John C. Jones, MPA, PhD

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New Articles

Happy to announce the open access publication of two new articles!

The first article (LINK) uses the imagery of acorn squash, a commonly seen vegetable in North American grocery stores and food pantry, to explain the cultural and socio-economic barriers that can often prevent hungry people from access nutritionally dense foods provided by food pantries (or other emergency food assistance programs). I first started talking about the “acorn squash problem” as a way to easily conceptualize these problems for my students. The idea was so well received that I collaborated with my two dietetics faculty friends to publish this commentary article.

The second article (LINK) is the first in a series of articles that carves up, and expands, aspects of my dissertation. This article is part of a long-term collaboration with my dear friend Dr Rachel Emas at Rutgers. In this article, we examine the perceptions of local government officials about local food system development in their regions (greater Dayton, OH and greater Newark, NJ). As part of this work, Rachel and I argue that our findings suggest the need for a “policy intrapreneur” to work within the public sphere towards the advancement of municipal or regional-scale food system development. In our next article, we will analyze which public agencies or governments are best equipped to host the policy intrapreneur.

New Article on Virtual Farmers’ Markets in Rural Ohio

I forgot to post this a while back when the article dropped, but you can follow this LINK to article in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

In someways this article is already a little dated as the COVID epidemic has likely done more than anything else to push farmers’ markets towards virtual marketplaces than anything else I can imagine.

Educational and Profession Development Resources for Food Systems Practitioners

Back in 2012, I spent over a year investigating potential doctoral program that would allow me to conduct public policy research focusing on urban food system developed. At the time, I wished a database existed of the various food systems degree programs across the country. The Sustainable Food Systems Sourcebook now fills that need. Feel free to check it out!

Finding Space for Urban Agriculture

In recent months, I have come across a few popular media articles detailing disparate urban agriculture programs. What stood out to me in each of these articles is the combination of innovation in both a) the use of these emerging technologies in unusual spaces, and b) the use of technology to achieve production yields necessary for economic viability in those usual spaces. The spaces used for these production practices might be considered “found” or “created” spaces, as without recent innovations these spaces could not be used for food production (see Rivlin (2006) Found Space. in Franck and Stevens (2006) Loose Space: Possibility and diversity in urban life. for more details on found spaces).

The Township of Robbinsville, New Jersey purchased a Leafy Green Machine, a 340 square foot shipping container commercially converted into a hydroponic growing space. The township placed the container on municipally owned land, adjacent to the town’s senior center. Harvested vegetables supplement the senior center’s cafeteria and Meals on Wheels program. Under the mayor’s direction, the township hired a farm manager under the Parks Department to utilize the space. I randomly encountered the Robbinsville mayor back in 2018 and we discussed this space briefly. At the time, he indicated the growing operating was developing according to plan. Sadly, I never got the chance to conduct a site visit during my time in Jersey. (Article Link)

Urby, a residential development on the eastern side of Staten Island, maintains a 5000 square foot urban farm on its campus. A farm-in-residence actively farms the site. Produce is sold at the on-site bodega. Residents appear to have access to recreational spaces near the farm space, but cannot access space at the farm to grow for themselves. The article also indicates the presence of an on-campus beehive, but I did not see evidence in any picture. (Article Link)

Growing Underground is a 7000 square foot hydroponic growing operating roughly 100 feet below the surface of London in a former World War 2 air-raid shelter designed to accommodate 8000 people. According to the article, the farm grows a variety of vegetables, including: “pea shoots, rocket, red mustard, pink stem radish, garlic chives, fennel and coriander”. Growing Underground’s founder gave a TedTalk about this adaptation of space. (Article Link)

Square Roots, a hydroponic farming company that operates a farm composed of a number of converted shipping crates in Brooklyn recently partnered with Gordon Food Services (GFS) to develop a similar production site co-located at the GFS Headquarters in Wyoming, Michigan. Produce grow at the roughly two-acre facility is then added to the GFS produce distribution pipeline. This pilot partnership tests the potential to co-locate similar production sites adjacent to other GFS distribution facilities across the country. Given the challenges of distribution reported to me by surface-level urban farmers, this pilot program seems to have some potential to connect micro-scale, local production into broader distribution channels. (Article Link)

Finally, Studio NAB, an architecture firm, published designs for a six-story building that would be constructed over water. The structure’s design scheme would allow for the integrated use of a number of intensive food production techniques including, “open soil and soilless cropping techniques, seaweed, insects, fish from aquaponics, berries, honey from hives”. To my knowledge, a building similar to this has yet to be constructed, but the idea of placing such a structure on a body of water is another example of found space. (Article Link)

The Importance of Framing Food System Development from an Economic Development Perspective

Most scholars and advocates frame narratives of why urban food system development is important using either a) moral/ethical arguments (e.g. food justice or food sovereignty), such as all people deserve healthy, culturally appropriate foods; or b) public health arguments under the social determinates of health theory, that healthy food is one factor that underpins good health. Often, these two narratives are conjoined.

