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Finding Chicago’s Food Gardens With Google Earth

Map of Chicago showing home food gardens (residential and single-plot vacant lot gardens) identified through manual interpretation of high resolution aerial imagery in Google Earth superimposed on the city’s 228 neighborhoods.

“Home gardens actually contribute to food security,” Taylor said. “They’re under-appreciated and unsupported.”

Research from the College of College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences
Urbana, IL
Jan. 3, 2013


John Taylor, a doctoral candidate working with crop sciences researcher Sarah Taylor Lovell, was skeptical about the lists of urban gardens provided to him by local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

“Various lists were circulating,” he said. “One of them had almost 700 gardens on it.”

On closer inspection, however, many of these “gardens” turned out to be planter boxes or landscaping and were not producing food. On the other hand, Taylor suspected that there were unnoticed gardens in backyards or vacant lots.

“There’s been such a focus on community gardens and urban farms, but not a lot of interest in looking at backyard gardens as an area of research,” Lovell agreed. An accurate map of these sites would be helpful for advocacy groups and community planners.

Taylor uploaded the lists from the NGOs into Google Earth, which automatically geocoded the sites by street address. He used a set of reference images of community gardens, vacant lot gardens, urban farms, school gardens, and home food gardens to determine visual indicators of food gardens.

Using these indicators and Google Earth images, he examined the documented sites. Of the 1,236 “community gardens,” only 160, or 13 percent, were actually producing food.

Read the complete article here.