Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chicago Food Desert Summit: Mayors' Roundtable At Iron Street Urban Farm

Mayors discuss policy changes to improve healthy food access...
UPDATE: CLICK HERE for a full post about the day's events
In Chicago today for the first-ever Let's Move! food desert summit, hosted by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and with closing remarks by First Lady Michelle Obama, the eight invited mayors gathered at the 7-acre Iron Street Urban Farm to discuss food access initiatives. In the photo, above, Erika Allen speaks, standing between Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass (r), and Mayor Emanuel.

Allen runs Iron Street, located at 3333 S. Iron St. It is the Chicago headquarters for Growing Power, the pathbreaking city farm created by urban agriculture expert Will Allen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Erika Allen is Will's daughter, and Iron Street grows fresh vegetables and herbs through all four seasons. It teaches people, many of whom have never held job, how to work. A new project to raise tilapia in water that has been used to hydrate crops begins shortly.

Allen told Obama Foodorama that none of what she has done with the farm could have taken place without Emanuel's efforts to change policies to improve food access for citizens.

“He got it,” Allen said.

Formerly President Obama's chief of staff, Emanuel brought his food education from the White House directly to Chicago as he became Mayor. City zoning codes in Chicago have been changed to make urban farming easier. Urban gardens can be as large as 25,000 square feet; parking and fencing requirements on larger commercial farms have been relaxed. Hydroponics and aquaponics are now permitted, even the raising of honeybees in certain circumstances.

"Obviously we've been in close communication with him on everything," Kass told Obama Foodorama.

Kass says replicating Chicago's efforts and engaging Mayors across the US will be necessary to meet the First Lady's ambitious Let's Move! goal of eliminating food deserts by 2017.

"Our message is that Mayors have a real responsibility here, and a real opportunity and ability to have a significant impact," Kass said. "Without the support of Mayors, communities will not be able to overcome these challenges."

The policy discussion continued after the roundtable, during a luncheon at mk The Restaurant. Mrs. Obama closed the event with remarks in the afternoon at a South Side Walgreens, and then toured iron Street Urban Farm with Emanuel.

The Mayors invited to the summit include include Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, MA; R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis, MN; Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, OK; Heather Hudson of Greenville, MS; Willis "Chip" Johnson of Hernando, MS; Manuel Lozano of Baldwin Park, CA; Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, WI; and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, MD.

Also joining the meeting with the Mayors from the Obama Administration were Let's Move! Executive Director Dr. Judy Palfrey; HHS’s Assistant Secretary for Health Dr. Howard Koh, and Matt Josephs with the US Department of Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund. (Above: Emanuel sits beside Palfrey as the Mayors travel by bus to Iron Street)

*With reporting from Chicago by Marian Burros

*Photos by David Spielfogel, policy and planning for Mayor Emanuel