Urban agriculture. Detroit's doing it. Oakland's doing it. New York City's doing it. Chicago's doing it. But what exactly is it? And why is it important?
Urban agriculture, also known as urban farming, city farming, or alternative farming, has been sky rocketing as the word spreads that urban agriculture creates jobs, helps ex-cons re-enter society, combats climate change and mitigates flooding, teaches people a new perspective on food production, aides a healthy lifestyle, and creates stronger communities and social capital.
According to Fast Company, Chicago is the country's urban farming capital. In fact, urban agriculture has grown in Chicago so much that within the last year, the City of Chicago created a brand new management position, titled Project Manager of Urban Agriculture. The position is under the Department of Planning and Development and was filled by the highly qualified Micheal Newman-Brooks.
Urban agriculture organizations like Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Urban Canopy, Windy City Harvest, and Growing Home, have existed long before the City of Chicago position was created, however. These organizations have done incredible work and are growing with every season. Get a feel for each organization below.
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Advocates for Urban Agriculture (AUA)
AUA, founded in 2002, is a coalition of individuals, organizations, and businesses working to support and expand sustainable agriculture in the Chicago area, from home- and community-based growing to market gardens and small farms. AUA charges no fees for membership or resources because they believe in order to achieve an equitable, flourishing, local food system these opportunities must be accessible and available to all, regardless of livelihood or income. AUA’s mission is fulfilled through political advocacy, community outreach, and resource sharing, like the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project (CUAMP). The mapping project, an ongoing collaboration between AUA, NeighborSpace, DePaul University, and the Chicago Food Policy Action Council (CFPAC), is a comprehensive inventory of Chicago’s urban farms, gardens, and a compost registration portal. Check out the map here.
Windy City Harvest
Windy City Harvest is the Urban Agriculture department of the Chicago Botanic Garden and includes a certified apprenticeship program, which uses a hands-on, plain-language, and team-focused approach to introduce students to production-oriented urban farming systems. This nine month training includes youth and personal development, transitional jobs training, environmental justice training, best practices in sustainable urban agriculture jobs training as well as supporting the development of a socially just food economy in Chicago. In order to receive a certificate, students must complete nine-months of in-class/hands-on learning plus 14 weeks of a paid internship.
Growing Home is a non-profit organic farming social enterprise that provides employment training and organic produce to communities throughout Chicago. Since 2002, Growing Home has helped people find meaningful careers through skills learned while farming for people with employment barriers. By providing 25 hours per week of paid on-the-job experience and job-readiness training at Growing Home farms, plus the support to conquer issues like criminal records, medical needs, child-care, and housing, Growing Home has changed the lives of hundreds of workers, and thousands of their family members.
Started in 2011, Urban Canopy's goal is to increase sustainable food production in the city of Chicago in order to reduce the miles the food travels, create local jobs, and ensure food freshness and quality. The company operates five main programs: IFarm (indoor farm), OFarm (outdoor farm), LUCSA (Local Unified Community Supported Agriculture), Farmers Markets, and Compost Club. Urban Canopy grows and sells produce year round and has employed hundreds of Chicago residents.
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Urban agriculture is not a trend; it is here to stay. One of the many ways to support urban agriculture is by going to a Chicago farmers' market. They are mostly concentrated on Saturdays and Sunday, but there are others on weekdays too. Check out the full list from City of Chicago's website here.