Both of these narratives are valid and important. However, these scholars and advocates may miss the mark because their narratives for public-sector intervention lack political viability. This critique is likely true for interventions across all levels of government, but my experience working in politics and government suggests this is most true at the local-level. Many of the local-level officials I have spoken with in my research tend to agree with both the narratives I have noted above, however these local-level elected officials and senior administrators face strong pressure to generate short-term results with only limited staff and resources.

Working towards either of the above narratives creates a messaging problem for local-level public decision makers, as they are focused on measurable, short-term success. Progress towards greater food justice/sovereignty in any community is difficult to measure even under the best scholarly circumstances. Improving overall community health through a better food system is more measurable, but the time required to document improvement is normally beyond the next election cycle or the next contract negotiation. This pressure to deliver short-term results is a problem of democracy at the theoretical level, and far beyond the ability to people interested in promoting better food systems to overcome.

One potential response to this conflict with democracy is the addition of an economic development lens in the two narratives noted above. Uses an economic development lens provides local public decision makers with more easily quantifiable results for their next election, contract renewal, or performance evaluation. Some examples might include: increased number of micro/small businesses, additional jobs created, additional pounds/units of food grown/produced, or increased property values. However, the addition of this lens requires that scholars, entrepreneurs, and community advocates conceptualize their local food system from this lens, and to collect data in support of this framing.

I am sensitive to the criticism that adding an economic development frame reinforces the neoliberal desire to shrink government’s role in broad-based social policy, especially at the local and urban spheres. I view my rhetorical point as a response to neoliberalism, not a reinforcement of that idea. Federal and state policy strongly shapes, mostly in a restrictive manner, the potential policy playing field for local public decision makers interested in building healthy food systems. Local-level officials interested in improve community food systems need sufficient longevity in their positions to affect the mid-to-long term policy changes necessary. Using economic development framing can help them win reelection or a contract renewal so they can continue their broader work using food justice and social determinate narratives.

New article on adaptive reuse

I received final word about the publication of my article appearing in Urban Design International that examines the adaptive reuse of industrial and commercial spaces by urban food entrepreneurs. Cases of note include the titular brewery in a former foundry and winery in a strip mall, along with two urban farms, one on a rooftop and the other inside a former industrial building. In this work I use urban design and architectural lenses. The read-only final version is available here at Springer’s website. I’m happy to provide an author manuscript copy for interested inquirers.

Enterprise Profile: Farming a Former Football Field

The We Over Me Farm in Dallas, Texas may be the most innovate use of space in urban farming I’ve yet seen. The 2-acre organic farm is located on the former football field of Paul Quinn College, a historically black college (HBCU). In addition to in-ground and hoophouse vegetable production, the farm also raises chickens, bees, and tilapia. According to their website, farmers have grown over 55,000 pounds of vegetables since their inception in March of 2010. The school closed its football program and launched the farm in 2010 as one way to respond to the food swamp plaguing the community surrounding the Paul Quinn campus. (Click here to listen to Paul Quinn’s president speak about the history of the farm’s development.) The non-profit farm both sells produce to local restaurants but also donates food to local charitable organizations. Student-employees form the farm’s workforce and professors have incorporate learning at the farm in several courses.

I have not visited this farm nor contacted its staff, however I can speculate about several unusual characteristics to farming on such a site. First, the site presumably already possessed both the water and electrical infrastructure, both of which are key characteristics in determining potential success in urban farming. Additionally, it is likely that site contains one or more unused buildings that could be used for storage of materials and harvested produce, as well as washing and packing. I could not find any written or pictorial documentation of this on the web. Finally, an important characteristic of any football field is parking and access to major roads. These characteristics are also important characteristics for successful urban farms. Satellite imaging from Google Maps indicates the farm has ample parking and road access (pan slightly right/East).

Follow this link to a USDA produced video that shows some elements of the farm’s built environment, including extant goal posts, scoreboard, and lighting rigs. (More pictures are available through this USDA profile.)

New Urban Agriculture Literature Collection at University of Toronto

Below is a press release for a collection of urban agriculture literature at the New College at the University of Toronto. I met Joe Nasr once in connection with my article in an upcoming special volume of Urban Design International that he is editing. He is very accommodating and I am sure would welcome messages from anyone interested in the literature available in this collection!

