Chicago’s Hidden World of Locally Grown Food

Google Earth imagery annotated with local gardens.
Google Earth imagery annotated with local gardens. Photo: via The Salt

NPR’s The Salt blog calls our attention to an interesting sidelight on how food is produced in Chicago. Although different organizations maintained lists of community gardens, no one had a real sense of how much locally grown food there really was. Enter Google Earth, with its satellite photos of every block in Chicago, and a grad student named John Taylor, a researcher in the lab of crop scientist Sarah Lovell at Champaign-Urbana. He found that the lists were not only inaccurate— most of what was on them was ornamental plantings, not food gardens— but they missed a vast world of serious backyard food production. (There’s a screen capture of one block on the northwest side where every single house has a good-sized plot.) In all, Taylor found 4,648 sites covering a total of more than 65 acres— almost three Millennium Parks’ worth of farmland parceled all over the city. And it seems to be growing— Taylor’s initial study was based off satellite imagery taken in 2010, but a review of newer photography shows a 50 percent increase. [The Salt]