Publication Date

Summer 2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies


Rachel O'Malley


Agroecology, Environmental Justice, Food Access, Food Sovereignty, Spatial Analysis, Urban Community Agriculture

Subject Areas

Agriculture; Environmental studies; Environmental justice


Industrial agriculture is accurately criticized for eliminating biodiversity and destroying food sovereignty. Urban agroecosystems, usually individual plots in community gardens, are promoted to restore ecological services and equity to food systems. Recently, collectively tended urban community farms have developed, with explicit social justice goals. This study directly contrasts the effectiveness of the urban community farm and garden models. Spatial analysis is used to confirm that community farms enhance geographic access for healthy food priority areas compared to gardens in the San Francisco bay area. An online survey of farm staff and gardeners from Marin to Santa Clara County resulted in 63% of farmer respondents from medium or high household incomes, whereas 50% of gardener households from the lowest income category (< $70,000/year). Nonetheless, community farms planted a greater variety of crops, and staff valued biodiversity, crop diversity, nonfood crops, and cultural influence more than community gardeners. Farmers were more likely to be Latinx but less likely to be Asian-American; gardeners had more Asian-American and fewer Latinx respondents than the population would predict. Both farmers and gardeners were more likely to be White and less likely to be Black than the area studied. Community farms provide well-intentioned agroecosystem services, but to move from access to sovereignty, farm neighbors need decision-making power, and community gardens must grow.