A Boost for Urban Agriculture and Food learning and Activism at the D. G. Ivey Library of New College, University of Toronto

The D. G. Ivey Library at New College, University of Toronto, has acquired a unique collection in the field of urban agriculture and food studies. The collection, made available through the generous donation of Joe Nasr, co-founder of the Urban Agriculture Network, comprises a wide range of materials focusing on urban agriculture, small-scale farming, food activism, and food-related policies around the world. It includes rare and difficult-to-find books, magazines, journals, personal papers, policy documents, and reports by governments and non-governmental organizations, most of them published between 1970 and 1999. The collection is named in honor (and includes papers and correspondence) of the late Jac Smit – an early advocate of urban agriculture – acquired while working around the world for agencies such as the International Rescue Committee and the United Nations Development Program (for more information about Jac Smit, please visit

The acquisition further solidifies the D. G. Ivey Library at New College as one of the eminent repositories in North America of materials on urban agriculture, a field currently experiencing a renaissance among scholars and practitioners alike. In addition to supporting the innovative work of varied global food equity programming at New College, including courses in its first-year transition program, NewONE, the D. G. Ivey Library also serves as a branch of the Toronto Seed Library. Entirely open to the public, the new Urban Ag and Food Collection should delight and inspire anyone interested in the “how” of food policy and the formation of community movements, both in historical perspective and as present-to-future endeavour. The collection is open to interested members of the university and urban agriculture community as well as the wider public. More information about the collection, as well as a listing of its contents can be found at

New Farm Bill would create Office of Urban Agriculture reports that the finalized version of 2018 Farm Bill will create an “Office Of Urban Agriculture And Innovative Production”. In short, within one year of President Trump signing the bill (which to my knowledge has yet to occur) this office will roll out pilot programs for ‘county and suburban’ county committees and community composting.
To my knowledge this the first major programming for urban agriculture in a Farm Bill since, I believe, the 1980s. I will post an update on this new office as I become aware of new information.

Enterprise Profile: Guided by Mushrooms

Guided by Mushroom is an informal-scale urban food enterprise that specializes in mushroom farming that, as of late November 2018, has operated for less than one year. The farm is located a family-owned, six acre campus bordered on three sides by an elbow turn in the Stillwater River in the City of Clayton, Ohio. Elsewhere on the campus are several other single-family homes and associated outbuildings. The entire property is wooded and is not visible from any nearby public roads.

The owner-operators, a couple, have adapted parts of a multi-car garage, that their extended family renovated to create a space for their operation. Their growing operation uses three spaces: a) a small seeding room containing their seeding operation and a Laminar Flow Hood, an industrial-strength homemade air filter chamber; b) a growing space in a temperature and moisture controlled tent in another wise unheated large single-car garage; and c) an outdoor space with a 41-quart All-American Pressure Cooker, a 55-gallon drum substrate steam sterilizer used to prepare their saw dust and soybean husk growing medium.

 The owners report selling roughly 20-30 pounds of mushrooms per week to two farm-to-table restaurants in the greater Dayton, Ohio region. The owners said that demand is high for their mushrooms, and believe that they could easily sell more mushrooms, to either new or existing customers, if they could maintain a greater level of production. They believe that part of this high demand is due to their product’s quality and uniqueness, as well as the niche they fill in a marketplace that otherwise relies upon farmers from out of state.

The owners indicate that scaling up their production volume is their greatest challenge. Part of this challenge was due to need to test various production techniques, growing mediums, and growing environment conditions. Several online communities of hobbyist, informal, and micro-scale mushrooms producers provided much of this information to the owners. Despite these early hurdles, the owners have only spent several thousand dollars in start-up costs. As of our conservation, they now believe they have determined best practices for their operation and expect to improve their production capacity in the coming months.

They report no contact with local regulatory officials, but do not expect any conflict with local or state regulations. Despite this lack of contact, the owners still wish local officials were more aware of various examples of urban food entrepreneurship in their region and wish that that local governments would make micro-grants available to urban food entrepreneurs. In the near future, they hope to incorporate either as an LLC or a worker-owned cooperative. As of late November 2018, they had no specific plans to become a formal enterprise.

Follow these links for more information on Guided by Mushrooms:

Guided by Mushrooms uses part of multi-car garage renovated to create extra living space.
A look inside the temperature controlled growing tent that is located inside a unheated garage.
The seeding room. The device on the right is a DIY air filtration chamber used in the seeding process to ensure only mycelium is introduced to the growing medium.
Shelf space in the growing room. Once harvested fully, bags are turned over for a second harvest and then discarded.  

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