Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Laura-Anne Minkoff-Zern


Food Sovereignty, Neoliberalism, Refugees, Urban Agriculture

Subject Categories

Medicine and Health Sciences


This research documents some of the goals and challenges of refugee farmers and gardeners who participated in an organized agriculture project in Syracuse, New York. During the 2018 harvest season I observed and interviewed nine refugee farmers from Somalia, Bhutan, Nepal, and Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as four organizational staff members who were recruited through their affiliation with the Syracuse Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (SyRAPP) and the Refugee and Immigrants Self-Empowerment (RISE) organization. Refugee farmers expressed distrust of the conventional food system, they valued control over the food supply through farming, and many desired to live at or near the land they farmed. I map these responses onto the framework of food sovereignty, a strategy which restores power and control of the food system to its producers (Holt Giménez & Shattuck, 2011), in an effort to understand the aspirations of refugees who wish to produce their own food in the US. Immigrant labor and agrarian justice in the US have already been examined as expanding the food sovereignty movement (Brent, Schiavoni, & Alonso-Fradejas, 2015), and I argue that urban and peri-urban refugee farmers in Syracuse also resonate with food sovereignty ideals as they express the desire for increased control over their food systems. In this work I present possibilities for the refugee agriculture program to imagine goals beyond the limits of neoliberalism; to transform its current emphases on individual responsibility, entrepreneurial ventures, and “alternative” markets into visions of collective empowerment and self-sufficiency outside of the market. To that end, I offer pragmatic recommendations that could incorporate some of food sovereignty’s principles and concepts, which I argue the farmers already actively embrace, into its organizational structure.


Open Access



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