Some positive changes are on the horizon that will help urban agriculture in Chicago—and hopefully serve as a model for other cities across the country. Just this past week, Chicago’s City Council approved an amendment to the zoning code allowing for more widespread urban farming. This amendment allows for urban gardens of up to 25,000 square feet, relaxes parking and fencing requirements on larger commercial farms, and allows hydroponic and aquaponic businesses and the raising of honeybees under certain conditions. Mayor Rahm Emanuel praised the bill, saying it would create jobs and provide revenue to many people. “This policy is about taking land that we have here in the city of Chicago that is literally sitting fallow both as land as well as a revenue base or tax base and turning it into a job creator and a revenue creator. And there’s great parts of the city where that exists,” said Emanuel, according to WBEZ.
This represents a reversal of the policies of Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard Daley, who supported a bill that would have placed restrictions on where and how urban farms could be started. Daley’s bill would have legalized certain kinds of urban agriculture in the city and written agricultural definitions and land use tables into Chicago’s City Code, but many farmers said the restrictions in the bill would actually hinder the growth of urban farms.
Emanuel’s bill is good news for urban farmers. It means that people wishing to start their own farm, community garden, etc., won’t have to go through all the red tape they would have if Daley’s proposal had gone through. It will also allow community gardens to start up in some of the more impoverished areas of the city as well as in food deserts. Erika Allen of Growing Power, an organization of urban farms in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas, said this bill is better than the previous one. “This ordinance that’s being presented will make our work legal,” she said. Allen had criticized the previous bill proposed by Daley, saying that if it had passed, then Growing Power would not have been able to operate in Chicago any longer.
This bill is only one of the steps in Emanuel’s plan to eliminate food deserts. In June, he met with executives from six different grocery chains to discuss a food desert problem in six Chicago neighborhoods. At the meeting, Emanuel showed a map of the food desert areas in Chicago, discussed the opportunities with the executives, and encouraged them to build new stores in those areas. Later that same month, Emanuel announced that Walgreens planned to quadruple the number of its stores located in Chicago’s food deserts. These stores “…differ from regular Walgreens locations by offering a broader selection of healthy foods in order to address the food desert issue facing many of Chicago’s communities,” according to WTTW. This plan would also bring over 600 jobs to the city over the next two years. The City of Chicago plans to continue to address food-related issues over the next 10 months. In addition to increasing access to fresh food, the city government will work on creating supplemental food programs as well as increasing public awareness of food-related issues. While much remains to be done on the urban agriculture scene across the country, perhaps Chicago will serve as a model for what is possible elsewhere.