Mapping Chicago's Growing Cornucopia of Urban Gardens

In Chicago, like in many cities, local food production comes in many forms, from small backyard crops to community gardens. Researchers are now using Google Earth to paint a more accurate picture of food production at different scales.

1 minute read

January 13, 2013, 5:00 AM PST

By Erica Gutiérrez


Cities are becoming increasingly interested in taking stock of “how much food is being produced within their limits," reports Sarah Zielinksi, adding, “[but they] can only guess at where exactly crops are growing.” After a frustrating attempt by graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to verify a list of 1,200 supposed community garden projects in Chicago found only 13 percent of the sites were used to grow food, graduate student John Taylor turned to Google Earth for help.

"Taylor found 4,648 sites with signs of food production — like rows of plants — covering more than 65 acres in total. Visits to a selection of those sites confirmed that 86 percent were actual places of food production."

Why this confusion? "Urban agriculture is sometimes thought of as something new and trendy, but of course people have been growing food in backyards and on vacant land for generations," Taylor says. "From a planning and policy perspective, we have to consider food production at multiple scales."

Taylor's Google-aided data is being used to develop the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP), a catalog of all of the city's agricultural sites.

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