Ideas, Insights and Rambles.

A blog by Lindsey Fair

The Greenwashed, Trendy Gardener: Urban Agriculture as Brand

(image credit: Ronit Fahl)

In the world of branding, Nathan McClintock has arguably developed his own personal brand as an expert in urban agriculture. He, through his article Why Farm the City (2010), and his continued work on urban gardens, from both sides of physical and human geography, has as Betsy Donald stated “received more citations than any others” in the Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Volume 3, Issue 2 (2010). Donald continued to celebrate McClintock’s contribution to the discipline during her introduction of McClintock for his Geography and Planning departmental lecture on November 21, 2018.

McClintock’s talk was a bricolage of trendy terms and areas of study: urban sustainability, dislocation, lack and indigenous geographies, food sustainability, and, without directly saying it ‘the hipsterfication of the hippest cities (Portland and Vancouver) in the west’ (Hubbard, 2018). In telling the stories of Portland and Vancouver’s eco-gentrification histories, he too was telling the story of the eco-gentrification of geographies. Densification, according to McClintock, is threatening urban agriculture, but I would argue two additional factors that seemed essential components to the discourse but were absent in his arguments: 1. densification is threatening many aspects to the city, not just urban agriculture, and is urban agriculture the most critical or just the trendiest right now, and 2. historically, did cities themselves not threaten agriculture since the conception of cities, and therefore this is not a new phenomenon?

The focus of McClintock’s talk centred on displacement and dislocation of those people that were initially driving forces behind the revitalization of urban markets and community gardens. Poignantly highlighted by McClintock, the rhetoric of urban agriculture is a “gateway drug to all food policy discussions” and often misses the underlying discourse of dislocation. As this point was made, the conversation moved from displacement as the main concern, to a critique of place-based branding. At now I became keenly interested. He used examples from Portland’s green development model focused on the green consumers and green economy, and Vancouver’s greenest city action plan. He cited, through his own review, that “Vancouver never published a document without a photo of the city’s famous community garden and market even after it had been closed down”, suggesting that cities are using greenwashing and green branding to push their policy agenda through.

The story of the displaced Belmont Goats (2018), forcibly being moved two times from the urban areas in which they lived, becoming the branded symbol for the new green development of the area is another greenwashing example highlighted by McClintock. The goats have become a strong case study in how branding can not only subversively change a community, but in this case, overtly represent the change of a neighbourhood. And yet, somehow, with weak proof as to how cities and neighbourhoods are getting away with densification in spite of the impacts on urban agriculture. Perhaps it comes down to the branding, after all, if done in a way, that is not unlike McClintock himself – a little trendy, somewhat affluent, and appealing to a younger generation.

Reference List

Donald, B., Gertler, M., Gray, M., & Lobao, L. (2010). Re-regionalizing the food system?. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Volume 3, Issue 2, July 2010, Pages 171–175.

Hubbard, P. (2018). 18. Retail gentrification. Handbook of Gentrification Studies, 294.

McClintock, N. (2018). Producing Space: the politics and everyday governance of urban agriculture in Portland and Vancouver. [Research Seminar: Queen’s University, November 21]. Kingston, On.

McClintock, N. (2010). Why farm the city? Theorizing urban agriculture through a lens of metabolic rift. Cambridge Journal of regions, economy and society, 3(2), 191-207.

The Belmont Goats. (1 December 2018). “A Little Bit About Us”. Retrieved from