How much gardening is really happening in urban areas? Researchers at the University of Illinois were skeptical about the lists of urban community gardens acquired from local non-governmental organizations in Chicago. But small residential gardens are quietly growing the international and specialty foods their gardeners crave.
Satellites See All, Know All
Doctoral candidate John Taylor and crop sciences researcher, Sarah Taylor Lovell, loaded the acquired lists into Google Earth, which automatically geocoded the sites in Chicago by street address.
Next, relying on known images as a reference point, Taylor developed visual indicators for types of gardens: community gardens, vacant lot gardens, urban farms, school gardens, and home food gardens. He identified 4,493 possible sites.
Home Gardens Are the Big Food Producers
Results showed that only 13 percent of “community gardens” were producing food. On the other hand, Taylor identified a large percentage of smallish residential gardens (50 square meters or less, in size) — many of which were concentrated in certain neighborhoods.
“Chinatown, Bridgeport was kind of a hot spot,” Taylor reports. “Both of these neighborhoods have large Chinese-origin populations. Even outside those areas, many of the larger gardens were associated with households headed by people of Chinese origin. Neighborhoods in the northwest with large numbers of Polish and Eastern and Southern European immigrants also had a high density of backyard gardens.”
Crop Selections Often Reflect Nostalgia for “Where We Came From.”
So what were the numerous private gardens growing? They planted the usual stuff common to many home gardens, of course — but many also featured food favorites related to the gardeners’ cultural background. As Lovell puts it, “There are distinctions between these cultural groups because the crops they select are sometimes from their home areas in addition to the suite of crops we can all grow in our backyards.”
It’s All Good
In the final analysis, the study shows that backyard gardens and vacant lot gardens in Chicago contribute to total food production. “Home gardens actually contribute to food security,” Taylor said. “They’re underappreciated and unsupported.”
Source: Farmer Advance