This paper examines the community-level impacts of changes in the structure of agriculture, and how agriculture’s role in community organization has changed over time. While agriculture’s declining share of local and national employment and family income is well known, less is known about the interactions between changes in the organization of agriculture and the transformation of rural society. In this paper I use a food systems perspective to examine several aspects of the link between community and agricultural structures. In each instance, changes in the structure of agriculture are occurring simultaneously with large-scale societal transformations such as sectoral changes in the economy, urbanization of the countryside, and changes in family organization. In particular, I discuss: (a) the association between the concentration of agriculture and civic engagement, local democracy and community governance; (b) the potential environmental hazards associated with concentrated agricultural feeding organizations (CAFO); off-farm work and changing family organization; and (d) how community food systems contribute to social integration of the urban-rural interface.


David L. Brown is International Professor of Development Sociology, Emeritus at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Professor Brown is a social demographer whose research focuses on migration and population redistribution in the US and Europe with a particular focus on how migration and population change affect, and are affected by, local community organization. His work also examines population ageing, the social organization of the urban-rural interface, the production and reproduction of social and economic inequalities between regions and rural vs. urban areas, and policies to ameliorate such inequalities. His current research is funded by the USDA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). His recent books include: Rural Communities in the 21st Century: Resilience and Transformation (Polity, 2011; second edition 2019) (with Kai Schafft), The International Handbook of Rural Studies (Routledge 2016) (co-edited with Mark Shucksmith), Rural Transformations and Rural Policies in the UK and US (Routledge, 2012) (co-edited with Shucksmith, Shortall and others), Rural Retirement Migration (Springer, 2008) (with Nina Glasgow), Population Change and Rural Society (Springer, 2006) (co-edited with William Kandel). Among other recognition, he received the Distinguished Rural Sociologist award from the Rural Sociological Society; is past president of the Rural Sociological Society; is past chair of the American Sociological Association’s Section on the Sociology of Development; received the Chancellor’s Award for Sustained Professional Service from the State University of New York, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Rousse University in Bulgaria in 2007 recognizing his contributions to that university’s rural and regional development educational programs.