Translating Sustainable Agriculture to the Backyard Garden in Metropolitan Chicago

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2010: $86,963.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Anya Maziak
Chicago Botanic Garden

Annual Reports


Not commodity specific


  • Animal Production: free-range
  • Crop Production: crop rotation, cover crops, intercropping, nutrient cycling, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, workshop
  • Pest Management: biological control, integrated pest management, trap crops
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture, transitioning to organic
  • Soil Management: organic matter, soil quality/health
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, urban agriculture, sustainability measures


    In 2011 and 2012 the Chicago Botanic Garden expanded visitors’ knowledge about sustainable agriculture techniques and encouraged them to use this information at home. Visitors were educated through broad-based initiatives, including signage, modeling on Fruit & Vegetable Garden, horticulture/public programming interns, farmers’ market demonstrations, family drop-in programs, and the website/social media. Targeted efforts included classes and mini-courses, a farm field trip, farm dinners, and open farm days. Evaluation showed that these activities were successful in engaging visitors and conveying information on sustainable and organic growing techniques.


    The Chicago Horticultural Society, founded in 1890, has long been a source of information on gardening and horticulture for the Chicago region. With the opening of the 385-acre Chicago Botanic Garden in 1972, the Society established a physical resource that today annually serves nearly 950,000 people.

    Since opening in 1985, the Garden’s 3.8-acre Fruit & Vegetable Garden has become one of the most popular destinations, providing a bounty of information to visitors through its many programs. In 2008, staff decided to implement organic growing practices in this garden, offering an excellent platform for teaching visitors about sustainable gardening techniques. Since this conversion, with the assistant of SARE, Fruit & Vegetable Garden and its related programs have served to demonstrate sustainable gardening techniques for the public, educate visitors about the value of sustainable techniques and sustainably-produced food, and empower the public with the knowledge to implement sustainability in their own food gardens.

    Project objectives:

    The short term goals of this project were for Chicago Botanic Garden visitors to:

    • Increase their curiosity about sustainable growing practices and express an interest in these methods,
    • Increase their awareness of the many aspects of sustainable farming and gardening and why growing sustainably matters,
    • Increase their knowledge and basic understanding of sustainable methods, and
    • Gain an appreciation of sustainably-farmed products.

    Intermediate goals were for visitors to:
    • Apply the knowledge they gained at a home or community garden,
    • Purchase sustainably-farmed products, and
    • Seek out additional opportunities to learn about sustainable gardening.

    Expected long term outcomes were to:
    • Increase the number of individuals using sustainable gardening practices in the tri-state Chicago area,
    • Increase number of individuals contributing to a sustainable food system,
    • Increase purchases of products related to sustainable farming and gardening, and
    • Increase consumer consumption of sustainably-produced goods, and
    • Broaden the Garden’s reputation as a resource for information about sustainable gardening.

    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.