Rahm Wants Urban Farms, Mobile Food Trucks


More than 600,000 Chicagoans lack easy access to a grocery store offering healthy and fresh foods, according to mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel.

To eradicate food deserts in low-income communities throughout the city, Emmanuel plans to increase access to fresh food options, by “engaging smaller local grocery stores, facilitating public-private partnerships and encouraging community gardens to thrive,” he said at a Feb. 1 press conference at Growing Power Iron Street Farm, 3333 S. Iron St.

Chicago mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel fielding reporters questions, during his press conference at the Growing Power Iron Street Farm, on Feb. 1, where he talked about his plans to combat food deserts in low-income communities across the city. Photo by Mary C. Johns

Emmanuel said he will work with the City Council to change zoning regulations and access federal grants to promote “a renaissance in local food production and improved food distribution to underserved communities.”

Emmanuel cited studies which found that people in areas with limited access to fresh food have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, and said that community gardens should be allowed to provide food for their neighborhoods.

Previous efforts to open community gardens and farms in the city have been stymied by vague zoning ordinances, according to Emanuel. So, as mayor, he wants to eliminate these bureaucratic and regulatory obstacles. In addition to updating the zoning guidelines, Emmanuel plans to develop special guidelines for community gardens and commercial urban farms.

He said he as mayor, he would work with the City Council to reform the zoning code so that fresh produce can be sold where it is grown.

“This will have particular impact on Chicago’s south and west sides where non-profit organizations are turning blighted lots into agricultural plots,” he said.

Emmanuel also proposes to expand permits for mobile food trucks and allow food to be cooked on-site. Emmanuel said he will support a city ordinance to expand licensing for these trucks while ensuring that local small businesses aren’t negatively affected.

“The new policy would reform the city’s existing regulations that prohibit most forms of street food vendors. By expanding the variety and number of food trucks, Chicago can promote a new industry that creates good jobs and expands access to fresh food,” he said.

This renovated Growing Power Iron Street Farm, located at 3333 S. Iron St., serves as the City’s first “green” campus, providing healthy/sustainable food, composting, employment and educational opportunities, and green community development. Photo by Mary C. Johns

In addition, Emanuel said that grocery stores and other retailers, such as Walgreens, “are finding that underserved communities can often serve as profitable locations for new investment.”

As mayor, he will hold meetings with corporate leaders to encourage them to continue diversifying their food options as they seek permits to open stores in more affluent neighborhoods.

Part of Emanuel’s plans include leveraging federal programs like President Obama’s Healthy Food Financing Initiative and the Federal New Markets Tax Program, which he said “enables companies to get federal tax credits for investing in projects in economically distressed communities, to increase food options while generating economic development.”

Emanuel said that other cities and states have seen success with these programs, which can be easily replicated in Chicago.

For example, in the state of Pennsylvania, he said the use of these programs has increased access to healthy food for 400,000 people, while creating or retaining 4,860 jobs.

Other options that he plans to be considered include giving employers a tax credit of $1,500 for every employee hired from within a food desert zone.

Additionally, Emanuel said that retailers may be eligible for tax-exempt bonds for use on a variety of store upgrades – from the actual purchase of a building to equipment, or even product purchases.

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