PS 5-58 - Multifunctional urban agriculture - Supporting earth stewardship in human-dominated ecosystems

Monday, August 8, 2011
Exhibit Hall 3, Austin Convention Center
Sarah Taylor Lovell, Ashley B. Bennett, Rafter Ferguson and John R. Taylor, Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Background/Question/Methods .

Urban agriculture (UA) offers a wide range of benefits including increased access to healthy foods, reduced embodied energy, reuse of urban wastes, and revitalization of neighborhoods.  The challenge is to design these spaces to be multifunctional, matching the specific needs and preferences of local residents, while also supporting earth stewardship.  The long term goal of our research is to assess the extent to which urban agriculture contributes to the health of human-dominated ecosystems in terms of ecological, cultural, and production functions.   The study site for this research is Chicago, IL, where the interest in urban agriculture has been growing in recent years. Our specific objectives were to: 1) evaluate the spatial extent of urban agriculture related to sociodemographic groups (cultural), 2) determine the implications of habitat type on pollinator abundance and diversity in UA sites (ecological), and 3) explore the feasibility of integrating new food products into existing UA systems (production).  A mixed-methods approach including spatial analysis in GIS, semi-structured interviews, field sampling, and literature review was used to conduct the research.

Results/Conclusions .

The results of this study suggest that urban agriculture is an extensive land use type in Chicago, existing throughout much of the city and contributing to the multifunctionality of this human-dominated ecosystem.  Urban agriculture was found in a variety of forms including commercial farms, community farms, allotment gardens, and backyard gardens.  In terms of cultural functions, the types and functions of the UA systems were found to vary depending on the needs of individual communities.  For ecological functions, habitat composition of UA (e.g. area in flower cover) was found to significantly impact variables such as abundance of pollinators.  Considering production functions, the integration of mushroom systems into existing UA infrastructure showed great potential, as this approach provides high-value products, requires little additional space, and makes use of abundant waste products.  Future research opportunities in multifunctional urban agriculture include: comparing UA with other types of green space for a range of ecosystem services, evaluating the impacts of UA on community food security, exploring opportunities for UA to improve human health, and planning urban landscapes to expand UA and optimize performance across a range of functions.

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