Entrepreneurship, Environment

Chicago Eases Rules for Urban Farms

From SunTimes.com, Judy Keen, 24 Sept 2011.

Chicago, IL — Tomatoes hang from vines, rows of lettuce and peppers are ready to harvest and the scent of compost fills the air.

This farm isn’t in rural Illinois. Herbs growing at the edge of sidewalks, traffic noise and the looming skyline identify it as City Farm, a 1-acre farm on unused city property downtown near Division and Clybourn.

It’s a nonprofit venture that sells 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of food each year to high-end restaurants, at its farm stand and a farmers market and to people who buy shares of its crops.

City Farm is among farms sprouting in cities across the nation to meet demand for locally grown food and to make vacant lots productive and attractive.

Cities are changing zoning rules not just to allow more and bigger urban farms but to encourage them. Unlike community gardens where individuals plant on small plots, urban farms are larger operations run by private companies or nonprofit groups.

The City Council gave urban farms a boost when it voted this month to set no size limit, allow produce sales in residential areas and relax parking and fencing regulations for urban farms in business and commercial districts.

The city’s new rules “put urban agriculture on the map,” said Andy Rozendaal, urban agriculture director for Chicago’s Resource Center, a nonprofit group that sponsors City Farm.

“It’s a neat way to use a wasted resource the city has a lot of right now. About 20,000 acres are available in the city to be used as gardens that generate healthy food and create jobs.”

When City Farm moved to its current location a decade ago, a layer of hard clay was installed on the surface to prevent pollutants from seeping up and plant roots from reaching into the soil, Rozendaal said. Five employees, helped by volunteers, work the farm, give tours and sell its products.

After next summer’s crops are picked, housing will go up at City Farm’s current location and the farm will move to another city-owned lot.

“We believe that we can easily expand up to 5 acres, and in the next two years we could be between 5 and 10 acres,” Rozendaal said.

Since 2005, the Michigan-based nonprofit group Urban Farming has helped create gardens in locations ranging from a Bronx rooftop to a vertical “edible wall” of climbing plants at a Los Angeles school. Produce is harvested for the needy or donated to food banks.

“Everybody’s looking at urban agriculture in a different way,” said founder Taja Sevelle.

“I would like to see it become like World War II victory gardens: an area that people would turn to in distressed times. . . . I would hope that we can figure out a way to keep it going.”

In Salt Lake City, the City Council voted this spring to allow the sale of produce without a business license and eased rules for greenhouses and plastic-covered “hoop houses.”

In Columbia, Mo., the City Council in July approved a zoning plan that allows the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture to sell crops from its 1.3-acre urban farm.

“It’s rejuvenating the neighborhood,” said marketing director Billy Polansky.

And in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a nonprofit group is working with city officials to change regulations so it can build a 2.5-acre urban farm on vacant lots in a neighborhood devastated by 2008 flooding.

Source: SunTimes.com, “Chicago Eases Rules for Urban Farms” by Judy Keen, 24 Sept 2011.

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