features as a theme within rural, rather than urban history. Yet food production was a feature of many urban settings in the past – recently returning to prominence, with movements to encourage urban beekeeping, guerilla gardening, roof gardens and community allotments.

Ensuring an adequate food supply has always been one of the most crucial elements for urban resilience. The emphasis in most historiography is on the city as a site of consumption, tracing the role of urban markets in encouraging the development of commercial agriculture, trade in farm commodities, and systems of distribution and processing. This panel turns instead to consider a less familiar history: the city as a site of food production.

What was the role of urban agriculture in guaranteeing a city’s food security? What food stuffs were grown and reared in urban settings? Who was involved in urban agriculture? Was food production a ‘normal’ feature of urban life? How important was it in nourishing the urban population? How did food production within the city interact with the development of urban food markets? Under what circumstances did urban agriculture flourish? Was it encouraged by urban authorities? Or was it a strategy ‘from below’ – a grass-roots movement for self-sufficiency or private enterprise? How did these urban farmers sit within urban identities? Was urban agriculture a residual phenomenon, declining as cities grew in size and complexity?

The panel seeks to develop new research questions and topics for future research in these areas. Contributions are invited from scholars working on any geographical area and in any historical period. Presentations may discuss one particular case study, or be comparative in approach. Papers exploring the historical roots and antecedents of recent developments in urban food production are also welcome.

Potential topics might include:
Market gardens; urban allotments; productive use of ‘waste’ land; urban dairying; animal husbandry: back-yard pig keeping, poultry; beekeeping; orchards and vineyards; fishing; self-sufficiency; communal projects to provide fresh food; urban food production in periods of crisis; health and nutrition; rural migrants and the transfer of practices from countryside to town; patterns in the use of urban land over time; the place of urban agriculture within urban economies.
Keywords: urban agriculture; food security; food supply; resilience; urban markets; food production