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Civic Agriculture

Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community

Thomas A. Lyson

Publication Year: 2012

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.

Published by: Tufts University Press

Series: Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xviii

The path to civic agriculture began in 1988 when I became the director of Cornell’s Farming Alternatives Program (FAP). Although the program was established during the farm crisis of the mid-1980s to help New York farmers “ease out” of dairying and into “alternative enterprises,” its mission...

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1. Introduction: Community Agriculture and Local Food Systems

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pp. 1-7

While the American food and agriculture system follows a decades-old path of industrialization and globalization, a counter trend toward localizing some agriculture and food production has appeared. I call this rebirth of locally based agriculture and food production civic agriculture, because...

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2. From Subsistence to Production: How American Agriculture Was Made Modern

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pp. 8-29

Less than one hundred years ago most rural households in the United States sustained themselves by farming. While some agricultural products were sold for money on the open market, others were produced solely for household consumption or for bartering with neighbors. All family members, including...

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3. Going Global: The Industrialization and Consolidation of Agriculture and Food Production in the United States

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pp. 30-47

Large-scale, factory-like farms account for the bulk of food and fiber produced in the United States today. The mass production of food has articulated with mass consumer markets to offer consumers relatively inexpensive, standardized products. The range of agricultural commodities produced in...

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4. The Global Supply Chain

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pp. 48-60

The contours of a truly global system of agriculture and food production are quickly coming into focus. From the biotechnology laboratories to the dinner table, large multinational corporations are taking control of where, when, and how food is produced, processed, and distributed. As Bill Heffernan, a rural sociologist at the University of Missouri, recently...

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5. Toward a Civic Agriculture

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pp. 61-83

Agriculture and food production is being restructured in the United States. On the one hand, large-scale, well-managed, capital-intensive, technologically sophisticated, industrial-like operations are becoming tightly tied into a network of national and global food producers. These farms will be producing large quantities of highly standardized bulk commodities...

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6. Civic Agriculture and Community Agriculture Development

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pp. 84-98

The industrial type of agriculture produces most of America’s food and fiber. However, a new form of civic agriculture that does not fit this conventional model of food production is emerging throughout the country and especially on the East and West Coasts. In this new civic agriculture, local agriculture...

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7. From Commodity Agriculture to Civic Agriculture

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pp. 99-106

As American agriculture turns down the path of a new century, we see that the independent, self-reliant farmer of the last century is rapidly disappearing from the rural landscape. Farmers, who were once the backbone of the rural economy, have been reduced to mere cogs in a well-oiled agribusiness...


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pp. 107-120


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pp. 121-132


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pp. 133-142

E-ISBN-13: 9781611683035
E-ISBN-10: 1611683033
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584654131

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Civil Society: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives
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OCLC Number: 794670610
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Civic Agriculture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Agriculture -- Economic aspects -- United States.
  • Agriculture -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Agriculture, Cooperative -- United States.
  • Community development -- United States.
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