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Urban Agriculture Community Planting Seeds For More Fruitful Relationship With New Mayor, City Council

Advocates for Urban Agriculture plans to deploy Ward Ambassadors to press the new administration for long overdue changes to the city's urban agriculture policies.

Urban agriculture supporters believe Chicago could be greener. Will new Mayor Lori Lightfoot agree?
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WEST LOOP — Mayor Lori Lightfoot and a slew of new City Council members swept into office on a promise of change, and members of Chicago’s urban agriculture community intend to hold them to their word.

Advocates for Urban Agriculture — a coalition of farmers, gardeners and businesses — laid out a number of priorities at a recent meeting of the organization’s “Ward Ambassadors,” held at the group’s Fulton Market office.

Issues the group intends to press with the new administration include creation of an urban farm business license category, consistent water access for urban growers and reinstallation of the Chicago Department of the Environment, which was eliminated in 2011 by former Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Currently, too many individual departments touch on urban agriculture — from Streets and Sanitation to Water to Public Health — and they’re operating in silos, said Laura Calvert, Advocates for Urban Agriculture’s executive director.

“We need Mayor’s Office-level coordination of urban agriculture,” she said. “We’re looking forward to an opportunity with the new administration for better interdepartmental collaboration.”

During her campaign, Lightfoot pledged to bring back the Department of Environment, but it was not included in her initial cabinet announcement.

She did create a Committee on Environmental Protection and Energy. It will be chaired by Ald. George Cardenas (12th), who has called for a new Department of Environment.

Advocates for Urban Agriculture’s Ward Ambassador program, launched in 2016 and reinvigorated with 2019’s turnover in council members, will play a significant role when it comes to educating and lobbying the city’s aldermen (or “alders” as the group prefers) regarding urban ag policy, land access, food safety, sustainability and other issues.

A common factor in many of Chicago’s most successful urban agriculture projects has been aldermanic support, Calvert said, but a sizable number of council members don’t have a strong understanding of the topic.

Ideally, a ward ambassador will cultivate a long-term relationship with the alderman, serving as a resource, sounding board and community liaison, said Nick Lucas, the group’s programs manager.

Advocates for Urban Agriculture provides training for ambassadors, as well as an online toolkit that includes everything from conversation starters to information on the benefits of urban agriculture.

Angela Taylor, ambassador for West Side wards surrounding Garfield Park, has seen first-hand the economic and social power of urban agriculture.

A wellness coordinator with the Garfield Park Community Council and leader of the area’s Garden Network, Taylor helped spearhead efforts to create a farmers market at which the neighborhood’s community gardens could sell their locally grown produce to fellow residents.

“We are in a food desert. What it’s about is having good access to fresh vegetables,” Taylor said.

The market, a grassroots effort that originated in 2012 and made its home on a vacant lot at Lake and Kedzie, proved so successful, it spurred development of The Hatchery, a newly opened food and beverage business incubator constructed on the market’s site.

True to its roots, The Hatchery’s design included a purpose-built plaza for the market, which will make its debut June 8, 10 a.m. — 2 p.m., 135 N. Kedzie Ave.

For more information on how to become a Ward Ambassador, email ambassadors@auachicago.org.