OPen Letter to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and First Lady Michelle Obama From Advocates of Urban Agriculture's Statement On Local Food Economy

Dear Mayor Emanuel and First Lady Obama,

We have forwarded you the Statement below developed by the Advocates of Urban Agriculture's steering committee and a growing coalition of others, in the interest of reinforcing the importance of local and neighborhood-based investments in our food economy while mayors and CEOs of major food retail companies convene in Chicago with you and the First Lady.

We are still welcoming signatures, and will add others as they connect.

We anticipate the opportunity for a conversation that embraces the establishment of more neighborhood-based models and institutions, during this prime moment for redefinition of the city's and nation's economic vision and policy.

Naomi Davis
President & Founder
BIG: Blacks in Green

Statement in Support of Local Food Economy in Chicago

As proponents and practitioners of urban agriculture and healthy local food, we areadvocates not only of food production in cities but also of local, community-centered ownership and control of the local food system.

The "food desert" problem is a function of historic disinvestment in neighborhoods. It is only one feature of a phenomenon that includes high rates of poverty, schools that fail their students, and persistent high unemployment. The economic base needed to support good quality food stores and other retail products and services - all indicators of a healthy local economy - simply does not exist. The "solution" to "food deserts" requires attention to and investment in local, neighborhood-based ownership of food enterprises. This includes a full spectrum of activities, from all scales of food production through processing, distribution, and sales, inclusive of the associated goods and services that accompany a full-fledged food economy. A rich, textured, and comprehensive economy will grow the health and wealth of people in their neighborhoods.

As advocates and practitioners of urban agriculture, we are committed to developing and operating successful sites, systems, and enterprises, and the local skills base to operate and manage them. We support the establishment of neighborhood-based systems that provide residents with access to fresh healthy food - not simply as consumers but as active participants, employers, and workers in a fully realized local food economy.

By dedicating their attention - and the significant funds embodied in direct food assistance, subsidies and business investment - to develop stable, locally owned and operated food system enterprises, all levels of government could support the accompanying physical infrastructure and work skills training required to generate a community food environment that sustains both the physical and economic health of the community over the long term. We believe that an approach that relies primarily on subsidies and incentives for large retail supermarkets or chain stores is insufficient. Instead, we advocate for robust and innovative community food environments, in which local complexity, relationships, and redundancy of roles will provide greater job and business opportunity, and more resilient food security.

In the context of community master planning, multiple strategies are needed to help solve the problems that plague urban and rural communities described as food deserts. These include many ways that urban agriculture and local food system sites, systems, and skills can provide diverse sources and kinds of healthy food; use vacant and blighted land productively; clean up contaminated soils and water; anchor neighborhood business districts; teach entry-level through professional skills and develop jobs in production, processing, and distributing, and associated services; and foster healthier cooking and eating practices with individuals and families.

This is a moment for redefinition of the city's economic vision and policy, a window of opportunity for the establishment of neighborhood-based models and institutions. We urge that the City of Chicago:

* Direct the majority of federal, state, and local funds and investment mobilized for healthy food access to medium-scale and neighborhood-based owners and operators of food enterprises.
* Incentivize and expedite infrastructure for sites and systems, business ownership and ongoing support for neighborhood enterprises; and
* Hire a Food System and Enterprise Coordinator at the level of the Mayor's office to oversee an inter-departmental accountability team and navigate among city, county, and extended region staff and functions: to solve problems, interpret between and among departments, and seek coherent, comprehensive application of services and resources within all dimensions that impact the local food system.
* Complete a multi-stakeholder analysis of demand and supply chains to propose ways to provide as much food locally as needed and possible, produced at scale from hyper-local to regional and beyond.
* Work with a Chicago Food Council that is more fully representative and comprises practitioners, governmental officials, and neighborhood residents, and that operates within a responsive, transparent, and accountable communication and democratic decision-making structure.


Mark S. Allen, National Black Wall Street USA
Ryan Anderson AUA: Advocates for Urban Agriculture, Delta Institute

Patsy Benveniste AUA, Chicago Botanic Garden

Martha Boyd AUA, Angelic Organics Learning Center

Carol Moseley Braun, Ambassador Organics
Sheila R. Castillo Center of Excellence in the Elimination of Disparities, UIC

Naomi Davis BIG: Blacks in Green

Chef Crutis Drane Real Men Charities, Inc.

Mark Fick Chicago Community Loan Fund

Glenn Ford Praxis Marketplace, Inc.

Jeanette Foreman Real Men Charities, Inc. and SOS

Gerald Frazier Real Men Charities, Inc.

Yvette Moyo Gillard Real Men Cook ®, Real Men Charities, Inc.

Selene Gonzalez Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

Breanne Heath AUA, Growing Home

Suzanne Keers Local First Chicago

Kelly Larsen AUA, Chicago Botanic Garden

Zina Murray Logan Square Kitchen

Mike Nowak The Mike Nowak Radio Show, WCPT

Kevin Pierce AUA, Resource Center

Eran Rhodes Sacred Earth Edible Landscaping Initiative

Harry Rhodes AUA, Growing Home

Barbara Rose Angelic Organics Learning Center

Michael Sands Prairie Crossing
Ellen Shepard Resident, 47th ward

Jim Slama Family Farmed
Kim Wasserman Little Village Environmental Justice Organization

Orrin Williams Center for Urban Transformation, Chicago Neighborhoods First

Wes King and Lindsay Record Illinois Stewardship Alliance

BIG™ is a green-village-builder, a national network, one of America's most diverse eco-orgs, and a thought leader in green community education and trade development for communities of color...across 13 economic sectors. It teaches a whole-system solution for the whole-system problems common to black communities everywhere through its platform, The 8 Principles of Green-Village-Building™ and its precursor, Grannynomics.™ Together they offer a culture-specific prescription with universal value. Through its programs, activities, courses, and enterprises, BIG™ reminds generations of their great cultural legacy of land stewardship and collaborates to reinvent that legacy here in the age of climate change. It teaches communities of color the risks of global warming and the health and wealth opportunities of the new green economy, with a focus on recreating community wealth by cultivating next generations of engineers and new generations of green manufacturers. Informed and inspired by America's great Underground Railroad story, its system teaches the primacy of self-help and the importance of allies across the bounds of race and class. Its vision is self-sustaining black communities everywhere. Its mission is to link, leverage, and lead through a new breed of environmentalists. Its goals are to invent, invest, manufacture, and merchandise, our communities into walkable, self-reliant, mixed-income villages. Through its strategic operating system - The BIG Village™ - BIG Hub™ - BIG Toolbox™ - it fosters and sustains green, neighbor-owned businesses in communities of color. BIG's green-villages are walk-to-work/walk-to-shop communities anchored by such neighbor-owned businesses, which become the agents of "jobs-driven development." Only jobs-driven development stabilizes neighborhoods through the health/wealth enhancement of present residents, avoiding forced or voluntary neighbor migration to "better" neighborhoods, or the influx of "better" neighbors - benign or hostile. Resident money stays active locally supporting community self-interests, and the heritage of a place is preserved. Around the world, the case has been made for such interdependent local living economies as greenhouse gas reduction strategies. Such sustainable community initiatives are especially important for Black neighborhoods. Thus, BIG™ is presently organizing green-village-building collaborations in the Chicago communities of Riverdale, Bronzeville, and Woodlawn/Washington Park, as well as through emerging partnerships within its national network. BIG™ welcomes the participation inquiries of community leaders.

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