Urban Agriculture FAQ
Interested in growing food for sale in the City of Chicago? Thinking about starting a community garden? Changes to the Chicago Zoning Ordinance allow agricultural uses like community gardens and urban farms in many parts of the city. Below is a list of frequently asked questions regarding the rules and regulations that growers should consider when planning an urban agriculture project.
What does this zoning amendment do?
The zoning amendment clearly defines community garden and urban farm uses, identifies where each use is permitted and establishes regulations designed to minimize potential impacts on surrounding property and help maintain the character of Chicago’s neighborhoods.
What is not addressed in this zoning amendment?
The zoning amendment does not modify any other codes dealing with composting, building permits, purchasing or leasing City owned property, business licenses or environmental contamination. There are existing codes that regulate these issues and they remain in full effect and may be applicable to your project.
What is the difference between a community garden and an urban farm?
Community gardens are typically owned or managed by public entities, civic organizations or community-based organizations and maintained by volunteers. Plants grown on site are intended for personal use, for charity, or for community beautification purposes. Urban farms grow food that is intended to be sold, either on a nonprofit or for-profit basis. Due to their commercial purpose, urban farms require a business license.
Can produce from a community garden be sold?
Yes. A community garden is allowed to sell surplus produce that was grown on site if the sales are accessory or subordinate to the garden’s primary purpose described above.
Is composting allowed at a community garden?
Yes. Composting is allowed but only for plant material that is generated and used on site. The amount of compost material cannot exceed 25 cubic yards at any given time according to the standards in 7-28-715 of the City’s Municipal Code.
Can compost be donated or purchased to build the soil in a community garden?
Yes. Because the soil at most new garden sites needs amending, compost, soil, wood chips, or other materials can be acquired to construct or enhance the growing space. Can food scraps or other waste be donated from outside the garden for compost purposes? No. The acceptance of food scraps or landscape waste at a given location is strictly regulated by city and state laws. Acceptance of food scraps or other waste exceeds the intended purpose of a community garden.
What types of structures are considered accessory buildings?
Greenhouses, sheds and farmstands are examples of accessory buildings. Community garden accessory buildings may be up to 575 square feet in area. Hoophouses and similar shelters will not be considered accessory buildings as long as they are temporary and do not require a building permit. If a building permit is required then the hoophouse will be considered an accessory building. You can find out more about the building permit requirements by contacting the Department of Buildings.
Why is there a size limit for community gardens?
The 25,000-square-foot size limit is intended to prevent a single community garden from dominating a given block or detracting from the block’s existing residential or commercial character. The limit – equivalent to eight standard city lots (25 x 125 feet) or 1/3 of a typical city block – provides an ample amount of space for most community-oriented growing activities. The limit does not apply to gardens located in Public Open Space (POS) districts. Can there be more than one community garden that is 25,000 square feet on a single block? Yes. The size limit applies to individual gardens, not to individual blocks.
Is fencing required at community garden sites?
No. Fencing is not required, however, gardens that have large parking areas may be required to install fencing or other landscaping features. Fences installed voluntarily or otherwise are required to have a building permit if they exceed five feet in height.
Why are urban farms prohibited in all residential (R) and certain business (B1 & B2) zoning districts?
B1 & B2 districts require that all commercial use activities be conducted indoors. R districts restrict commercial activity. The regulations reflect the purpose and intent of the Zoning Code. Is fencing required for urban farms? Yes. Fences may be required, along with landscaping and screening, for certain parking areas and outdoor work or storage areas depending on location and the specific activity taking place. Required fencing should not be chain-link but may be of a type that is complimentary to the surrounding neighborhood and is acceptable to the Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Is a permit required for an urban farm?
Yes. Urban farms require building permits and zoning approvals prior to construction. Other forms of city review may be required depending on specific structures, activities, size, landscaping, licensing, public heath and stormwater management issues. Many of these requirements are identified in the project design or permitting process, however, the applicant may be responsible to independently identify specific licenses or permits that may be required. State of Illinois permits or requirements may also be applicable.
Is a business license required for an urban farm?
Yes. The type of license is determined by what is happening at the site. The Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection can help determine the specific type of business license that’s required.
Is parking required for an urban farm?
Yes. Off street parking is required for most commercial projects in Chicago. The required number of parking spaces is based on the number of employees working on site and not the square footage of the growing space. One off street parking space is required for every four employees.
Can an urban farm be located on the roof of a building?
Yes. Urban farms are allowed on rooftops in appropriate zoning districts. However, a zoning review and building permit are required in order to install any rooftop structures and a business license is required as described above.
Can an urban farm location accept food and landscape scraps to create compost?
No. The acceptance of food scraps or landscape waste is considered a waste handling use by the Chicago Municipal Code. Businesses that are considered waste handlers are subject to city and state laws involving their operation and location.
Can an urban farm sell compost material?
Yes. An urban farm can sell compost material generated on site, however, the operation must comply with the regulations in 7-28-715 of the Chicago Municipal Code.
Can fish be raised in Chicago?
Yes. Aquaponic systems are allowed indoors on urban farms in many zoning districts. However, a zoning review and building permit is required in order to install structures or systems and a business license is required as described above.
Can I keep bees on my property?
Yes. Up to five hives or colonies of honey bees may be kept as an accessory use. However, beekeepers must register with the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Where can I get more information about the proposed zoning amendment?
For more information about the proposed zoning amendment you may contact the Department of Housing and Economic Development, Bureau of Planning and Zoning at 312.744.8563.