A new ordinance is expected to be introduced this week by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to expand community gardens and urban farms in an effort to improve economic development, job creation and increase access to healthy food options in food deserts.
“It is unacceptable that thousands of Chicagoans live in communities that lack access to fresh foods,” Emanuel said. “I am committed to adopting innovative solutions that will increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables while creating jobs in order to ensure Chicagoans have the food options they need to lead a healthy life.”
The mayor shared his passion to eliminate the city’s food deserts at a Tuesday meeting with a group of urban farmers at Iron Street Farm on the South Side. The Iron Street Urban Farm is a 7-acre site that will produce local, healthy, and sustainable food year-round with a focus on serving, training, and engaging vulnerable populations.
During his discussion with farmers Emanuel said he is committed to increasing urban agriculture because it is a critical step toward eliminating food deserts and creating green jobs.
If the ordinance should pass as expected, Emanuel said it would expand the size limit on community gardens to 25,000 square feet; relax fencing and parking requirements on larger commercial urban farms in order to hold down overhead costs for the entrepreneurs and community organizations that launch and maintain these enterprises; and create green jobs and provide fresh produce in communities.
Over the next 10 months, city officials said they plan to address will be issues of food access, growing and distributing food, food enterprises, supplemental food programs, nutrition education and public awareness, with the overall goal of increasing public health and reducing childhood obesity.
The mayor has made attacking food desert communities a priority this year.
In June he met with executives from six, major grocery store chains to see how the city could assist them in expanding to underserved communities. Since that meeting Walgreens and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have both announced expansion plans in Chicago.
For Wal-Mart, it had already been planning to expand on the Chicago’s South Side. Within the next four years Wal-Mart plans to open several dozen stores throughout Chicago, said Steve Restivo, a Wal-Mart spokesman.
On Wednesday, Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, opened a 10,000-square-foot Walmart Express store in the Chatham community on the South Side at 83rd and Stewart Avenue. Among the items sold are fresh fruit, vegetables and produce.
The Bentonville, Ark-based Fortune 500 company is also building a 60,000-square foot Supercenter at the same site, which is expected to open spring 2012 to accommodate the much smaller store. And so far Wal-Mart plans to open three more South Side stores over the next three years, according to Restivo.