COS 49-6
The social-ecological dynamics of urban food production in the Global North: A mixed methods study of ethnic and migrant home gardens in Chicago, IL

Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 3:20 PM
M101A, Minneapolis Convention Center
John R. Taylor, Crop Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL
Sarah Taylor Lovell, Crop Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, IL

In the United States, interest in urban agriculture is flourishing, and community gardens sponsored by nongovernment organizations have sprouted across the landscape.  At the same time, home food gardens—arguably an ever-present, more durable form of urban agriculture—and their contributions to urban social-ecological systems in the United States and elsewhere in the Global North have been overlooked by policymakers and understudied by academics.  The lack of attention to these gardens is puzzling, given the demonstrated social and ecological benefits of home gardens in the Global South. To begin to address this gap, we conducted a mixed methods study of 30 African American, Chinese-origin, and Mexican-origin households with on-lot or vacant lot food gardens in Chicago, IL.  A series of semi-structured interviews with gardeners and other household members focused on gardening practices, foodways, family process, and neighborhood context.  Gardens were inventoried and mapped, and the physical and chemical properties of garden soils were analyzed. 


Study findings indicate home gardening provides an array of ecosystem services, contributing to community development, household and community food security, and the reproduction of cultural identity. The majority of informants were internal or international migrants.  For these individuals, gardening and the foodways it supports represent a continuation of cultural practices and traditional agroecological knowledges associated with their place of origin, and the gardens of some migrant households also harbor significant urban agrobiodiversity with roots in the Global South.  At the same time, gardening practices may expose vulnerable populations to environmental hazards such as soil contaminants.  Lead levels of garden soils, for example, averaged 340.5 mg/kg, with a range of 59.9 to 992.5 mg/kg.  Gardens may also be a source of ecosystem disservices.  The majority of gardeners reported using synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides.  The indiscriminate, repeated application of compost and fertilizers may contribute to the nutrient loading of urban stormwater runoff.  Phosphorus levels of gardens soils averaged 263 mg/kg and ranged from 36 to 1076 mg/kg.  These effects may be offset by the relatively low bulk density and high porosity of garden soils due to tillage and the application of organic matter, which can be expected to enhance stormwater infiltration.