Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Growing Power, a Chicago-based urban agriculture organization, announced recently the formation of Farmers for Chicago, a program that will transform vacant south-side Chicago lots into productive urban farms. The program will make available up to five acres of city-owned vacant lots for urban farming activity and "help expand the supply chain for local neighborhood-level food production and wholesale," "improve community access to healthy food, help participants to supplement their incomes, and to foster workforce training."
Read more about Farmers for Chicago after the break.
In a statement, Mayor Emanuel said the farm lots that this new initiative creates will help "stabilize" the surrounding communities and help relieve food desert-related issues. “Farmers for Chicago will give local residents a chance to not only learn how to grow food in their communities, but also build their own food enterprise.” The Farmers for Chicago network will train individuals interested in farming, processing, marketing, selling and distributing produce, as well as provide additional skills such as composting and retail sales. Although initially the program will only accept those with prior farming experience, it hopes to soon help those with limited education and work experience in developing their own urban farming interests into an interesting and rewarding career.
According to the environmental blog Grist, the city of Chicago owns 15,000 vacant lots. However, it takes the work of one farmer to care for a quarter-acre of land and it costs the city $250,000 to get a half-acre of city land prepared to farm. The cost includes new soil, compost, fencing, and adding a water supply.
Although initially expensive, one of the existing farms in Chicago reportedly grew and sold more than 13,000 pounds of local, USDA Certified Organic produce with an earned income topping $45,000. The produce farmed thanks to the new program will be distributed to more than a dozen farmer's markets, corner stores, restaurants and grocery chains in the surrounding area, resulting in some serious pay-off.
Farmers for Chicago is one of the only urban agriculture programs of its kind in the nation. If it is successful, it could spark a more serious and widespread interest in transforming American cities into productive rather than merely consumptive entities.
For more on urban farming, check out our Urban Agriculture Series!