Proposed City Ordinance Could Slow Chicago’s Urban Farm Growth

As urban farms and winter greenhouses sprout in vacant lots throughout Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley has proposed an ordinance aimed at “nourishing urban agriculture.”  Unfortunately, some urban farmers believe the ordinance – if passed by the Chicago City Council – might negatively impact the expansion of worthwhile projects that provide healthy food to many under-served neighborhoods.  The ordinance, written by the city’s Department of Zoning and Land Use, includes requirements for governing fencing, plot size, processing, landscaping and zoning.  The protocols would apply equally to commercial production farms, non-profit plots and community gardens.

“If this passes, our work would be over,” said Erika Allen of Growing Power, which operates four non-profit gardens and farms in the city.  “We couldn’t do any of our projects.  They’re all over the size limit.  We couldn’t sell produce at our Cabrini-Green farm stand.  And some of our expanded projects would also be affected.”  Ken Dunn, director of the Resource Center,  fears that the proposed ordinance might bring fewer public benefits.  “Rather than the city recognizing the value of temporary use and the possibility of full employment and healthy food everywhere, the new ordinance will delay each project’s startup for at least a year and increase the cost of urban agriculture by 10 times or more,” according to Dunn.

Other urban farmers have no objections to the proposal, and accept the city’s guarantees that the ordinance will be revised to meet farmers’ concerns.  Some will be satisfied just to have a zoning code that recognizes urban farming.  “This ordinance makes (urban farms) permitted uses by right, taking them out of the shadows and saying clearly, yes, urban agriculture and community gardens are an important part of Chicago’s urban fabric,” said Ben Helphand, executive director of NeighborSpace, a non-profit land trust.  “This is a huge step in the right direction.”

“Urban agriculture is another tool to restore productive uses to certain properties and to help get more fresh food into the communities that need them.  It can also foster skill-building and entrepreneurial opportunities, not just for farmers, but also processors, distributors, retailers and other aspects of the local food chain,” Mayor Daley said.   “Urban agriculture has a bright future in Chicago and the zoning recommendations consider the many different needs of all our communities.”