Urban farming

Researchers from Södertörn University blogs about urban farming and digital practices.

Activism, permanence and change

In our initial explorations of the research in this field as well as our initial visits, one interesting issue has surfaced: the issue of permanence and lasting commitment. Above all, we are interested in the role of design and technology here: to what extent is digital design part of the practices that inspire and structure social movements such as urban farming? The other day, the Swedish journal Dagens Arena discussed why people do not engage in social movements as much as before. This is their analysis:

“Firstly, there has been a transfer of commitment from traditional social movements to smaller and, in many cases, newly established organizations. Secondly, the commitment is less permanent. Many people want to be active in one project or campaign, and then they move on to the next subject or activity when the goal is reached. People are what the sociologist Alberto Melucci called “nomads in the present”. Thirdly, there is no longer an equal sign between commitment and membership. Sometimes it’s the other way around. Many people are reluctant to get involved if it is required to become a member, since membership implies that one commits for a long time.

Fourth, a substantial part of the engagement has moved online. There, the question is not how people should become more active, because new social media are full of networks, such as ‘like campaigns’, political discussions and debates. The question is, rather, how these activities should have a larger impact outside the internet as well. Fifth, several studies, including the Democracy Commission (Demokratiutredningen) a decade ago, demonstrated that class, education and income affect the degree of commitment more distinctly than earlier. Those who really need the force that a social movement can offer is, or in other words tend to be, largely excluded. This is the great challenge of our time for social movements.” [our translation]

It seems that digital media must be designed in line with practices that generate changes that are experienced as attractive, meaningful, and interesting to various social movements such as urban farming. Also, enthusiasm for growing food together needs some further back up. In our application for this project we wrote about digital interaction as an inspirer for action, but the more we learn about urban farming, the more the use of digital media as a resource for stability and commitment over time become interesting. The question is, then, what kinds of technological functionality and design that supports these values and practices.


Excursion to ‘Trädgård på spåret’

Today’s excursion went to Trädgård på spåret, probably the largest urban farm in the Stockholm area. It was raining this morning and it contributed to the strong sense of atmosphere in the place at 9 am, the old rail road tracks in the south of Södermalm in Stockholm, had a very distinct urban feeling.


Reinventing use of urban land

The place is considerably larger than the earlier farms we visited, and interestingly enough the old tracks are placed just beside a very cute allotment garden, which in turn further enhances the distinctive feeling of the place.


The allotment gardens in the background

The tracks are clearly a part of the garden.


The tracks

The pallet rims have their individual sponsors and the gardens also contain a small café and a outdoor scene, created by pallets.The graffiti on the walls makes a nice background to the plants.


Graffiti and greens.



Quick notes from an excursion to four urban farms in Stockholm

We wanted to find out more about what actually goes on in some of the urban farms in the Stockholm area. It is early in the growing season but there were visible traces of activities going on at the urban farms we visited. We wanted to explore various sites.

The first one was Boodla. It is part of a community called Sustopia which is placed in Botkyrka in the south of Stockholm. It is a hub for various projects regarding sustainability and community and related to Botkyrka municipality, thus not a grass root movement.


Boodlas smålotter

The second visit was at Areal 127 in Bredäng. This is an initiative of the local community and it makes use of the local gathering area close to a playground and an open area theatre.


Areal 127


Areal 127

The third site we visited was Folkodlarna i Skarpnäck. This is a site oriented towards the local community, allowing preschool children to use their area to grow crops. The colourful pallet rims below belongs to different kindergartens.


Folkodlarna i Skarpnäck

A fourth site is designed as a forest garden, with permanent plants and herbs.It is situated in Bagarmossen and called Bagisodlarna.




Our definition of urban farming

Compared to other kinds of gardening activities in the urban setting, urban farmers in our definition do so from a political, value-based point of departure; as a questioning of contemporary food production and urban land use. In this project, there are two kinds of urban farming in focus: self-administrative farming projects with permits (known as “food parks”), and guerilla gardening, which lack permission of local authorities/land owners. One assumption in the project is that there are significant local differences in meaning-making between the cities we will include in our studies, the role of growing food is very different depending on history of self-sufficiency, availability of food and what kinds of practices surrounding food that is considered privileged.

Salad with an agenda?

Salad with an agenda?

A characteristic of this type of sustainability commitment is that people come together and organize themselves via social media sites such as Facebook groups and blog sites. Our assumption is that the digital media has become a prerequisite for the type of participatory culture that is linked to the urban landscape, which phenomena such as guerilla gardening and urban farming represent. Urban farming initiatives are an early example of how grass-root movements, political changes and social sustainability are likely to unfold in the years to come, which makes it a representative case for investigation. In our examination of urban farmers, we have focused on groups that have a political agenda. This means that we disregard a number of initiatives that comprise more or less informal gardening in urban environments that do not have a pronounced political perspective, such as those of kindergartens, playgrounds, and allotments.

Urban farming takes place at Nordiska trädgårdar

One of the first tasks in our project is to learn more about the activists in the urban gardening communities, and this year several groups exhibited their work at the Nordic Gardens Fair that took place in Älvsjö, Stockholm. We were particularly interested in the way that the communities present themselves and which ideas they would put in front to show their activities.

These were some of our impressions:

IMG_3427 IMG_3430 IMG_3437 IMG_3439 IMG_3452 IMG_3459 IMG_3467

Urban farming in the digital age…

This project is funded by the The Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies, thanks!

We think that urban farming makes a suitable case for investigating how values and ideas are shared, communicated and reproduced through digital platforms, since the political values are being practically acted out through changing the urban environment. By using values and norms as unit of analysis in relation to local context, we will be able to provide more nuanced and contrasting knowledge about how digital design is applied in sustainable lifestyles within the Baltic Sea rim.

One assumption in the project is that there are significant local differences in meaning-making between the cities we will include in our studies, the role of growing food is very different depending on history of self-sufficiency, availability of food and what kinds of practices surrounding food that is considered privileged.

The project will apply an ethnographic approach for studying use and interaction design that stimulate the interests of people in participating in urban farming communities. We will also further develop our reflections and analytic tools from our earlier research, adapting them to the context of urban farming and social movements online. We will shed light on and describe the practices of urban farmers in relation to digital media and also gather more knowledge about the digital functionalities that can support the development of grassroots movements and sustainable food communities online in relation to the Baltic Sea rim.

Svensk projektsammanfattning

I detta tvärvetenskapliga projekt deltar forskare från medieteknik och kulturgeografi. Vi vill undersöka hur aktivism stimuleras av digitala medier. Stadsodling utgör ett bra exempel för att studera hur värderingar och idéer delas, kommuniceras och reproduceras via digitala plattformar eftersom värderingarna också leder till praktiska konsekvenser genom konkret påverkan på den urbana miljön. Ett antagande i projektet är att det finns signifikanta skillnader i meningsskapande mellan de geografiska områden runt Östersjön som ska undersökas, eftersom innebörden i att odla själv påverkas av den lokala historiken kring behovet av självförsörjning, tillgång på mat samt de praktiker kring mat som anses priviligierade. Projektet kommer att belysa och beskriva stadsodlares relation till digitala medier och även samla mer kunskap om de digitala funktioner som stödjer utvecklingen av gräsrotsrörelser och hållbarhetsgrupper med fokus på odlad mat.