Will the Windy City Become the Greenest City with the Healthiest People?
Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley earned a national reputation for innovative, community-based programs that address environmental concerns, land use, access to locally grown food and other challenges facing American cities.
With 76 percent of Illinois in farmland, and roughly 73,000 farms in the state, Daley worked to support agricultural and environmental innovation and protection in and around the Chicago area. His efforts to make fresh and local food accessible in the city provided a model for other urban areas. Mariana Coyne, who was hired as a “farm forager” to travel throughout the state, established a network of local farmers whose products can supply the city’s growing and vastly popular farmers’ markets. Her unique role is jointly funded by the city and Chicago’s Green City Market, which works to connect local farmers with chefs and consumers.
“Our farmers’ markets are very successful and continue to expand and garner more support and participation from residents and local farmers,” Daley says. “A permanent market is being researched. Pilot programs are also underway to integrate organic and locally grown produce and meats into the government-supported meal programs for elderly and low-income youths and adults these programs serve—the Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District nature camps, and Meals on Wheels recipients.” Daley worked to make fresh and healthy food accessible to everyone, making Chicago’s farmers’ markets the first in Illinois to accept a food stamp card.
Daley made the first step in bridging the gap between Illinois’ large agricultural and urban sector by founding the Greencorps program in 1994. The Greencorps program has established nearly 100 community gardens at schoolyards and other locations in the Chicago metropolitan area, while distributing garden materials to over 900 community gardens in Chicago, free of charge. He also helped to initiate the Harvest Garden program, which teaches participants how to start and maintain organic gardens—increasing access to healthy and fresh food in the city’s densely urban areas where the availability of fresh produce is often limited.
With these urban agriculture programs in place, Daley attests to a change in the way city residents view and make their food choices. Consumers are now spending “millions of additional dollars annually in the Chicago region for organic and locally grown foods,” he says. “The dramatic increase in demand for urban agriculture products demonstrates that fact.”
Daley was committed to making Chicago one of the most environmentally friendly cities in the nation, and with all of these changes, “the Windy City” just may become “the Greenest City.” As words of advice to other cities looking to connect city consumers with the health benefits of local food and environmentally friendly policies, he says, “Lead by example and start small with a few initiatives—research them, test them and if they are proven to be successful in your city’s context, begin to recruit voluntary partnerships to expand their use…. For cities to be successful with implementing environmentally friendly initiatives, it takes everyone working together.”
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