Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Mara J. Goldman

Second Advisor

Emily Yeh

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Dunn

Fourth Advisor

Jill Harrison

Fifth Advisor

Brenda Parker


The goal of this dissertation is to critically examine urban backyard food (UBF) production as a set of practices and discourses. Until this dissertation, most thinking on UBF production has been reflected in popular literature that often touts UBF production as a necessary and practical step to mitigate personal health, food justice, and environmental sustainability concerns over food systems. I found that UBF producers tend to parse the world into inauthentic techno-urban-industrial modernity and anti-modern, ‘natural’, or authentic people, things, and relationships. I use UBF producers’ practices and the meanings and purposes they instill in those practices to reveal how different people understand how society is ordered, and what UBF producers would like to change about that ordering.

The ethnographic data that I collected in the Denver metropolitan area from 2013 to 2015 shows that UBF producers are grappling with an historically reoccurring concern for finding the right way to be (authentic) in the world. This ethos offers a rebuttal of modernity through its antagonism toward contemporary techno-industrial food provisioning. At the center of this is an ethics based on a moral ontology of nature or what New Agrarians call using “nature as measure.” I find that UBF producers want to use their practices and discourses to create, revive, or emphasize what they conceive as moral or authentic forms of value, labor, and products. They tend to do this by conflating nature as measure with nostalgia for pre-WWII agriculture, a nostalgia based on a culturally situated rather than transcendent nature. I argue that in the process of trying to reproduce pre-WWII agrarian experiences, UBF producers may be reviving and perpetuating a narrative in which white European male dominated agriculture is held up as the pinnacle of authenticity and morality.