Urban Agriculture as a Tool for Overcoming Social Inequalities: Challenges and Opportunities

Over the past 10 years, Bulgarian media have painted a wishful image of urban farming as a ‘tool for sustainable urban development’ and a ‘healthier society’. They have given examples of the role it plays in supporting households’ income and food consumption, with the possibility of providing ‘between 20 and 60% of a family’s needs’ (Dnevnik 2022). Little attention has been paid to empirical data, which show that community-based urban agriculture projects in Bulgaria are initiated and practiced mainly by social groups not in dire need of additional income support nor at risk of poverty and social exclusion. One of the few examples of the opposite logic, which has lasted for over three decades, was erased without a public discussion in order to build a park, without clear criteria to assess the benefits lost or gained through such an act. In view of this context, this talk demonstrates that the types of urban farming projects which possess the potential to contribute to overcoming social inequalities in cities are only those actively supported by local politics and recognized as a long-term strategy in local development.
Two theoretical perspectives shed light on the barriers preventing this social practice, which has all the prerequisites to fully empower its members, from becoming a significant social innovation. The first perspective is based on Frank Moulaert and his collaborators, who study the factors enabling social practices to enhance the participation of disadvantaged groups and improve their access to necessary resources (Moulaert et al. 2005). The second perspective is borrowed from Lefebvre (Lefebvre 1991, 1996) and lays down the ground for an analysis of public space as a common good, and of the social processes characterizing urban agriculture practices as a claim to “a right to the city” via citizens’ involvement and the creation of an urban space with its physical uses.