Chicago Urban Farms Initiative: Englewood Could Become Major Agribusiness Hub

First lady Michelle Obama, center and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, shaking hands, visit Iron Street Urban Farm, Tuesday, Oct.
First lady Michelle Obama, center and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, shaking hands, visit Iron Street Urban Farm, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, in Chicago. The farm is a seven acre site on the city's South Side that produces healthy food year round. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

Plans for an ambitious urban farming project have started on Chicago's South Side, where organizers hope the efforts can produce jobs, healthier food and an economic boost.

Englewood is ground zero for the city's Department of Housing and Economic Development’s (DHE) Green Healthy Neighborhoods initiative. According to environmental news site, Grist, the urban farm district envisioned in the initiative could be the nation's largest.

The plans calls for developing 13 square miles in Englewood, an area currently scattered with vacant lots and sparse commerce. According to the most recent census, the neighborhood has lost nearly a quarter of its population over the last decade.

A core part of the plan: an agriculturally focused, Bloomingdale Trail-like development of a two-mile abandoned rail line called the New ERA (Englewood Re-making America) Trail. The above-grade rail line would be a corridor for green businesses, decorated with public art and friendly to active transit like biking and walking.

Grist notes among other benefits envisioned in the initiative: agricultural job training, revitalized interest in the area from home buyers and businesses and remedying local food deserts.

Urban farming has been trendy -- and effective -- in neighborhoods from Detroit to Brooklyn, but Brandon Johnson, a public economist, told Grist Chicago's plan has been carefully plotted and tailored specific to the city and neighborhood's dynamics.

"It’s a long-range plan to turn a community filled with vacant lots into a community built around agriculture," said Johnson. "Think of what Chicago was during the heyday of the (Union) Stockyards when it was the ‘Hog Butcher for the World.’”

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning says in addition to Englewood, Woodlawn and Washington Park are priority areas where it hopes urban farming to combat the challenges of the "crippled housing market, lack of employment opportunities, and many years of population decline."

Existing urban farming projects in the city, like the Englewood-based Growing Home and 312 Aquaponics in Back of the Yards have already made positive impacts in their respective neighborhoods.



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