January 3, 2011; Source: Chicago Breaking News | Some nonprofit groups that operate urban gardens and farms are worried that their efforts might be plowed under if Chicago enacts new rules governing agricultural activities in the city. According to Chicago Breaking News Center, Mayor Richard Daley last month proposed an ordinance developed by the Department of Zoning and Land Use Planning that would set requirements for fencing, processing, landscaping and zoning.

“If this passes, our work would be over,” said Erika Allen, of Growing Power, which runs four nonprofit gardens and farms in Chicago. “We couldn’t do any of our projects.”

Ken Dunn, founder and executive director of the Resource Center, a non-profit environmental education organization, fears the new rules would make it difficult, if not impossible, to turn vacant city lots into temporary farms because of costs associated with landscaping and fencing. “Rather than the city recognizing the value of temporary use and the possibility of full employment and of healthy food everywhere, the new ordinance will delay each project’s start-up for at least a year and increase the cost of urban agriculture by 10 times or more,” Dunn said.

City officials say many of these fears sprouting up are groundless and, as Chicago Breaking News reports, other urban farm advocates welcome the city’s proposals. “This ordinance makes (urban farms) permitted uses by right, thereby taking them out of the shadows and saying clearly, yes, urban agriculture and community gardens are an important part of Chicago’s urban fabric,” said Ben Helphand, executive director of NeighborSpace, a nonprofit land trust that secures space for community garden use. “This is a huge step in the right direction.”

The zoning department is also taking steps to address some concerns that nonprofit groups have raised. For instance, one group is worried that two of its community gardens would be outlawed because they exceed the newly proposed size limit of 18,750 square feet. Zoning department spokesman Peter Strazzabosco says in such a case it’s possible the gardens could be exempt from the new rules. “If there is a community garden that’s been operating somewhere in the city on land that exceeds the proposed size limit, the garden could continue to operate as a legal, nonconforming zoning lot,” he said. For now, both sides are staking their claims and plotting their next moves.—Bruce Trachtenberg