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conference season

Megan Betz

I'm heading to the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers for the first time this year. We're heading to Chicago for five days in April, and the very Rory Gilmore side of me is looking forward to the giant catalog of sessions for planning out my days. In addition to being my first AAGs, it's also the first time I've organized a conference session, one on local food & agriculture.

I'm also registering for the Dimensions in Political Ecology conference and the International Conference on Food Studies that will take place late in 2015. This means I have three projects--each diving into different aspects of the idea(s) I have for my dissertation. Here's the talk line-up

AAGs: Place-making in community orchards 
Community orcharding projects are often volunteer-led, but due to their size and resource intensity require partnership with other nonprofit- or public-sector agencies. These spaces become sites of governed by the logic of appropriateness (March & Olsen 2004). Community orchards stretch public policy to the limits, encouraging a culture of sharing in which those who tend the resource are often explicitly distinct from those who manage it. This research aims to answer the following questions: Do changes in local government policies supporting fruit trees enhance community and build a sense of place?

This research will utilize the institutional analysis and development framework (Ostrom 2011) to understand how local governments, food policy councils, and community orchards work together to create space for public fruit. Methods will include policy and discourse analysis, informal interviews, and participant observation.

DOPE: Nostalgia in community agriculture 
Community gardens have been a part of the American effort to become an upstanding, self-regulating citizen for more than 130 years (Bassett 1981). Such projects strive to provide better food for themselves, ultimately interpellating a particular kind of citizen-consumer (Malpass et al. 2007). As discussion of community gardens and other alternative food projects increases, so does a central critique: Are the projects reaching those they aim to serve, or are they serving those who already have access and purchasing power by reinforcing the neoliberal structure of the marketplace they purportedly combat? (Blay-Palmer 2008; Delind 2006; Pudup 2008; Guthman 2011).

Before this critique can be addressed, the subjectivity and performance of community gardens must first be better understood. Jacques Lacan’s conceptualization of subjectivity, particularly as discussed by Zizek (2006; 2008), offers a way to unpack the disconnect between individuals’ articulated motivations for participating in such projects and what takes place on site. Butler (1990; 1993) and Ettinger (2006) critique Lacanian psychoanalysis and offer a way to challenge subjectivity through performance. This paper first examines the power of the Garden of Eden myth and its persisting form, the pastoral, via several core Lacanian concepts. This paper then argues that these concepts necessitate a research approach focused on performance and intersubjectivity. Finally, this paper concludes that community gardening is currently the performance of a subjectivity that serves to order us in the symbolic and leads to the reproduction of the consumer-citizen; however, this performance also offers a way to reconstruct systems of relations. 

ICFS: Urban fruit trees and local government
In October 2015, at least two new urban fruit tree projects were begun—the first in Chicago’s Logan Square (Larson 2014), and the second in Bloomington, Ind. (Hoosier Hills Food Bank 2014). Both new projects, like most that came before them, are led by non-profit organizations. Both operate in partnership with their respective city governments, who grant use of the land. Unlike community gardens, in which annual planting is required and participation is seasonal, fruit tree planting represents a long-term dedication to changing how public space is used. The average fruit tree takes 4.7 years to bear fruit and lives for 30 years (Arizona Cooperative Extension). As such, the planting of fruit trees in places traditionally legislating against their planting speaks to the power of the sustainability, local food, and food desert discourses. 

I argue that urban fruit tree planting represents a shift in local governance away from policies classifying fruit trees as potential hazards to providers of multiple ecosystem and social services (McLain et al. 2012; Clark and Nicholas 2013). Recent interest in local food has led to an increase in such projects, particularly the development of “green infrastructure,” which has the dual goal of increasing community resilience and bolstering food security (McLain et al. 2012, p. 1).