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.

Cover crop mixture research highlighted at PrairiErth field day

October 23rd, 2015

Ashley Holmes, M.S. student in the Urban Agriculture Lab, recently spoke with stakeholders about her cover crop mixture research at a field day hosted by PrairiErth Farm near Atlanta, IL. http://farmprogress.com/story-prairierth-event-fields-organic-crop-production-questions-more-9-132586 

“Chicago’s ag revolution”

October 12th, 2015

Interesting article recently published in Produce Grower covers the driving forces behind the urban agriculture movement in Chicago http://www.producegrower.com/pg1015-Chicago-urban-farming-revolution.aspx

Weed blasting research featured on The Organic Center website

October 12th, 2015

Our abrasive-weeding (also known as “weed blasting”) research was highlighted this month on The Organic Center website https://www.organic-center.org/uncategorized/sam-wortman-university-of-illinois-at-urbana-champaign/. Initial results from this project were recently published in the journal Crop Protection (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0261219415300788), and ongoing …

Urban Agriculture: What’s Really Making a Mark?

December 3rd, 2014

Prof. Wortman recently visited with Jenny Smiechowksi, a journalist with Seedstock, about the most promising models for urban agriculture in the US. Check out her article here: http://seedstock.com/2014/12/02/urban-agriculture-whats-really-making-a-mark/ 

Urban Agriculture Research Lab receives funding from IDoA to assess vegetable crop yields and heavy metal recontamination across Chicago metro!

November 7th, 2014

Our recent research proposal titled, “Assessing variability in vegetable crop yield and heavy metal recontamination across the Chicago metropolitan region,” was funded in the amount of $67,603 through the USDA-AMS …

Urban Agriculture Research Lab awarded grant from USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Organic Research and Extension Initiative!

September 8th, 2014

Our recent grant proposal titled, “Blasting the Competition Away: Air-propelled Abrasive Grits for Intra-row Weed Management in Organic Grain and Vegetable Crops,” was funded in the full amount of $749,927 …

Ashley Holmes, M.S. student, in the Bloomington Pantagraph!

September 8th, 2014

Ashley Holmes, an M.S. student in the Urban Agriculture Research Lab, was highlighted in the Bloomington Pantagraph this past week: http://www.pantagraph.com/uploaded_photos/blm-biz–fieldday/image_aafaf39b-c4dc-5148-a8eb-fd2076a8efd3.html  Ashley was discussing the benefits of cover crops and diverse …

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 and MOSES Organic Broadcaster!

August 25th, 2014

Prof. Wortman’s recent research on weed control with air-propelled abrasive grits (a.k.a., “weed blasting”) was highlighted in two recent articles in the Minneapolis Star Tribune http://www.startribune.com/business/272510321.html and the MOSES Organic Broadcaster http://mosesorganic.org/sandblasting/ We …

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 …