The Unattainable Trifecta of Urban Agriculture


  • Sarita Daftary-Steel Consultant
  • Hank Herrera Center for Popular Research, Education, and Policy
  • Christine M. Porter Food Dignity and University of Wyoming



Urban Agriculture, Food Access, Food Systems, Employment, Job Training, Sustainability, Reflective Essay


Urban agriculture (UA) has emerged as a promising way to address many important issues, including growing food for local communities, preserving open space, promoting health, and developing local leaders. A worrying expectation, however, has developed that UA can meet these important and ambitious goals while also being financially sustainable without outside funding. We call this expectation the unattainable trifecta of urban agriculture: the myth that urban agriculture, without long-term funding investments, can simultaneously do three things that are each difficult to do on their own:


(1) Provide good food to people with limited financial resources at prices they can afford.

(2) Provide job training, work experience, and/or leadership development for people typically excluded from employment and/or leadership roles.

(3) Generate income for producers and create jobs funded by profits from sales.


In this reflective essay, we draw from the academic literature on UA and from the combined 30 years of urban agriculture experience of the first two authors to document and discuss both what effects urban agriculture is having and what challenges UA operations face in achieving these social goals. We conclude with recommendations for funders, policy-makers and activists about the broader changes and supports that are needed to make these goals more attainable within the context of UA.


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Author Biographies

Sarita Daftary-Steel, Consultant

Project Consultant with Food Dignity, Brooklyn, New York 11207 USA.

Daftary-Steel can be contacted at 345 St. Johns Place; Brooklyn, New York 11238 USA; +1-202-486-0123.

Hank Herrera, Center for Popular Research, Education, and Policy

Founder and president, Center for Popular Research, Education, and Policy; 840 55th Street, No. 5; Oakland, California 94608 USA.

Christine M. Porter, Food Dignity and University of Wyoming

Assistant professor and Wyoming Excellence Chair in Community & Public Health; and project director and principal investigator, Food Dignity. Division of Kinesiology & Health, University of Wyoming; 1000 East University Avenue, Department 3196; Laramie, Wyoming 82071 USA.



How to Cite

Daftary-Steel, S., Herrera, H., & Porter, C. M. (2015). The Unattainable Trifecta of Urban Agriculture. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 6(1), 19–32.



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