Urban Agriculture

Food production in and around urban areas, often defined as “urban agriculture”, is a growing trend in metropolitan regions throughout the US, especially those dealing with significant population loss. The quantity of vacant real estate in many cities is increasing and food production has been proposed as a potential reuse option. Urban agriculture is an attractive option because it can provide social, cultural, health, and environmental benefits, in addition to the potential economic benefits of food production. Unfortunately, the basic food production dimension of urban agriculture is often challenging due to the unique suite of urban environmental factors influencing plant growth.

Urban Agriculture Research Lab

In the Urban Agriculture Research Lab at the University of Illinois our goal is to develop science-based information and tools necessary for urban farmers to develop productive and economically sustainable cropping systems. Towards this goal, we seek to quantify and characterize the distribution of air and soil pollutants in and around urban areas and understand how these pollutants influence crop physiology and productivity. This is accomplished through a combination of environmental monitoring and whole-plant physiological measures of plants growing in urban air or soil environments.

Given the potentially limiting environmental constraints of urban areas, we also strive to optimize crop productivity and efficiency within alternative cropping systems uniquely designed for urban environments. Examples of these cropping systems include raised bed, season extension (e.g., high-tunnel), hydroponic, and aquaponic systems. These cropping systems often require substantial economic investment to build and maintain; thus, maximizing productivity and efficiency will be essential for achieving economic sustainability.

Through this work we seek to advance basic plant and soil science, but we are committed to pursuing applied research questions that will directly benefit urban agriculture stakeholders. Stakeholders include small-scale and organic fruit and vegetable farmers, home and community gardeners, environmental consultants, and urban planners.



Ross Wagstaff, Ph.D. student, receives NCR-SARE grant to study urban food production!

August 25th, 2014

Ross Wagstaff, a Ph.D. student and lab member since 2012, recently received a $9,994 grant through the North Central Region – Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Graduate Student Grant Program! …


“Weed blasting” research highlighted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune!

August 25th, 2014

Prof. Wortman’s recent research on weed control with air-propelled abrasive grits (a.k.a., “weed blasting”) was highlighted in a recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune http://www.startribune.com/business/272510321.html We have now developed a …


Urban Agriculture Research Lab teaming up with Prof. Lovell to study multifunctional buffer strips

April 8th, 2014

Prof. Wortman (co-PI) is working with Prof. Sarah Lovell (PI) and other UIUC researchers to study the potential for perennial food crops to improve the environmental profile and economic potential …


Campus Community Garden Project funded by the UIUC Student Sustainability Committee!

April 8th, 2014

The UIUC Student Sustainability Committee has awarded our lab $51,530 to build and operate a community garden for UIUC students. The garden will consist of 48 allotments, including a mix …


Urban Agriculture Research Lab receives grant award from the Ceres Trust Organic Research Initiative!

April 3rd, 2014

Our recent research proposal titled, “Keystone cover crop species: Understanding the relative contribution of individual species to soil health,” was funded in the amount of $171,698 through the 2014 Ceres …


Prof. Wortman visits with Focus (WILL Radio) about “Growing Urban Agriculture”

December 4th, 2013

Prof. Wortman was a guest on the Dec. 3rd edition of “Focus” on WILL Radio for the program titled, “Growing urban agriculture”. Jim Meadows, the host of Focus, first talked …


Recent urban agriculture review article by Sam Wortman and Sarah Taylor Lovell highlighted in the press!

October 25th, 2013

Our recently published paper in the Journal of Environmental Quality titled, “Environmental challenges threatening the growth of urban agriculture in the United States”, has been highlighted by many print, web, …


Urban Agriculture Research Lab receives IDoA Specialty Crop Block Grant Award!

October 15th, 2013

Our recent research proposal titled, “Strawberries from tower to table: Maximizing productivity of high tunnel space with stacked hydroponic pots,” was funded in the amount of $48,579 through the USDA-AMS …