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Evolving stories About Growing Food in a Big City

Emanuel plans to expand urban agriculture in Chicago

Cassandra West


Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to expand community gardens and urban farms to promote economic development, job creation and increase access to healthier food options in Chicago's food deserts.

“It is unacceptable that thousands of Chicagoans live in communities that lack access to fresh foods,” Emanuel said Tuesday during a ribbon-cutting for the urban Iron Street Farm. “I am committed to adopting innovative solutions that will increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables while creating jobs in order to ensure Chicagoans have the food options they need to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

Emanuel said he wants to increase urban agriculture in an effort to eliminate food deserts across the city while also creating green jobs such as those at Iron Street Farm. The seven-acre farm will create up to 150 jobs.

Many have noted that local food production also provides recreational opportunities and reduces energy costs.

If passed, the proposed ordinance will: • Expand the size limit on community gardens to 25,000 square feet; • Relax fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms in order to hold down overhead costs for the entrepreneurs and community organizations that launch and maintain these enterprises; and • Create green jobs and provide fresh produce in communities. The ordinance is expected to be introduced Thursday to the City Council and could be voted on in September, according to the Tribune.

This ordinance is another step in Chicago’s plan to increase food access and eliminate food deserts. Other steps the City has already taken include: • Convening a food desert summit in June with the CEOs of major grocery chains in Chicago and asked them to build stores in food deserts and increase healthy foods options; • Announcing Walgreens initiative to build more than a dozen new stores, include fresh produce in 39 existing stores currently in food deserts, while creating 300 new jobs in those communities; and • Hosting a pre-planning workshop with stakeholders from the community health, neighborhood development and urban growing sectors.

Emanuel also referred to the initiative announced last week by first lady Michelle Obama as part of her Partnership for a Healthier America initiative aimed at eliminating food deserts in the U.S. within seven years.

A week ago, Wal-Mart, Supervalu, Walgreens and a number of independent grocers, announced in a press conference with Mrs. Obama they will commit to increase the availability of fresh food into areas that have been designated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as "food deserts."

In coming months, the City will continue to address issues of food access, growing and distributing food, food enterprises, supplemental food programs, nutrition education and public awareness, with the overall goal of increasing public health and reducing childhood obesity, according to a statement from the mayor’s office.

RELATED: Retailers commit to open stores in food deserts