The City of Chicago, Illinois and urban farming organization Growing Power have teamed up to launch “Farmers for Chicago,” an urban farming network that aims to bring local and organic fresh produce to food deserts in the city.
Under this incubator program, the City will provide city-owned lots for urban farming, and will work with non-profits to train people and set up the equipment required.
Up to five acres of city land will be allocated for the program, which will also help grow the supply chain by assisting 25 people in getting started with a retail food enterprise such as grocery chains, farmers’ markets and restaurants.
In the first three-year period, the Farmers for Chicago initiative aims to set up localized food networks in neighborhoods which currently do not get fresh produce.
Up to 20 prospective urban farmers will get the city lots, equipment and the training for growing food, packaging it and then distributing it to through the network’s aforementioned 25 retailers.
Growing Home and other non-profits have already started providing training to residents having trouble with gainful employment in chosen areas. Apart from the City of Chicago, the non-profits are getting support for this program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I am excited that the City is partnering up with the community on such an important initiative,” said Erika Allen, executive director of Growing Power. “Our new pipeline will take Chicago’s local food sector to the next level.”
Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Growing Power opened its Chicago Projects Office in Feb 2002, and aims to bring together otherwise dispersed food related activities to an urban farm as a community development project to address food security, public health, employment, job training and other development issues.
As per their website, Growing Power has four existing urban farm sites in Chicago, including one at Grant Park and another one on Iron Street where the Farmers for Chicago trainees will be provided space and taught necessary skills to build hoop houses, develop compost, and learn business aspects such as retail sales and creating a business plan.
Growing Home’s Wood Street farm project grew 13,000 pounds of certified organic produce in 2011 which generated more than $45,000 in income. Apart from the five acres the city is bringing in, there are already another 15 acres being used or about to be used as urban farm sites.
The City has been providing $750,000 in annual support for jobs created by non-profit projects related to urban agriculture. One is a beekeeping project called Beeline Beauty Products. Another one called Neighbor Carts takes fresh produce to areas that are food deserts.
The City’s support helps train 200 residents and provide job placement for 160 trainees. Some of these are homeless or released convicts who would otherwise be hard put to integrate themselves back into society as productive citizens.