Green belt envisioned for South Side

Jobs, food security identified to create healthy communities.

November 23, 2012

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The city of Chicago is looking to green several South Side neighborhoods by expanding urban agriculture.

There are thousands of empty parcels of vacant land stretch from West Englewood to Woodlawn and the city and several community groups are turning them into assets.

Three farms would help bring food security, job training and entrepreneurial opportunities. Many of these neighborhoods lack grocery stores or healthy food options.

Brandon Johnson is executive director of the Washington Park Consortium. He said this is also an economic development issue and “a way to capture huge leakages in food sales and it’s an entry into fastly growing industry, namely local food.”

The farm in Washington Park is an acre on 57th Street and Perry Avenue and be fully built out by spring. It will grow vegetables. Johnson said the goal is to build a vertically integrated food enterprise that’s selling food from the farm to the fork. The heart of the urban ag district would be in Englewood.

Urban agriculture is part of a larger plan called Green and Healthy Chicago Neighborhoods. The city planning commission plans to vote on it early next year.

The 11-square mile area encompasses Englewood, Washington Park, Greater Grand Crossing, New City, Fuller Park and Grand Boulevard. Several of these communities created quality-of-life plans with input from residents on improving retail, housing and health.

These neighborhoods have suffered from blight and severe population decline. In addition, 11,000 vacant parcels languish in this large swath of land - half of which the city owns.

The Green and Healthy Chicago Neighborhoods plan is a roadmap to investment and stabilization.