Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Can urban gardeners benefit ecosystems while keeping food traditions alive?

06.04.2016

When conjuring up an image of a healthy ecosystem, few of us would think of a modern city. But scientists are increasingly recognizing that the majority of ecosystems are now influenced by humans, and even home gardens in urban landscapes can contribute important ecosystem services.

"Ecosystem services are the benefits that ecosystems provide to humans. In a natural ecosystem, these are things like natural medicinal products or carbon that's sequestered by forest trees. In an urban context, it would be similar types of things. For example, shade from trees provides microclimate control to keep us more comfortable," explains University of Illinois landscape agroecologist Sarah Taylor Lovell.


Urban gardens differ by ethnic group.

Credit: Sarah Taylor Lovell

Lovell and her colleagues investigated the ecosystem services and disservices provided by home food gardens in Chicago, adding a cultural dimension by looking at gardening practices in specific ethnic communities. In an earlier study, they found a high density of food gardens in Chicago were in African American, Chinese-origin, and Mexican-origin communities.

The team visited and interviewed nearly 60 households across the city, noting the types and relative abundance of the edible plants, ornamental plants, and trees in each garden.

"The number of species grown across all of the gardens was comparable to the number of species found in a remnant native prairie near Chicago," Lovell reports. "But the vast majority of garden species were not native to the region."

The number of plant species in an area can have a direct impact on insects, birds, and other wildlife, but non-native crops may not benefit wildlife in an urban context to the degree that native plants might. The researchers identified additional consequences to urban food gardens in terms of ecosystem services.

"Most of the gardeners were using synthetic fertilizers to really optimize production," Lovell explains. "In doing so, they were increasing some nutrients to a level that could lead to runoff and contamination of surrounding environments. We also identified a tradeoff between needing sunlight for your vegetable garden and preferring a treed habitat for microclimate control. Gardeners would sometimes remove trees or reduce the level of shade and shrubs."

Despite these issues, the researchers noted that urban gardens play an important role in the cultural lives of gardeners and may lead to greater food security where fresh produce is not easily available.

"Each cultural group was specifically selecting ethnic crops and propagating plants that were familiar to them," Lovell says. "I think, in some ways, especially for first generation immigrants to Chicago, it's a way to bring a feeling of home."

Several food crops, such as squash and herbs in the mint family, were common in many of the gardens, but each cultural group grew plants that were unique to that group. For example, collards and okra were only found in the gardens of African Americans. Only Mexican-origin gardeners grew Papalo and tomatillo, and only Chinese-origin gardeners grew bitter melon, yardlong bean, winter melon, fuzzy gourd, and bok choy.

Chinese-origin gardens had the most unique assemblage of plants overall, whereas there was more overlap between crops grown by African American and Mexican-origin gardeners. Chinese-origin gardeners also were more likely than other groups to utilize all available space for food crop production, often creating tiered trellis structures to maximize space for vines and other twining plants.

The work was innovative in terms of bringing a cultural dimension into the study of urban ecosystem services, but, for the researchers, the bottom line came down to people.

Lovell notes, "It was mainly about the interesting and unique connection between cultures and their foodways. The study demonstrated a special connection between what you can grow, how you grow it, and what your background is. Gardens may have the potential to connect you to a historic past or your own community. If there's a certain ethnic group in a community, gardening becomes a way to communicate with their neighbors, as a unique social network option."

###

The article, "Ecosystem services and tradeoffs in the home food gardens of African American, Chinese-origin and Mexican-origin households in Chicago, IL," appears in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems. Lead author, John R. Taylor, is an assistant professor at Chatham University. Lovell and additional co-authors, Sam Wortman and Michelle Chan, are at U of I. The research was supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch program.

The full text of the article is available at: http://bit.ly/1pNX8XZ.

Media Contact

Lauren Quinn
ldquinn@illinois.edu
217-300-2435

 @uignome

http://aces.illinois.edu/ 

Lauren Quinn | EurekAlert!

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Crop achilles' heel costs farmers 10 percent of potential yield
24.01.2017 | Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

nachricht How much drought can a forest take?
20.01.2017 | University of California - Davis

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>