Farming in the City: How Does the Altered Urban Environment Influence Cropping System Productivity, Ecology, and Profitability?

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2014: $9,994.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Grant Recipient: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Dr. Jack A. Juvik
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Faculty Advisor:
Sam Wortman
University of Nebraska - Lincoln


  • Vegetables: beans, beets, peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs


  • Crop Production: crop rotation, double cropping, multiple cropping, tissue analysis
  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: agricultural finance, budgets/cost and returns
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity, indicators
  • Pest Management: integrated pest management, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems
  • Soil Management: soil analysis, soil microbiology
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, partnerships, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration

    Proposal abstract:

    Farming in the city: How does the altered urban environment influence cropping system productivity, ecology, and profitability?  Similar to the differences between urban and natural ecosystems, there likely exist critical differences between urban and rural agroecosystems. Urban agriculture has recently increased in both scope and recognition for a source of locally produced foods and economic stimulation in underserved, sparsely populated urban neighborhoods. A growing abundance of vacant lots in large cities like Chicago, IL represents an opportunity for increased food production in the city. However, we have limited knowledge about how the altered urban environment affects the ecology of urban food production systems. The aim of this project is to assess plant, microbial, and insect ecological response to atmospheric conditions on urban and peri-urban farms across a latitudinal transect in Chicago, IL. Two cultivars of seven crop plant species will be grown in uniform soil mixtures at six sites to isolate urban atmospheric effects on species and cultivar physiological response. Experimental sites are located along an urban to rural latitudinal transect in Chicago on urban and peri-urban farms and horticultural centers. Weather towers equipped with micrometeorological (temperature, relative humidity, light intensity, wind speed and direction) and pollution (CO2, O3) sensors will continuously collect data at each site to help explain variability in ecological responses across sites. Ecosystem response data collected will include measures of plant physiology (leaf area index, relative growth rate, plant architecture, biomass partitioning, and fruit yield and quality), plant pathogen distribution and infection rates, soil microbial community composition, and insect abundance and community composition. Data will be analyzed with a combination of generalized linear mixed models to assess the influence of site-years on ecosystem response variables and partial least squares regression analysis to explore complex relationships among microclimatic factors, pollutants, and ecosystem responses (plants, pathogens, soil microbes, and insects). Results of this study will provide critical information to urban agriculture stakeholders about the profit potential for various crops and cultivars throughout the metropolitan region and also provide new scientific insights about the ecology of urban agroecosystems. Outcomes will include increased knowledge of urban environmental challenges and practical solutions such as cultivar recommendations, planting times, and pest management in the unique urban environment. Learning and action outcomes will result in increased profitability of urban agriculture. To evaluate project outcomes, we will measure field day attendance and website traffic, and survey project cooperators and field day attendees. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Stakeholders will receive information directly from project outcomes published on two websites, in Extension bulletins, and in printed factsheets. Project reports will include practical information about urban and peri-urban crop and cultivar recommendations, beneficial and deleterious insects, disease prevalence, and profit potential in each of the studied environments.  Factsheets and bulletins will reach the audience through four Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA) meetings in Chicago and two field days at the experimental sites. Printed handouts will include links to project webpages. We expect 50-200 participants at the AUA meetings and approximately 50 attendees at each field day to receive knowledge about project results. We expect to have at least 200 unique site visitors to our webpages before the end of 2015. A YouTube video describing project results will be embedded within project webpages. Research summaries will be published on the ASAP website and the Urban Agriculture Research Lab website in late 2014 and 2015. Publically accessible experimental sites in Chicago will contain a story board of the experimental methods and preliminary results. This project will also yield at least three scientific papers and presentations at appropriate professional societal conferences. One scientific paper has already been published from this work (Wagstaff and Wortman, 2013).


     Wagstaff, R.K. and S.E. Wortman. 2013. Crop physiological response across the Chicago metropolitan region: Developing recommendations for urban and peri-urban farmers in the North Central US. RAFS, From the Field, 1-7.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.