'Food deserts' were blooming
While examining satellite images of two unique Chicago communities, Taylor discovered something else about Chicago's residential gardeners.
"When I was looking at the images, I kept seeing these curious structures in backyards," he said. "I saw them mostly in Chinatown and also in the Bridgeport neighborhoods, and both of those neighborhoods have large Chinese-origin populations."
Taylor decided to visit Chinatown, and while walking up and down alleys behind residences, he discovered the structures were trellises, made of pieces of pipe and wood, supporting vining crops like melons and other gourds. After examining their data, Taylor and Taylor Lovell concluded that many of Chicago's residential gardens are tended by immigrants like Chan, living in the city's Chinatown area.
"Two neighborhoods on the near south side, Chinatown and Bridgeport, appear to be home garden hot spots for demographic and cultural reasons," said the final report, published in August in the scientific journal Landscape and Urban Planning.
Chinatown and part of Bridgeport were classified as "food deserts" in a 2011 report compiled by the Chicago-based Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group. Taylor thinks that, to some extent, home gardens help compensate for the lack of quality, culturally appropriate foods in this area.
"That's a really important component of food security," he said. "We often think about food security just having enough food to eat, but it's also about having the right kinds of food."
The bounty of immigrants
Chicago neighborhoods with significant populations of European immigrants, like Dunning and Norwood Park, also had high concentrations of residential gardens.
As of yet, there are no significant data to support the supposition that certain recent immigrant groups are more likely to have home gardens than others, said Alicia Woodbury, a doctoral student at Arizona State University's School of Social Transformation, who researches inequalities in food and agricultural systems.
"What I do think is true, based on my own research, is that many recent immigrant groups are more likely to have agricultural knowledge than the average American who is just getting involved with gardening for the first time," she said. "In many cases, this is because they were farmers in their countries of origin."
In light of these findings, Taylor believes the many recently discovered home gardens should be acknowledged as an asset to Chicago's urban agriculture. Communities can use this and similar research to promote and assist backyard gardeners like Chan.
"People are doing an incredible job, basically on their own, and sometimes with few resources," Taylor said. "I think that if there were ways to augment those resources, that would be terrific."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500