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Make space on your shelf and your syllabus for this book. It is long overdue. Beyond the Kale is a critical race and class analysis of New York City's urban garden scene. Beyond the Kale incorporates data from two years of research in five boroughs in New York City as it paints a tale of two cities. Here is a book that investigates the toil of several key urban gardening activists in New York City against a backdrop of racism and classism.


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Here is finally a book that advances our understanding of the salient issues for people of color in urban agriculture and acknowledges the systems that prevail in constantly marginalizing people of color operating urban gardens. This brave book is divided into eight ambitious chapters that read like a novel you simply cannot put down. Chapters are woven together like pieces of a patchwork quilt incorporating personal narratives, research data, and background information alongside a critical race analysis.

The book begins by introducing the reader to a remarkable cast of leaders of color who are holding up New York City's garden scene. The reader is taken on a journey into the work of these leaders of color and the community farms in which they grow food. The organization of the chapters allows the readers to follow along in one continual flow, much like a gardener's tale, making skillful use to refer to previous passages in the book tying together a seamless argument filled with thought-provoking interviews and slices of local politics.

Each chapter is filled with vibrant details of the members' lives and the issues they confront within and outside of the garden. The impressive book examines the various strategies of New York City urban gardeners and leaders who have seen their work either appropriated or devalued but never recognized for addressing economic disenfranchisement or control over their own food system. Beyond the Kale is essential reading for anyone wanting the missing narratives of those with boots on the ground in these urban garden settings fighting the good fight every day.

This book is a must read for all activists of color, white students and scholars, food activists, policymakers, urban planners, and others wanting to understand how the consistent marginalization of low-resourced communities of color takes place year after year. Beyond the Kale might very well raise the bar for what matters as critical research within urban agriculture.

Beyond the Kale will set a new standard for how researchers present their work, redefining what is scholarly activism and critical thinking.

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This book centralizes the resource-poor garden activists and leaders as key problem solvers and the resource-rich large agency as possibly the core of the problem, not the solution. Beyond the Kale digs beneath the surface-level rhetoric produced by those scholarly food justice researchers and deconstructs the underlying power bases that maintain the system's inequities.

Rarely does a book about urban agriculture go deep into this level of analysis, giving a critical discussion of power and money while offering solutions by those on the fringes of power. This revisionist critique of food justice in New York City is more than simply a recitation of common themes from those outsiders blaming the victims.

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Beyond the Kale is a thoughtful critique of the consistent power structures that maintain power imbalances—structural racism, for one—within the urban agriculture systems. This great read gives language to the antioppression work carried out by the leaders of color within urban gardens. Because of the language of critical race theory and the provocative ways in which the book incorporates the quotes of the leaders of color, this book will possibly set higher standards for defining participatory action-based research and the presentation of its findings.

Beyond the Kale provides stimulating race analysis language throughout, useful for food justice scholars, students, critical race theorists, and nonprofit leaders without being incendiary.


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Beyond the Kale will provide a much-needed analytical tool for beginning and advanced students aspiring toward a deep inquiry into the inequities pervasive in urban agriculture. This book pushes the discussion toward the deeper analysis of issues inherent in power imbalances and focuses on the necessity to identify them.

Beyond the Kale courageously reinforces the idea that more organizational diversity does not necessarily balance power without leadership and power among people of color. The book's provocative inquiries and critiques provide insight into potential strategies at the root of real food justice and food systems equity. I commend Reynolds and Cohen for their well-written critical review of the field.

This book is a manual for those students wanting to understand how to truly participate in the actualization of scholarly activism. If urban gardening is a political act, then Beyond the Kale is the manifesto! The book is a direct departure from their previous project, Five Borough Farm, which was an effort to devise policy and evaluation tools in support of urban agriculture in New York City. Because of these explicit goals, the more complex—and interesting—questions of race, class, and gender as they intersect with contemporary urban agriculture were downplayed or ignored altogether by the Five Borough Farm project.

Beyond the Kale rectifies the shortcomings of Five Borough Farm and does so deliberately. This reflexivity is a real strength of the book, which fills a gap in urban agriculture and food justice scholarship by disrupting the celebratory accounts of urban agriculture in a manner productive for both activists and academics. After an introduction that establishes the rationale for Beyond the Kale and identifies key themes Chapter 1 , Reynolds and Cohen provide an overview of New York City's urban agriculture system Chapter 2 , including a useful appendix describing various elements of this system.

The book then explores the key themes, including the social justice efforts of urban agriculture activists Chapter 3 ; the formations of urban agriculture projects themselves structured to engage in antioppression work Chapter 4 ; the deliberate efforts of urban agriculture organizations to engage policy, build partnerships, and participate in advocacy Chapter 5 ; power and privilege or the lack thereof within urban agriculture and the struggles to redress this Chapter 6 ; and the nexus of scholarship and activism and the possibilities for collaborations Chapter 7.

