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This article examines the role of manual work in bridging the distance between production and consumption in alternative agro-food economies, particularly in urban farming. Scholars and public commentators often draw on Marxian theories of alienation to suggest that manual work constitutes a key strategy for reconnecting production and consumption, and overcoming the ecological rift between natural processes and modern, agro-industrial production. Focusing on urban farming, this article complicates the picture of unalienated, decommodified labor and points to continuous negotiations between experiences of re-embedding in the community and the environment, and the on-going commodification of the farming experience. We argue that urban farms function as sites of experiential production where farm managers stage work experiences for the volunteers and where visitors build new socialities, reconnect to nature, and accrue social and cultural capital in the context of a global economy that offers limited work opportunities for a generation of highly educated college graduates. Relying on ethnographic fieldwork and 40 semi-structured interviews with urban farmers and volunteers in metropolitan areas of the Northeastern United States as well as the examination of online and print materials, our analysis highlights the contradictory ways in which manual work in alternative agro-food networks indeed counters alienation, while also reproducing consumer society institutions and reinforcing the core values defining neoliberalism such as productivity and self-improvement.


Mincyte, Diana and Karin Dobernig (2016), “Urban farming in the North American metropolis: Rethinking work and distance in alternative food networks,” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 48(9): 1767–1786. doi:10.1177/0308518X16651444



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