Local Innovation and Urban Agriculture in Chicago- a Model that Cities Can Emulate

In a recent refocusing on local ingenuity, the U.S. today is thriving in a ‘golden age’ of grassroots initiative that is taking new shape and form on an age-old concept– the streamlining of food production.

I recently spoke to a landscape architect-turned urban agriculture farmer and restaurant entrepreneur; I had asked him about a rumor I heard about Chicago being the leader for the largest area for urban agriculture and edible green roofs. He reaffirmed this and informed me that most of the urban agriculture in the Windy City is actually taking place indoors through new streamlined technologies.  I was compelled by his nonchalance on the fact as well as his assertion that the Chicago is set to be self-sufficient on food production for the entire metropolitan area within the next 5-10 years.

When I researched the topic a bit more, I discovered there was a coordinated plan by both public and private partnership to integrate Chicago’s thriving urban agriculture network into a ‘farm district’ in the city’s south side New ERA (Englewood Re-making America) Trail. This is a planned three-mile long linear park system along a former railroad line, which will serve as the backbone for the farm district. The farms will not only strengthen the physical connection of the community to healthy and affordable food, but also aim to spur jobs, new housing and attract greater industry and business investment to the area. Creating this cutting-edge food district in this area of the city will help to alleviate years of disinvestment and population decline that has plagued the south side with 11,000 vacant lots—that is 800 acres of viable land.

This got me thinking about innovation being applied to a pre-existing and historical concept- the endeavor of maximizing food production. The innovation itself straddles multiple spheres: it combines problem-solving with problem-targeting. That is to say, it addresses the larger need for “local” to be the leading paradigm in solving modern-day problems while ultimately creating more direct solutions for the local community itself. More specifically, it’s tapping into the city’s thriving infrastructure for urban agriculture that is generating economic profit while creating a sense of delight and local pride in the process. As keyed in on in the principle of ‘Delight’ by Hurd and Hurd, the New ERA Trail Plan and the success of Chicago’s urban agriculture capitalizes on many of the commonalities that have led prior innovations to take off. This bold move in the Windy City needs to continue to be nurtured in order to be ground zero for the local urban agriculture movement, which other regions and cities can emulate.

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