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There Are 264,000 Square Meters Of Garden In Chicago

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jan 28, 2013 4:00PM

2012_4_3_PetersonGarden.jpg How much of Chicago's open space is actually being used to produce food? Thanks to the wonder that is Google Earth (and a lot of time invested by some University of Illinois researchers) we now know how much. Approximately 264,181 square meters of land in Chicago is being used for food production.

Doctoral candidate John Taylor started out with a list of community and urban gardens, but it didn't seem accurate. When he went and checked them out, a lot were vacant and dead. But backyard gardens were everywhere. "“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.”

To measure them, Taylor turned to Google Earth. After 400 hours looking at Google Earth images taken on two specific days and doing random-site checking to make sure the pictures matched up with reality, he found more than 4,648 urban agricultural sites that produced food crops. Home gardens made up far more of the total than community gardens.

Let's put that in perspective, though. Chicago has approximately 227.2 square miles of land area. Thanks to a handy internet calculator, all of those square meters of garden add up to ... 0.1 square mile of land. That's not a huge amount, and it sounds pretty tiny when you put it that way.

On the other hand, think about that in terms of acres of farmland. Your typical old-fashioned farm was 40 acres. All that garden space adds up to the equivalent of almost two of those 40 acre farms producing food inside the city limits. When you combine that with an estimate of average vegetable yields per acre, you get something around 800,000 pounds of food per year. That's nothing to sneer at! (yes, our math is rough, but you get the idea.) This will surprise no one who has ever dealt with a huge explosion of tomatoes or zucchinis.

“Home gardens actually contribute to food security,” Taylor told the University of Illinois Department of Crop Sciences newsletter. Based on those numbers they sure do. Garden promoters still have a long way to go before they shift a significant amount of urban food consumption to local land, but there's already quite a bit of food growing in tiny spaces around Chicago.