On Tuesday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced that the City of Chicago will introduce a new ordinance on Thursday to expand community gardens and urban farms. The ordinance will stimulate economic development, create jobs, and increase the accessibility of healthy food options in Chicago food deserts.
“It is unacceptable that thousands of Chicagoans live in communities that lack access to fresh foods,” said Mayor Emanuel, while at the ribbon-cutting for the urban farm 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.”
Provided the ordinance passes, it will expand the size limit on community gardens to 25,000 square feet. It will also relax fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms. Doing so will help maintain overhead costs for the entrepreneurs and community gardens that run the farms.
Emanuel believes promoting urban agriculture will help decrease food deserts while simultaneously introducing green jobs. He points to Iron Street Farm, a 7-acre South Side farm, as an example of the benefits of local, sustainable farming, which include not only the creation of up to 150 jobs but also recreational opportunities. In addition, local farming brings down energy costs.
The ordinance is simply the next step in the City’s plan to eliminate food deserts. Emanuel reiterated the steps previously taken, such as a food desert summit held in June with CEOs of major grocery chains, during which the City asked for more stores selling more healthy foods to be built in deserts; the Walgreens initiative to build more than a dozen new stores , provide fresh produce in 39 stores in food deserts, and create 300 new jobs in those areas; and a pre-planning workshop with stakeholders from the community health, neighborhood development, and urban growing sectors.
The City plans to continue addressing food issues over the next 10 months. In addition to increasing food access, the City will work on supplemental food programs as well as expanding nutrition education and public awareness.
The City’s ultimate goal is to increase public health and decrease childhood obesity.