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Cracks in the Concrete: Urban Multispecies Justice at the Isla Vista Food Forest (CA)


This work discusses urban food forests as an emergent solution for ecological and social challenges faced in a time of climate crisis, particularly in the context of cities. The study is based on participatory action and ethnographic research of the Isla Vista Food Forest, in Santa Barbara (California, US). A food forest is a traditional agricultural practice that mimics a natural forestial ecosystem, producing food for humans while favoring multiple life forms and enhancing the ecosystem as a whole. Prior research has suggested that food forests are a sustainable, beneficial practice within urban areas. However, this emergent literature is yet to explore in more detail how these initiatives mobilize, and how they may re-signify, cities’ social and ecological relationships. Relying on fieldwork and on an interdisciplinary theoretical framework around multispecies studies, I look into how human and more-than-human relationships are built within the context of community action for the establishment of an urban food forest. As an organizer with the IV Food Forest, I demonstrate firsthand experience with the maintenance of a food forest in terms of social collaborations, development of ecological knowledge and sensitivity, and mundane challenges in operating in urban space. As a central import, the IV Food Forest points in the direction of an ecological city that, beyond “sustainable,” is multispecies and regenerative. The study contributes to the fields of relational, urban, and environmental sociology from a multispecies perspective, as well as to the discussions in environmental humanities and urban planning.

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