Chicago Is Not Messing Around When It Comes to Urban Farming

The Windy City is mobilizing to create an urban farm district that could be the largest in the nation.
Chicago's South Side is already starting to come alive with agriculture. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Nov 17, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Chicago is readying itself for the creation of its very own urban “green belt,” which residents are hoping will transform a section of the city’s blighted South Side from vacant-lot wasteland to thriving agricultural epicenter.

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) is partnering to help the city board, local businesses, and urban agricultural groups to initiate a project called Green Healthy Neighborhoods. The program will allow the food and employment barren South Side to establish a section devoted to urban farms and parks. The city planning department is expected to approve the project in the coming weeks. And if all goes according to plan, the neighborhood’s 13-mile stretch could become the largest urban farming center in the nation.

Grist reports that two job-training farms already exist in the area with plans to include at least one more―an educational farm run by the Center for Urban Transformation. In addition, the project would establish urban renewal farms that address the area’s pronounced “food desert” conditions.

Next year, plans will be unveiled for a food distribution center and investors are currently being sought to fund a pickling process plant. And uniting it all will be a three-mile long linear park, that will include walking and biking paths, as well as farm stands.

But perhaps most exciting is that Chicago’s built-in railway system, easily accessible to and through its South Side neighborhood, will become the perfect portal to ship its goods nationwide, thus opening a much wider stream of revenue for the city and ensuring the creation of that many more jobs.

Brandon Johnson of the Washington Park Consortium is a public economist knee-deep in the planning of Chicago’s emerging green belt. He’s also spearheading a complementary educational program with the city’s nearby schools Kennedy-King College and the new Washington Culinary Institute to establish degree programs focused on agriculture and farming.

Though the city of Chicago as a whole may not be suffering economically, its South Side is in desperate need of commerce. Its urban planners’ agricultural aspirations are exemplary of a new era in city development―one that insists upon finding sustainable ways to attract small businesses and create employment opportunities. Those same themes can be seen in other cities adopting greener ways of revitalization, like Singapore’s vertical farming project, or New Orleans’ solar-powered neighborhood. As the world grows ever weary of factory farms, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions, more cities are interested in finding sustainable ways to rethink business. If all goes according to plan, Chicago may just corner the market.

Would you be interested in participating in urban farming initiatives in your own city? Let us know what you think about Chicago’s plans in the Comments.