Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Community and Regional Planning


Community and Regional Planning


Sustainable Agriculture

First Advisor

Gary Taylor

Second Advisor

Francis Owusu


Issues of food policy, agricultural policy, and environmental policy all converge in the discussion of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Presently, there is no established consensus as to the safety of GMO foods or the long-term effects that genetically engineered crops might have on human and environmental health. While state initiatives to label GMOs have recently received much media attention, these efforts have been largely defeated by fierce industry opposition. Yet in communities across the country, citizens are working collectively to reframe the issue of GMO policy and resist the corporatization of agriculture by advocating for local land use regulations that ban the propagation of genetically modified organisms. Ultimately, these bans are less about GMOs than they are about communities reasserting their authority to build sustainable, local farm and food systems. Through a case-study methodology using structured interviews with key informants and content analysis of archival documents, this study explores the motivating factors that led citizens and farmers to pursue and enact such local ordinances in Mendocino County, California and Jackson County, Oregon. At the outset of the qualitative analysis, it was hypothesized that actors were responding to perceived environmental, social, and economic threats that cross-pollination poses to organic farmers and others that produce non-genetically engineered plants.

Analysis of the primary data from interview respondents revealed a number of emergent themes that were triangulated with the content analysis of secondary sources. These themes are supported by the theory and literature concerning civic agriculture and alternative agrifood system movements. The findings of the research indicate that campaign supporters were acting upon strongly held values and beliefs concerning GMOs and corporate agribusiness, as well as the local connections between people, land, and food. While concerns over cross-pollination were frequently expressed, sources indicated that they were primarily motivated by the following thematic categories: concerns over `Corporate Intrusion', a desire to `Preserve Locally Embedded Agriculture', and the interests of the `Local Economy'. This examination of the motivations behind local GMO bans offers insight into the ways that communities are `taking back the commons' by reclaiming their legal authority to build sustainable farm and food systems


Copyright Owner

Lydia Rae Levinson



File Format


File Size

150 pages