The book's conclusion connects urban agriculture in New York City with similar stories throughout the United States. That is, urban agriculture is necessarily multifunctional and produces many benefits, but it does not inherently advance social justice.

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In fact, as Reynolds and Cohen argue, if social justice efforts are not explicit, urban agriculture—and the scholarship that supports it—can just as easily reproduce inequality. The authors argue that most representations of urban agriculture erase people of color and downplay the more radical tendencies in the movement. This framing allows Reynolds and Cohen to highlight the diversity of experiences and practices within urban agriculture and to focus on actually existing social justice efforts.

Here we see the real strength of Beyond the Kale: The book does important work for developing a constructive critique that comes from the perspective of activists working to address structural roots of social inequities. Reynolds and Cohen are themselves advocates of urban agriculture committed to social justice. The activists Reynolds and Cohen interview and whose work is featured in Beyond the Kale are best able to understand urban agriculture through the lens of structural oppression and theorize social justice and model just social structures.

I see two important areas where Beyond the Kale could be strengthened to better achieve the authors' stated goals: The first is an underlying premise of Reynolds and Cohen to specifically avoid neoliberalism, and the second being their prioritization of race and ensuing failure to engage in class analysis.

This would not necessarily change Beyond the Kale , but might help contextualize the book's argument, allowing us to understand, for example, why the more radical justice efforts of urban agriculture are often overlooked or deliberately downplayed, how and why certain voices are magnified and others silenced, how specific tactics relate to broader strategies, or how urban agriculture as a tool for advancing social justice might in fact be confined by its political and economic context and thus unable to realize the full potential outlined by Reynolds and Cohen.

More important, the strength of Beyond the Kale in prioritizing the voices of black and Latino or Latina urban agriculture activists seems to come at the expense of a deliberate class analysis. Reynolds and Cohen could do more to fully appreciate urban agriculture in relation to economic inequality, especially the intersection of class and race. Yet without class analysis—especially in relation to urban food production—the goal of Reynolds and Cohen to forefront social justice within urban agriculture cannot be fully realized.

The book originated in the Five Borough Farm Project, a research project intended to document urban agriculture throughout New York City, develop policy recommendations, and develop evaluation tools to support this work. Reynolds and Cohen, as part of an interdisciplinary research team, learned of race- and class-based disparities in access to resources among urban agriculture programs, although the final report of the project did not discuss observations in great detail.

Beyond the Kale is an excellent contribution.

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A critical and important piece of this book is the introduction to and description of the work of urban farmers and gardeners of color in New York City whose work—for decades before urban agriculture became popular with white folks—went unnoticed and unheralded. I met a number of community food security and antihunger leaders in New York City through my work with the New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group in the mids. Virtually all of them were wonderful, well-intentioned, dedicated, committed white people. They did not bring Yonnette Fleming, or Abu Talib, or Robert and DeVanie Jackson, or farmers from Granja Los Colibries, or Ray Figueroa, or Karen Washington—who are among the activists of color whose work is highlighted in Beyond the Kale —to the meetings or offer to introduce them to our working group.

This book introduces these leaders, and their work, to the reader. As Farmer Farmer, P. Pathologies of power: Health, human rights, and the New War on the poor. In those meetings in New York City, I did not ask who else should be at the table. The invisibility of farmers and gardeners of color living and working in low-income communities in New York City reflected the invisibility and erasure of people of color and low-income people in the early years of the community food security and food justice movements nationwide—a lack of recognition that continues to this day.

This erasure is a passive act of complicity with structural violence of which Farmer writes. Slowly the leadership of the food justice and food sovereignty movements is changing. Karen Washington and her colleagues in New York City, for example, convened the first Black Urban Growers Conference in and this conference has grown to a national audience of black and brown farmers and growers.

Reynolds and Cohen document Washington's growing leadership in New York City urban agriculture and nationally. Another essential element of Beyond the Kale is the description and analysis of the work of farmers and gardeners of color in their communities that goes far beyond growing vegetables. Garden spaces like the Hattie Carthan Community Garden in Brooklyn provide educational workshops for neighbors on the history of the neighborhood, the lack of healthy food access, food injustice, forms of oppression, and ways to resist oppression.

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These spaces provide sites for relationship building and community building. Classes and meetings allow for discussion of the resources needed to improve the community and the development of strategies to influence local policy to get those resources. Beyond the Kale takes a hard look at the power imbalances in which urban agriculture operates and that constrain the achievement of social justice.

These power imbalances manifest themselves repeatedly in New York City and in every urban community.


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People of color and low-income people want a seat at the decision-making table at the start of the policymaking process, not at the end of the process when officials announce the results of their deliberations and basically tell poor people what to expect.