1st Edition

Subsistence Agriculture in the US Reconnecting to Work, Nature and Community

By Ashley Colby Copyright 2021
    144 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    144 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Focusing on ethnography and interviews with subsistence food producers, this book explores the resilience, innovation and creativity taking place in subsistence agriculture in America.

    To date, researchers interested in alternative food networks have often overlooked the somewhat hidden, unorganized population of household food producers. Subsistence Agriculture in the US fills this gap in the existing literature by examining the lived experiences of people taking part in subsistence food production. Over the course of the book, Colby draws on accounts from a broad and diverse network of people who are hunting, fishing, gardening, keeping livestock and gathering and looks in depth at the way in which these practical actions have transformed their relationship to labor and land. She also explores the broader implications of this pro-environmental activity for social change and sustainable futures.

    With a combination of rigorous academic investigation and engagement with pressing social issues, this book will be of great interest to scholars of sustainable consumption, environmental sociology and social movements.


    1. Introduction: Building shadow structures at the crisis of industrial capitalism
    2. Subsistence agriculture in South Chicago
    3. Guiding Theories: Social problems, emergent solutions
    4. Who are subsistence food producers in Chicago? Meanings across class of alienation and viscerality
    5. "It connects me to the Earth:" Marginalized environmentalism and a resistance to capitalist logic
    6. "Without the garden we never would have met him:" Practitioner networks as post-capitalist shadow structures
    7. Conclusion: "We’ve got to find a solution"


    Ashley Colby is interested in the myriad creative ways in which people are innovating in face of the failures of late capitalism and ecological disaster. She is based in Uruguay, where she has recently founded Rizoma Field School for experiential learning in sustainability.

    "Some years ago a student of sustainability put forward the notion that as far as the future goes, either we shall have a sustainable society or we shall have no society at all. Building on the concept of "Dual Process," Ashley Colby provides a specific case study, giving us a roadmap of how to replace the dysfunctional institutions of capitalism with institutions that are sane and sustainable--what she calls "shadow structures." The importance of such specific information is clear: while most Americans are intensely embroiled in meaningless and vapid discussions of Democrats vs. Republicans, they are oblivious to the real drama going on, namely the ongoing demise of capitalism and the coming of a post-capitalist society. One can only hope that Dr. Colby’s work will serve to wake them up."

    Morris Berman, independent scholar, Mexico


    "Subsistence food production is one of the most dynamic and socially progressive elements of the contemporary food movement. Colby puts the subsistence food production of South Chicago under the lens in this theoretically sophisticated ethnography of resistance at the margins of consumer capitalism."

    Richard Wilk, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Department of Anthropology, Indiana University


    "Ashley Colby’s Subsistence Agriculture in the US is a work for our time: the late capitalist era of COVID-19, climate change, economic disruption, and precarious labor. Focusing on the growth of subsistence food production in the United States, her book sees the emergence of such "shadow structures" as the rational response of growing numbers of people to a period of increasing ecological and social malaise. The result is a highly original approach to the environmental sociology of long-term, transformative social change."

    John Bellamy Foster, Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon; author of The Return of Nature: Socialism and Ecology (2020)


    "We at New Dream are committed to the work of imagining a new kind of future that transforms the systems we have in place to one that improves well-being for all people and the planet. Dr. Ashley Colby's book gives us an example of one such transformation taking place, right in plain sight, if we can only shift our thinking to see it as important. By talking to those practicing subsistence agriculture in and around the South Side of Chicago, Dr. Colby reveals to us that it may be the rural hunters and fishermen, the urban backyard gardeners and canners, and the suburban households keeping chickens and goats who may be at the forefront of developing a new American Dream. Dr. Colby shows us how it is not only the act of production, but the connections people make across race, class, gender and geography, that may be laying this important groundwork for a different kind of economic and political structure."

    Guinevere Higgins, Director of Strategic Partnerships, New Dream