Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Other Degree Name/Area of Focus

Sustainable Food and Farming

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies

Committee Chair

Neva Hassanein

Commitee Members

Laurie Yung, Daniel Kemmis


Food systems, food democracy, community agriculture, urban agriculture, civic skills, volunteers


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Environmental Studies | Food Studies


Scholars and activists hold varied ideas about what a more just and equitable food system might look like. Food democracy, one of these alternative food system theories, centers around the idea that all people should have equal opportunity to meaningfully contribute to the shaping of their food systems. Community farms, due to their socially-oriented qualities, present one possibility for people to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to function as food citizens and build food democracy.

This research explores and seeks to inform food democracy theory through case studies of two urban community farms – one in Missoula, Montana, and one in San Francisco, California – and their respective volunteer programs that provide produce to volunteers. It also outlines the purpose, governance, and function of these farms, their volunteer programs, and their parent organizations. Case studies were built through in-depth interviews, and supplemented with participant observation and document review.

The volunteers’ experiences suggest that, for most of them, their engagement with their respective community farm has helped develop the knowledge and skills necessary in moving toward food democracy. Volunteers at both farms demonstrated knowledge of the food system, skills in food production, the ability to work and problem solve collectively, an orientation toward the commons and community good, and, for some, a sense of efficacy within the food system. Volunteers also described dimensions of broader democratic theory, like community building and citizenship skills, which allowed for the extension of existing food democracy framework. While volunteers’ experiences suggest they are participating in some level of food democracy, the depth of this participation varied among volunteers. As others have found in similar food justice and food sovereignty research, however, people living near the farm did not necessarily experience the same impacts.



© Copyright 2018 Kali Orton