By Jon Sedey
A new zoning code, approved at the last council meeting, will promote the expansion of community gardening and urban agriculture within the city boundaries.
The amendment, first introduced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel in July, recognizes urban farming and allows citizens or companies to apply for building permits and zoning approvals to help establish foundations in the urban agriculture sector. The ordinance legalizes urban farming of vegetables, fruits and fish and will permit owners to sell what they raise.
Additionally, the provisions expand the limit on community gardens to 25,000 square feet, loosen fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms and allow for apiaries and hydroponic and aquaponic systems. It is hoped that this ordinance will create green jobs and fresh produce across Chicago.
Urban farming advocates pled with former Mayor Richard M. Daley for years to remove several bureaucratic hurdles so citizens interested in utilizing vacant lots as farm land could have easier guidelines on how to proceed. Even though urban agriculture is increasing throughout the city, owners had to jump over numerous hurdles prior to getting started.
“We’re very excited to see the City’s support for urban farming; this is absolutely a step in the right direction,” said John Edel, director of Plant Chicago, the city’s first vertical farm now under construction on the South Side. “The ordinance will support a new economic model while providing fresh, nutritious food to our community with minimal environmental impact.”
Other urban farming activists are pleased with the new provisions, saying that this sector can be financially beneficial and eliminate food deserts in disadvantaged areas of the city. Erika Allen, National Projects Manager and head of the Chicago operation of Growing Power, Inc. is among this group.
“It [the new ordinance] legitimizes urban agriculture as an enterprise or a business that hasn’t been on the books before,” said Allen. “It creates a space where we can begin to create economic opportunities within our communities.”
In a recent interview, Allen said that Mayor Emanuel is committed to addressing and resolving the food desert issue. The new ordinance will create a more favorable climate for entrepreneurs to try urban agriculture as a new and alternative source of income. “There’s a revenue opportunity as soon as you open a for-profit business. There’s tax revenue that can be collected,” said Allen. “Lots of people will see that urban farming can be a very powerful and influential economic engine.”
Besides the financial gains to urban agriculture, there are social benefits as well. Not only is there a renewable food source, there are better health and nutrition options, increased incomes, employment and a community social life.
The next challenge for urban farmers is to secure composting laws. “We’re way behind other cities,” said Allen. “We are meeting with urban farming practitioners and city officials to figure out what to do next.” As for now, it appears that the City of Chicago is in favor of making composting laws more favorable for urban farming.
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