A Case Study: Growing Community through Gardens in Chicago’s Southwest Side
There is now considerable scholarly interest in the relationship between urban food production and the environment, food access and health in U.S. cities. A discourse on “sustainability” pervades this growing urban agriculture literature but often with a utilitarian ideal, as if planting food in urban spaces is indeed a viable and sustainable route to economically feed the masses with healthy food, while protecting and improving the natural environment. These are, of course, research questions that are far from answered, especially given an increasingly urban/suburban country where corporations remain in control of the vast majority of food produced and distributed to cities. As scholars begin to explore the question of what “sustainable urban food systems” really mean in diverse geographic spaces, race and class disparities become central. Many if not most large U.S. cities are socially divided by race and/or class and the two often intersect in stark ways. Chicago is particularly segregated by race and class and this case study suggests that those interested in whether local production can become a sustainable way of provisioning cities must consider diverse voices of resilient populations living in economically distressed contexts. What do these populations think about growing food for themselves? What are their barriers to growing food in such settings? If resources are in place, why would or wouldn’t they produce food? As a product of our ethnographic research, we suggest that those engaged in food systems development in cities consider how social, cultural and economic influences in diverse cultural settings define both possibilities for, and challenges of, expanding food production across urban spaces.