"Feeding the City" is a research project investigating energy use and greenhouse gases associated with small-scale diversified farms following sustainable practices. The study has completed its first full year (2009) and is being carried out with a team of University of Chicago researchers and students interested in food systems and the environment. We are currently accepting applications (December 2009) from farms across the Mississippi Watershed and Michigan interested in being added to the study in 2010 for the 2011 growing season. States we are targeting include MN, WI, MI, IA, IL, IN, and MO. We will consider farms from other states.
Importance of environmental metrics
We are collecting data on the direct and indirect energy inputs and outputs (e.g. yield amounts) to determine the energy efficiency of food production on urban and rural farms that practice sustainable methods. Our approach is that of a whole-farm analysis that reaches beyond both traditional "energy audits" and studies of production. Using tabulated inputs and outputs, we will ultimately calculate land use efficiency, energy efficiencies and greenhouse gas emissions footprints specific to the Midwest. In 2009, the study focused on fruit and vegetable crops. In 2010, we are expanding the scope of study to include farms with grain production as well as animals as well as the geographic range. Very specifically, the data we are collecting will be useful for quantifying the extent to which local, sustainable food production is a potential mitigation strategy for lowering the regional and national carbon footprint. More broadly, quantifying these narrowly defined metrics of energy use and related emissions data will help toward better understanding the bigger picture of environmental impact mitigation by sustainable agriculture. We hope to continue the study for several years.
Farmers participating in the project keep logs of direct fuel use on the farm, material inputs, labor and outputs in the form of harvest data and other farm products. Investments in human capital, in the form of education, job training, etc. will also be recorded on a subset of the farms. A licensed organic farm inspector associated with our project works as a consultant to help farmers organize records for multiple purposes (business, organic certification and environmental impact). Some farms host an intern from the study. Others self-report data with the assistance of our research team.
Undergraduate and graduate student researchers involved in the project participate in a course that runs during Winter, Spring, and Autumn Quarter and is structured around readings, seminars, and research on the environmental, social, and economic impacts of sustainable agriculture. Many students participate in full-time summer internships at small-scale organic farms in Illinois and nearby states that provide food to the Chicago area and other communities within the Mississippi Watershed. About half of the "farms" are urban growing lots. Interns are responsible for assisting with data collection from the farms each week. Some students are completing complementary, individual research projects. The focus of the individualized projects include geophysical, economic, social, and technological studies.
Funding for this project is through generous support from Chicago Studies (student internships), The Energy Initiative (research expenses), and the Program in the Global Environment (student and course development), all programs within the University of Chicago.
To learn more about participating in the project as a farmer, student, or potential collaborator, contact either:
Esther Bowen, Project Coordinator and Graduate Student Researcher, firstname.lastname@example.org OR
Pamela Martin, Principal Investigator and Assistant Professor, email@example.com (773.834.5245)